Being Led by the Spirit

{this is a transcript of a talk I gave this past Sunday in Sacrament meeting – several people requested that I post it here on APG for those who couldn’t make it to the meeting. No worries – awkward jokes are still included.}

When I was asked to speak on being led by the Spirit, and specifically, how it led me to serve a mission, my first thought was, “can the Spirit lead me to invite Bishop Bell to fill in for me?” Clearly, this wasn’t the case. I was more determined than ever before to rely completely on the Spirit to know what to say – no typing the word “spirit” into the search bar on lds.org

Brother Evans gave me a scripture to use as a jumping off point in Doctrine & Covenants, chapter 84, verse 88: “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels around you, to bear you up.”

All week I have kept in mind what I have been asked to speak on. Certain things kept coming to mind time and again: the special needs kids I work with at High Hopes, Lorenzo Snow, the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John, and of course, my mission call.

High Hopes is a program that allows special needs participants – children and adults alike – to learn to ride and care for horses as a form of therapy. It is quite the experience to watch those you work with face challenges and overcome them more quickly than the rest of the world probably thought was possible. As volunteers, we are there to help them and keep them safe as they do this. One of my jobs as a volunteer is to walk alongside a participant as they ride in the arenas and on the trails around the property (if you want to know how out of shape you are, chase a high-energy horse being steered by an even higher-energy teenage boy around an arena in 90 degree weather as you’re eaten by mosquitos). There have been several instances when a horse has spooked or a rider begins to get anxious and rowdy. I know that the only way I was prepared to calm a horse and rider was because the Spirit yelled at me that something as coming up, or that something was going to happen. A horse ahead will start to get antsy, or a branch will crack and startle the lot of us in the middle of the lesson. The short prayer that I say before the participants get onto their horses allows me to feel and be guided by the Spirit without hesitation or second thought about what I need to do in order to keep my rider and his horse, as well as other riders, volunteers, and horses safe. I have knelt at my bedside many nights thanking my Heavenly Father for the Spirit and the guidance it gives me, but also for the opportunity I have to be prepared to be led by the Spirit without hesitation.

This doesn’t extend only to the emergencies involved when you work with kids, thankfully.

One of my very favorite lessons is the one that Christ taught the Samarian woman at the well about the power of living water. It is a beautiful example of the love that Christ has for each of us individually, as well as the power of the Gospel and of the atonement. Two phrases stuck out to me as I reread the chapter – “I perceive” and “I know.”

Christ has asked this woman to draw up water for him, that he might drink. He takes the opportunity to teach her about living water, a lesson that she readily accepts. She says to Jesus, “I perceive that thou art a prophet.” This is important, because it is only by the spirit that she could have understood that this stranger was more than your average man. Christ continues to teach her, saying “but the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” This Samarian woman, who those outside of Samaria would consider unclean, backwards, and unfit to even worship the Father, replies (likely without a moment of hesitation), “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ.” It is by the spirit that she is able to know the truth, and when Jesus reveals that he is the Christ, is able to accept it with all her heart, and only a few verses later testify of him to her fellow Samarians.

Prior to his death, President Woodruff had instructed Lorenzo to, upon his death, organize the First Presidency immediately. President Snow wasn’t exactly looking forward to being the next prophet, going so far as to pray to the Lord to extend Wilford Woodruff’s life so that he wouldn’t have the burden of church leadership. Yet, he promised to “devotedly perform any duty required at his hands.” On 2 September, 1898, Lorenzo Snow was given word that Wilford Woodruff had died, and headed that evening to the Salt Lake City temple, reminding the Lord how he had plead. He said, ‘nevertheless, thy will be done. I now present myself before Thee for Thy guidance and instruction. I ask that Thou show me what Thou wouldst have me do.” (Institute manual, Church History in the Fullness of Times, pg. 452)

“After finishing his prayer he expected a reply, some special manifestation from the Lord. So he waited – and waited – and waited. There was no reply, no voice, no visitation, no manifestation.”

Imagine the disappointment of President Snow as he left the room and headed home, feeling weighed down with worry and anxiety about organizing the new First Presidency, the sorrow of losing President Woodruff, and overall exhaustion of traveling. But, as he was walking down one of the temple hallways, the Savior appeared to him, confirming that the first presidency was to be reorganized.

My favorite part of this is that President Snow was willing to walk in the hallway. He was willing to leave the place where he thought he would receive inspiration or instruction, to head back into the ‘real world.’ That takes a lot of courage on his part to rely solely on the Spirit for comfort and guidance as he prepared to take lead of a church of just over one hundred and eighty eight thousand members throughout the world.

Being led by the spirit isn’t an instantaneous decision you make, and it doesn’t always result in the things you expected. The Samarian woman didn’t expect to draw water for the Messiah, just as Lorenzo Snow didn’t expect to see the Savior in the hallway of the Salt Lake temple. Serving a mission wasn’t a snap decision for me – it took a lot of prayer and fasting, as well as continual pushes from the Spirit in the direction of serving. I had to first be willing to be open to the spirit and rely upon it to make decisions, then, as the Samarian woman, trust that what the Spirit was telling me what I needed to do. This was a huge deal for me, because when President Monson announced the age change, it suddenly felt as though serving a mission was in vogue, and I didn’t want to serve simply because half of my school was doing so (literally, half). I realized that Heavenly Father, through the Spirit, had been preparing me for many years to serve, not at age 21, but at age 20. And it’s through the spirit that I had the courage to put in my papers, and will continue to have the strength and courage to serve in California (especially because the most terrifying dreams I have these days are of knocking on stranger’s doors or street contacting), to go out of my comfort zone, and like Lorenzo Snow, be willing to walk in the hallway.

I am thankful for the opportunity to be guided by the spirit, which is a precious gift in and of itself, but one that also leads to other beautiful gifts such as a testimony of the Gospel and of the Savior, the chance to learn and to teach as a missionary, and of course, to not be in a colossal train wreck of horses and children.

“And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels around you, to bear you up.”

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