Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
Not long ago, we had two sister missionaries over for dinner. At the time, I was counseling with a missionary who was having trouble feeling the spirit. One of the sisters was not ashamed to share her experience. She said that she struggles with a chemical imbalance in her brain which makes feeling the spirit difficult. She takes medication which helps her function and she glows! Friendly, personable, a strong testimony. In addition, her mission president shared Galatians 5:22 which says “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance … “ He asked if she has experienced any of these. With tears in her eyes, she said that she has. He responded, “You have felt the Spirit.”
How often do we wonder if we truly know? How often do we feel spiritual enough, smart enough, confident enough to share what we have?
In General Conference Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared his concerns as a young missionary:
“Nearly 40 years ago as I contemplated the challenge of a mission, I felt very inadequate and unprepared. I remember praying, ‘Heavenly Father, how can I serve a mission when I know so little?’ I believed in the Church, but I felt my spiritual knowledge was very limited. As I prayed, the feeling came: ‘You don’t know everything, but you know enough!’ That reassurance gave me the courage to take the next step into the mission field.”
Elder Andersen said, “Our spiritual journey is the process of a lifetime. We do not know everything in the beginning or even along the way. Our conversion comes step-by-step, line upon line. We first build a foundation of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We treasure the principles and ordinances of repentance, baptism, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We include a continuing commitment to prayer, a willingness to be obedient, and an ongoing witness of the Book of Mormon. (The Book of Mormon is powerful spiritual nourishment.)”
“We then remain steady and patient as we progress through mortality. At times, the Lord’s answer will be, “You don’t know everything, but you know enough”—enough to keep the commandments and to do what is right. Remember Nephi’s words: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (You Know Enough, General Conference, October 2008).
There may be times during our lives when we have powerful spiritual experiences and other times when we feel the gentle whisperings of the Spirit. And there may be times when we feel distant from that same Spirit like the prophet Joseph felt when he was in Liberty Jail.
Some things that impair our sensitivity to the Spirit are anger, bitterness, jealousy, and pride. Laman and Lemuel were “past feeling” because of murmuring, contention, and having their hearts still longing for their home in Jerusalem.
Elder Andersen taught: “… Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision. [We] need to choose faith.”
Adjusting to Missionary Life suggests the following resources to help us grow spiritually:
- Realize that questions are healthy. Joseph Smith received many revelations in response to honest questions. Scriptures, teachers, and reason can help with some questions, but only the Spirit can confirm that God is real, that Jesus is the Christ, and that the Church is true.
- Understand what faith is. To have faith is to trust the Lord’s perfect goodness, love, wisdom, and fairness, even though we do not perfectly understand.
- Be patient. Time and experience will help you make sense of some things that are confusing now.
- Keep the commandments. We gain trust in the Lord when we learn by experience the value of His teachings. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).
- Be honest with your bishop, your stake president, your mission president.If you need to repent of serious sins you have not dealt with, talk to your bishop, stake president, or mission president openly and honestly.
- Forgive yourself after repentance.If you have repented and still feel guilt and shame, remember we all regret past sins and mistakes. Trust that Christ’s Atonement is sufficient, even for you.
- Try praying out loud, even if only in a whisper. Try preparing for prayer by writing your questions or concerns. Visualize the Lord nearby. Ask God what you can do for Him today; then act on ideas that come to mind. On occasion use your prayer only to thank God for the many good things with which He has blessed you.
- Pray specifically for help understanding and enjoying the scriptures. Use some of your study time to write your feelings and reactions, what you learn, or spiritual impressions you receive.
- Practice with patience. Learning to recognize the voice of the Spirit is much like learning a language—it takes practice, patience, humility, and a willingness to learn from mistakes without giving up.
- Learn from general conferences. For ideas on how to cultivate personal revelation, study general conference addresses on this topic.
- Study Preach My Gospel. Chapter 4 contains additional suggestions and insights on recognizing and relying on the Spirit.
May the Lord continue to strengthen us as we love others, share what we have, and invite them to receive all the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.