Good afternoon brothers and sisters, I’ve struggled with what to say. Even up here, my hands are sweaty, my deodorant probably has already stopped working, and I wish there was water or a cold soda up here, because my throat is drying up.
Malcolm asked me to speak about ‘the voice of the Spirit.’ As I sat down and read the Boyd K. Packer talk about the topic, I was confronted with what might best be called a stupor of thought. And honestly, I’ve tried to figure out what I might say on the subject that wouldn’t label me a hypocrite. I do, and say, and look at, many things that probably offend the Spirit, and even more than that, I feel like I don’t often seek out the voice of the Spirit for direction in my life.
When I’m lonely, I call a friend. When I’m sad, I go out and play croquet or bocche ball. When I’m confused, I often turn directly to the scriptures or the Internet or Wikipedia, to find the answers. More often than not, I talk through issues with friends, or play and win until I forget, before I’d ever think to fall on my knees and ask for help or seek direction from the Spirit.
But as I thought and prayed about it last night, I had the feeling that I should not shy away from that experience. I think the real brilliance of Church is that we all come together and share our different experiences, and by doing so, we all gain a clearer picture of who He is and how He relates to us as His children.
Boyd K Packer says that the single greatest thing he has learned from reading the Book of Mormon is that the voice of the Spirit comes as a feeling rather than a sound. So this is what I feel I should talk about – and keep in mind that feelings can often be wrong. Once on my mission there was a sister in my district that was struggling, as I thought and prayed about how I could help her, I felt very distinctly that I should buy her a collection of “homies”—these little 2-inch figurines Chicano characters. I’m not sure that was revelation or inspiration, and maybe this talk isn’t either.
But here it goes anyway:
I think that sometimes, familiar scripture stories can make it seem that hearing, identifying and following the Spirit should be easy. We forget that these great prophets of both the Bible and Book of Mormon were people just like us – people that doubted, and made mistakes, and got lost and wanted to turn back.
It takes great effort and experience to learn to feel, hear and recognize the voice of the Spirit. As a baby, Jesus started out pretty much like the rest of us. Luke tells us that even He had to “(grow), and (wax) strong in the Spirit.” If it took time for Him, shouldn’t it also be a struggle for us?
I love story of Moses. I think his call illustrates that very clear instruction from the Spirit often happens in the scriptures, but not so often in real life. In Moses 1, he describes God’s voice speaking to him: “Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God. And lo, I am with thee, even unto the ends of thy days; for thou shalt deliver my people from bondage, even Israel my chosen.” So he receives this clear call and instruction, direct from the voice of God. And ultimately, Moses does lead his people away from Egypt until they reach the Red Sea. They come up to this great body of water and ask, “now what?” And at this moment of impossibility, when the chariots of Pharaoh are approaching, and the children of Israel our panicking and there is chaos and confusion all around – and nothing but water in front of them. At that moment, Moses does something incredible. Amidst the mayhem and the doubt, he remembers God’s promise that he shall be “made stronger than many waters”, and has a feeling of what he should. I don’t think that the miracle is the faith to spread the seas, it’s the faith to move forward, one step at a time, testing your faith and overcoming doubt.
I love, too, the story of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac. Genesis doesn’t tell us how long it took Abraham to climb Mount Moriah with Isaac in his hand. It doesn’t relate how slowly he walked, or many times he decided to turn back. What it does prove to us, is that when we follow the voice of the Spirit, even to places we do not want to go, events nothing short of sacred occur. We all have moments like Abraham’s – when God has asked too much of us, when friends can’t help, when the answers don’t come easily, when the choices placed before us make it impossible to move forward and all we want to do is turn back.
And in those times for me, the voice has been there to teach me, to comfort me, to direct me, to reassure me. But it is not always there. And when there is no voice, and the heavens seem silent – there is the reminder of things learned.
I have three stories that are sacred to me that I would like to share:
First: In the last area of my mission, I’d never worked harder but still the success never came. It was really a hard and miserable six months and it got to the point that I knelt and asked God why all my work seemed to be for vain. And this was His answer, through the voice of His Spirit: He could have called someone that was faster, or smarter, or more spiritual or better looking (though that may have taken more work) that could have moved the work forward much faster, but He called me because I raised my hand to be there and I should feel nothing but gratitude for the opportunity He gave me.
I feel that way now.
There are some real spiritual powerhouses in this branch and right now, you could be listening to any number of people telling you about how their unwavering commitment has led them to great spiritual blessings. You could leave feeling much more motivated to love and live the Gospel. But here I am, unsure of even the words I am using. But again, I raised my hand to be here. And if I fail, I’m grateful to a loving God who gives me the chance to try.
Second: When I doubt, and I often do, God reminds me that as a sixteen year old I listened to two missionaries tell a story of a young boy in upstate New York. That was a long time ago now, but I still remember how embarrassed I felt for them for believing such a ridiculous story.
And then I prayed about it.
I didn’t hear a voice, but I had a feeling that I cannot deny (though I often would like to) that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
Third: My senior year of college, for lots of reasons, I found ‘the experience of reality’ and ‘the promise of the Gospel’ very difficult to reconcile. I feel like I made a lifetime of mistakes in a very short period of time. In the middle of this, when the rollercoaster of life was at it’s lowest, I received a strong impression about someone in my ward, to see how he was doing – again, not a voice, but a feeling. So I send a Facebook message to let him know that he does a lot for everyone else and if there’s ever a time he needed someone, I’d be there for him.
He responds back almost immediately with a plea for help. So I go over and we talk. The next Sunday he get’s up to bare his testimony, and through tears says that he’d been feeling so lonely and feeling that he tries so hard to be there for others and just didn’t know who was be there for him. He prays about it about but receives little peace. Shortly after praying about it, he get’s a Facebook message from me.
Moments like that make me want to ‘hear’ the voice of the Spirit more. They also teach me some marvelous truths about a Heavenly Father, who can use each of us, willing though unworthy, to do His work.
I hope I’ve illustrated that the voice of the Spirit will speak to us, not only when we are trying our best, not only when we are just starting out, but even in the midst of our mistakes. We should never stop listening for it.
And sometimes, even when we think we need it the most, the voice is silent. Sometimes, as Howard W. Hunter taught, it is our detours and disappointments that are the “strait and narrow path to Him”. Sometimes, no often, salvation is a lonely road. We are better for our trials, for as Dolly Parton often remarked, “Storms make trees take deeper roots.”
I really love this branch. I love the things I have learned from each of you since I’ve been here. I don’t always make the best Mormon – I don’t often wear white shirts to Church, I have little interest in going on double dates, or even to the next fireside. I’ve been a member for over ten years, and still I struggle with some of the most basic doctrines of the Gospel. But in spite of that, you’ve made a place for me here. That reassures me that there is a place for me in God’s kingdom.
I hope you got something from this talk, because I did. I felt things that I have not felt for a very long time, and remembered things that I had forgotten. And I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.