A few years ago I sat in Fast and Testimony meeting and listened as my wife, Lietta, spoke of the workings of the spirit in her life and on promptings in general. I have spoken often with her about living by promptings.
Very early during my mission, I felt myself fitting the description Henry David Thoreau wrote about a man in a state of quiet desperation. I had agreed to serve a mission without having ever experienced any sort of spiritual prompting. Not having informed the sort of missionary I felt duty-bound to become, I trembled that my desperation might not remain merely quiet.
In my particular desperation I sought The Lord and related very much to Enos, who wrote that he had been driven to aloneness with God in the wilderness because, as he expressed it, “my soul hungered.”
Enos further explained that,
“I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.”
I have always related to the power of Enos’s feelings. As a young missionary in the Language Training Mission I experienced spiritual fear that was entirely palpable. Part of my sense of self included feelings of shame and unworthiness at having agreed to become a missionary with what I considered insincerity.
The Language Training Mission was my first genuine experience with what I refer to as The Moroni Promises as they are written in the tenth chapter of his Book of Mormon writings.
The Moroni Promises became my path to understanding the role of the Spirit in my life, freeing me from youthful notions that the Spirit only worked with me on occasion; often only on a basis of worthiness. I had the mistaken idea that if I was not good, if I was not obedient, I then was not faithful sufficient for the constant companionship of the Spirit.
Being caught in an innocent assumption of God having a only a conditional relationship with me, I believed then that the Spirit of God as a Fire would only burn in my bosom when God was pleased. I had come to equate the constancy of the Spirit as a conditional circumstance based on some vague mixture of my goodness, my worthiness and my conformity to the opinions of the Church.
For the longest time, I had failed to apply the Moroni Promises to that false notion. Now in private and quiet desperation I came to my attempt to confirm Moroni’s promises.
The result was not immediate; not a flash of light in dark woods, nor a bright candle in a room darkened by spiritual unworthiness. The result was a dawning spiritual awareness that the God loves me with no conditions; Divinity never turns away from me regardless of who else is not pleased with me. The Divine Spirit is in reality the same Spirit that ignited and continued to flame my mortal life and being.
Awareness of the Spirit and of promptings was awakened in me. I do not speak of any special sense of being a recipient of special revelation or promptings not available to others. I in fact have come powerfully to understand that promptings, hunches, feelings … intuition, if you will, are the most powerful ways the Divine works with you and me.
It is not mine to doubt or discredit whatever prompting anyone else knows as experience. That is why the notion of a cookie-cutter religion is so annoying and inaccurate as a portrayal of how human beings attempt to live in harmony, avoiding discord but always possessed of a willingness to question and ask.
The Moroni Promises became my modus operandi so to speak … and for me an incredibly comfortable way to feel guided as my contrite spirit not infrequently sought to be.
Second to the Moroni Promises in importance to me was the D&C scripture regarding how best apply and test those promises. The Divine was working with a troubled young man who was then – as I was in my time – struggling to know how to be guided by the Spirit.
Oliver Cowdery it seemed had quite casually assumed that receiving revelation took no effort or focus on his part. His literal-minded interpretation of what Joseph Smith was doing in dictating verses was that simply because Joseph as Joseph, i.e. Christ’s prophet, had merely to open his spiritual eyes and mind … and start dictating.
As we read in D&C 9, God opened Oliver’s understanding by prompting Joseph to declare not the revelations themselves, but the how-to as a manner of living prompted by The Spirit:
Here is what happened to Oliver … and please note that I have edited all scripture quotes, personalizing them as they prompted me regarding my own circumstance and feelings. It is in that manner that scriptures have been for me, a means of sensing about myself that which God knows and wants me to know.
Surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall cask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records … parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.
I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Spirit which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
This is the spirit of revelation. This is thy gift; apply unto it.
Whatever you shall ask me to tell you by that means, that will I grant unto you, and you shall have knowledge concerning it.
Ask that you may know the mysteries of God that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
Behold, it is I that have spoken it; and I am the same that spake unto you from the beginning. Amen.
Perhaps only partially understanding, Oliver was unable to do that which he had seen and heard Joseph doing … again because he had erroneous assumptions about what receiving revelations really meant and who can receive revelations.
Christ did not abandon Oliver but with a patient and unconditional love, explained again but in a different way.
“Because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant, Joseph, I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him.”
Oliver had proven himself incapable of being prompted by The Spirit. Christ then again gave Oliver divine guidance in the only way Oliver could in that moment receive a prompting.
Be patient, my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time. Behold, the work which you are called to do is to write for my servant Joseph.
It is because that you did not continue as you commenced, when you began to translate, that I have taken away this privilege from you.
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, you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right (The Moroni Promises), and if it is right I will cause that 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 … you cannot speak or write that which is sacred save it be prompted you from me by The Spirit.
Now, if you had known this you could have received prompting.Behold, it was expedient when you commenced but you doubted.
As it dawned on me back then and has repeatedly come back to my heart and thinking over the years, I remember the electrifying moment when Christ’s next words to Oliver in Section 9 leaped off the page at me and confirmed that I, as a missionary called of God, was in the right place. It was the right time for me. I was not abandoned to doubt and confusion about the coming years of my mission call.
Stand fast in the work wherewith I have called you, and a hair of your head shall not be lost, and you shall be lifted up at the last day. Amen.
I felt, for the first of many times, something Joseph revealed in section 121, for the moment, having strengthened my weakening spirit,
“For there is a time appointed for every man, according as his works shall be. … God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, … then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion … and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
Eventually the mortal me completed a mission.
However, my life’s lessons were not to be completed in such a context. Even now I have to admit that for reasons known more to God and less understood by me, differences in my perspective on spiritual living eventually led me to a hasty decision to remove myself from the Church. Doing so was a rash act based on anger and impulse but, I must also add, such anger and impulse were the consequences of how I chose to address doubts that came up in my life.
The addressing of those doubts was not a mistake.
Eventually, wading through the religious ashes of a former life, and after having met and courted an intensely perceptive woman who could sense my spiritual wounds, I addressed my doubts. Together with Lietta, that which we sought to know opened up an incredible vision and understanding of life that otherwise would have remained hidden, lost in my literal-minded acceptance of doctrine and theology.
Literal-mindedness was the personal curse of habit that in fact hindered my previous ability to see life on anything but limited terms of organizational religious literal-thinking.
I offer no criticism of a typical way of life for Mormons that is performance-based on the idea that grace is sufficient to salvation only after all we can do. Performance and obedience-based religious participation in which The Church keeps active members engaged in a good cause. However, as each human being is unique, such engagement in religious busy-ness does not work for me.
In a very real way, The Moroni Promises are the basis for the certainly and confidence which I place in God as I know and experience God through the same Spirit God experiences me.
My testimony … as I desire to express what testimony means to me … is that of a constant and conscious awareness of the Spirit of God in my life.
My experience is that Our Heavenly Parents and we ourselves are of the same Spirit.
There is not a separation between God’s Spirit and our Spirit …
it is one and the same …
the only way necessary for God to know our hearts and minds
… and for us to know the heart, mind and will of God.
We need no theology and no doctrine to know these things. Theology and doctrine are best utilized in lesson plans and classes for teaching.
Living with the constancy of God’s presence is more a matter of willful awareness, a contrite Spirit that humbly and always reaches out for God over a lifetime of spiritually-prompted moments.