Summary: As in every generation, we are living in perilous times and it can become confusing to know what the right thing is to do. Today we hear many different voices coming from every direction saying. “Come follow me. I have the answer.” Some of them may be well intentioned. Some may sound very reasonable and make sense, and others may seem harsh, and shrill. At times like this, it can become confusing to know who to listen to and what the right course of action should be. Since God know the way we should go, this article explains how we can recognize his voice when he speaks to us.
When the disciples of Jesus asked him when the end of the world would come, he answered them saying that there “shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, and except those days should be shortened, there shall no flesh be saved… [and] there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matthew 24:21,22,24).
Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven after his resurrection, Christians in every generation since then have been eagerly anticipating his return. However, they also understand that before he comes again there will be great violence in the world and that the believers in Christ will face persecution. There will be “wars and rumors of war,” the love of many will wax cold, people will be “without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent (lacking self-control), fierce, despisers of those that are good” (2 Timothy 3:3), “without understanding, covenant breakers, implacable (unforgiving), [and] unmerciful” (Romans1:31).
In addition to this, there will be false Christs who will come with flattering words, calling good that which is evil, and calling evil that which is good, and persecuting those who don’t agree with them. So effective will be their powers of persuasion that even some Christians – the elect of God – will either be swayed by their arguments or will go along with the ways of the world out of fear, intimidation, or not wanting to be ostracized.
However, people living in every generation have seen all of these things happening in their day so none of them are unusual, and that is most certainly true of our day. Even in a land founded on religious freedom, the early followers of Joseph Smith were severely persecuted for what they believed, even by the very government that was established to protect the religious rights of all its citizens.
It’s been said that the two things people are most passionate about are religion and politics, and we see people in both of these areas crying, “Lo here, lo there,” as they seek to persuade people to come follow their philosophical beliefs. However, the hallmark of those who try to call evil good is that they often tend to state their case in a bold, authoritative manner, often with a loud voice. Speaking forcefully seems to be their preferred method of convincing others of the correctness of their position. This was certainly Adolph Hitler’s method of arousing people to follow him.
There will be those who present themselves as being warm and friendly, smiling and talking in soothing, pleasing words, but as soon as someone disagrees with them, they become defensive, belligerent, and hostile, which indicates that their friendliness was only a false front meant to deceive people into following them. This is the favorite method of conmen and swindlers, and we’ve seen many examples of this in our day.
By contrast, people who follow after righteous most generally state their beliefs in a quiet, calm manner and don’t become irritated by those who hold different opinions. Since God is the most righteous being of all, when he speaks to us, it’s not with the voice of thunder and lightning, but instead he communicates with us in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) and there’s a reason why.
The Lord has revealed that “the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (D&C 130:22). When God speaks to us, he does so through his Spirit who then speaks to our spirit, and the way we hear his voice is in the form of thoughts. Thoughts are not loud but come to our mind quietly and softly. Because God doesn’t force us to do his will, when he tells us something in a quiet voice, this allows us the choice to either do as he asks or ignore his message.
But devils are also spirits, and they too can likewise speak to us. Thus, when thoughts come into our mind, they can be from God, from Satan, or from ourselves. However, when Satan speaks to us, he plays on our emotions and uses our natural desires to entice us to do wrong. In this way we feel pressured to follow his message, not because Satan can force us to do anything, but because of our own inclinations to do what we know we shouldn’t.
Take, for example, someone who is trying to lose weight by dieting. They know that eating certain foods, such as donuts, pie, cake, or ice cream will add extra pounds, but these kinds of sweets can be such a temptation that it can be a real struggle to resist the urge to eat them. Often, we make excuses for going off our diet, assuring ourselves that afterwards we will get right back on it. However, as most people in this situation have discovered, it doesn’t take long before they’ve completely abandoned their diet all together.
In the same way, Satan plays to our weaknesses, where we’re the most vulnerable. Because of this, it’s easy for us to do what we know is wrong, and when we do give into our weaknesses, we readily make excuses for our behavior. On the other hand, God appeals to our sense of reason and lets us decide which course of action we want to take. As a result, we have to make a conscious effort to do as he says.
In the scriptures, the term “darkness” is often used as a synonym for evil or wickedness, while the term “light” is often used as a synonym for goodness or righteousness. When we’re in darkness it’s hard to see where we’re going or even where to go, and so we look for any sort of light that will help us see more clearly which direction to go in. This also applies to when we find ourselves surrounded with evil, because in a situation like that, we look for a way to escape the darkness
It’s at times like this when we hear a multitude of voices calling, “Lo here, lo there, do this, do that. Come follow me. I have the answer.” These can be the “false Christs” who are promising salvation from the turbulence of our times, and when people are in darkness it can become very confusing to know who to listen to and what the right course of action should be.
This is when the light of the gospel shines the brightest. Missionaries are familiar with how difficult it is to get people to accept the gospel when everything in their life is going well, because they think they don’t need God or his blessings. But as they begin to experience troubles, they become interested in what the missionaries have to say because it provides a way out of the darkness they find themselves in. This is what happened when Alma and Amulek taught the poor and downtrodden people who lived among the Zoramites.
There are three fears in particular that are common to mankind and we can illustrate them by looking at three historical events.
The first is when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up into a high mountain and while there he was “transfigured before them and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.” To a group of uneducated fishermen, that must have been a scary sight. But then “behold a bright cloud overshowed them and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face and were sore afraid” (Matthew 17:23,5,6).
The second event is when Jesus appeared to the Nephites. They had just experienced the destruction of their land by violent earthquakes, whirlwinds, thunderings and lightening, followed by three days of such total darkness that they couldn’t even start a fire to give them light. And as dreadful as all of that was, on the third day they heard a voice that said, “Wo, wo, wo unto this people; wo unto the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent… of their iniquity and abominations” (3 Nephi 9:2). We can only imagine the fear those words must have instilled in those who heard them.
And the third event was when Joseph Smith went into the woods on his father’s farm to pray. The reason why he did this was because he had been listening to numerous preachers talking about how his soul would be lost unless he accepted Christ as his Savior. The problem for him was that each preacher taught something different about what it took to be saved. Joseph went to the Lord in prayer because he was fearful concerning the welfare of his soul and needed God to tell him which church was teaching the correct doctrine of salvation.
There are times when people experience things that seem scary, that don’t make sense, and seems to defy logic, like what happened to Peter, James, and John. There are times when people face physical dangers as the Nephites did, and there are times when people are troubled with questions they desperately need answers to. In each of these instances, it was Jesus who came to calm their fears. But how does Jesus do that for us today?
There are several ways. One is that he speaks to us in the scriptures. There are countless stories of people who had concerns that they needed answers to and as they were reading the scriptures, suddenly the answer to their questions seemed to figuratively jump off the page at them. It’s almost as though God was literally speaking to them in the words they saw printed on a piece of paper right in front of them.
This is exactly what happened to Joseph Smith. He had a question that had been deeply bothering him and which he struggled to find the answer to. He said, “While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart” (JS History 1:11,12).
This kind of an experience isn’t rare. In fact, among the believers in Christ, it’s quite common. There are many great preachers who know the gospel of Jesus Christ very well and have a talent for explaining it, who have written many books about the Christian faith that have become very popular, and there are many modern-day prophets and apostles who have likewise written books to share their knowledge of the gospel, but you cannot go to any of those books and have the Lord speak to you like he does in the scriptures themselves. Therefore, reading the scriptures is a great way to hear the Lord when he speaks to us.
But there’s another reason why reading the scriptures everyday will allow Christ to calm our fears and guide us to do the right thing. Jesus told his disciples, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
One of the duties of the Holy Ghost is to bring to our remembrance all things. As we consistently read the scriptures, and we find ourselves in a situation where we need to know what to do, the Holy Ghost will remind us of things we’ve read in the scriptures that will provide us with the answers we need. But the Holy Ghost can’t help us remember something we haven’t learned, therefore, the more we read the scriptures, the more information the Holy Ghost has available to remind us of. And the more wickedness increases in the world, the more crucial this kind of communication from God becomes as we look for a safe way out of the darkness.
As mentioned earlier, God’s voice can come to us in the form of thoughts. This happens when an idea comes into our mind that seems to provide the answer we’re looking for. But how can we tell which thoughts are from God, from Satan, or from ourselves? To answer that question, all we need to do is answer another question. Have you ever had the experience of picking up a phone after it’s rung and as soon as someone on the other end starts talking you immediately know who it is? How do we do that? The answer is, because their voice is familiar to us.
We each have a distinctive voice, just like we each have distinctive fingerprints, and it’s when we’ve been around someone often enough that we’re able to recognize their voice as soon as we hear it. And the same is true of God. The more we communicate with him the more we come to recognize his voice when he speaks to us. However, we recognize people’s voices because of the way it sounds, but thoughts don’t create sound. In fact, all thoughts “sound” alike. Then how can we recognize which thoughts come from God and which one come from somewhere else?
The answer is that thoughts are associated with feelings. For example, when we think of some pleasant experience we’ve had, we automatically experience a feeling of happiness. If we remember an unpleasant experience we’ve had, we instinctively feel uncomfortable. When God speaks to us, it generates a specific kind of feeling in us. That feeling is hard to define, just like it is almost impossible to accurately and clearly describe exactly what someone’s voice sounds like.
The same is true of the feeling we get when God speaks to us. Once we come to know him, personally and intimately, we immediately recognize his voice because we recognize the feeling that is associated with it. And the same is true when we read the scriptures because when we read them, we are literally hearing the voice of God in our mind.
But this is a skill that is acquire through constant association with God. The more we immerse ourselves in studying the words of God and listening to the promptings we get from the Holy Ghost, the more we refine our ability to discern his voice from all the other voices that are clamoring for our attention. But when we are unfamiliar with God then his voice “sounds” no different than any other voice. And when that happens, it becomes easy for us to be deceived.
Today we hear many different voices coming from every direction telling us what we should do. Some of them may be well intentioned. Some may sound very reasonable and make sense, and others may seem harsh, shrill, and demanding. As in every generation, we are living in perilous times and it can become confusing to know what the right thing is to do. This was the very situation young Joseph Smith faced in1820. What God told him then was, “If you want to know what you should do, come ask me, and ye shall receive the answer you’re looking for.” But we can only be sure of that answer when we know how to recognize his voice when he speaks to us.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of God