Thought I'd sit down this Sunday afternoon and share some insight from the last couple weeks and from one particularly rewarding study session.
The resolve I've made to read scriptures and say my prayers everyday is going much better! Stephen and I make it a point to read together in the morning so that we don't forget or get too tired at night. I've put down my phone in the mornings and have felt the energy in me shift to focus on more important things, like praying and meditation. I've had more purpose in my days due to these morning allotments of time to plan and I am so grateful to know that it is the fruits of the Spirit in my life.
I've been a little better about service, too. Finally got around to seeing my visiting teachers last week, which had been hard to do the last few months as I'd gotten so busy and distracted by the hurried and hectic schedule I'd so easily slipped into. I've found that even if I'm still busy, I don't have to be hectic. The Lord, in all His preaching, teaching, and studying, still managed to visit, heal, and uplift those in need. I still need to be better at this, but I think I'm taking a step in the right direction.
At any rate, I'm feeling motivated. I love that the Lord allows you to immediately feel the effects of spiritual course correction. It's His way of saying, "You're doing so well! Keep going!" This is the right way to think as we try improve. Satan tries to discourage us, which is often why he has us think, "Look at how much you do wrong. You'll never get your crap together." Heavenly Father loves us. He's pulling for us! "And Jesus is pulling with [us]" (Brad Wilcox).
One thing I've noticed in the last couple of weeks is that I can't have one grand, spiritual experience to let me coast through my life. I need something to continue to fuel me. I need to feel the Holy Ghost every day in my life.
As I re-learn this lesson for the millionth time, I'm motivated by a time in my life a few years ago when I'd learned to really look for revelation. One of my religion professors told us with great confidence that she received revelation every single day, and that we could, too. I actually sent her an email about it, noting the effects that that comment had on my life:
Dear Sister (So-and-So),
You probably don't remember me; I was in your D&C class a couple years ago. I wanted to thank you for putting so much effort and sincerity into your lessons when I took your class. I can't say I remember everything (in fact, I've forgotten most of the facts and dates and such (: ) but I remember very clearly something you mentioned about personal revelation. You said that you received revelation every day and that it's possible for all of us to do the same. That's stuck with me ever since and just recently I've realized that it is a guiding principle in my life. It is how I measure how close I'm aligning my will with Heavenly Father's because, in order to receive revelation every day, I have to be looking for it. When I realize I've gone a few days without receiving revelation, I know that I'm not actively developing my relationship with God and Jesus Christ. So far, 2012 has been a challenging year for me, but it's been amazing in terms of spiritual growth and divine guidance. I know that our Heavenly Father has so much He wants to tell us. As Neal A. Maxwell said, "It is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe! If only you and I can avoid being offended by their generosity." When I'm searching for His guidance, He readily gives it to me. Daily. I frequently bear testimony to others of experiences I've had when I'm receiving revelation daily and I think back on your lesson and how this frequency is not only possible, it's encouraged and--eventually--expected of us if we want to become like our Savior.
Well, today I received some extra oomph in this motivation. You see, I've been getting better at scripture reading/praying, but it's much easier to read scriptures with Stephen in the morning than it is making time for myself throughout the day. But today, I had some time to myself before church and I opened "Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson." I don't get to attend Relief Society since I serve in the Young Women's for the third hour, so I like to look through this sometimes to see what I've missed. Today, I read chapter 12, "Seek the Spirit in All You Do," and goodness! It was jam packed with insights I needed to pierce my soul and motivate me to continue with this newfound conviction to be a better disciple of Christ.
One of the first things I read reminded me of what I'd said in that email to my professor, President Benson states, “One sure way we can determine whether we are on the strait and narrow path is that we will possess the Spirit of the Lord in our lives. Having the Holy Ghost brings forth certain fruits. The Apostle Paul said that 'the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance' (Gal. 5:22–23).”
Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance... these are all consequences of being more Christ-like. Because I'm trying to become more Christ-like, and because "becoming Christ-like" can seem like a very generic and daunting goal, I can use fruits of the Spirit as markers for measuring how I'm doing in the process of getting there.
President Benson also said, "The most important thing in our lives is the Spirit. I have always felt that. We must remain open and sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost in all aspects of our lives. … These promptings most often come when we are not under the pressure of appointments and when we are not caught up in the worries of day-to-day life." I'm starting to realize this as I go throughout the day more conscious of my goal to be more Christ-like. We feel the Spirit when we are not caught up in other worries. This means we need to make feeling the Spirit a priority in the day. Every morning, I can wake up and ask the question, "What do I want to learn from the Spirit today?" If I keep that in the forefront of my mind, day-to-day problems will reduce into insignificance as I learn of more eternal principles.
A bigger problem that I've sometimes faced, or that I see those around me grapple with is the ability to access the Spirit often enough to nurture our testimonies. If we only let the Spirit into our lives during a good fast and testimony meeting or in the temple or watching Henry B. Eyring choke up during General Conference, our testimonies will become vulnerable, and the very fundamental truths we hold about God, the Atonement, and this church will crumble. President Benson says, “This latter-day work is spiritual. It takes spirituality to comprehend it, to love it, and to discern it. Therefore seek the Spirit in all you do. Keep it with you continually. That is our challenge... One reason we are on this earth is to discern between truth and error. This discernment comes by the Holy Ghost, not just our intellectual faculties.”
There are many questions I have about why the world is the way it is. Here's one I've thought often and heard often from others: "Is my faith really the only true way to be happy when I know so many happy people who live differently?" I know very happy people with different goals. Some don't even believe there is a God, but I see and delight in the joy they experience. There are certain aspects about this gospel that pass my understanding, but I have a firm testimony in the blessings that come from temple marriage, faith in God, and strict adherence to His principles. I know that if we live those commandments, we can ultimately receive eternal life and experience a joy that is richer and fuller than anything anyone has yet experienced in this mortality. That is the joy I speak of when I say, "This gospel brings me joy." Even though I have not reached the eternities yet, I feel the truth of that idea radiate within me every time I choose to obey God's counsel and receive His Spirit as my companion.
When I search for it, I feel the Spirit's effect in all aspects of my life. I love others more than I could on my own, I discover characteristics of myself that I could never obtain on my own, I am more powerful against the influence of sin than I could ever be without the aid of our Father and His Spirit. As President Benson said,
The Holy Ghost causes our feelings to be more tender. We feel more charitable and compassionate with each other. We are more calm in our relationships. We have a greater capacity to love each other. People want to be around us because our very countenances radiate the influence of the Spirit. We are more godly in our character. As a result, we become increasingly more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and thus able to comprehend spiritual things more clearly.So I know that the Spirit will help me accomplish the "Hows" of each step in my journey to become a better disciple of Jesus Christ, but how do I gain the Spirit to accomplish those "How's"? I guess I'm wondering the How behind the How... How.
The answers are not completely new. In fact, a lot of them mirror the answers to the Hows of my last post. The first step President Benson mentions is to pray for it. He says, “How do we obtain the Spirit? ‘By the prayer of faith,’ says the Lord [D&C 42:14]. Therefore, we must pray with sincerity and real intent. We must pray for increased faith and pray for the Spirit to accompany our teaching. We should ask the Lord for forgiveness.”
Next, President Benson says we should fast. This is one I had not completely considered in my last post, but it makes perfect sense. President Benson says, “If you want to get the spirit … try fasting for a period. I don’t mean just missing one meal, then eating twice as much the next meal. I mean really fasting, and praying during that period. It will do more to give you the real spirit of your office and calling and permit the Spirit to operate through you than anything I know.” I know my fasts could be better spent and more focused. We can use these times to feel the Spirit more strongly than usual, and thus be a motivator to seek after the Spirit even when our fasts have ended.
Finally, President Benson mentions the tried and true method that is often discussed but not emphasized enough--to study the scriptures: “Read and study the scriptures ... The scriptures are to be comprehended by the power of the Holy Ghost, for the Lord has given this promise to His faithful and obedient: 'Thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things' (D&C 42:61).”
This might be the most difficult one for me to do. Often. With zeal. I think Satan targets scripture reading the most because he knows what good it can do in our lives. Benson discusses this:
Don't you see? I know that every time I fall in my discipleship, I can trace it back to my prayers and scripture study. Don't be cavalier about them. They are the bread that will sustain you through trials and tedium. As Dale E. Sturm said, “Frequently we have to get through trials to get to blessings. But maybe just as frequently—maybe more frequently-- what we have to get through is nothing more dramatic than Monday morning. What we have to get through is the mundane, the common, the relentlessly routine to get to the blessings. Sometimes the trial is actually in the insistent ordinariness of the day-to-day.”The more familiar you are with the scriptures, the closer you become to the mind and will of the Lord and the closer you become as husband and wife and children. You will find that by reading the scriptures the truths of eternity will rest on your minds. The adversary does not want scripture study to take place in our homes, and so he will create problems if he can. But we must persist. We cannot know God and Jesus without studying about them and then doing their will. This course leads to additional revealed knowledge which, if obeyed, will eventually lead us to further truths. If we follow this pattern, we will receive further light and joy, eventually leading into God’s presence, where we, with Him, will have a fulness.
President Benson then quoted President Spencer W. Kimball, whose comment resonated with me and the sentiments expressed in these last couple posts:
I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel. (Spencer W. Kimball)
(That's more for me than anyone)
The Spirit makes you more happy, diligent, powerful, loving, positive, intelligent, joyful, peaceful, longsuffering, gentle, good, faithful, meek, and temperate (Gal. 5:22–23). You see a pattern here?
Pray for the Spirit. Fast for the Spirit. Seek for the Spirit. Hunger for it in your day-to-day interactions. I promise you will receive personal promptings. God will give you calculated insights. They are meant for you and your very unique journey back to our Heavenly Father. He loves us and is waiting to give us "the secrets of the universe" (Neal A. Maxwell). Find them. Use them. And be amazed as your "souls... expand" (Alma 5:9) to become even more like our perfect Father in Heaven.