HOFRS is one of the greatest acronyms the Church has ever come up with: Helping Others Feel and Recognize the Spirit, a great way to systematize something that is utterly unsystematic.

In any event, for purposes of my post I’m tweaking HOFRS, because I’m curious about Helping Ourselves Feel and Recognize the Spirit. As to helping ourselves feel the Spirit: Christ says in John, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” How can we force the wind to blow our way? Admittedly, Sunday School Answers spring to mind, but I’m not sure that reading the Scriptures, or any other activity, is going to always do the trick for us as some sort of totemic invocation. What works for me is seizing random opportunities — I have the idea that by praying, or reading scriptures, etc. whenever I get the chance, I have as much likelihood of feeling the Spirit as I would at any other time. Unfortunately, this leads me to believe that on some level, getting a piece of the Spirit seems a matter of happenstance. Can this be right?

As to helping ourselves recognize the Spirit: this one is a mess. I don’t think we do a fantastic job in this Church of helping people realize when they’ve felt the Spirit, or helping them distinguish between the Spirit and “good feelings,” or for that matter helping people understand exactly what “the Spirit” is. For example, take the doctrinal notions of “Light of Christ,” “Gift of the Holy Ghost”, and “feeling inspired.” No one can explain what these mean, at least not in any definitive sense — and to be sure, all of our doctrinal explanations will overlap and at times conflict. Don’t get me going about the H.G. during Christ’s earthly ministry!

In my mind however, a doctrinal definition of roles for the Holy Ghost/Spirit isn’t as immediately important as trying to discern when you are feeling the Spirit, compared to when you’ve just watched “Beaches” or “Saving Private Ryan” and feel a catharsis brought on by good drama or melodrama. Can we feel the Spirit when it is artificially invoked through drama or film (that certainly seems the premise of LDS films)? How can we tell exactly what’s going on? It would seem to be an important distinction since everyday emotions don’t have the power to lead us to salvation the way the Spirit is supposed to. Equally difficult is the notion that the Spirit speaks through our own thoughts and emotions, thereby completely obscuring its nature as an external influence.

So, to sum up:
1. I don’t know how, exactly, to get myself feeling the Spirit; and
2. I wouldn’t really know it, exactly, if I were feeling the Spirit.

This can’t be as hopeless a scenario as it sounds — thousands feel the Spirit, and bear testimony to that effect. But I’d like to hear it from some of you.


  1. “There are a wide variety of touchy-feely answers, and I generally decline to discuss them critically because they are quite personal, even sacred, to the recipients, and uninvited analysis of another’s prayer response is never welcome. So I won’t go there.”

    I understand your reasons (and share them), but that’s too bad, because I think it would be helpful in a way to try and look at how the Spirit can manifest itself, and how you know that it was the Spirit. Maybe we don’t want to analyze them, but is that a bar to educating others?

  2. Amid all the conjecture, one thing seems to stand out as sadly missing – the need for humility. Not just saying but truly becoming humble and contrite and Christ-like in all the things we think about and do in our lives. Now that probably sounds impossible. But during the past 18 months as my wife and I have served as directors of the Vancouver Regional Bishops’ Storehouse, we have had several very explicit experiences of feeling the spirit. We honestly try very hard to be Christ-like and let our lives be motivated simply by caring and loving others and by putting aside our worldly ambitions to humbly placing ourselves in God’s hands and letting him direct our lives.

    I know that some of you, including Steve, have served missions during which your hearts have told you that the feelings you are feeling are coming only from one place – and that is the Lord. For those who have not had this remarkable experience, I recommend it heartily. It will lift you up on wings that you didn’t even know you had

  3. Gary Lee says:

    Does it not seem a bit odd that God would need us to help other people to recognize when he is speaking to them by means of the Spirit and when he is not? Why would we presume that the Spirit is incapable of doing his job without our help? And how can we ever know whether the advice we give another in this regard is sound?

  4. Gary, it does seem odd, but that’s exactly what missionaries do with investigators. I don’t think it’s a question of the Spirit not being effective, but rather that people are unable to exercise discernment. Either conclusion is disturbing.

  5. I feel something after Beaches, possibly nausea, possibly burning in the bosom. Again, difficult to discern.

  6. Ben Huff says:

    I think you might be trying too hard, Steve, and overlooking what’s right under your nose. I think we really do have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost when we are living right. Is that a surprise? It shouldn’t be, but we often don’t talk like it’s true. I mean, we talk as though it is an exceptional thing when we feel the Spirit, as though the constant companionship of the HS is a matter of its always *watching* for times when we *need* to feel it and then jumping in to guide/strengthen/comfort us or whatever. But I think the Spirit is constantly present in us when we’re living right. That means it feels normal to us, and we may not recognize that the way we normally feel is a way of feeling the Spirit (though if we thought about it, we would realize that what is going on in our hearts is different than what goes/went on in our hearts when we are/have been out of tune with the Spirit).

    So it sounds to me, Steve, like you are looking too hard for it. Nothing that is a normal part of your life, scheduled or not, should necessarily make you suddenly feel the Spirit much more strongly or differently, if your life is normally lived in tune with the Spirit.

    Does that seem reasonable to you?

    That’s not to say there won’t be unusual moments we will especially notice it. I have moments like that. For example, for some reason when I am preparing for a Sunday School lesson (which is an exceptional occurrence for me, since I don’t have it as a regular calling), I have extra good scripture study, partly because I spend longer, partly because I have a more focused goals and more distinct questions, partly perhaps because I am trying to think about what will be edifying to others, partly perhaps just as an extra boost for the sake of those in the class the Lord wants to reach that Sunday. I pretty consistently feel the Spirit extra strongly when I prep for SS, and during the lesson. Insights come five times as thick as usual, and I feel like I’m feasting, and don’t want to stop, and I stay up too late reading and jumping from passage to passage, and I always prepare three times as much material as I can really cover, and have to make mid-course decisions about what to cut out, but I pretty well always feel the actual lesson that results is better than the one I had planned (well, anyway the last five times or so over the last couple of years), that the most helpful part for my audience is the part that there turns out to be time for. So it feels great, I feel renewed despite sleep deprivation, I feel guided and illuminated and taught, and I hear my listeners rejoicing with me in the treasures we’ve found together (D&C 50:22). It’s great.
    It’s like ambrosia : )

  7. Kristine says:

    It’s interesting that you would start with HOFRS, Steve. I think missionaries are carefully taught to think that *any* feeling or emotional response at all is “the Spirit.” I think (I can only hope!) I was in the MTC at the peak of the commitment pattern insanity, but it seemed like every 2 sentences we were supposed to ask “How do you feel about that?” Any response from “fine” to “I want to run screaming from the room” could be twisted into a manifestation of the Spirit [“You feel fine? That peaceful, calm feeling is the Spirit.” “You want to run? That’s the Spirit telling you that your former beliefs were wrong.” And everything in between.] Ugh.

  8. Kristine, I read you loud and clear (when did you serve?). But clearly, it would be unhelpful to give missionaries no guidance on how to identify the Spirit. So what ought they to do?

    Ideally, missionaries would have solid testimonies and some spiritual experiences under their belts, which would help them identify the spirit without indentifying EVERYTHING as the spirit. But this is not an ideal world, and you’ve got to give those 19-yr-olds some kind of advice…

  9. LOL, I had a companion that felt the Spirit that same way.

    On the other hand, I’ve had the same “spirit enlivens vs. spirit calms” discussion before, too. It’s strange how adamant people can be about the ‘proper’ way to feel the spirit.

    plus, this is a good chance to air my favorite ‘spirit’ pet peeve — when people tell me how quickly they lost the spirit due to some external circumstance: “The zone conference was really great, but then elder smith snapped his gum, and the spirit just left the room.” Come on, ye fragile people!

  10. Now that if the funniest thing I have read in a long time.

  11. Ok, I had this missionary companion once who told me that feeling “Excitement” meant you were feeling the spirit. I disagreed, saying the spirit is a peaceful feeling. Well, my comp doesn’t like this one bit and actually tells my mission pres that he doesn’t think I’m feeling the spirit. MP didn’t say anything to me about it, but my comp did. I just stated my case and let him think what he wanted.

    So, a few months later (after my release), This former companion gets a girlfriend in the mission field. From what I can put together from the stories I’ve been told…

    He followed the spirit of excitement and decided to leave the mission and take her home to Kansas. In fact, his parents flew in to pick them up, and took them to a hotel. The AP’s try to go and talk to them, but they call the police and say they’ve been harrassed by the AP’s. They all go back to Kansas.

    Now, I think this has something to say about how a misunderstanding of feeling the spirit can lead to strange actions.

  12. Randy, that list really works — I was on a conference call with a client the other day, and used all of them, and WHAMMO! We all saw eye-to-eye.

  13. Some advice from our Stake President in an address: “The higher your emotional state the easier it is to be deceived. When you want something badly it’s hard to discern revelaion.”

    Amongst the list of how revelation comes was “A growing assurance (like the growth of a seed) and the “Ah Ha!! (I never saw that before).

  14. Speaking freely: You won’t get a cut and dried answer to the “how does one know it’s the Spirit” question (there isn’t one), which leaves touchy-feely answers. There are a wide variety of touchy-feely answers, and I generally decline to discuss them critically because they are quite personal, even sacred, to the recipients, and uninvited analysis of another’s prayer response is never welcome. So I won’t go there.

    More generally and more objectively, my impression is that LDS commentators need to know the question that is being asked in prayer in order to evaluate the spiritual response that is claimed. If you’re asking whether the Church is true, almost any manifestation is accepted as a Spirit confirmation. On the other hand, if you’re asking whether GAs were actually duped by Hoffman’s forgeries, for example, no LDS commentator would recognize any manifestation, however blatant, as the Spirit’s confirmation that GAs were duped. You could fry eggs on your burning bosom and they’d say “Nope, that’s just a sunburn or a freak weather occurence, not the Spirit.”

  15. Gary Lee says:

    Steve: I agree that it can be viewed more as a lack of discernment than the impotence of the Spirit. But what does that really mean? I think it implies that the Spirit is ill suited to its task of communicating with people who have not been educated in the ways of the Spirit by others. I agree that this is a disturbing conclusion for at least a few reasons. Firstly, it suggests that there is a certain class of people who are incapable of receiving inspiration because they have not been properly trained. Secondly, what assurance can a person who is being schooled by missionaries or others that those people have any special insights? The uninitiated are forced to trust virtual strangers to tell them how God operates and how they can know he is talking to them. Why should a person rely on what a missionary tells him in this regard, and why would one’s salvation be a function of one’s willingness to believe what such a person says? Finally, I am not so sure many of us are all that good at distinguishing the Spirit from other potential sources of “inspiration”. The way we learn most things is by trial and error. But when it comes to discerning the Spirit, we often don’t know when we correctly discerned and when we did not. That makes it a bit difficult to learn from our mistakes.

  16. This past weekend was Stake Conference was here in Atlanta. I was not there — I was on vacation — but this issue was apparently a central point of discussion. So much so, that our Stake Presidency sent around an email yesterday on this very topic. If you are interested, here is it:


    Listed below are the seven steps in which Elder Cook (our Area President) introduced to us (the Priesthood) this weekend, during our Stake Conference, which outlines “How to invite the Spirit into any setting IMMEDIATELY”:

    1. Pray
    a. Pray before the moment
    b. Pray for discernment
    2. Use the Scriptures
    3. Testify
    a. Bear Witness
    b. Bear your conviction from the heart
    4. Use the Hymns
    5. Express Love & Gratitude to God & Man
    6. Share Spiritual Experiences
    7. Provide Priesthood Blessings
    a. Blessings of the Home
    b. Blessings by the Laying on of Hands


    [First Counselor in the Stake Presidency]

    All good advice, I suppose, but it doesn’t really address the more difficult question Steve raises–how do we discern the spirit in the first place.

  17. Was pointed out to me on my mission that written grammatically the phrase would be:


    Guess we’re safer sticking with HOFRS.

  18. You really feel a catharsis after watching Beaches?