How the Spirit testifies of truth

I’m going to be vulnerable and admit that when it comes to how God communicates with us, I’m still learning. The time when God spoke most clearly to me is the single most defining and important moment of my life. It changed everything. It changed the course of my life. It came after over a year of gospel study, prayer, and investigation. I prayed one day to ask God if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true. In response, I felt the Holy Spirit of God burn in me like a flame. It was epic. At the time I was investigating the church, I would characterize those years of my life as being like a fireworks show when it came to the Spirit of God. I felt it, and I felt it again, and I felt it again, and I saw miracles. However, each experience was like a single firework, a single good feeling. When I prayed to know if the Church was true, that day was like a grand finale at a fireworks show. It was overwhelmingly powerful.

Since then, surprisingly, I have often been uncertain about what the Spirit is, how we feel it, and how we know if it testifies of truth. Just as importantly, I’ve been uncertain about how other people feel it. I feel like I’ve learned some important things with respect to this topic and I’d like to share them.

As a missionary, I would share the scripture in James 1:5 that teaches that if anyone lacks wisdom, they can ask of God–meaning you can ask God a question about him and his gospel, and he will answer. I would also share the scripture in Moroni 10:4, that says when you shall receive these things (meaning the Book of Mormon and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), that if you ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, the Holy Ghost would manifest the truth of them. I knew that these scriptures were true, I had experienced communication myself and I knew God would do the same for others in the same circumstances.

And yet, I had an investigator of the church who visited with me as a missionary a few times, who read some of the Book of Mormon, who prayed, and didn’t feel he received any answer. Nearly three decades later, we are still good friends, and yet up until a couple years ago, I didn’t know what to make of our differing experiences with respect to the Spirit. Why had God, through the Spirit, spoken directly and clearly to me, but not to him?

A couple years ago at a BYU devotional, an apostle spoke about how testimonies of God and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through the Spirit, are gained. He said that it is a rarity that people feel a burning in the bosom, a clear and unmistakable big bang experience that is in that moment huge, undeniable, and unforgettable. He said for most people, the obtaining of testimony was like the rising of the sun, that over the course of time, with concerted effort to know, it simply became clearer and clearer to the heart and the mind that they knew.

This message from an apostle was astounding to me. I thought that everyone received a witness the same way I did. Knowing that they don’t makes me suddenly sympathetic to anyone who struggles with their faith. I still believe that each of us can know, as the scriptures promise us, but not necessarily at the same rate. Although I received an undeniable witness, it wasn’t fast or easy, it was at least a year in the making. In the modern world of quick answers via Google searches, it is so easy for anyone to miss the fact that a witness of the Spirit is as much a gift as playing the piano or being an elite athlete–it takes time and effort and not a cursory glance or a single light-minded prayer.

To close out, I’m going to mention something related to this initial topic, which is how we feel the Spirit over the long run of our lives. In fact, that is what motivated me to write this message today. I have seldom felt the Spirit again in the same way that I did on the day that I felt a burning witness. At times, this has left me to wonder how the Spirit operates in my life now, compared to then. I would put to God that I don’t need a new witness, or a renewed witness, because I feel that I already received one. But I wonder what I’m supposed to feel when I pray, read the scriptures, meditate, fast, attend the temple, and attend church.

I keep a card on my office desk at home, next to where I keep my scriptures. On it I have written “What did you ask God today?” and underneath it, I have a second question, which is “What did he tell you today?” I believe it is by actively seeking revelation, receiving it, and recording it so that we remember it, that each of us who has already gained a testimony of God and His church can maintain that testimony.

In that spirit today I fasted and I asked the Lord, Lord, help me to understand what feeling the Spirit is like or supposed to be at this stage in my life, because honestly, I’m not certain. Amazingly, on the very day that I asked this question, and was praying for an answer, our Bishop shared the answer. He said that when talking with the youth about their developing testimonies, he shares Galatians 5:22-23, in which Paul tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, and others. When we feel these things, we are feeling the Spirit.

As I ponder this passage, my past and present life are very vivid to me with respect to these feelings that are gifts of the Spirit. When I began to investigate the Church, attend church, pray, and attempt to live the gospel, my soul felt different. I felt those fruits mentioned by Paul regularly, and what was really clear to me was that I hadn’t felt them before on a deep or consistent level. I hadn’t felt a deepness of joy, love, and peace before and suddenly it was like I was having a different life experience on a daily basis–I had a new heart.

Since those early days of becoming worthy of the the Lord’s Spirit by actively working to earn it each day, I have felt these fruits of the Spirit almost constantly, every moment of every day. And I’ve very strongly noticed that if I do things in my life that offend God, that I have this really weird feeling like emotionally dropping in an elevator and my stomach goes up into my chest. When I do wrong or when I stop working to have the Spirit with me, I lose those fruits of the Spirit.

I am really, really grateful for an answer to prayer to today. I’m still learning what the Spirit is, but today was a great education that helped me see my life more clearly and know that things are probably just as they should be.