In my personal gospel study, I was recently re-reading a talk by Elder Richard G. Scott entitled “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance” from October 2009 General Conference. As I read it, I realized (a spiritual prompting, no doubt) that Elder Scott’s words were excellent advice for young people, particularly young women, who were trying to decide if they should go on a mission or not.
My mind then turned to my own teenage daughter and son who will soon be reaching the age to go on a mission. They will also, within a few years, be making important life decisions like where to go to college and who to date and marry. It occurred to me that there are few more important topics for older teens to learn than how to receive spiritual guidance from God. So of course, I made plans to have that be the next topic in family home evening, and I thought I’d share the lesson with this audience too.
There Is No Simple Formula
While I have organized Elder Scott’s advice into a cycle with six steps, he says “there is no simple formula or technique that would immediately allow you to master the ability to be guided by the voice of the Spirit. Our Father expects you to learn how to obtain that divine help by exercising faith in Him and His Holy Son, Jesus Christ. Were you to receive inspired guidance just for the asking, you would become weak and ever more dependent on Them. They know that essential personal growth will come as you struggle to learn how to be led by the Spirit.”
So again, the steps I have extracted from Elder Scott are steps I identified as I read his examples. I have seen this same pattern play out in my own life, so they ring true. But they are not the one and only way to receive spiritual guidance from God. Some of the elements may differ for you and learning how to recognize the voice of God in your mind and heart is a skill you will have to fully learn through your own experiences. But hopefully this will still help.
Step 1: Recognize the Spirit of God
“What may appear initially to be a daunting task will be much easier to manage over time as you consistently strive to recognize and follow feelings prompted by the Spirit. Your confidence in the direction you receive from the Holy Ghost will also become stronger. I witness that as you gain experience and success in being guided by the Spirit, your confidence in the impressions you feel can become more certain than your dependence on what you see or hear.”
Step 2: Write down the inspiration
“Now I share an experience that taught me a way to gain spiritual guidance. One Sunday I attended the priesthood meeting of a Spanish branch in Mexico City. …[the teacher’s] sincerity, purity of intent, and love permitted a spiritual strength to envelop the room. I was deeply touched. Then I began to receive personal impressions as an extension of the principles taught by that humble instructor. …As each impression came, I carefully wrote it down. In the process, I was given precious truths that I greatly needed in order to be a more effective servant of the Lord. The details of the communication are sacred and, like a patriarchal blessing, were for my individual benefit.”
Step 3: Write more detail in private
“I received such an outpouring of impressions that were so personal that I felt it was not appropriate to record them in the midst of a Sunday School class. I sought a more private location, where I continued to write the feelings that flooded into my mind and heart as faithfully as possible.”
Step 4: Ponder and make adjustments
“After each powerful impression was recorded, I pondered the feelings I had received to determine if I had accurately expressed them in writing. As a result, I made a few minor changes to what had been written.”
Step 5: Apply the inspiration
“Then I studied their meaning and application in my own life. …Spirituality yields two fruits. The first is inspiration to know what to do. The second is power, or the capacity to do it. These two capacities come together. …God answers prayer and gives us spiritual direction when we live obediently and exercise the required faith in Him.”
Step 6: Thank God and ask if there is more
“I prayed, reviewing with the Lord what I thought I had been taught by the Spirit. When a feeling of peace came, I thanked Him for the guidance given. I was then impressed to ask, ‘Was there yet more to be given?’ I received further impressions, and the process of writing down the impressions, pondering, and praying for confirmation was repeated.” In other words, return to Step 1.
A Repeatable Experience “as you make this a practice in your life”
“What I have described is not an isolated experience. It embodies several true principles regarding communication from the Lord to His children here on earth. I believe that you can leave the most precious, personal direction of the Spirit unheard because you do not respond to, record, and apply the first promptings that come to you.”
“Impressions of the Spirit can come in response to urgent prayer or unsolicited when needed. Sometimes the Lord reveals truth to you when you are not actively seeking it, such as when you are in danger and do not know it. However, the Lord will not force you to learn. You must exercise your agency to authorize the Spirit to teach you. As you make this a practice in your life, you will be more perceptive to the feelings that come with spiritual guidance. Then, when that guidance comes, sometimes when you least expect it, you will recognize it more easily.”