Yesterday, in my weekly religion class, we talked about Abraham, of the Old Testament. God instructed Abraham to leave and get away from his family and homeland, where idolatry was being practiced. (See Genesis 12.) We noted this is a common practice in the scriptures. Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon contain such stories.
Throughout scriptural history, we find God sending people to other places for their own safety or to fulfill God’s plans for them. In the Old Testament, we read of Moses leading his people into the wilderness. In the New Testament, God sends Mary and Joseph to Egypt to protect the baby Jesus. Noah was instructed to build and board an ark to save his life and the lives of his family.
In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Lehi was warned to take his family, leave behind his wealth, and flee into the wilderness because people wanted to kill him for prophesying about God. Another group, the Jaredites, were among those who dispersed following the Tower of Babel events. They were permitted to retain their language, but were instructed to leave and travel to a new homeland.
However, God doesn’t reserve these instructions or warnings just for prophets and future prophets. Every day we receive multiple warnings or helpful suggestions from Him. Unfortunately, we are often so wrapped up in what we are doing that we don’t pay attention or we shrug them off as our imaginations or needless worries. Sometimes these quiet messages tell us to move somewhere new, as they were for Moses or Abraham. Sometimes they warn us to start preparing for danger or opportunity, as they did for Noah. Other times they are about helping someone else. We might have a thought flit across our minds to call someone or to bring a meal to someone. We may not know of that person’s need, but God does, and He meets the need through others who are listening.
These thoughts come from the Holy Ghost, sometimes called the Holy Spirit, and they are messages relayed from God. They are often misunderstood as intuition or ideas, but as we learn more about God, we learn how He helps His children. God communicates with each of us daily, but we have to pay attention. The more we pay attention, the better we become at recognizing when He is speaking to us because we become aware of how often the thoughts that entered our minds turned out to be important.
When God asks you to go somewhere or to do something, what is your reaction? Do you hesitate, try to talk Him out of it, stop to do seemingly more important things, or do you get right to work doing what you’ve been asked to do? Our choices have consequences we can’t control, and sometimes, even a moment’s hesitation can be “expensive” in terms of our well-being, or even in terms of someone else’s well-being.
Sometimes our impressions come as feelings or thoughts. Less often, they come as though someone were talking to us or planting very specific thoughts in our minds. In a real emergency, people occasionally hear a voice. Most of the time, though, the thoughts are very gentle and can be mistaken for our own thoughts if we aren’t paying attention.
An experience I had a few years ago illustrates how this principle works.
My family had considered moving to a larger home for some time after my son returned home to attend college nearby. Every now and then, I’d search online, but found nothing of interest. I hoped to stay in the same area so I could stay in my congregation. (Mormons attend church based on set boundaries, rather like school districts). I didn’t put much time into it, however.
One day, I was working on my computer when a thought came into my mind to search right now. It wasn’t a voice, just a thought, but I recognized it as more than a thought so I stopped my work and started to search. Unlike previous searches, I immediately found several possibilities. My husband was out of town on business, so the house hunting was left to me. I eventually chose a house I wanted a few blocks from our current home. It seemed to have everything we needed. That was the first prompting of the Spirit—being told to look now.
However, after choosing the house, I felt uneasy. I could barely sleep that night because of it. I felt cranky and uncomfortable. The next morning, I talked to a friend about it. She pointed out my odd reaction might be inspiration. She reminded me there was another house we had been interested in that I’d been unable to get an appointment to see. She suggested I simply show up and ask to be allowed to view it, since it wasn’t occupied and I had seen signs of people working there.
I did, and as soon as I toured it, the uneasiness went away. The house was not perfect—it was old and drafty and it was in another congregation’s boundaries, but I knew God wanted me to take that house for reasons of His own. I called my husband, who was still out of town, and he agreed I needed to follow the inspiration.
After moving into the house, we went to church in our new congregation. Minutes after walking into the building, I was asked to be an aid to a child with cerebral palsy who was in the toddler nursery. They had heard from a friend I was moving in and wanted to work with children. The leaders and family had been praying for someone to move in who could take on that task.
They did not know then that I had a grown child with cerebral palsy and had worked with many children who have special needs, but God did. When they heard I was coming, they’d had an impression I should be given the task. Once everyone knew of my personal experience with special needs children, it was clear to us all why we’d had the impressions we did. God carefully orchestrated everything… but His plan could only work if we all paid attention to the promptings and if we agreed to do as asked.
I wasn’t asked to travel many years in the wilderness or to flee to a new country. I was only asked to move a few miles into a less-than-perfect house to help a little girl whom God loved. God doesn’t save His requests for the big, dramatic, history-making events. He has everything all planned out, but He asks us to carry out the work. Sometimes that means agreeing to pack up our belongings and moving to a new place. Sometimes the journey just involves changing some details of our lives so they fit the planned pattern, even if we don’t physically move somewhere. It can be easy to ignore an instruction because it seems too insignificant to be inspiration, but we just never know what might turn out to matter.
Whether the journey is long or short, literal or figurative, it is important to take it when God asks, without hesitation or delay. Always, the journey requires faith, trust, and a daily effort to listen to God as He gives His instructions. Not doing so can have serious consequences.
Sometimes when I hear someone ask why God didn’t help in a certain situation, I wonder if He tried—but none of the people He sent for answered the call. When I’ve ignored promptings, trying to convince myself they were my imagination because I’m a natural worrier, I am always sorry later. I remember the prompting and understand why it was given and how it would have changed the outcome.
When God asks you to take a journey, how do you respond? Do you have an experience of your own to share about your own God-given journeys?
Terrie Lynn Bittner
Terrie Lynn Bittner is the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that have appeared in LDS magazines. She is married to Lincoln Bittner and is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to two girls. Terrie became a Mormon at the age of seventeen and has been sharing her faith online since 1992. She can also be found blogging about being an LDS woman at LatterdaySaintWoman.com.