One morning, after being in the wilderness for a few days, Lehi opens his tent door to find a "round ball of curious workmanship" which we later learn is called the Liahona. This ball acted as a compass and "did work according to the faith and diligence and heed" that they gave to it. As they were righteous and obedient to God's commandments, the Liahona pointed them in the right direction. As they were rebellious and wicked, the Liahona stopped working and they got lost. Eventually, by following the Liahona, Lehi and his family were brought by the Lord into "a land which [was] choice above all other lands".
Growing up I would hear this story and always thought "How hard is it to follow a simple compass? I learned how to do that when I was like 8 in Boy Scouts! What was their problem?" (Yes I know, I was very harsh in my judgments when I was younger). As I grew older I was still confused but became a little less harsh in my judgment. I still didn't understand how it would be so hard to follow a compass, but I was a little more sympathetic to them.
A few months ago my sister sent me a letter and shared a scripture that provided some interesting insight to this thing I have been wondering about for a while. In this chapter, the prophet Alma is giving direction to his son who would later become the prophet of the people. In a part of this lesson, Alma teaches him about the Liahona and how it applies to him (and us) and he actually explains that there was a little more to the Liahona than simply just a compass. In verses 44, Alma says,
"For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land."So what can we learn from this? After my sister sent this scripture to me I thought a lot about it. I thought, "Why would she send me this? Why did she think this scripture was so important?" So I thought about it and I studied more about it and I came to understand at least some of the inspiration she received when she read it. I began to understand some of the great symbolism in this story. Just like with Lehi and his family, God has given us a tool, a Compass of sorts, to help lead and direct us--the Holy Ghost! Baptism is described as the gateway onto the path to salvation, to eternal life. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, usually the Sunday after baptism someone is confirmed a member and given the gift of the Holy Ghost. Immediately after Lehi opened his tent door that fateful morning, he received this compass. Likewise, almost immediately after one enters the gate to salvation, they receive the Holy Ghost into their life which they are enabled to have as their constant companion so long as they keep God's commandments.
It was hard for Lehi and his family to follow the guidance of the Liahona; is it hard for us to follow the guidance and direction of the Spirit of the Lord? Of course it is! Anyone who has had any experience with the Holy Ghost can tell you that it is hard to recognize and follow the promptings that He gives us. So how do we recognize when the Holy Ghost is communicating with us and trying to deliver a message to us? This is something that I have struggled with a lot in my life. I don't profess to be an expert in this matter at all, but I at least hope to share some insightful things that will hopefully help someone recognize the influence of this great blessing in our lives!
In order to understand what the Holy Ghost feels like, we first need to understand who the Holy Ghost is. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead with God the Father and Jesus Christ being the first two. Each member has Their own unique role in their purpose (found in Moses 1:39). God is kind of like the architect who designs and plans everything out for us. Christ is the catalyst. Through Christ's Atonement, we are able to do the things that God asks of us and become the people He wants us to become. The Holy Ghost is kind of like the messenger between us and God. When we pray, it is through the Holy Ghost that we receive our answer; it is through the Holy Ghost that we are able to feel God's love for us; and it is through the Holy Ghost that we are able to know if what we are doing is what the Lord wants from us. These are just a few of the many things that the Holy Ghost does to help us along our way.
Now that we understand this, it comes back to the real question of how do we recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost? Again, I am in no way a professional in this matter and am still learning more about it each day, but there are a few things that I have learned from the scriptures and from personal experiences. The first one is one of my favorite scriptures that talks about the Holy Ghost and it is in 1 Kings 19 and says
"And he said, God forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:I love this scripture because of the way it describes, by contrast, the Holy Ghost. In response to a concern, Elijah was directed to go to a mountain where he witnessed many destructive events. But notice with every one of them it includes the line, "the Lord was not in [it]". The Spirit rarely ever exhibits Himself through huge, life changing events. It is usually is a small, little nudge. A tiny voice inside your head that says "Hey, check that out" or "Turn that way" or some little thing like that that eventually leads you to what you were looking for. As Alma the Book of Mormon prophet teaches, it is by "small and simple things are great things brought to pass".
"And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."
So great, the Holy Ghost teaches us through small impressions and feelings. Through modern revelation, we learn how these impressions come. "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart" (D&C 8:2). That is something I have really come to understand recently. When we have questions that we have for God, He often answers us through our thoughts and our feelings. A few days ago I was talking with a fellow missionary here in the Referral Center about feeling the Holy Ghost and recognizing it. He posed some interesting new perspectives that I had never thought about before. One of them really stuck out to me. He said that one way he has noticed the Spirit teaching him or answering his questions is through random side-thoughts of other scriptures or quotes while he is studying the scriptures.
Ever since we had that conversation I have paid attention to my studies and have noticed that I too also have a number of times where I am reading something and a random scripture pops into my mind that completely opens my mind to an entirely new thought! And every time it is accompanied by a gentle feeling of peace in my heart. I have come to realize that this is exactly what was revealed to Joseph Smith in teaching that we will be taught in our heart and our mind. I am grateful for that conversation I had with him that he was able to follow the Spirit in teaching me how to recognize the Spirit. :)
Whenever I am faced with a tough decision, one scripture that always brings me comfort in knowing how to proceed is in the Book of Mormon--Moroni 7:13, 16-17.
"But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God..."For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God."But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him."
If we are faced with deciding if something is right or not, we should ask ourselves, "Does this help me grow closer to God and Christ or does it pull me away from them?" If it brings you closer to Them, then it is good! Otherwise, it is not good.
I know that by learning how the Holy Ghost communicates with us will help us to more easily follow the directions that God gives to us. Just as it was for Lehi and his family, it is also hard for us to follow the God-given Director, but I know and promise that as we do so, we will be led to the promised land that God has in store for us.