Being guided by the Holy Spirit is one of the greatest gifts that we can receive in this life. But how do we know if we have felt the Spirit?
The scriptures describe feeling the Spirit as a “burning in the bosom” and the “heart burning within” (D&C 9:8, Luke 24:32). Having this kind of feeling must be a powerful witness from the Spirit. However, not everyone has had this experience. Does that mean that they have never felt the Spirit?
It is a common misconception that feeling the Spirit is solely the “burning in the bosom.” We may sometimes feel left out or unworthy because we have never felt such a witness, but there is more to the “burning” than we know. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Twelve Apostles taught that the “burning” is a “feeling of comfort and serenity” (Ensign, March 1997, 13). When the Spirit speaks to us, we do not hear a voice; rather we receive a feeling or impression.
The feeling or impression that we receive may be one of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Other times, we receive impressions that persuade us to do good, to forgive, to do justly, to serve others, to pray, and to be more Christ-like. When we feel a mighty change of heart and a desire to obey the commandments, or when we have questions and sudden ideas come to our mind that enlighten our understanding, it is the Spirit speaking to us. When we are discouraged and we feel a gentle comfort, that everything will be for our good, it is the Spirit calming our soul. Everything that influences us to do good and to follow the Lord Jesus Christ comes from the Spirit.
A prompting from the Spirit does not come like a lightning bolt or loud thunder; rather it comes in subtle peaceful ways that sometimes go unrecognized. If we are not careful, these subtle impressions might be drowned by worldly voices that attract our attention. It is important that we remain receptive to the promptings as they come, to instruct and guide us.
While understanding the language of the Spirit is very important, it is also important that we understand that feeling the Spirit requires personal preparation. This preparation includes obedience to the commandments of God, striving to keep our thoughts and actions clean, and resolving to act upon the promptings that we receive. Using our agency to choose is also essential, because we are here to act and not to be acted upon. We cannot just wait for spiritual impressions to instruct us on everything that we must do. Often times, we make a choice and ask for confirmation from the Lord. Receiving spiritual impressions is not passive. It requires personal effort and preparation.
Hence, feeling the Spirit comes in different ways. The secret to knowing if we have felt the Spirit is knowing the ways in which the Spirit speaks to us.