Tad R. Callister: How can we teach our children to recognize the Spirit?

There are many doctrinal truths we ought to teach our children and grandchildren, but perhaps, the most important truth is to teach them how to recognize the promptings of the Spirit. If we can do this, they can come to “know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4; emphasis added) by the power of that Spirit.  

A high school friend became one of the premier radiologists in Hawaii.  Other radiologists would send him their x-rays when they had difficulty interpreting them. Somehow, through his experience and schooling, he had acquired an expertise that eluded many others. In each case, he saw the same film as his colleagues, but the difference was in his ability to recognize what was seemingly indiscernible to them.

Tad R. Callister
Tad R. Callister Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Perhaps a similar experience happens with the Spirit. No doubt the Spirit sends many impressions, but they are only discernable to those whose spiritual education and experience have trained them to decipher them — to connect the dots between the impressions and the source.

How then can we help our children and grandchildren recognize the Spirit — to connect the dots, so to speak? Among other things, we need to teach them that the voice of God is vastly different from the voice of the world.  We live in a world of high drama and action thrillers, fast-paced entertainment and loud music. As a result, many people expect spiritual impressions in a dramatic way — an audible voice or a vision or some thunderous witness from the heavens. 

But the Lord usually works in much more subtle and serene ways. The newly born Savior was laid in a manger. His Atonement commenced in a quiet garden. The Restoration of His Church began in a secluded grove. And His truths are often revealed in the intimacy of a searching heart. There is something sacred and divine in the quiet and seemingly anonymous works of God.

But one might ask: “How can I distinguish between my own psychological or emotional feelings and the still small voice of the Spirit?” Fortunately, there are certain feelings of the heart and impressions of the mind that come only from heaven. Even Satan, the great counterfeiter, cannot duplicate them. A few such feelings and impressions are as follows:

Peace

Newly commissioned portrait of Oliver Cowdery was painted by artist Ken Corbett, based on the recently discovered daguerreotype.
Newly commissioned portrait of Oliver Cowdery was painted by artist Ken Corbett, based on the recently discovered daguerreotype. Credit: Courtesy Mormon Historic Sites Foundation

Oliver Cowdery had been in the home of Joseph Smith’s father and prayed to know the truth of the Book of Mormon. While there, he received an undeniable peace confirming its truthfulness. Time passed, and human nature took its toll. Perhaps Oliver wondered if that experience had really been an impression from heaven or just some passing moment of self-delusion. To resolve his anxiety, he went to Joseph Smith and requested a revelation that would be a witness to him of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, unaware of Oliver’s previous experience, sought such a revelation:

“[Oliver], if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?  What greater witness can you have than from God?” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:22–23, emphasis added).

The Lord reaffirmed Oliver’s prior experience and confirmed that peace is a divine witness from Him. Oliver connected the dots — peace and the prompting of the Spirit.

An intent to do good

Whenever we desire to be a better person, we may know that is a divine prompting of the Spirit. The prophet Mormon taught: “wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13; emphasis added). 

Enlightened understanding

Another divine witness comes in the form of increased enlightenment. The Lord said, “I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind” (Doctrine and Covenants 11:13). This enlightenment elevates our minds to a loftier plane so we have a higher intellectual and spiritual IQ so to speak — perhaps a more infinite-like capacity to think and reason like God. For example, these promptings may result in new scriptural insights or a more expanded vision of how we might be instruments in God’s hands.

Increased love

The word of God and the Spirit have the capacity to “enlarge” our souls (see Alma 32:28), meaning, among other things, to give us a greater capacity to love. Scrooge, much like the Grinch, had a heart “two sizes too small.”  Then, through a series of visions his heart “enlarged” and he was filled with compassion and love. When that happens, it is a witness the Spirit is working upon us.

Other divine witnesses 

Sometimes the divine witness comes in the burning of the bosom (see Luke 24:32). On other occasions, the doctrine we hear is “delicious” to us, meaning it tastes good spiritually (see Alma 32:28). In other words, we do not need external evidence to verify these truths or logic to prove them — we just “know.”  

Paul defined other fruits of the Spirit as “joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Galatians 5:22). When any of these virtues or impressions envelop our hearts or minds, it is a witness from God that what we are listening to, what we are feeling, is from Him. 

Conclusion

As we teach and bear testimony of the workings of the Spirit, we enlarge our posterity’s capacity to know for themselves by the power of the Holy Ghost that this gospel is as true as true can be. Then we will have honored the divine injunction: “all thy children shall be taught of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13).

— Tad R. Callister is an emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president.