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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 3: Seek and Receive the Gift of Discernment


Hot Chocolate -- A Key to Obtaining the Gift of Discernment


It's been my experience that discernment is not something you can just turn on and off, like flipping a switch. No. It requires considerable faith, study, successes, failures, prayer, direct divine intervention and...hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate?!

Yep, that's what I said. Hot chocolate.

You see, for me, a nice, warm hot chocolate in the late fall/winter/early spring has a soothing, calming effect on me. I feel peaceful. Relaxed. Calm.

Maybe hot chocolate isn't your inner peacemaker. Maybe it's a nice warm bath or shower, taking a walk or spending time in nature. One person I know is at his calmest when he's mowing the lawn. Whatever works.

I don't believe you have a snowball's chance of discerning -- seeing what God sees, hearing what God hears and feeling what God feels -- while simultaneously listening to AC/DC's "Back in Black". Nor can you effectively discern if you give in to a little porn now and then, are idolatrous or just simply unrepentant (aka prideful). Sorry -- you can't have your primary residence in Zion while still hoping to keep a summer cottage in Babylon.

In my opinion, when you're aligned with God, and at peace, you're then close to (or on) the Lord's wavelength. After all, Elijah felt a great wind, an earthquake and a fire. The Lord wasn't in any of them; then came “a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12; D&C 85:6). Some of the still, small voice's characteristics are:
  • It's heard in your mind: “Behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10).
  • It's not simply a thought, but an impression or feeling: "While this spiritual communication comes into the mind, it comes more as a feeling, an impression, than simply as a thought." (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation", October 1991 General Conference)
  • It's as gentle as a whisper: “It was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul.” (Helaman 5:30). Nephi also reminded his brothers that an angel “hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.”  (1 Nephi 17:45).
  • Most importantly, it will entice you to do good (Moroni 7:12-13) and speak peace to you (D&C 6:23)
  • Thus, the Spirit also speaks to your heart (D&C 8:2)
So, we see that
"Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable, Comforter abound in the scriptures: 'Be still, and know that I am God.' (Ps. 46:10; emphasis mine). And the promise, 'You shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom.'" (D&C 36:2). (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation" October 1991 General Conference).
If I were to summarize all these concepts into one sentence, it'd be this:


Spiritual Warfare's Secret Weapon


There are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes, and Satan throwing every trick in the book at you when you're seeking the Gift of Discernment.

All of us have times when we find it difficult to seek greater communion with the Lord. We may be sad, upset, anxious and worse. And yes, even though we'd agree that prayer is certainly a spiritual weapon we can deploy in the blink of an eye to help us feel peace (as are scripture reading and fasting), there are times when we find it challenging to do those things, too.

It's at those times when we need all the help we can get -- especially when the hot chocolate or the warm shower just isn't the right solution. Being imperfect humans, we need a life line, assistance, a tool -- anything and everything that's divine and reliable which can help invite the Spirit and cast Satan from our midst.

Luckily, the Lord has supplied such a tool to help us draw closer to Him, feel His spirit again and regain a measure of peace which naturally comes to those aligned with Him. In fact, I can narrow it down to a single, five-letter word:

Music.
"A man can get nearer to God by music than any other method except prayer." (Pres. J. Reuben Clark, Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 111)
Can music help you cast out evil and focus on God? Absolutely!
"And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him." (1 Samuel 16:23)
"Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah." (Psalms 32:7)
If you go here, you can read a series of posts I wrote in 2013 about the effect music can have on your soul. It's no wonder that Beethoven said, "Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy". Even the Lord acknowledged music's spiritual power when He said,
"For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." (D&C 25:12)
On a personal note: I have found music is everything Pres. Clark and the scriptures say it is: A powerful method, tool, even a gift to help us re-tune to the Divine (for more about "tuning in to God", click here).

And once you're tuned in, and accustomed to what it feels like (remember the characteristics of the still small voice above), you're in terrific shape to "Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good" (Alma 37:37)

In my opinion, now you're ready to seek the Gift of Discernment.

"By Study and Also By Faith"


NOTE: The following is just an example of how a person (in this case, it was me) can seek after and receive the Gift of Discernment. It was based on the inspiration I received at the time. Your journey to receiving the Gift of Discernment may be different.

The Lord expects humility and perspiration to precede inspiration. He also expects us to seek after knowledge and information before we seek inspiration (see here and here):
"Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me." (D&C 9:7-9)
Thus, it just stands to reason that if you want to be blessed with the Gift of Discernment -- which we've been told is offered to all Saints -- you need to put in the requisite amount of perspiration, likely "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:119-119; D&C 109:7-8)

This was the conclusion I reached many years ago. Only at that time, I felt prompted to first study spiritual gifts/gifts of the spirit. To "start at the 30,000 foot level", as they say.

So at that time, I studied every scripture every written about gifts. EVERY scripture. I read them in English, Hebrew or Greek, so I could clearly understand the original meaning of what was written. Then I read each scripture's cross-references. Next, I sought after and read every word ever uttered by Joseph Smith regarding gifts. Combined, I considered these sources as my "foundation level" of information.

Next, I read the biblical commentaries of each scripture. These helped me gain a new perspective on the social and historical circumstances of the biblical scriptures. I also read every conference talk and curriculum material mentioning gifts. In all cases, I gave preferential consideration to those statements which clearly aligned with the foundation layer (I'll describe a bit more of my "sifting and sorting process" later in this post).

As I read and studied and pondered, I asked Father to guide me to the concepts He wanted me to learn. Sometimes, I'd easily grasp and embrace a concept. Other times, He would give me experiences (what I call "Lab Courses") of concepts He wanted indelibly imprinted upon me. I succeeded with some of the experiences He'd give me. Other times, I failed. I'd repent, then try again. I'd fail, repent, repeat process. Over time, it seemed to me that the important thing to Father wasn't whether or not I failed; instead, it was whether or not I repented and turned to Christ to help me proceed. I had many, many impressions that as long as I was doing that, I wasn't failing.

During the course of my research, I would feel impressed to highlight or mentally note certain keywords. It would be just a word here, and a word there. Just occasionally.

Then, one day, it finally dawned on me. Father was pulling me in the direction of not just studying gifts in general, but one gift in particular: Discernment.

(I praise God for guiding me through this journey. In my case, He led me to Discernment. In another's case, it could easily be charity or faith or healing or any gift).

I was impressed to do all the things I had done up to that point, yet focus my efforts solely on Discernment. I started all over again and re-read the sources I'd previously read concerning gifts which also addressed discernment. I read other passages as well. From the foundation layer to the commentaries to the conference talks to the curriculum materials, every scripture or statement was plugged into a spreadsheet (No, you can't see it. Make your own!  : )  ) I studied spiritual gifts for four months, and discernment (including an incident described below) for eight months. One year total.

Like my lessons regarding gifts, I was given experiences regarding discernment. Some I easily accomplished. Some attempts were abject failures.

One attempt was tragic.

Three Things the Lord Taught Me About Discernment


1. The Inevitable Test

It's been my experience -- and the experience of others I know who have sought spiritual gifts -- that there will likely come a time that you've developed a healthy degree of confidence in the usage of your spiritual gift. You can use it again and again and again, and each time, it brings about a beneficial result (most often for another).

Then the inevitable happens.

You are given an opportunity to use the gift, and you do it. But in the rush of enthusiasm in using the gift, you fail to remember that it's Christ -- not a mortal -- who "will direct thee for good". You seize the initiative and use the gift on your terms, for your personal reasons.

That's what I did. Although I didn't use the gift for illegal or immoral reasons, it was nonetheless used without the Lord's consent and permission. Soon thereafter, usage of the gift was withheld from me for six months.

By the time my six months in the penalty box were over, I felt pretty broken. It was then that God once again made Himself evident and reinforced what, to this day, was a tremendously valuable lesson: When it comes to using gifts, it's "Thy will, not mine, be done." Even today, when I contemplate the usage of spiritual gifts, I imagine my finger on the switch of a gift. It never moves unless and until the Lord overlays His fingers on mine and gently nudges me to activate the gift.

Another blessing emerged from this experience: A story emerged in my mind about a boy who played chopsticks on a piano, only to be later joined by a master pianist, who overlaid His fingers on the boy's. This story, which I literally experienced first-hand (with respect to spiritual gifts), served as the basis for this blog's first post, posted on February 5, 2012: "Symphonies". Here's what I said back then, as the experiences of my "Time Out" were still fresh in my mind:
"These blog posts are of, by and for you -- that scared, lonely child who at one time or another may have felt like you didn't have the talent, the wisdom, the know-how, in fact the worthiness, to be worthy of the presence of the Master.
They're also about the what happens when your fingers combine with our Elder Brother's, and the exquisitely beautiful symphony that will chime in, at just the right times, that will leave you not only awestruck, but also able to personally testify that the Master indeed lives.
For your natural abilities, combined with his super abilities, can and will bring about supernatural wonders in our lives."
2. "Shelves"

One of the lessons I learned as I was studying discernment is that even when it comes to using spiritual gifts, "Timing is Everything".

At one point in my studies, I was given a test. I was given three doctrines to determine the truthfulness of.

At first, I considered it a no-brainer. I had several friends I considered older and wiser, and were far better versed in doctrines and scriptures than I was. I would just believe what they did, because heck, they'd walked the hot coals of experience and study to obtain their testimonies. In my prayers, and even within the walls of the temple, I begged and pleaded with God to help guide me regarding the conclusions on the doctrines presented to me.

Within about a week, a clear instruction was given to me: "By their fruits ye shall know them." Knowing that this was a scripturally-validated, divinely-endorsed commandment, I embraced it. I was also impressed to read Deuteronomy 4:30–31:
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.
When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; … He will not forsake thee.”
In the course of studying this verse, I was led to a talk given by Elder Bruce C. Hafen, “If with All Your Hearts Ye Truly Seek Me”. I was instantly drawn to the talk, because he gave it at a time when I personally knew the Hafens, and at least one of the anecdotes in it mentioned some personal friends. Reading this talk impressed a very crucial dimension to discernment: Sometimes, we need to give the Holy Ghost some time to weigh in. Sometimes it may take days, months, years, even decades.

Gerald Lund once said,
"It is God who decides the who, what, when, where, and how of revelation. We seem to want to impose our will upon Him. Some of us seem to think that prayer is like a Sears catalogue! We take it out, pick what we want, order it, and ask it 'to be sent to us U.P.S. and A.S.A.P. (as soon as possible), if you please!' Sometimes we don't need to have an answer by a certain day or time. The Lord will say "yes" and give us an answer, or "no, you don't need an answer right now, and I'll PROVE it!" ("How Do I Discern Between True and Counterfeit Revelation?")
"It is not wise to wrestle with the revelations with such insistence as to demand immediate answers or blessings to your liking. You cannot force spiritual things. Such words as compel, coerce, constrain, pressure, demand, do not describe our privileges with the Spirit. You can no more force the Spirit to respond than you can force a bean to sprout, or an egg to hatch before it's time. You can create a climate to foster growth, nourish, and protect; but you cannot force or compel: you must await the growth. Do not be impatient to gain great spiritual knowledge. Let it grow, help it grow, but do not force it or you will open the way to be misled." (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, Jan. 1983, p. 53)
As I waited upon the Lord, God soon blessed me with some disturbing yet enlightening insights into my "friends". He also taught me truths about the interconnectedness of reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time.

Through all of that, I learned about The Three Shelves:
  • On the lowest shelf, I place doctrines which the Spirit has testified to me are true. They meet the "reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time" test. This shelf is easily accessible.
  • On the middle shelf go those doctrines or teachings I'm uncertain about. In most cases, I put them there and let the test of time sort them in or out.
  • On the top shelf are those doctrines or teachings I feel disinclined to believe. Others may believe them, and that's their prerogative. But for me, they remain practically out of reach. If they are intended for a lower shelf, then I await the Master's action.

3. Flying to Pieces Like Glass

Lastly, as I studied discernment, I learned a great deal about myself. One of the foremost things I learned was how entrenched I was in the traditions of men, interpretations of men and the pride of men.

God says,
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
If God's thoughts and ways are higher than our own, and we are at best prodigals, then there are bound to be conflicts between His thoughts/ways and our thoughts/ways. Joseph ran up against this fact continually among members of the church:
"There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen [see D&C 121:40]." (History of the Church, 6:184-85; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Jan. 21, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 331)
"There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake. Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 309; History of the Church 5:424).
"I say to all those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty, You will come short of the glory of God. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions." (History of the Church, 5:554; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 27, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards and William Clayton.)
"Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther. Did Abraham when called upon to offer his son? Did the Savior? No." (Notes of James Burgess from a sermon in the Temple Grove 27 August 1843, The Words of Joseph Smith, p.243-248)
"It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty." (History of the Church, 5:529–30; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 13, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.)
This predisposition to what I call "Doctrinal Boxes" is tremendously evident on the internet. In fact, just this morning, I was reading a post in a gospel-oriented Facebook group where a member explained how he believed something which was almost word-for-word the opposite of what Isaiah says. Then another extolled and praised a well-known person who is also famous for their propensity to produce false prophecies. In my humble opinion, both utterly failed the "reason, feeling and experience, or the test of time" test.

These aren't isolated incidents. I see them often; not only on the internet, but in church meetings as well.

The bottom line: If you truly seek discernment, be prepared for a greater awareness of (God's) truths which are incongruent with what you've been taught over the years by mortals.

Like Elder Maxwell masterfully articulated, you can't have one foot in Zion and another in Babylon. There's no middle ground, no "lukewarm" seeking after discernment (Revelation 3:16). You're either in 100%, or you aren't.

In Conclusion


The scriptures give us more than a casual invitation to obtain spiritual gifts.  We are told to desire spiritual gifts. Seek earnestly the best gifts. Lay hold upon every good gift. To apply ourselves to our own special gift (1 Corin. 14:1; D&C 46:8; Moroni 10:30; D&C 8:4).

God doesn't cast His gifts freely into the wind. They're reserved for those who love God and keep His commandments. And you must seek them, cultivate them and clearly understand (as I'll detail later) that they must be used to benefit others.

You may be one of the many who have wondered where you were when the gifts were handed out. Perhaps you even feel that you were completely overlooked. I get that. I felt that way, too. I've even envied the gifts evident in others' lives.

Could you have a gift lying dormant within you?  Perhaps (even probably). Consider mining the deepest recesses of your soul to discover the "gold" that's in you. I'm sure that if you read your Patriarchal Blessing, ask for and heed the clues the Spirit will send you, you'll discover them.

As I've studied the subject of spiritual gifts and my knowledge of gifts has increased, I've repented of past feelings. I've also come to know that "to every man (and woman) is given a gift by the Spirit of God" (D&C 46:1; also see 1 Corin. 7:7).  I also know that some may be given an abundance of gifts (D&C 46:29).

Discernment is one of those gifts you're entitled to:
“… Every member in the restored Church of Christ could have this gift if he willed to do so. He could not be deceived with the sophistries of the world. He could not be led astray by pseudo-prophets and subversive cults. Even the inexperienced would recognize false teachings, in a measure at least" (Stephen L. Richards, Conference Report, Apr. 1950, 162–63).
My experience seeking and receiving discernment was just that: mine. I offer my story only as an example of how one person did it -- nothing more, nothing less. Please don't assume you'll have the same lessons and experiences I had. And please don't assume I am (or that I'm trying to come across as) anything greater than "The Prodigal Mormon", which -- in all honesty -- was a blog post I felt was written for me.

Yet I'm simultaneously amazed by how eager the Lord is for us to seek greater discernment and to use it for others. I'm equally astounded by how anxious He is for us to investigate and grow in even higher levels of discernment, many of which are "hidden in plain sight" in the scriptures. I will always praise His name in all the eternities for the things He has unveiled to a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.

A homework assignment or two (sorry -- they're the kind your dog can't eat).


I invite you to humbly, meekly ask God if you should diligently study spiritual gifts. Wait for His answer. If and when He says yes, then do it. If it's His will that you study discernment, then great! If not, that's great too.

Regardless, part of me thinks you could use a little inspiration along the way. I know I could.

So, effective today, this blog now has a new Multimedia tab on its website menu. It features inspirational music, inspirational videos, insightful videos and more. I've started it, but I'd like to invite you to help complete it. Feel free to email me here and suggest whatever songs or videos you believe will help others draw closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

For it is He -- the Bread of Life, the Prince of Peace -- who gives sight to the blind so they might see...and hope to those who did not believe.