Like many others, as a young woman I attended girl’s camp each year. It was the best week of my summer every summer for six years. For those of you who have been there with me, first off I apologize for the noise levels. I’m just……loud. I’m loud. And second off, I think you can probably confirm how much I absolutely loved every second. There was no pressure to impress, no bad influences, all fun and joy all the time with my favorite people. I think attending camp helped me grow socially, in a setting where I felt comfortable being outgoing and a leader, which was not always the case the rest of the year in school, especially in my younger years. I learned how to start fires, perform CPR, and produce an expert Sasquatch call. I learned that I have a firm motherly instinct when, on our hike, Natalie Rutledge tripped and rolled down a hill, and me, not knowing what to do but needing to do something, within 5 seconds had put a Band-Aid on a barely there scratch on her knee. I scared Lori Leedy half to death on multiple occasions by hiding under her bed, in her sleeping bag, and so forth; and I think I successfully lost my voice from singing most every year. All of these experiences helped create me, and are still some of my favorite memories to look back on.
However, the biggest impact on me was the strength of the spirit there each summer. My first year, during our testimony meeting, was the first time I can vividly recall feeling the spirit, and knowing it. I remember sitting there, taking a moment to glance up at the unblemished sky full of stars, and feeling so grateful because I KNEW in that moment that God was real, and he had created those stars and he had created me. I remember feeling so at peace in that instant, and I wanted to tell everyone what I was feeling because I wanted them to feel that wonderful too. It had taken me 11 years being raised in the church before I clearly recognized the spirit as I felt it. Many of us were baptized at age 8, others of us later in life, and maybe some of you have yet to be. Despite this, I know that we are all in a constant process of conversion. I am 19, leaving on a mission in 3 weeks, and I can honestly tell you that I am still being converted every day. I grew up in this ward and I want to thank so many of you for helping me along in this conversion, for teaching me, being an example to me, and loving me. You all have helped me become who I am in this moment, and I am so grateful for that.
I read a quote a few months back of an anthropology professor speaking to his students. He said “you all have a little bit of ‘I want to save the world’ in you, that’s why you’re here, in college. I want you to know that it is okay if you only save one person, and it’s okay if that person is you”
Today I will be relating the role of the spirit in missionary work. We cannot all be full-time missionaries in this moment, and that is okay. Like I said before, we are all both learners and teachers, being converted each day. I want you all to know that there are opportunities for missionary work everywhere in your life. And it is okay if, right now, your top investigator is yourself. Although I will specifically reference missionary work, this is applicable to the personal development occurring daily in each of our lives.
Every human that travels to this earth is born with an influence called “The Light of Christ”. This is the power for good in the lives of all people. One of my religion professors taught that this light is the power source of the entire universe. We can learn of this in the Doctrine and Covenants. “6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;
7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;
11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;
13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.” (D&C 88) All good things were made by Christ and powered with his light, including man. Everyone, whether they have experienced the gospel or not, has felt the light of Christ at one point or another in their lives. It is the influence to do good, “given to every man, that he may know good from evil” It is an uplifting, ennobling, and persevering influence. Joseph B Wirthlin taught that "The light of Christ will lead the honest soul to 'hearkeneth to the voice' to find the true gospel and the true Church and thereby receive the Holy Ghost". It is through the light of Christ that investigators become investigators. As they are taught the gospel, there will be a familiar ring to them as a missionary is bringing forth the Spirit of Christ that already resides within them. The Holy Ghost then works through that spirit as they develop in their faith and become converted to Christ.
The Holy Ghost is a personage, rather than a power in the universe. He can be experienced through the Spirit of Christ before baptism, and after baptism becomes our constant companion. He is the means by which we can learn the truth of the gospel. Mormon wrote, “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” This last verse, Moroni 10:5, is one that I heard often during my year at BYU. However, it was more than not being spoken about being applied in the testing center, and the “all things” was an American Heritage exam. I’m sure he is well-versed in US History, but the Holy Ghost’s main role is to bear witness the truth of God the Father and His son Jesus Christ. To “feel the Spirit” is to have those moments where we allow Him to testify to us that that which we are hearing is true.
It took me so long to understand what it meant to “feel the spirit”. That is a phrase that we hear every week repeated, but it is not comprehended until we have experienced it for ourselves and are able to recognize it. Most often when we talk about testimonies, we refer to feelings. We talk about “feeling the Spirit,” or “feeling good” about a decision, or “feeling impressed” to do something. And yet, when we try to describe how we felt, or exactly what something felt like, we discover it’s very hard to explain. President Boyd K. Packer taught: “We do not have the words (even the scriptures do not have words) which perfectly describe the Spirit. The scriptures generally use the word voice, which does not exactly fit. These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears”. My mom has told me many times that I am a very literal person. The concept of “the spirit” was difficult for me to grasp. For YEARS, I sat in primary or Sunday school or young women classes about the Holy Ghost and all I wanted to know was “But what does it feel like? Can’t I just get a straight answer, that the Spirit will literally be this, so I can know?” Apparently, it’s not as easy as 12 year old me had hoped.
Perhaps the feeling described most often when discussing a testimony is a “burning in the bosom.” This expression is used in the Doctrine and Covenants regarding the translation process for the Book of Mormon. “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” It is also used in the New Testament, describing the time when the resurrected Jesus walked along the road with two disciples who didn’t recognize Him. After Jesus departed, they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
Many of us hope for, long for, and pray for this type of “burning,” powerful witness, and some of us get discouraged when it doesn’t come. We might even feel ashamed or worry that we are less spiritual than others because we’ve never had our heart burn within us. Our mistake is when we assume that a witness of the Spirit must be the burning in the bosom. If you have never felt the burning feeling described by these verses, it doesn’t mean that you’ve never had a witness, that you’re not worthy, or that you don’t have a testimony. You are not alone in your confusion. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom “burn within” them. What does a “burning in the bosom” mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works. Truly, the still, small voice is just that, “still” and “small”
Elder Jay E. Jensen shared this comment from another member of the Quorum of the Twelve:
As I have traveled throughout the Church, I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time”
One of the most important principles to learn in your quest for spiritual knowledge is that the Lord communicates differently to different people. He knows us individually, one by one (3 Nephi 11:15), how can we assume that everyone has an exact experience with the Spirit? The secret is to take the time to discover it for ourselves. Notice the symptoms of your good feelings in church, at the temple, while doing service, etc. And then, notice them the next time. I think the key to recognizing the spirit is to have the desire to, be mindful so that when those feelings come, you can remember them and recognize them the next time.
To answer the question, “how can we recognize the promptings of the spirit?”, we read in Moroni, “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.” (Moroni 7:13) President Gordon B Hinckley added, “That’s the test, when all is said and done. Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then, it is the Spirit of God”
The Power of the Spirit is incomparable in missionary work. It would be near impossible without it, because of its personal testifying power. WE do not have power to do all things, to know all things. But, The Lord does, and that is why it is essential that we let him work through us to reach others. We are weak, but with the spirit we can become strong with the power of God. And this is nothing new in the history of the church.
Paul, in his missionary efforts openly exposes his struggles. “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God….And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling….Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2)
Jacob spoke for all the prophets in their teaching and their writings saying “Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.” (Jacob 4:7)
In Alma 26, Ammon is in essence giving his mission homecoming talk, glorying the power of God. “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12)
And finally, Moroni, a missionary to every individual who reads the book of Mormon, wrote about his own weaknesses, saying “Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing…and thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands” and the Lord’s response was “if men come unto me I will show them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12: 23-24, 27)
Even with all the knowledge in the world, missionary work would be fruitless without the Lord and the Spirit to guide us. “[We] can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth [us]” (Philippians 4:13)
When we allow the power of God to run through us and give us the words to speak, the result will be an outpouring of the Spirit, an honest sincere testimony that cannot be denied.