Imagine you and your family are enjoying a picnic on a warm summer’s day—not a cloud in the sky. The weather forecast said the thunderstorms would pass to the south. A gentle rumble from over the mountains catches your ear, but you’re all having too much fun to let it disrupt your day. The rumble persists, enough to cause doubt to wrestle with your desire to stay. Still, you see nothing alarming in the sky. When a large crack jolts through your bones, there is no question what to do anymore—pack up the car and leave.
Imagine you’re driving home from the grocery store and the face of your elderly neighbor pops into your mind’s eye. You haven’t thought of her in weeks, but there she is. You turn up the radio and forget about it, but the image comes back as a persistent thought. Then you find yourself turning down her street. You park your car in front of her house, still wondering why you’re there. The kids will be late for practice, but something tells you this is more important. You ring her doorbell and the second you see her, it becomes clear to you why you are here. She’s been lonely and had been praying for someone to talk to. A few minutes chatting with her make a world of difference for both of you.
Could either of these scenarios have happened to you? Have you felt impressions of warning before? Have you ever had feelings that led you to act in ways you hadn’t considered before? Is it a coincidence that certain feelings precede the moment of action? Maybe not. Maybe impressions are something more.
“Be still and know that I am God.”(Psalms 46:2)
We are often counseled that God works in mysterious ways. We are told to be still so we can “hear” how he communicates. If this is true, it implies He is trying to speak to us. We then should listen—in ways that transcend the way we’ve been trained to listen. But knowing what to listen for can make it difficult to do.
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.” (John 14:16).
When Christ walked with the disciples on earth, he knew he would one day need to leave them. He gave them a promise. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead and he is the comforter whom Jesus spoke of. He is behind the impressions and feelings that direct us to do good. His language touches our mind unlike verbal language does. I’ve spent a lifetime training my heart to hear it and to act upon it.
Training to hear the promptings of the Holy Ghost requires practice. Sometimes we miss it—like what happened to me the other night. I was on my way to a meeting in a town I had never driven to. My GPS was not working, and the written directions I had were hard to follow. It was a long ride away. About a half an hour into the ride, I passed a recognizable car dealership and I felt impressed to pull over and call my friend to see if I had missed a turn, but I shrugged it off and kept going. Twenty minutes later I was totally lost. My cell phone rang and it was my friend. She knew where I was by how I described the area, and she led me to the meeting by taking some back roads. After the meeting she told me how to get to the main street again. After getting on the main road I noticed the car dealership on my right, exactly where I had the impression to pull over—the impression I ignored. Had I gone with my gut, I would have been on track. I smiled and shook my head—the Holy Ghost did the same thing!
It is only natural to miss the promptings at times, or to doubt them. For me, my ego got in the way and I thought I knew where I was going. While I may know in my mind what the impressions feel like, I don’t always follow them. Learning to recognize the promptings from the Holy Ghost is the first step. They can come as soft impressions to the mind. You may have a thought to do something or to act in a certain way. I’ve always known that if the impression directs me to do something good, then it was from God.
Following the promptings of the Holy Ghost is harder. Given enough times with the “hit or miss” method, I’ve learned there is a great benefit that comes with following them—the ability to hear them more often and more clearly.
My bishop (the minister of a Latter-day Saint congregation) talked about following the Holy Ghost and described it like a starter’s pistol before a race. A runner is ready at the starter’s line, anticipating the sound of the shot. As soon as it goes off—Boom! The runner takes off. There is no doubt, no question, no turning back. If we live our lives anticipating the feelings and impressions to do good things, we then are like the runners in the race, ready to take off the second the pistol goes off. We go forth into action without hesitation. He then said he has tried all his life to take off running when he hears that starter’s pistol of the Holy Ghost so he never misses an opportunity to do what Heavenly Father needs him to do.
There is an added plus to following this kind of mindset—the strength that comes from the good habit it creates. Think of the runner who is most prepared, both physically and mentally, the one with the greatest experience and talent. He is most likely to win the race. Before he even hears the gun go off, he is in tune with the sound, the feeling that comes with it, and the way his body needs to instantaneously react when it happens. We too can step up to the starter’s line of life by being equally prepared to hear the promptings of the Holy Ghost. We can prepare ourselves spiritually by keeping the commandments of God every day so we always have his spirit to be with us. We can prepare mentally by keeping ourselves well informed and well educated. We can prepare physically by taking care of our bodies with proper eating, sleeping, and exercising habits. Having balance in our life puts us at an advantage when we step up to the starter’s line. So when the promptings come, we recognize them, trust them, and follow them without question. We can rely on them to guide us to do what is right. We can be strengthened by the comfort that comes after making the choice to follow them. We can grow closer in our relationship to our Father in Heaven, becoming more like Him.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.