As I reflect on the ways that I “hear Him,” I recall learning to hear the voice of the Lord very early in my life. I was brought up by wonderful parents, and they taught me the importance of the scriptures at an early age. From my childhood and youth, through my mission, and through life, I have been very oriented toward trying to feel the Spirit directing me. The ways that I hear the Spirit of the Lord best in my life are by reading the scriptures and following His promptings. Here are some specific instances of how I hear Him in my life.
My Mother Taught Me to Hear Him through the Scriptures
My mother was a saintly person and taught me how to listen for the promptings of the Holy Ghost. By the time I came around, she had had a lot of life experiences. Those life experiences led her to focus intensely on me as her last child. I remember she would teach me at her knee, and there was this little warm spot in front of the heater vent in our living room where she would take me. As we would sit there, she would tell me Old Testament stories. That is how I learned to recognize the Spirit. She would take different scripture stories and explain them to me, and then she would apply them to my life.
I Hear Him through Purposeful Direction
As evident from my upbringing, recognizing the Spirit does not happen randomly. When I go to bed at night, if I have something on my mind that may impact my Church work the next day, or if I am thinking about one of my children, grandchildren, or friends, I feel purposeful direction. Often I just feel a prompting; for instance, I will feel the need to go here, do this, do that, say this, say that. Other times I will feel words. I relate to Nephi in the Book of Mormon when he says to his brothers that they were “past feeling, that [they] could not feel” the words of the Lord (1 Nephi 17:45). For me the voice of the Spirit is a feeling that is manifest in a direction.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that if you will listen to the first promptings, you will get it right nine times out of ten.1 I learned early in my life that if you follow those first promptings, you are generally going to be directed by the Holy Ghost.
I Hear Him by Being Responsive to Promptings
In recent years I have experienced the feeling of being prompted in the middle of a conversation, and then I just go with it. I try to be that responsive to the Holy Ghost, and I believe that it impacts me in every area of my life. When I get up in the morning, I go to Heavenly Father in prayer and say, “Heavenly Father, help me today to be responsive to the promptings of Thy Spirit.” That is in every morning prayer for me.
Whether it be in a Church assignment, with a family member, or in any context, I try to just be responsive to the Spirit. Being responsive to the Holy Ghost requires some careful habits on our part. Some of the television programs we watch and advertisements we see these days can be offensive to the Holy Ghost. The outside influences we let into our spirit can impact our ability to be responsive to the Holy Ghost.
I Learned to Hear Him through My Mission Call to New York
When I was 19, I had been anxiously awaiting my mission call. My father, brother, and brother-in-law had gone on a mission to Germany, and I wanted to go to Germany on my mission as well. I remember the day that I walked out to our mailbox, and there was my mission letter. I did not wait for a big celebration or party like they do now—I just opened the letter. My parents were not even home at the time.
I read: “Elder Ronald A. Rasband, you are hereby called to serve as a missionary in the Eastern States Mission, headquartered in New York City, New York.” And I remember saying, “No! I’m supposed to go to Germany!” I was disappointed. I went in the house with that letter in hand, and I knew that I was going to have to see my parents soon. So I said to myself, “I had better get a better attitude about this, and I’d better get it quick.”
I went into my bedroom, and I picked up the Doctrine and Covenants. For some reason that day, I turned exactly to the 100th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, and I began reading: “Behold, and lo, I have much people in this place, in the regions round about; and an effectual door shall be opened in the regions round about in this eastern land. Therefore, I, the Lord, have suffered you to come unto this place; for thus it was expedient in me for the salvation of souls” (Doctrine and Covenants 100:3–4).
Immediately my attitude changed about not being called to be a German missionary. By the time my parents got home, I knew, by revelation through this scripture, that the Eastern States Mission was where the Lord wanted me to go.
I Heard Him as a Mission President
In addition to being called as a missionary to New York, I was blessed to serve as a mission president there. While serving in that calling, I received news that Elder Neal A. Maxwell was coming to New York City. As I began to make plans for an all-mission conference in Manhattan, I wondered who I would get to say the opening prayer for the meeting. I got out my mission roster and prayed, saying, “Heavenly Father, help me to know which of these missionaries you would have offer this opening prayer.”
During my regular round of interviews, I spoke with an elder named Elder Joseph Appiah. I said, “Elder, I have a question to ask you. I have been praying to know who, of all our missionaries, should pray in the devotional with Elder Neal A. Maxwell, and your name has come into my mind. I would like to invite you to offer the opening prayer in the devotional.”
Elder Appiah began to weep and said, “President, there is no missionary in this mission that would be more honored to pray with Elder Maxwell than me, and let me tell you why. Elder Maxwell was the Apostle who began the work of the Church in my native country of Ghana. He called my father, Thomas Appiah, to be the district president of the Accra Ghana District. And just eight years ago, Elder Maxwell sealed my parents in the Salt Lake Temple.”
I had no idea about the Ghana connection to his father or the temple connection to his family. All I knew is that when I looked at that roster of missionaries, Elder Appiah’s name stood out almost like it was in neon lights to me. That day of the devotional, Elder Appiah offered the opening prayer, and Elder Maxwell got out of his chair and went up to the pulpit and embraced him.
I will never forget following that prompting, being directed to a missionary, and having that experience with an Apostle of the Lord. The Lord knows each one of His children. That is exemplified in the ministry of Jesus Christ. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ ministers to the people one by one. I believe that is a wonderful lesson for all of us to remember: that even in huge populations, congregations, or families, the Lord Jesus Christ ministers to us one by one.
1. See Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (1989), 103.