"And they went forth whitersoever they were led by the Spirit of the Lord," Alma 21:16
Wouldn't it be wonderful if this could always be said of us? Unfortunately, oftentimes our verse would probably read, "And they went forth whitersoever they felt like." There are many days I make wrong choices. Not evil choices, just not the best. How we use our time, what we spend time in conversation on, our responses to frustration. All of these can be directed by the Spirit, if we allow it.
Agency is a new concept to me. I come from a tradition where agency is non-existant. Instead God predetermines our path. When I was going through my excommunication at my previous church, I even received a letter from someone that said, "I don't know why God has you in such a path of rebellion right now. I can only hope He won't keep you there long." Really? God has caused my rebellion? Than why am I the one being excommunicated? And why is it rebellion to examine if we are following Him correctly?
Now, as I learn about Agency it raises a lot of questions for me. Anyone who knows me will not find that too surprising. How does God's plan and man's agency work together? What if God willed something and the party He chose was unwilling, does God's plan go unfullfilled? Can one person miss out on God's desire for them because someone else wouldn't obey? I don't have the answers to any of those questions. But what I do know is WHY Heavenly Father gave us agency. He gave it to us, so we could Choose the Right. It was never intended to give us freedom for evil, but the ability for Righteousness.
As I've worried about those questions, I realized I was focused on the wrong thing. Instead of worrying about the affects of others not using their agency well, I should focus on how to use mine well. That will be accomplished as I learn to hear the Spirit, and obey His commandments, not just His promptings, but those already written down so plainly for us in Scripture. The Scripture one is easy. There it is in black and white. It is easy to discern the Lord said something that way. Promptings, however, are harder for me. Yet another curse from my previous theological indoctrination. Happily, I am getting better at it. And so can all of us.
Here are some things that have helped me learn:
- Ask Heavenly Father. Pray to Him asking Him to teach you how His Spirit directs you, so you will be able to recognize His voice.
- Study it. Anytime I see in Scripture something about the Holy Spirit and His guidance I note it and write down what I have gleaned. I also spend time reading talks the Brethren (Ooh, look, I'm getting Mormon terms down now.) have given on being guided by the Holy Spirit. One of my favorites right now Acquiring Spiritual Guidance by Elder Richard G. Scott is available online.
- Obey it, even if you're not completely sure. If you think the Holy Spirit is telling you something, do it. There are some quick guides of course, He will not lead you to do unrighteousness. But, if He's brought to mind something good, go ahead with it. The only way to learn, is by following the promptings you are beginning to recognize. When we do that, I truly believe, and have experienced thus far, that those promptings will get stronger and become more recognizable. The converse is also true. If you do not follow those promptings, it will get harder to hear His Spirit guide you. None of us wants that.
- Write it down. When you feel promptings or teachings by the Spirit keep a record of it. That will help you down the road as you examine how it is the Holy Spirit has been speaking to you. You will begin to discern patterns.
So what happened to those believers in Alma who went whitersoever the Spirit led them? Verse 17 tells us "And it came to pass that the Lord began to bless them." Now that sounds great, doesn't it? I can also testify (yup, there's another Mormon term. I'm really getting those.) that there is an immense blessing in just knowing you're obeying Him. There is a joy that wells up in my heart everytime I speak or write about Heavenly Father and His plans for us. I feel it right now. I would also love to hear how you've learned to recognize the Spirit's promptings, or maybe times that you followed His guidance and the result. You don't have to post here, if you're too shy. You can email me at email@example.com. I love hearing about these things and both learning from them and rejoicing in them. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ.