Having a hard time feeling the spirit?

by Rusty Lindquist on January 25, 2011 · 0 comments

As I mentioned here (How often do you feel the spirit?), the frequency with which we feel the spirit can be an accurate measure of our spiritual “status” and regular measurement can help give us an idea of our spiritual progression over time.

But sometimes recognizing the spirit can be difficult.  Many struggle to obtain even a single, clear encounter.  The good news is that there are indeed specific things we can do to introduce the spirit more fully into our lives.  What’s more, these things are helpful to not only begin feeling the spirit, but are applicable by all to increase the regularity with which they feel the Holy Ghost.

The following are what I consider the building blocks of leading a spirit-rich life:

  • Sincere, heartfelt prayer
  • Earnest and thorough scripture study
  • Fasting
  • Wholehearted church attendance
  • Righteous living
  • Service

There is a healthy list that extends far beyond this, in terms of activities that effectively bring the spirit into our lives, but these seem the most fundamental.

Yes, they’re simple.  They’re straightforward.  And in that, they’re deceiving.  The bible tells of an instance where the Israelites were being afflicted by poisonous serpents, and Moses crafted a brass serpent and put it on a pole, and told them that whoever looked upon the staff would be saved.  But many perished because of the simplicity of the task, for they expected something more.

When the mighty Naaman, general and commander of the army of Aram suffered from leprosy, he went to see the prophet Elisha, who told him to wash seven times in the river Jordan.  But Naaman, expecting something far more complicated, left in anger.  Later, changing his heart, he obeyed the prophet and was healed.

Often we find that such small endeavors create the foundation upon which even the most mighty things can be accomplished.   For by small and simple means are great things brought to pass (Alma 37:6). 

But they must be done with full purpose of heart, with real intent, and not just going through the motions.  For he that does so in the wrong spirit, shall not reap the same rewards.

But I believe, that if you kept a calendar, and on that calendar you made a mark for every instance in which you did one of these simple things, with real intent, that over time, you’d find this number directly proportional to how often you felt the spirit that month.  And that over time, you’d look back an see that the months you invested the most effort, were the months you reaped the greatest reward – not just in the prevalence of the spirit in your life, but in other aspects of your life as well.

But I challenge you to put my words to the test.  Keep a calendar for yourself and see if you can’t prove me wrong.  See for yourself, the great good that is brought to your life, by true devotion to these most basic and foundational actions.  And may you find as much enrichment from them as I do.

Rusty

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Margaret July 15, 2008 at 6:22 PM

This is a wonderful post! Thanks for the challenge.

At the times when I more closely follow the things you suggest (and a few others) i do feel the spirit more often. When I let other things in my life get in the way, I get off track and lose those feelings. I’ve never really measured it before. I’ll start doing that tomorrow and see what happens. This would be a great thing to track in my journal in more detail than on the calendar.

The “full purpose of heart, with real intent” is the key.

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2 Robert July 17, 2008 at 8:56 AM

Hey Rusty, I replied to your reply on my blog. I also left a trackback to your original post.

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3 Robert July 20, 2008 at 1:32 PM

I’ve been thinking about this Rusty, about feeling the spirit being an indicator of spiritual health. I need to do a bit more pondering, but I think I may have some material from St. John of the Cross which will bring an interesting perspective to this.

-Rob

http://theblackcordelias.wordpress.com/

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4 Robert July 20, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Perhaps the best way to put it would be “discerning the Spirit” instead of “feeling the Spirit.” For surely what we feel cannot by itself be an authenticating factor for religion.

What you call “feeling the Spirit” seems to be merging much towards “discerning the Spirit” in this second installment of the series.

Note how in the first installment you focused on things like distinguishing, “the spirit from other emotions.” I think you are right in this installment to focus especially on objective measures of our God-centeredness. These are primarily things which are objective, although they do have subjective aspects. The important thing for this is that being right with God is best measured not by how one feels, but by how one acts. Feelings and emotions are endlessly variable, but constancy in virtue even amidst spiritual dryness is proof that one is continuing in God’s grace.

What I’d like to discuss is “sincere, heartfelt prayer” as an indicator. I agree that prayer is an indicator, but perhaps we’d be careful to qualify sincere and heartfelt. Because these brings us back to the same question– is our spiritual life best measured by feeling good? And again the answer would seem to be no. For what most people characterize as sincere, heartfelt prayer is easy prayer— prayer which any sunshine disciple would be happy to have because it feels good.

But sometimes, when we are feeling the most arid, when our prayer is the driest, sometimes that is when our prayer is the best. It doesn’t “feel” like our best prayer. But it is. And the way we know this is not because of how the prayer feels– it seems like a terrible service to have to render to God– but by what the prayer produces. Namely, virtue and sanctity.

So when you say, “every instance in which you did one of these simple things, with real intent” I have to qualify this again. Is this with *felt* real intent? Or simply with real intent? Because love, ultimately, it not what you feel but what you do. And if that’s the case, then one can feel utterly arid, utterly spent, and even then be just as holy– if not far more– than when feeling good about service to God and neighbor.

St. John of the Cross interprets the dryness and aridity in prayer which God allows one to fall into as ways of teaching the Christian to rely on faith and grow in virtue. I think his position is very reasonable. God allows beginners to taste of sweetness in things according to a certain lowly mode of comprehension. When they are strong enough to do better, God removes this lowly way and lets them grow in virtue and sanctity by persevering despite trials. And so we always ought to measure our spiritual life by objective measures as much as possible.

I think a good way of doing this is exemplified especially by St. Augustine’s Confessions. He defines true confession as truly recognizing one’s own sin and God’s actions in one’s life. But this is not something merely subjective, but something to be discerned in the world through the eyes of faith. Hence, our spiritual life then depends critically on recognizing our sinfulness– we ought to constantly examine ourselves and confess our sins. And also critically on coming to God in thankfulness for all of the good things in one’s life. So it requires the vigilance of prayer so that we may see His action in our life. As we can more fully do these things we move towards the fullness of “confession” until finally we, with our whole being confess Jesus Christ. And ironically, when we are at our holiest we will understand that that we rely the most on God’s mercy.

What are your thoughts?

God bless,
Rob

http://theblackcordelias.wordpress.com/

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5 Robert July 20, 2008 at 1:58 PM

Oh, I forgot to tie the end back in to the beginning. And this part, where we confess God’s action in our lives, this is where we need to be good at “discerning the Spirit.” For we must look on the world and at our lives with the eyes of faith, and with that faith discern when God has acted in our lives. But this is not an emotional feeling, but the application of faith, something we discern with our intellect, to things.

Hence, “discerning the Spirit” as opposed to “feeling the Spirit.”

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6 Rusty Lindquist July 21, 2008 at 12:03 AM

Wow, fantastic. I loved it all. First, I totally agree, “discerning the spirit” is be a far better phrase for exactly the purposes you describe. And your qualification of sincere, efficacious prayer is very good too.

Moreover, I mostly appreciated your statement about how our actions, or works, are perhaps even a better measure of our spiritual progress. For faith without works, is dead. If faith leads not to righteous actions, then that faith wasn’t real faith to begin with. Our actions are a great measure of our righteousness. And that love, ultimately is not what you feel, but what you do.

That was terrific. I’ll do a separate post about that and explore it a little further. Thanks for helping me see that. If you don’t mind I’d like to quote your comment and credit you for the language that you used. I think you articulated it so well.

Thank you for spending the time to add so much value to this post. I truly appreciate it, and hope to see more.

Rusty

P.S. I haven’t had a chance yet to go respond to your post on your blog, but intend to this week. Thanks for continuing the discussion.

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7 Robert July 21, 2008 at 6:33 AM

Rusty,

Anything I post in public is fair game for quotation, whether I like it or not. But in this case, of course, feel free to quote.

“If faith leads not to righteous actions, then that faith wasn’t real faith to begin with.”

Or perhaps it is just a gift which was unused and rejected. I’m always reticent to say that it must mean it wasn’t real faith. I think there is a definite continuum, from weak faith to strong faith, all of which is real faith, but which a person mobilizes for use in righteous living to a greater or lesser degree. As evidence of that, even those of us who are more committed often still fail to implement our faith fully by living righteously and in true service to God through good works. And to whatever degree we fail to do that it doesn’t follow that our faith is false, rather that it is weak or neglected. I’m not quite sure how to word this effectively, but perhaps you’ll see my point and run with it. Because this faith was capable of producing fruit, or it couldn’t have really have been called faith. Nevertheless it didn’t produce fruit. And so I would naturally blame the human, and not the giver of the gift. I think it makes it all the more serious– if the person ‘never really had faith’ then what did they reject ultimately, and how can God condemn them? But if they rejected the gift of God (faith) that they ought to have sown in good works, then they truly are responsible before God for not investing that talent, but hiding it away instead.

“And that love, ultimately is not what you feel, but what you do. ”

Of course, I’d expect a married man to understand that much better than myself. I imagine that sacrificial love for one’s wife and children often must be more of what you do than what you feel.

“I haven’t had a chance yet to go respond to your post on your blog, but intend to this week. Thanks for continuing the discussion.”

It’s very long, I understand. I’ll actually be away for a week, so if I don’t make a quick reply, it’s because I’m not checking the computer.

God bless.

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8 Barrett January 6, 2009 at 1:32 PM

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