Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Game of Hot and Cold

I remember playing a guessing game when I was little where the person who was “it” had to find an object that someone else had hidden. The only clues given were to tell the person searching whether they were close or not by simply saying, "warm, warmer, hot," or "cold, colder, freezing." The hotter you were, the closer you were to finding the object.

I like to compare this game of “Hot and Cold” with the gift of the Holy Ghost. Listening to the Holy Spirit is much like getting subtle impressions of how close we are to doing what is right. Listening for the directions can help us make corrections when necessary and stay on track. However, when we give in to temptation, we tend to stop listening to the directions given by the Holy Ghost. That is when we are in danger.

Months ago, I spoke with a friend about his experiences with the Holy Ghost. I asked him if he had faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. His answer surprised me. “I believe it is true,” he said, “but I don’t know it is true.” Silently I wondered how my friend could doubt so much to not believe that he had already been given knowledge. We discussed his testimony a little further and I gave him a few suggestions to ponder.

As each of us considers the strength of our personal testimonies, I believe there are three questions that can secure our faith. The first question is, “Can God lie?” The answer is a resounding no. He cannot lie or He would cease to be God. The second question is, “Can God speak to us?” The answer is a definite yes. At a minimum it is like playing Hot and Cold. But He can also give us instruction and inspiration. Then the third question, “Will God lead us astray?” Again the answer is no. The opposite defies reason. Everything God does is to help us return to His presence.

When we find ourselves in good circumstance, those who have faith are not likely to question these answers. However, when we are in the middle of a trial, they are the first truths we attack if our faith is weak. This is not to say that we don’t have faith, but rather our faith needs strengthening after being tested.

We may hear ourselves say, “I thought Father said He would take care of us and provide for us if we kept His commandments.” “Maybe He didn’t really speak to me, maybe I imagined it.” Or, “How did I get here. This is not where I thought I would be. I expected to be happier and safer.” Suddenly we question ourselves and Father. We begin to doubt and fear replaces our faith.

If we can remember these three questions before we are tried and tested – and be certain of their truth when we feel the Holy Spirit – it will help us to be patient and remember that the Lord will keep His promises, in His due time.

If we believe the answers to these three questions, and we believe that we have received answers to our prayers, then we can say with assurance that we have knowledge and not just faith – knowledge that God has spoken to us. We may not know the outcome of our choices, but that is where faith returns. Father allows us the opportunity to believe Him and have faith that what He said is true.

You may not be completely comfortable with those three questions yet, and if that is the case, that’s okay. There is still room to find out for yourself. The Savior’s invitation to ask God has been given to every dispensation. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

The follow up question I ask myself in relation to the first three is, “If the Lord does speak to me, how can I know for sure when He is speaking to me?” If I have impressions that tell me, "warm, warmer, hot," or "cold, colder, freezing," how can I be sure it really is Father? If I can answer that, I will have the start of a testimony.

Having learned the answer for myself, I can say I know that God lives, and I know He will not leave me, because the Holy Spirit has already confirmed to me that this is true. The key is to learn how to listen. Following are some key principles that were revealed to Joseph Smith regarding personal revelation and how to receive it.

The Lord has assured us that His words will be fulfilled. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself….” Other things may change, but His word will not change. Knowing that He is committed can be the foundation of our testimonies if we believe that God cannot lie. (D&C 1:37-38)

In the Doctrine & Covenants, the Lord told Oliver Cowdery that as often as he had inquired of the Lord, that he received instruction of the Spirit. A witness of this is that his mind was enlightened. (D&C 6:14-15) Because the Lord is not a respecter of persons, each of us can learn if we will inquire through prayer. We can receive a witness of peace. The Lord further told Oliver, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:22-23)

When we pray, we should anticipate being enlightened. We should watch for inspiration to come. If we desire to know if this is from God, we should focus on how we feel and watch for the witness of peace in our hearts.

Both the mind and the heart are required to receive revelation. The Lord said, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation….” (D&C 8:2-3) When we receive revelation from the Lord, the thoughts in our minds and the feelings in our hearts will be consistent.

Another important key to receiving revelation is contained in direction given by the Lord to Oliver Cowdery while he was assisting Joseph Smith in translation. We need to take an active role in seeking the answer. “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong….” (D&C 9:7-9)

To avoid being deceived, the Lord also gave additional council to make sure the thoughts and feelings of our hearts and minds are consistent with His heart and mind. To Hyrum Smith He said, “And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.” (D&C 11:12-14)

Receiving revelation, and gaining a testimony, requires time and practice. Placing oil in our lamps, in this case, is done a drop at a time. As we follow these principles, and find ourselves getting closer and closer to the Holy Spirit, the light of Christ will grow warmer and warmer in our hearts.

Occasionally when we play a game of hide and seek, where the truths we are seeking seem to elude us, we may get frustrated. We might be disappointed because we are not receiving the answers we desire, or we might be frustrated that our personal testimonies are not as strong as we would like. In either case, persistence in the correct course will pay off.

A testimony will lead us like a candle. The fact that it can lead us suggests that our actions will often follow after the light. In other words, sometimes our actions will lag behind our beliefs or our faith. We know what to do, but we don’t always do it. Because our beliefs and actions are not aligned does not mean we are hypocrites. If our hearts are pointed towards the thing we have not yet mastered, we are still followers. We need not worry unless our hearts are turned opposite from the things we say. Disciples are not required to be perfect to follow. Discipleship is the path that leads to perfection. We grow spiritually as we try to follow the Savior Jesus Christ by walking in His light.

In those moments when we feel that the hot and cold directions are not so clear, we should look closely at why. It is possible that we are not receiving direction because we have turned our hearts from the Lord. In this case, the answers may not come until we repent. Another possibility is that we are being tested to see if we are really listening and are ready to follow. He may just be checking the alignment of our hearts.

If I want to perform a quick alignment test on my car, I take both hands off of the steering wheel while I am driving, albeit only briefly. If the wheels are out of alignment, the car will veer ever so slightly to one side or the other. Typically it won’t go careening off the road. The misalignment may be very small – it may not even be detectable when both hands are on the steering wheel – but it will result in unnecessary wear on the tires which will require them to be replaced sooner.

Similar to the alignment of a car, our hearts need adjustment from time to time. When the Spirit withdraws temporarily, and we are left to our own devices to make a decision, we gain experience in studying out the matter for ourselves. Without the help of the Spirit to steer us, our actions make our alignment very clear, whether we are straight or veer slightly to one side. If we choose not to correct our hearts, we add undue stress to our choices.

The matter of spiritual alignment is critical in receiving revelation. It is no different than pouring water into a glass from pitcher. If we are not aligned, the water continues to flow, hitting the outside of the glass and doing nothing to fill it. When our glass is properly oriented, we will be filled to overflowing. The Lord told Joseph Smith, “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” (D&C 88:67-68)

While the promise spoken of in these verses is great, the pathway that leads to that promise is full of revelation. One revelation will lead to another, line upon line, until we have received a fullness. The closer we get to Father, the more He can tell us. When we repent and are ready to follow His direction, the answers do come. The game of Hot and Cold becomes more of a pursuit. As we get closer to obtaining our goal, we are only satisfied with “warmer” and “hot” as answers. We never want to be cold again. Fortunately, we don’t have to as long as we take the Holy Ghost as our guide.

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