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Operations of the Spirit, Part 12: Conclusion

This is the conclusion to the twelve-part essay on the Operations of the Spirit.
This is an important topic, so that there will be more postings about the Spirit.
This is, then, is just a conclusion to what will be the most comprehensive series of postings on the Spirit.


Figures of speech and the tenor of metaphors used to describe the effect of the Spirit are generally misunderstood in the Church. Still small voice resonates with sense when viewed as the vehicle to express one’s thoughts and conclusions while thinking about a subject rather than expecting a voice.  One must know that heart is the word used to describe the mind in ancient scriptures, including the Book of Mormon. Burning bosom—the heart is located in the bosom—describes the enlightenment of one’s mind in a world lit only by fire, and the world was lit only by fire until the late 1800s. There is nothing wrong, of course, with likening these metaphors to other effects, but the intended tenor must be understood before one begins to wonder or even argue whether clams are happy. 1

The Spirit does point a person to knowledge. But it is not the office of the Spirit to tell people what to do or what to think; rather, the Spirit stands at every street corner of the mind with a light so one can see and make the necessary connections between what is known to that person and what that person seeks to know. This pointing-to office of the Spirit and angels was described by the Lord to Joseph Smith:

God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now; Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels . . . .2

The casual reader of the foregoing verse may not connect the pointing-to by angels with the gift of knowledge from the Holy Ghost, but the astute reader will see the connection. A person must find out for himself or herself, and that person is aided by the illumination provided by the Holy Ghost. People find this enlightenment as they interact with good people, learn more, and make the mental connections. This is one of the reasons why standing about the tree of life—being in church, for example—is important. Of course, one must have an open mind, which means, using the metaphor for the mind used in the scriptures, a person cannot have a hard heart. One must be willing to learn, listen to the thoughts of others, counsel with others, and, finally, think about it: the meaning of still small voice.

Choosing to be oblivious (like not studying) or disregarding information (because of confirmation bias–having a hard heart) is the antithesis of the Spirit, just like walking away from the tree of life is a metaphor used to convey what happens when one leaves the association of the righteous to follow the “the different spirits abroad in the earth”; unfortunately, following the wrong spirit abroad in the earth can happen within the church notwithstanding well-intentioned members.

One must not forget that having the Spirit means getting educated and informed so one can know what to say3 and what to do.4 The Lord has said that the Spirit is necessary for one to be able to teach, but that means the teacher cannot teach if the teacher does not know what the teacher is teaching for lack of education and experience.

A particular pericope is often quoted in the church, but it is misunderstood for two reasons. First, the bolded portion of the scripture implies that one has to know something, but it is not usually quoted:

And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel. And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit. And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach.5

The second reason this is misunderstood is because prayer of faith is a metaphor for what one does because of belief. The tenor of the prayer-of-faith metaphor is the knowledge gained by the person’s own study and experience that enables the person to teach; otherwise, the person is not capable of teaching, “if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not [cannot] teach.” Indeed, D&C 11 makes it clear that one must learn the word before one can teach it.

Prayer of faith is misunderstood by most readers today because most members of the Church think of faith as a principle, not an ordinance, what Joseph Smith thought it was; i.e., it is clear from the original wording of the Articles of Faith that Joseph Smith thought of faith as an ordinance or something one does, not a principle.6, As an ordinance, prayer of faith means what one does to learn the principles of the gospel found in the Bible and Book of Mormon so one can have the Spirit and teach.

One has the Spirit when actions, experience, and education focused on the goal of life. The Spirit is drawn from the inner well of one’s soul, from which it must come because of free agency. A sought-for conclusion is confirmed by the Spirit. It is the cumulative effect of knowledge or enlightenment that comes through study and experience. It is an outpouring from within rather than an inpouring of knowledge or directions from on high.7 The Spirit does not give confirmation of truth if the individual has not worked for it, and free agency means that the Spirit does not tell someone what to do.

The Spirit can intervene to give someone knowledge in extraordinary and extraordinarily rare instances. But these seem to be instances where there is an immediate need to protect an individual’s physical or eternal well-being. These are the get-out-of-the-wash experiences and those where an individual needs this answer right now or they will be lost.

Ultimately, perhaps, one’s personality and, therefore, the ability to react and interact appropriately in any situation should be as evenly balanced as possible, meaning the right mix of intellectualism, empathy, conformity with rules, and freedom. If so, interaction in particular situations can be both appropriate to that circumstance and serve to enlighten. Perfect balance, ironically, is at odds with differences in the gifts of the spirit and the consequent need for open-minded counseling inter se when decisions are being made or discussions are had.8 Counsel should be taken and given to those with different perspectives so that balance is achieved. Of course, both the speaker/actor and the listener/recipient have a role to play when it comes to spiritual experiences. Both need to be as a little child–a pliable mind–so they can have spiritual—which means enlightening—experiences that yield peace of mind.

One final observation, perhaps, is important. There is a direct relationship between inspiration or enlightenment and qualifications for things like callings. Certain individuals are more qualified to do some things than others; the argot of the church would say the bishop was inspired to choose a particular person for a particular calling without, more than likely, recognizing that the person is just better qualified for the position. Inspiration or following the Spirit, though, means finding out who can play before extending a calling to be the ward organist.9


  1. The question whether clams are happy arises when someone says they are has happy as a clam and the hearer does not understand the metaphor. Not understanding, the hearer looks for or attaches a literal meaning to the statement.
  2. D&C 121:26–27b (bolding added).
  3. D&C 11:21 (“Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit”)
  4. Cp. D&C 9:7–8 (admonishing to Oliver Cowdery about working the translation out in his mind rather than just asking). Current official recommendations about priesthood blessings for the sick adhere to the January 1981 Priesthood Bulletin, suggesting that the advances of medical practice in this century preclude a wholehearted reliance on spiritual blessings. Expectant mothers, said the bulletin, are to be encouraged “to get the best prenatal and delivery care available from medically and legally qualified practitioners.” Beecher, Maureen Ursenbach and Anderson, Lavina Fielding, eds., Sisters in Spirit, Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987) at 138–139.
  5. D&C 42:12–14 (bolding added).
  6. The original wording of the Articles of Faith tied the fourth with the third article together as follows:

    We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel

    We believe that these ordinances are 1st: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2nd: Repentance; 3rd: Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; 4th: laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1950) at 261.

    These articles of faith were officially changed in 1921 with the publication of the 1921 editions of the scriptures by the Church. Joseph Fielding Smith rationalized the change in the wording more than fifty years after the fact as follows:

    The reason for adding the word principles” and that is the only change [which, as can be seen, is not so] was because the brethren considered when they were preparing the 1921 edition of the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants, that the term ordinances did not fully cover the article completely. For instance, “faith” is not an ordinance, neither is “repentance,” but they are principles. Therefore, we felt fully justified in making the article so that it would convey clearly just what the Prophet intended.

    Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1957–1966), vol. 2:91–92.

    The explanation by Joseph Fielding Smith makes it sound like the decision making the change in the Article of Faith was a decision of the leadership of the church. That is not really the case. These changes were the result of the recommendation of James E. Talmage during the mid-1890s. He was asked to prepare lessons for a theology class for the Church on the Articles of Faith, and he puzzled over Joseph Smith’s characterization of faith as a ordinance; apparently, Talmage equated faith with belief rather than the actions of one acts because of belief. There is a 1902 edition of the Pearl of Great Price that changes ordinances to first principles and ordinances. This change in 1902 was on account of Talmage’s work. Talmage, in his thirties at the time, just thought principle described what faith was, apparently not discerning the way faith is used in the scriptures and, thereby, propagating considerable confusion in in the ensuing generations of the Church.

  7. The following scriptures can be read to say that the Spirit is something that comes from within. 2 Nephi 1:6 (Lehi prophesies “according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me”); 2 Nephi 4:12 (Lehi spoke “according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him”).
  8. D&C 46:10–26 discusses the diversity of spirit. “For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.” This is followed by a litany of gifts that will be given to one or another member of the church, “And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God.”
  9. Harold B. Lee told the author he played the piano for the Thursday meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency in the temple. The author played the piano during devotionals at the Northern States Mission home when Elder Lee was visiting for a week. Elder Lee made the following comment to the author following one of the devotionals at the mission home as a follow-up to his statement that he played in the temple, “Have you ever noticed how the Lord always calls someone to play who can?”

1 thought on “Operations of the Spirit, Part 12: Conclusion

    • Author gravatar

      I have enjoyed your studied remarks in your essay. Footnotes have helped me understand your meanings and thought processes.

      I have not the mind, memory, or the writing ability to express your or my thoughts on the Spirit as you have.

      I look forward to reading your talk also.

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