How Can I Learn to Recognize the Holy Ghost?

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, as Nephi enters the city of Jerusalem to make a third attempt to acquire the brass plates, he tells us, “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Nephi 4:6).

He later promises that “If ye will enter in by the way [baptism], and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:5).

In the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, Moroni reiterates this promise: “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).

How can we learn to recognize the Holy Ghost so that we can be guided and taught by God?

Mormon teaches an important principle which can help us recognize revelation from God. In a sermon recorded by his son Moroni, Mormon taught his people how to recognize good from evil. “The Spirit of Christ is given to every man,” he said, “that he may know good from evil.” Therefore, “every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13, 16).

So we know intuitively what is good. Since the Holy Ghost leads us to do good, we should be able to discern His influence by asking, “Is this thought leading me to do good?”

The apostle Paul taught the same principle by listing some of the virtues associated with the Spirit of the Lord:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

This might sound like a checklist of positive attributes to develop, but I read it more as a list of representative outcomes of following the Holy Ghost. In other words, if you are acting upon thoughts characterized by love, peace, kindness, self-discipline, or other attributes which you know to be good, then you are following the Spirit of the Lord.

Joseph Smith taught that recognizing the Holy Ghost is a skill that we can develop by practice:

A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 10: Prayer and Personal Revelation).

And President Russell M. Nelson has endorsed and expanded on that concept:

Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation” (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” General Conference, April 2018).

Today, I will work on recognizing the Holy Ghost. I will pay attention to the thoughts that come to my mind, particularly when I pray. I will measure them against the standard set by Mormon and Paul: are they leading me to do good? I will record my impressions and act on them, so that over time I can grow into the principle of revelation.

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