“I’m just so confused why I had a prompting to serve her when she didn’t even appreciate it.”
My friend Sarah (name has been changed) was tearfully explaining to me how she had heard that an old acquaintance had recently had a baby, and Sarah, who had been praying for service opportunities, had felt prompted to offer to bring her dinner. Her friend accepted the offer.
But things didn’t go as planned.
Things kept going wrong while preparing the meal, and when Sarah got to her friend’s house an hour later than planned, her acquaintance coldly told her that her family had already eaten and shut the door.
Sarah was devastated at how things had gone, but she mostly felt confused—she didn’t know if she had actually received a prompting from the Spirit to serve her friend or if it had just been her own idea.
Many of us have experienced situations like this—I know I have. Situations where we have felt prompted to make certain decisions, only for those decisions to not work out the way we intended. In such moments, we might wonder whether the Holy Ghost really communicates with us.
The Holy Ghost does speak to us, but learning to recognize His promptings takes practice. Here are some ideas to help you recognize and trust His voice.
When we’re confirmed members of the Church, we are told in the blessing to “receive the Holy Ghost.”
The key word is receive.
Receiving means that while we may have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost, it’s up to us to accept that incomparable gift by choosing to live worthy of His companionship and then choosing to listen to His soft impressions.
As Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed ‘receive the Holy Ghost.’” 1
Receiving the Holy Ghost and recognizing His influence involve acts of faith like praying, studying the scriptures, and attending the temple. Ultimately, if you are striving to follow Jesus Christ each day, the “Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:46; see also verse 45).
Yes, every day. As President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) once taught, “This is the grand privilege of every Latter-day Saint … that it is our right to have the manifestations of the Spirit every day of our lives.” 2
But with the obnoxious buzz of the world humming in our ears and the endless number of responsibilities on our shoulders, it’s no wonder we sometimes miss the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost in our lives.
Something that can help us recognize His voice every day is making a list of good things that happened or things we felt inspired to do or say. Oftentimes we don’t recognize revelation until after we have acted on an impression and look back on our experiences.
It’s also important to remember that, to allow us to learn and grow, God may not outline every step we should take in life. As Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him.” 3
Sometimes we may overthink whether a message is from the Spirit. It’s important to act in faith, but we can also know if a prompting came from the Holy Ghost as we consider a few questions:
Have you been seeking revelation?
Are you living in a way that keeps the Spirit with you?
Is the impression prompting you to do good?
Are you willing to listen to the Spirit rather than your own desires?
If you are doing your best to seek revelation and you receive an impression that doesn’t make sense, remember these words of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “We may not be able to see the entire picture [of our lives] just yet, but with patience we can see enough to trust that there is a beautiful, grand design. And as we strive to trust God and follow His Son, Jesus Christ, one day we will see the finished product, and we will know that the very hand of God was directing and guiding our steps.” 4
Which brings us back to the conversation that Sarah and I had.
Sarah told me that when she returned home from her disastrous attempt to serve her friend, she asked Heavenly Father why she had felt the prompting when things went so badly. And as she quietly listened, she had a distinct thought: “The answer is bigger than you think.”
As I pondered what she was telling me, I suddenly thought of a general conference talk I had recently studied—“Infuriating Unfairness,” by Elder Renlund.
I felt prompted to share some of what he taught: “Jesus Christ both understands unfairness and has the power to provide a remedy. Nothing compares to the unfairness He endured. … He understands perfectly what we are experiencing.” 5
I offered the idea that maybe this prompting was meant to allow Sarah to increase her appreciation and love for the Savior. As I shared this thought, goosebumps erupted all over my arms, and I received confirmation that I was feeling the Spirit.
In that moment, I realized just how many ways the Holy Ghost had spoken to us:
Sarah had a good thought to serve someone.
A small voice in her mind answered her question after praying.
I had a sudden thought about Elder Renlund’s talk, and it turned out to be what Sarah needed to hear.
I felt a comforting feeling after sharing that confirmed my thought was from Him.
We finished our discussion feeling the Spirit and having more confidence that He does speak to us. It also renewed our faith that even if promptings don’t turn out the way we anticipate, they are still from the Holy Ghost.
Distinguishing the Spirit from your own thoughts becomes easier as you ask Heavenly Father to help you recognize how the Spirit speaks to you. It also takes a willing heart, a spiritually sound mind, and an ear that can tune out the influences of the world.
I’m still learning this spiritual language, but I’m grateful for those moments when, through the gift of the Holy Ghost, Heavenly Father reminds me that He is aware of me and stands ready to guide me—and each one of us who continues to turn to Him.