A friend recently confided in me that he was having difficulty interpreting promptings from the Holy Spirit. Probably just about anyone that seeks to feel the Spirit struggles with knowing whether they are receiving divine revelation as opposed to filling in the blanks with wishful thinking. The "Is it God or is it just me?" pattern is a familiar one.
This is understandable. Like learning to ride a bicycle, learning to feel and comprehend the Spirit's promptings takes practice and will necessarily include mistakes. It is a lifelong process.
But my friend's concerns were different. There was a time in his life when Spiritual promptings had greater clarity for him. But now he found things more fuzzy and more confusing. As he said this I had a flashback to what I call the parable of the spigots and the sink.
Years ago a friend's former mission president came to speak to our young adult ward. He said that he had run into many returned missionaries that complained precisely of the same spiritual vagueness my friend was experiencing. This happens, said the former mission president, because you turn off the spigots that bring the Spirit into your life.
Think of your spiritual life as a sink with a drain in the bottom. The water in the sink represents the Spirit, while the drain represents everything that drains the Spirit away, including sin and just the regular vicissitudes of life.
Now picture three spigots from which water (i.e. the Spirit) flows into the sink. These three spigots represent prayer, scripture study, and service to others. Most missionaries, said the mission president, tend to turn on those spigots full blast while serving their missions. Their sink fills up and stays full despite the drain in the bottom.
Upon returning home from their missions, former missionaries must focus more on regular life. So they necessarily turn down the flow from these three spigots. But all too often, the former mission president opined, they turn them down to a trickle or turn them off altogether. Then they wonder why their spiritual life becomes empty, why they feel more confused, and why they have difficulty sensing spiritual promptings. In reality, they have simply quit doing those things that bring the Spirit.
While few of us can turn on those spigots the way full time missionaries do, most of us can probably turn them on more than they now are. The former mission president promised that we would feel an increase of the Spirit in our lives if we did so. He challenged us to engage in mighty prayer, profound scripture study, and seriously selfless service.
He was not asking us to dabble a little more in the scriptures, kneel to pray for a couple of nights, and promise to show up at the next young adult service project. He was talking about much more than this.
Go to your scriptures and read every place that mighty prayer is mentioned. Then look up everywhere that "prayer of faith" is mentioned. Consider what you read and take it to heart.
Profound scripture study means studying the scriptures according to patterns similar to those discussed in Preach My Gospel. These patterns are not reserved for full time missionaries. They are discussed in the manual because they are tried and true methods that can work for anyone. It takes time and focus to study this way, but the payoff is worth the investment.
Service is the way we implement what we have learned in our scripture studies and to see our prayers answered. It is in serving others that we become greater than we have been.
Service also impacts the other two spigots. The former mission president reminded those that had served missions that the mightiest prayers they uttered on their missions were not for themselves, but for others that were investigating the gospel. It is not uncommon for missionaries to fast for investigators because they care more for the welfare of these people than they care to eat food. Even when investigators don't follow the path the missionaries desire, the missionaries experience tremendous spiritual growth in the process.
If you are sensing a spiritual void in your life, you should consider taking the former mission president's challenge. Over the next month engage in mighty prayer, profound scripture study, and seriously selfless service on a regular basis. Your spiritual reservoir will refill and the emptiness you feel will diminish because it will be filled instead with God.