Feeling and Following the Spirit

Area Leadership Message

Elder Karl D. Hirst
Elder Karl D. Hirst, England Area Seventy

It was as a missionary that I first learned what it was like to feel the Holy Spirit with confidence.  It isn’t that I hadn’t felt the Spirit before, it’s just that I didn’t really know that I was feeling it.  Even before I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I remember feelings from the Holy Ghost coming into my life.  The Spirit tried to influence me through feelings that seemed related to other familiar guides, such as my conscience.  Although they felt similar, I could sense that the feelings of the Spirit were not my conscience but, like my conscience, the feelings from the Spirit could be very subtle and easily overwhelmed by competition. 

With all that I didn’t then know about the feelings of the Spirit, I had learned to start to trust the feelings when they came.  I remember those feelings helping me to decide to join the Church and supporting me with energy to serve others, encouragement to repent and with excitement as I learnt truth and recognised goodness in life.  These feelings reassured me that the gospel of Jesus Christ made me happy in a very important way and I wanted it to be part of my life and those that I loved.

Because I could not honestly describe my feelings as my ‘bosom burning within me’1 and it didn’t feel to me as though the gentle feelings in my heart matched up to the fire-filled, authoritative statements I would hear from many saints in fast and testimony meetings, I concluded that I didn’t have the promised conviction that would come from heaven.  The more I compared myself to others, the smaller my experience seemed to be.  Although I was grateful to have these trusted guiding feelings, I had not developed confidence that those gentle feelings were the promised feelings of the Holy Ghost. 

As a missionary, I learnt almost daily lessons from others whose lives had the guidance of the Spirit woven into them.  It was then that the writings of Paul brought me clarity.  I realised that when Paul spoke of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’, he was speaking of the part of the Spirit that we experience - after all, we taste fruit.  He was trying to share what the feelings of the Spirit tasted like to him.  He taught that “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...”2. I could not describe the taste of a fruit using one or two words.  So it was with Paul’s description of the fruit of the Spirit, he described the variety of ‘flavours’ that he sensed when he felt the Spirit of the Lord.  They were flavours that were present in my feelings too.  This brought me reassurance, understanding and confidence. If Paul had received guidance from the Spirit, so had I!

My experience with the fruit of the Spirit might have different flavoured notes emphasised to me than the experience that others have had, but both were valid.  I wasn’t tasting so that others could enjoy and their experienced flavours were not for me.  We each taste for our own benefit and direction.

Since then, I have tried to encourage and carefully follow these joyful guiding feelings from the Spirit.  They always keep me in life’s happier paths3. My experience confirms that when it seems as if we have barely felt enough to equip us to follow, barely enough is still enough and we can still choose to follow!

In trying to draw more divine guidance into our lives, we can pursue President Nelson’s encouraging insight that “Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and regular time committed to temple and family history work.”4


[1] Doctrine and Covenants 9:8

2 Galatians 5:22-3

3 Ephesians 5:9 - Paul also confirmed when he taught the Ephesians that “...the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth.”

4 ‘Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives’ - President Russell M. Nelson, General Conference April 2018