All who have been baptized into Christ’s church are confirmed members of the Church by the laying on of hands by those holding the priesthood of God. The first words of instruction to each new member of the Church is to receive the Holy Ghost. The words, in the ordinance of confirmation, “Receive the Holy Ghost” is not a suggestion, or an invitation. This is a commandment. But why is it a commandment? What makes receiving the Holy Ghost so important that the Lord commands each of us, individually, to do it? What makes it so important that these are the first words a priesthood brother is commanded to say to each new convert? How do we invite the Spirit into our lives?
Joseph Smith taught that our possession of the gift of the Holy Ghost is what sets us apart from all other churches. Everything that makes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unique is bound up in this one gift. I would like to look at five questions people ask about working with the Holy Ghost.
Question 1: Who is the Holy Ghost?
The Holy Ghost is the third member of the godhead. Frankly, most of us under estimate his value and his role. He is actually the key to our success in coming to Christ and to learning to be like Christ. Without the Holy Ghost, neither of these things are possible.
The role of the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, is to testify of the truth and divinity of Christ and the Father, and to teach us all truth. What we often forget to add is that it is the Spirit who changes our hearts and helps us get rid of our desires to do evil and helps us to not be lazy in keeping the commandments. He is the quiet and peaceful voice or feeling that tells us to go help a neighbor, or to apologize for something we did or said. It is the Spirit who teaches us compassion and helps us understand how someone else feels so we can be more tender hearted, more Christlike.
The Holy Ghost is our personal tutor. He is a God who has accepted the role of mentor for each and every one of us. He has remained a personage of spirit so he can perform his role of influencing our spirits while we are here in mortality. His love and his joy is to see us become more like those in the godhead. He gives, to those who listen to him, peace, tranquility of spirit, joy to the soul, hope in the Savior, confidence in our responsibilities, and a unity of purpose to those who seek to be like Christ.
Joseph Smith said to Brigham Young:
Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits. It will whisper peace and joy to their souls, and it will take malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness, and build up the kingdom of God.
Question 2: How do I receive Him?
(Note: The sources for all the quotes are at the bottom of the article.) Elder Bednar said: “Receiving the Holy Ghost starts with our sincere and constant desire for His companionship in our lives.” “… We should invite Him into our lives with the same gentleness and tenderness by which He entreats us.”
I find this last sentence to be intriguing. The Holy Ghost is a God. We neither command him nor tell him what to do. We entreat him and act respectfully toward him, the same as we do toward Christ and the Father. There is more than one way to ask for his help. Elder Bednar gave us six ways to invite the Spirit into our lives:
Our invitations for the companionship of the Holy Ghost occur in many ways: (1) through the making and keeping of covenants; (2) by praying sincerely as individuals and families; (3) by searching the scriptures diligently; (4) through strengthening appropriate relationships with family members and friends; (5) by seeking after virtuous thoughts, actions, and language; (6) and by worshipping in our homes, in the holy temple, and at church. (Numbering added)
None of these activities directly, verbally invites the Spirit into our lives, yet the righteousness of these activities attracts his company, and begs his companionship. Elder Bednar then adds this warning:
Conversely, casualness about or the breaking of covenants and commitments, failing to pray and study the scriptures, and inappropriate thoughts, actions, and language cause the Spirit to withdraw from or to avoid us altogether.
Receiving the Holy Ghost is not a single act or something we say. Receiving the Holy Ghost is done by the kind of life we lead. We invite him to be with us by conforming our lives to the commandments and by living by Christ’s teachings. These are the things he is comfortable with, that show him we are truly desiring to learn to be like Christ.
We are taught in Doctrine and Covenants 88:33,
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
This verse reminds us that gifts from God have to be received by action on our part. He makes his gifts available to us, but it is our choices and subsequent behavior that allows us to make use of those gifts. Receiving the Holy Ghost is no different. Our lives have to reflect a desire to learn of heavenly ways in order for us to show him we are serious about having him help us each day. Words of pleading are not enough, there must be action behind each word to demonstrate our sincerity.
Question 3: How does He change me?
Remember the quote I gave earlier from Joseph Smith? He said that we have to keep our hearts open to conviction. That means we need to be open to instruction and change so when the Holy Ghost comes to us with new insights and knowledge, we are ready and willing to live by this new information. In other words, we are willing to receive what is given to us. The results of receiving the knowledge and promptings from the Spirit comes in the form of a change to our souls. We begin to feel more peace and joy. The Spirit frees us from feelings like malice, hatred, envying, strife, and all forms of evil in our hearts. We are left with only the desires to do good and promote righteousness wherever we go. We get excited to help build up the kingdom of God.
Does the change take place all at once? No, not normally. For most of us, learning to change and accept direction from the Spirit takes years of practice. But the changes do come in time. The key to receiving the Holy Ghost is to be consistent in our efforts to keep the commandments, study the scriptures, and live good lives.
Question 4: What is it like to receive the Spirit?
Change can be a little scary if we don’t know exactly what we will be like after the change. Fortunately, the changes that come from being influenced by the Holy Ghost happen slowly, and bring joy and peace in their wake. This gives us plenty of time to observe and decide to continue the experiment on Christ’s words.
It is so easy to become distracted by the world and lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish with the Spirit. When we are not sure if we are on the right path, if we are afraid that we might have lost our way, remember this quote from President George Q. Cannon:
Whenever darkness fills our minds, we may know that we are not possessed of the Spirit of God. … When we are filled with the Spirit of God we are filled with joy, with peace, and with happiness, no matter what our circumstances may be; for it is a spirit of cheerfulness and of happiness. The Lord has given unto us the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is our privilege to have that Holy Ghost reign within us, so that from morning till night and from night till morning we shall have the joy, the light and the revelation thereof.
Question 5: What does it mean to live by revelation?
Let’s call it like it is. When the Holy Ghost gives us a prompting, teaches us truth, enlightens our minds so we understand something now that we did not understand before, that is revelation. When we are prompted to say something, go see someone, feel that we need to do something for a certain person, etc., that is revelation. Revelation is to comprehend or understand something of an eternal nature that we did not know before. That includes everything from heavenly messengers right down to feeling like this would be a good time to apologize, or feeling like you should say something kind at this moment. Revelation is to have the will of God revealed or opened to you. That covers a lot of ground, since the Lord is concerned about everything that all of us do each hour of every day.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that the Holy Ghost has to give us marching orders for every step along our path back to God. We are expected to make our own decisions and to seek out ways to be good all on our own. But, like Joseph Smith said, if we keep our hearts open for conviction, then when the Holy Ghost comes in to teach us a better way to be and to do good, we will be open to accepting his guidance. This is what it means to live by the Spirit. If we want to become like Christ we have to learn to act like Christ using our own agency to do it. The Spirit will be with us to make course corrections where necessary, and to prompt us to do and to know things we couldn’t have known on our own.
Anyone can make a list of things to do to invite the spirit, but it takes living those things to actually make the invitation. The Lord is pleased with his children when they take on the responsibility of trying to live like Christ. We still need to study and read, ponder and pray, but most of the instructions in this life will be given in real time, as we are living the principles of the gospel.
In D&C 33:8 the verse starts by saying, “Open your mouths and they shall be filled …” Time and time again the Lord promises that if we are living good lives, keeping the commandments, and staying open to the promptings of the Spirit, that when we get to the moment when He needs us to deliver a message that he will put the words in our mouths so we can deliver his message. This too is revelation, and it comes as naturally as a sunrise or as falling rain. It is how God works.
Each of us has probably experienced saying or doing something that seemed perfectly natural at the time, but later found that we had been inspired to do or say that thing, and it blessed someone’s life. This is what the Lord wants for us. This is what will fill our lives with joy, being a blessing to those around us.
As Joseph Smith said,
Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach [you what] to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom.
Receive the Holy Ghost (Elder David A. Bednar, Oct. 2010)
Serve with the Spirit (Pres. Henry B. Eyring, Oct. 2010)
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Thank you for this knowledgeable and beautiful article about Holy Ghost. I’ve learned and gained from your article… Such a good blessings to me… Thank you and I am so much grateful…
I learned so much more about the Holy Spirit. I’am thankful for this knowledge.
Are spirits, when interacting in our world, limited in similar ways as the Holy Spirit? The Holy Ghost can not be in unholy places. I wonder if perhaps, one could more accurately say that he should not be in unholy places. To ignore that “should not” would be to risk his divinity. We know that God would cease to be God if he did evil, it could be a similar situation. Perhaps unholy places are not good for spirits. Perhaps one of the best gifts we can give to our deceased is the gift of being at peace in our home. Things that invite the Spirit, probably invite other good spirits too.
I agree with your sentiment about needing to be at peace at home to invite those who are also at peace to feel comfortable with us. Something you said made me think of a new thought. The Lord may not “visit” evil places, but His influence and spirit never leave there. If it wasn’t for the light of Christ we wouldn’t be able to move at all. Even basic things like decay and rot rely on Christ’s light to function, so Christ and our Father are always intimately aware of evil and where it is and what is going on. They focus on the good, and visit those who are doing good, but they aren’t ignorant of all the evil either. I guess that is how God knows when it is time to destroy the wicked, He has been an intimate witness to their behavior all along.