Discerning the Presence of the Holy Spirit

My son Andrew will be leaving in a couple of months to serve a proselyting mission to Bulgaria. In preparation for his mission, I asked if he and I could have a daily hour of “companionship study” to help him prepare for missionary life. He wholeheartedly agreed and we have been doing this now for several weeks. It’s been a joy-filled experience.

This morning during our study hour, we talked about the Holy Ghost and how you can tell if it is present. I related an experience from my missionary days at the Mission Training Center (October 1985) and how, during a mock discussion with an “investigator”, I was critiqued that I didn’t point out when the Spirit was present. My companion had felt the Spirit, as well as our investigator and my instructor behind the one-way mirror. But I hadn’t felt anything unusual. So I started to worry whether I was “past feeling” or wasn’t worthy of the Spirit. After visiting with my branch president, we decided that I was indeed worthy to serve, but that perhaps I was expecting to feel something that was more emotional than spiritual.

Now granted, many of my spiritual experiences are also emotional events. For example, I can get pretty emotional listening to or performing sacred hymns and music, often to the point where I have to stifle a sob. It also doesn’t take much for me to tear up and whip out my handkerchief as I’m listening to talks, lessons, and devotionals. So, naturally, I have associated a spiritual experience with the joy-filled, heart-is-brimming, can-barely-talk, experience. But that isn’t necessarily true.

I explained that emotions were just one way the Holy Ghost communicates to our spirits. We read from Galatians 5:22-23 about Paul’s nine fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), and how those nine fruits parallel the attributes of a missionary from D&C 4:5-6 (faith, hope, charity, love, commitment, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, humility, diligence). Whenever you can feel or “taste” these fruits, you are experiencing the blessings of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes we experience the fruits of the Spirit so intensely that we become affected physically or emotionally. And if they persist for long periods of time, if we’re not used to it, we become drained, as was Moses on Mt. Sinai, Joseph Smith after his first vision, and Sidney Rigdon after he and Joseph experienced the vision recorded in D&C 76 (Juvenile Instructor, May 15, 1892, pp. 303-4).

While I’ve never seen a vision or heard an audible voice, I have repeatedly felt the feelings mentioned in the above scriptures. And because of those feelings, I’ve wanted to repent and become a better person. Which makes perfect sense, after all, the role of the Holy Ghost is to testify of the truthfulness of a message so that it motivates us to improve our character and make behavioral improvements that will eventually enable us to return to our Father.

So one way to tell if someone is feeling the Spirit is if they are experiencing a feeling of love, joy, peace, etc., and if those feelings are leading them to want to improve their lives.  If we can’t determine if this is occurring by observing their emotional reactions or other physical cues, we can always ask them questions like these:

  • What are you feeling right now?
  • What new thoughts does this bring to mind?
  • Do you believe what we’re saying is true?
  • What does this make you want to do?

Whenever we determine that someone is feeling the Spirit, and if they are new to this experience, we need to point it out quickly before it passes. For those who have not been bestowed with the Gift of the Holy Ghost by authorized priesthood holders, this feeling tends to go away quickly. It is our solemn duty as missionaries and members of the Church, to “let our light shine” and create an environment where people can have a spiritual experience so that they can make the changes they need to repeatedly enjoy the fruit of the Spirit for themselves.

I’m genuinely thankful that God has been mercifully mindful of me, and my spiritual needs, and has sent his Holy Spirit to bring me feelings of peace, comfort, love, and joy just when I needed them. Whenever I am feeling confused, depressed, discouraged, anxious, or fearful, if I am honestly trying to do my best, I know I can pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, and he will send the Holy Ghost to lift up my soul and put me back on the right path.

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