Ever since I first started trying to feel and obey the Spirit, I’ve had issues with knowing whether an idea or thought really was the Spirit. Was it just me? Was it the Spirit? Was it Satan? Everything feels the same, and even though I should want to just do good all the time, I wanted to conserve my energy for obeying the Lord–not just doing whatever random thing came into my mind. If we are open to any old voice, then any old voice will step in and tell us what to do. Discerning the source is key.
John Pontius wrote a blog that became a book called “Journey to the Veil” and one of his posts really helped me fine-tune my listening skills. In “The Three Voices” he breaks down the thoughts in a “healthy” mind into three sources.
The Voice of our Mind
Our own voice is probably the clearest. We talk to ourselves in first person. (Except my cousin Steve, who calls himself “self”–as in “Come on, self, you can make this shot”). So the “I forgot to call the candlestick maker” and “I don’t think I bought an ottoman, where did this come from?” kinds of thoughts we have–those are just us. That’s just how we do what we do every day. To-do lists, reminders, processing what we have read or seen, figuring out how to handle some future event–day to day stuff.
The Voice of the Spirit
The voice of the Spirit is still and quiet, but it doesn’t usually ask questions. And it doesn’t use “I” or “Me”. It often gives directions–“Don’t do that.” “Calm down and count to 10″. “Go to church”. It always directs us to do good, to bless others, to be nearer to Christ. It weighs in a lot more often than some of us recognize– but we just think it’s our own benevolent brain helping us be good. The best practice is to follow all impressions or thoughts we have that lead to good. John Pontius even encourages people to write down their random thoughts through the day, guess what the source is, and see what happened when they acted on them. This will train our minds to discern more quickly and be able to obey the right voices.
The Voice of Evil
The voice of evil is real. Satan himself probably has bigger fish to fry than us, but his helpers are certainly everywhere (read “Visions of Glory” for more information about that–also by John Pontius). The voice of evil, at first, just plays to our weaknesses. Kids and teenagers are familiar with the temptations of drinking, smoking, skipping class, having sex, being cruel to others. Those are base desires of mortality, and these evil voices are well practiced at getting us humans to indulge. Their voice is loud, insistent,and in the second person: “You shouldn’t have to listen to your parents! They don’t understand how important it is for you to go to the party! If they knew, they would let you go. It’s fine for you to go this time. . . “
I feel like as I’ve grown in my faith and desire to serve, those kinds of arguments absolutely don’t work on me. I smell a rat and I don’t want anything to do with it. So the evil voices around me have changed tactics. They come at me with righteous indignation. They purport to be my conscience, illuminating the “higher way” or the “spirit of the law” that contradicts what I have been taught.
Even if the words of their message is altered, their execution is still the same–it is a loud, insistent barrage of thoughts that come at me and make me confused, stressed and angry. I lose patience with my family, I get a headache. I feel like all of my energy is going toward these all-consuming thoughts. Once I realize that this thought pattern is wearing me out, I can apply the “By their fruits, ye shall know them” test to it and recognize that it is not of God. Gratitude has been an effective tool against this onslaught, too.
Most often lately, it comes in the form of complaints about another person, dissatisfaction with my life, or perceiving flaws in the church. I’m no longer in base-temptation territory. I’m a sucker for my pride.
Clearing out the chaos
Just knowing about these three sources has helped me immeasurably. This weekend, I was under attack–relentless cyclical arguments that pitted my conscience against the commandments–possibly up-ending my life. After a nice trip to the temple, I realized that the fruits of this endeavor were already bad. I was ornery, impatient and tightly-strung. I swore at my kids more than I have in a long time. I snapped at every little thing (though throwing mud in the hot tub merited a good swear word. And a “stupid”.)
When I realized that this must not be my conscience or the Spirit, I decided to let it go and not pursue it. The chaos cleared immediately from my mind and I felt peace.
I’ve learned that as long as I am entertaining the voice of evil, it assumes control. It fills in every space of silence. It rehashes the same arguments over and over and over and wears me down. The Voice of the Spirit can’t get a word in edgewise, and my own thoughts are confused–trying to sort things out. But when I reject the evil voice, the Spirit comes back in and brings peace and renews my energy.
Sometimes we can’t know the source until we act on the impression. But looking for the fruit that comes along is a clear indication of it’s source.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
I don’t think God will condemn us for sincerely not knowing the source of our thoughts, but trying to be obedient. Even when we go a little way down the wrong path, as soon as we recognize our error and turn around, God is happy with our courage to even try. Being mindful about our thoughts will help us follow the Spirit–and practicing discerning the source is a good way to start.