A favorite Primary song of mine is “The Still Small Voice.” The song is short and to the point saying: “Through a still small voice, the Spirit speaks to me. To guide me, to save me from the evil I may see. If I try to do what’s right, he will lead me thru the night. Direct me, protect me, and give my soul his light. Listen, listen. The Holy Ghost will whisper. Listen, listen to the still small voice.”
I’m fortunate and blessed to be a parent of five children. That gives me a unique perspective into the complex and sometimes frustrating world of trying to get kids to listen to their parents. Parents trying to communicate with children is an age-old struggle, right? And a test of wills. I’m sure we can all relate to that. Parents send out all kinds of messages to us. And we just hope as parents that our children will hear and follow what we ask them to do. We say things like; “Be good at the party.” Right? We hope that happens. “Remember who you are and what you stand for.” Probably heard that too. How about, “Don’t touch that, it’s hot!” or my favorite one, “Don’t put that in your mouth.” These are all messages that I’m sure we have heard before.
I want you to go with me and I want you to think in your mind the following scenario:
Think back to when you were in high school. For some of us that was a long time ago, but for some of you that may have only been a couple of years ago or may even have been last year depending on who’s out here. I want you to think back, you’re done with school. You just got home, and you want just a little bit of down-time. You want time to get something to eat from the fridge, maybe some “screen time” for you younger ones, some time with your favorite app. Maybe binge-watch a little Netflix. We all kind of want to do that after coming home from school.
You are just getting settled when you hear someone calling from another room. It’s Mom, or Dad, usually. “Don’t forget to have homework done before Young Men/Women’s tonight.” That’s when you were in high school, remember? Or, “Remember you said you would take out the garbage out.” Or, “Please mow the lawn, it is getting long.” We have all heard this. The one that is always told in our home is, “Please help me fold the clothes out of the dryer.” There’s a lot of clothes with five kids. We hear those messages, but what usually happens is they become background noise. Just things we hear. We usually respond with some sort of, “Ok, just a minute.” And then we go right back into whatever it was we were doing before. Floating on that sea of images from our screens and maybe some music that’s going through our head.
I want to come back to that scenario every once in a while, but I want to talk today about listening and acting on those promptings that we get from our Heavenly Father. We receive them every day, I’m sure. And I want to talk about the three things we can do to not only get better at hearing but acting on those promptings we receive. I want to bring up a slide, just so you can see the three things I want to talk about. I want to spend some time talking about how to:
Get to know His voice
Ask for help to strengthen your Spiritual Hearing Muscle
Actively listen and answer when He calls – EVERY time
Step 1 – Get to know His voice
The FIRST part of learning to act on any prompting or to obey a voice is to know WHO it is that is talking to us in the first place. We recognize our parents’ voices. We know what they sound like. We need to learn to recognize our Heavenly Father’s voice. There are a lot of voices that are competing for our attention these days. Subtle, persuasive and persistent voices that are found in music, movies, online and in video. All kinds of different things compete for our attention. It can be hard to filter out the good voices from the bad ones.
A favorite scripture of mine is found in 1 Kings and I am sure a lot of you have heard this before”
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
A still small voice. That is what our Heavenly Father’s voice sounds like.
The Book of Mormon gave a great example of that as well.
In 3 Nephi 11:3, 5–7; “They heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; …yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.”
“And again, the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.” “And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them; ‘Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.’”
Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a great lesson on how to know our Father’s voice. He said:
“Get to know His voice through the Scriptures, writing down promptings. The scriptures, in essence, are a written “recording” of the voice of the Lord—a voice we feel in our hearts more than we hear with our ears. And as we study the content and feel the spirit of the written word of God, we learn to hear His voice in the words we read and to understand the means whereby the words are given to us by the Holy Ghost.”
As is explained in Doctrine and Covenants 18:34–36: “These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man; “For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them; “Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words.”
So, if we read the scriptures we get a chance to actually know our Heavenly Father’s words and His voice.
First of all, we get to know our Heavenly Father’s voice by spending time in our scriptures and getting to know what that sounds like.
2 – Ask for help to strengthen your Spiritual Hearing Muscle
Now, I know there’s probably a couple of medical assisting students in the audience and you’re probably going, “There’s no such muscle as the spiritual hearing muscle, Brother Russell.” But I do think it exists.
So, what would happen if we ask specifically for some help in spiritual hearing? What would happen?
Just like exercising our muscles to get stronger, our spiritual hearing can get better and stronger as we exercise it. Sometimes we need a trainer, or a coach, to help us get motivated to help us make these improvements. Sometimes that coach can be a trusted family member or friend, but the best coach is our Heavenly Father. We will also need to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to be successful and grow our spiritual hearing muscle.
Our Heavenly Coach will want to make sure we are ready and prepared to go through the “exercise plan” he has for us. We will need to begin by living worthily. Worthiness invites the constant companionship of the Spirit. If we are struggling to stay worthy, keep trying. If we are not now worthy, we need to repent and ask for help. It is getting ourselves ready to receive that spiritual help. A loving Heavenly Father and Savior are always there to help us get on track if we are struggling with this. And of course, continue to repent, so that you can keep the Spirit with you. For those who are endowed, go to the temple and keep your covenants. If you are living worthily, then there are some specific signs that will help you know that the Spirit is with you. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he kind of outlines some real specific things that you’ll recognize when the Spirit is present. He says you will feel “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23). If these things are present, then you will know that the Spirit is present. Okay, now you are prepared.
Just like a good warm up for physical exercise, you sometimes need a demonstration to see how the exercise is to be done. One way to do that is to immerse ourselves in the scriptures and see what listening to and acting on spiritual promptings looks like. Gordon Limb gave a BYU devotional address in 2013, and there was one piece that he said that I thought was great. He said, “Scriptural immersion provides us with a unique insight into how others have received and responded to the promptings of the Spirit.”
So, let’s go there and let’s see those great demonstrations of how people listen to and respond to hearing the spirit.
Elder Bednar also continues in his talk to demonstrate how the scriptures help us exercise and strengthen our Spiritual Hearing Muscle by saying:
“How important it is for each of us to return repeatedly to the Holy Scriptures and thereby gain experience and confidence in hearing and feeling His voice.”
As we regularly study the Holy Scriptures, “Behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:3). Hearing and feeling the voice of the Lord and knowing His words are essential.
The next exercise in strengthening that Spiritual Hearing Muscle is prayer. Sincere prayer invites the constant companionship of the Spirit. Remember that prayer needs to be specific and include listening to our Heavenly Father. There is a great quote by President Gordon B. Hinckley that he observed:
“The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another.”[TGBH, 469]
Don’t miss out on the conversation. Many times promptings and instruction come as we pray. Be ready to listen and maybe be ready to write down things that come during your prayer.
Be specific in your prayers. Let Heavenly Father know where you need help and be as specific as you can be. “I am struggling to know what to do to best help my ministering family. Please help me recognize Thy voice and help me act on these promptings.” The Savior promised: “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.”
Now that we have learned to know His voice and have asked for help to strengthen our Spiritual Hearing Muscle, it’s time to do the next thing, to actively listen and answer when He calls – EVERY TIME!
3 – Actively listen and answer when He calls – EVERY TIME
Now, this is probably the biggest challenge; a lot of us are probably familiar with our Heavenly Father’s voice. We know what we should do but most frequently respond with, “Okay, just a minute.” And that is not what we should do.
If we are listening or reading in the scriptures, we have probably seen many examples of those who have listened to and followed our Heavenly Father’s voice, but we have also seen examples of those that didn’t.
How about the story of Jonah? He was familiar with Heavenly Father’s voice. He tried to avoid the Lord’s command, and what happened? He got swallowed and eventually that kind of got him into obeying.
How about Laman and Lemuel? They were really good at hearing, but not obeying.
How about Alma the Younger? It took some shaking to get him to listen and hear and finally act on what he should do.
Now, let’s go back to that scenario in high school. We have heard the voices and we respond with, “Okay, just a minute!”
And at some point, we wake up or get up and walk out to the other room and more often than not what do we find?
We find Mom folding the clothes by herself, or Dad out mowing the lawn.
What would our life be like if we paid a little more attention to the reminders and requests from our parents? Would we just stay frustrated that someone wanted us to do something WE didn’t want to do? Or would we be able to have some greater benefits? Would we be able to enjoy an activity more because we got our homework done? Or would we be able to just feel that great gratitude that comes from a parent that just really needs our help.
What we want is to be like Nephi, where his whole mantra is – I will go and do. He will hear and he will understand when it is time for him to go and do. He knew the Lord’s voice and he answered every time because he knew that, “the Lord giveth no commandment unto the children of men… save he shall prepare a way for them.”
Remember what it says in John 10:27. It teaches us that, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they FOLLOW ME.”
There is a wooden plaque that I put on the wall of my Bishop’s office that says, “Yes, I Will.” It has a very special meaning to me for lots of reasons, but I want to tell you about why that ended up on my wall.
Six years ago, I was called to be Bishop of my ward. When that call comes, you go through lots of emotions and self-reflection. First is complete shock, like it must be a joke. I thought, “Not me. You can’t really mean me. Can you?” Then comes a feeling of utter terror and self-doubt. How can I be the bishop? More and more emotions and thoughts run constantly through your mind. I spent a sleepless night praying to my Father in Heaven and wanting to know why He would want me. I remember distinctly asking Him and hearing His voice talk to me just like a parent talks to his children. “Todd, I need you, and I need you NOW. Not later. Not when it is more convenient. Not when you think you will be more worthy, or knowledgeable, or whatever you are concerned about. I need you NOW. Will you do this for me?” And I remember answering somehow – yes, I will.
Those thoughts and emotions echoed in my head for not only that night and the following day, but for the entire duration of that calling and still resonate today. I knew I was being taught a very valuable lesson. I was being taught and still continue being taught today how to not only listen, but how to ACT on the requests from my Heavenly Father through the Spirit.
Let’s go back one more time to the scenario.
How many of you have been in your room and instead of coming out to see something happen that you should have been doing, hear a knock on the door and the door opens and a loving, but semi-frustrated parent comes in. Now the request changes from, “Please do this for me” to “DO IT NOW…”
I want to tell you one more story of how I learned a tough lesson from Heavenly Father.
One of my roles as Bishop that was assigned to me by my Stake President was to be the “Transient Bishop.” No, this didn’t mean I would be homeless, but that I would look after those who found themselves passing through our stake boundaries in need of assistance. We live close to a TRAX station in Sandy, and many homeless people end up traveling on the train, especially in the Winter to keep warm. I received a voicemail from a young mother who was in this situation, needing to get to Idaho with her young daughter and needed help for the night. I was late for a family dinner and told myself that I would call her back after I was done with family. I didn’t get more than a block away when the “voices from the other room” softly started. “Todd, she needs help. Will you help her?” Then a bit louder. “You are the bishop assigned to help in these situations. Will you help them?” Then, as if the door was flung open in my room and a much louder voice said, “YOU ARE MY HANDS!!! You promised you would do what I asked of you. Will you help them now?”
I stopped. Turned my car around and went back to my office feeling pretty kicked, but realizing the promise I had made. I called her back and assessed the situation and yes, I could help. I knew right then some very valuable lessons. I learned then how much Heavenly Father cares for every single one of his children, no matter the situation, no matter where they are, no matter what is happening in their lives. I also learned that He is always talking to us through the Spirit. Sometimes He increases the volume so we can hear.
From that moment on, I tried to follow every prompting that came my way. Sometimes the results, I didn’t really see the results at all, but I tried to follow. Sometimes the results were super obvious and were very amazing to see.
Now I know, this is a difficult challenge for each of us. I’m still learning to follow those promptings. And I’m challenged every day to do that, so I challenge each of us in this room, each of you to act on every prompting that comes your way. No matter how inconvenient, no matter how strange it may seem. If we practice answering the call every time, we will become better listeners, better followers and better servants. I challenge you to try this for one week. See what happens. Keep track of your experiences and review them and see what happens.
To quote Elder Bednar one more time: The Savior taught, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27;). Thus, hearing His voice precedes properly following Him, “for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7). Truly, we can receive instruction from Him and follow Him.”
If we will get to know His voice by reading the scriptures, asking for help in growing our Spiritual Hearing Muscle by repenting, living worthily to have the constant companionship of the Spirit, immersing ourselves in the scriptures and praying specifically for help, then we will be able to actively listen and answer every time He calls. We will grow closer to our Heavenly Father and our Savior. We will be His hands here on this earth, and we will be guided and protected in our daily endeavors.
I know this to be true, and I testify of these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Todd Russell is an Employer Relations Coordinator in Career and Internship Services at LDSBC, holding a BS in Business Information Systems and an MBA. He has spent the past 30+ years in the Tech Industry working in Training and Documentation, HR, Recruiting, and Program Management roles. For the past 13 years, he worked for IM Flash, an Intel/Micron Joint Venture where he served as the Academic Relations and Intern Program Manager. He has served on many Industry Advisory Boards in Higher Education across the state and was instrumental in developing a consortium of High-Tech Manufacturers who promote STEM Education in Middle Schools and High Schools. Todd has served as a missionary in the Uruguay Montevideo Mission where he not only developed a love for the people and culture, but also for unique taste of mate. He has served in many positions in the Church, including Primary Chorister, Scout Master, Elders Quorum Presidency, Stake YM President, Bishop and currently serves as a Musical Missionary in the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square. Todd has been married to his sweet wife Kari for 31 years and is the proud father of five children; three of which are married, one is currently serving a mission in the Washington DC South Spanish Speaking Mission and one recently graduated from high school. He is also a grandfather to four energetic grandchildren.