“Teaching by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1999, 37
Eight elders and two sisters greeted Lisa Ann Jackson as she entered a classroom at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. A recently returned missionary and a teacher there, Sister Jackson was substituting that evening. Still filled with the strength and zeal she had gained through her service as a missionary in the England Leeds Mission, Sister Jackson greeted the class enthusiastically. Then, together, they began reading the Book of Mormon.
One elder seemed to be struggling. His abundance of energy spilled out in the form of distracting comments. Eventually he asked, “Why did you go on a mission, Sister Jackson?” as if he thought she shouldn’t have gone.
“I hesitated to answer,” remembers Sister Jackson. “We were on a tight schedule and I knew my story would take far more time than we could spare. But the Holy Ghost prompted me to go ahead.
“I began by telling the class that I had received a powerful answer to my prayers about going on a mission even though I wasn’t anxious to go. Yet in spite of my hesitation, I couldn’t deny the confirmation I had received. I told them about my own days at the MTC. I had had a poor attitude, but the Lord had been patient with me and helped me. I suggested that there may be others struggling as I had. Then, with tears streaming down my face from the gratitude and Spirit I felt, I finished by telling them about my last day in the mission field: I had been very blessed with a wonderful mission, and I thought my heart would break as I said good-bye to those I had taught and loved.
“The rowdy elder became silent. The Spirit settled in the room. We moved on to practicing the discussions in pairs. After class ended, the elder came up to me with tears in his eyes, shook my hand, and quietly said, ‘Thank you. My prayers have been answered tonight.’ His companion then took my hand and whispered to me, ‘Thank you, Sister Jackson. You have no idea what happened here tonight. Thank you.’
“The missionaries left for the evening. I do not know what was said that helped that elder feel the Spirit; but I do know that the Spirit changed his heart that night, and I felt blessed to witness the Lord doing His work.”
Like Sister Jackson, we can prepare our minds and hearts to receive inspiration to teach. The Lord has said, “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). As we teach the word of truth by the power of the Spirit, prayers will be answered, insights will be gained, and peace will fill troubled hearts.
Preparation is the key to successful teaching. To get ready to teach, we need to study the scriptures and approved lesson materials and pray for inspiration. As we do so, the Lord will “enlighten” our minds “by the Spirit of truth” (D&C 6:15). The Lord has promised, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you” (D&C 88:78). Charlene J. Steele, of the Fruit Heights Fifth Ward, Fruit Heights Utah Stake, tells of a time when the Lord magnified her efforts as a visiting teacher:
“As I prepared my visiting teaching lesson, I asked Heavenly Father to plant His truths deep within my heart and mind by the power of the Holy Ghost. I knew that one of the sisters we taught had special needs because of a recent surgery. Before leaving, my companion and I knelt in prayer together and asked again for Heavenly Father to be with us during our visit.
“As we entered this sister’s home, I quickly perceived that her physical needs were not as great as her need for emotional and spiritual strengthening. She cried as she talked. I didn’t know what to say. A feeling of panic and inadequacy came over me. What could I say to help her? My immediate, silent prayer was, O my Father, give me utterance according to her needs. I opened my mouth, and the words began to flow. As we talked and discussed the lesson, the Spirit of the Lord adapted what I had studied to meet her personal needs.
“I was amazed. I had never had such an experience. The time went swiftly, although we were there for more than an hour. After sharing an embrace, we left. My joy was full in teaching the truths of the gospel that day.”
Maximum blessings come when both teacher and student prepare themselves to receive the word by the Spirit of truth. “Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:21–22).
Aaron taught Lamoni’s father to prepare to receive the Spirit: “If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest” (Alma 22:16).
As a teacher in the Church Educational System, Ralph E. Rigby of Salt Lake City tried to make his spiritual preparation as important as his other preparation for daily lessons. “The Spirit can teach,” he says. “It can also touch hearts, change attitudes, and bear testimony of the principles being taught. But when students are prepared and receptive to the Spirit, great things happen.”
Now retired, Brother Rigby recalls an experience he had while teaching a religion class at Brigham Young University: “It wasn’t really unusual for a student to drop into my office, especially a student who was expecting his mission call in a month or two, but this student’s reason for dropping in was unique.
“The student began by saying, ‘I thought you would be interested in knowing how your class has helped me. I enjoyed studying the Book of Mormon, but I also had some problems I needed help with. So I came up with a plan. I wrote down a question for each class period. Then I prayed about the question and went to your seven o’clock class.’
“The young man showed me the questions he had written down: 30 questions, 30 class periods, 30 answers. I noticed that many of the answers to his questions had nothing to do with the material I had been teaching! But this student had sought the Lord in prayer and had come in faith to my class, expecting the answers. And he had received an answer to every question! I realized that the Spirit had led him to find the answers to his questions.”
Teachers should encourage class members to participate, teach, and edify one another. This enables them to benefit from each other’s gifts, knowledge, and experience. “Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesman at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege” (D&C 88:122).
Elizabeth Friend of the St. Peters Ward, St. Louis Missouri North Stake, remembers such an experience which took place during the first Gospel Doctrine class she taught. “We were studying the life and words of Job,” says Sister Friend. “As the class discussed the afflictions of Job and the accusations of his friends, I asked, ‘Are trials and affliction in this life God’s punishment for our sins?’ It was a delicate question. In the class sat a young couple who had recently lost a baby through unexpected and tragic circumstances. Both husband and wife looked up, the fire of faith in their eyes. With great emphasis, this sister bore her testimony that adversities in our lives are blessings rather than punishments and enable us to grow stronger and have greater faith in the Lord. As she spoke, the Spirit bore witness of the truth of her words. Those words strengthened the rest of the class.”
When we teach true principles by the Spirit and when class members are spiritually receptive, we can expect significant results. The Savior taught that “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20). Those who are touched by the Spirit bear witness of the “good fruit” available to all who seek it.
“One evening I was sitting in a stake mission leadership meeting,” says Samuel D. McVey, of the Salem Ninth Ward, Salem Utah West Stake. “At the close of the meeting, the speaker said nine words that changed my whole attitude. ‘Brethren,’ he said, ‘never underestimate the motivational power of the Lord.’ That was the key for me! The Spirit printed that statement on my heart, mind, and soul. I have applied that simple principle ever since with miraculous results. Now before I give an assignment, I spend some time on my knees and ask the Lord to help motivate a certain person or group.”
A young seminary student wrote the following note to her teacher: “I’d been taught the principle of tithing all my life, but today it was just like someone turned on a light in a dark room. For the first time in my life, I could see clearly the purpose behind tithing, and I really wanted to pay it.”
Bonnie Packer Hauber, of the Fort Pierce Ward, Stuart Florida Stake, wrote the following testimony in her journal years ago as a young woman: “I really felt the Spirit today in Relief Society. When I was sitting in the room listening to the comments, I had a special feeling. I felt like Christ was there, I felt like His Spirit was with me. … I love this gospel and am thankful for it. I need to remember that ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ’ (Rom. 1:16). I don’t know how to explain the feeling, but just knowing the Spirit was there and feeling the tears run down my cheeks, I knew I was in the right place.”
As we seek to teach by the Spirit, we should remember a few words of caution from President Boyd K. Packer, now Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Strong, impressive spiritual experiences do not come to us very frequently.”1 Our classes do not have to have dramatic spiritual experiences every week to be successful. The Spirit often teaches very gently and quietly and is described as a “still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:12).
“It is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences.”2 We must be selective about sharing sacred experiences or we may not be trusted to receive them.
“You cannot force spiritual things.”3 As teachers, we cannot force spiritual experiences to happen. If we try to do so, we open the way to be misled.
“Be ever on guard lest you be deceived by inspiration from an unworthy source.”4 If we are not careful, we may find ourselves listening to the wrong source or misinterpreting our emotional impulses as spiritual promptings.
In short, we need to put our “trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit” (D&C 11:12).
If we seek diligently to teach by the Spirit, Heavenly Father will help us. While in some instances we will know how the Spirit touched the lives of those in the class, many times we will never know how the Lord has used us as an instrument to answer another’s prayers.
Nephi felt his words were inadequate to teach others all the things he had learned from the Lord, but he knew that “when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Ne. 33:1). As we prayerfully prepare our lessons, seek inspiration, and teach true principles, the Spirit will attend us. We will be able to invite the Spirit into our class and fill the needs of those listening through the truths of the gospel.