The Spirit Made Me Do It

Some recent examples of the Spirit’s guidance on the web:

The Spirit testifies of management principles:

If you’ll remember, since I arrived I have told you that the California Fresno Mission is uniquely situated and qualified to lead the way and demonstrate how the Lord wants a Mission to be. If we will stick with these fundamentals and be constant and vigilant in our Exact Obedience, I know without a shadow of a doubt we will be this model Mission. And I know that by doing so our baptisms will soar, even well above 100/month. I want to bear you my testimony of this for I absolutely know it is true as the Spirit has borne witness to me of these principles. It is a great day to be a Missionary in the California Fresno Mission!!!!

And what a Sunday School teacher should teach about race and priesthood restrictions:

The bishop replied, according to Dawson,

The Spirit is telling me to tell you not to use those documents.

Whether one should enter a beauty pageant:

I didn’t get into this pageant because I wanted to. It actually was an opportunity that I felt like, by the Spirit, Heavenly Father wanted me to take.

Or post a profile on OW’s web site:

When I was prompted by the Spirit to post my profile, I knew that I had to let go of my fears and trust God. When I pressed send to submit my profile, it was a freeing, hopeful, and happy moment! I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders as I shook off the fear and followed God. I have encountered opposition, but I have never denied the promptings that came to me.

To sum up, the Spirit is quite a guy and if we listen to it we will be doing things the Lord’s way. Either that or Mormons have a hard time just owning their sh*t.


  1. Constant vigilance! Seems like a good motto for the activity day girls, eh?

    I have to share my story: I was a naive ricks college student taking some intro to history course. If been raised on red meat and Rush Limbaugh. Our assigned reading was 1984. But I was a RS President on campus, and I knew that when I felt uncomfortable, that was the Spirit telling me to stop. I don’t know which part of the book made me uncomfortable (a slight reference to prostitution??) but it was enough for me to drop the class and switch my major to accounting.

    That being said, I feel prompted to speak and write posts and share. How much of that is related to my nature or circumstances or the Spirit? Eh (shrug) we do our best figuring that crap out.

    Now, where did I put my copy of 1984, I need to make up for lost cog diss.

  2. Michael says:

    More fine examples of the eternal principle “If you don’t agree with me, it’s because you are a sinner.” I’ve even seen this principle used as justification as why I had to clean the chapel by myself.

  3. This isn’t exactly a Mormon-specific thing. The evangelical world is full of people being Moved by the Spirit™ to do what is, strangely enough, the very first thing their lizard brains would have them do anyway.

  4. Funny how the spirit never tells people to do stuff that is just obviously a good idea that nobody would be angry about. It’s almost like it’s a way of shutting down dissent or pulling rank. Almost.

  5. Except — yeah, sometimes the Spirit does tell you to do stuff. So, there’s that.

  6. This is learned behavior of speaking. If you pull open the latest General Conference issue, the very first sentence of the summary of what you’ll find is: “Subjects for general conference talks are assigned—not by mortal authority but by the impressions of the Spirit,” explained Elder Dallin H.
    Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (page 32).

    If you go to the first talk by Sister Esplin, it begins.

    “My heart filled with the Spirit as I listened to these families teach that sacred truth: “The family is of God.”1 Inspiring music is just one of the many ways we can feel the Spirit whisper to us, filling us with light and truth.”

    Then if you go to the last page, it’s a pull-quote from President Monson about having the spirit of temple worship.

    It is littered throughout the conference talks and thus littered throughout Mormon speak.

    Thus if you want something done, you invoke the Spirit. If you want to dog-whistle about your faithfulness, you invoke the Spirit.

    Or if the Spirit is there, you invoke the Spirit.

  7. Steve Evans, quite true. It’s a shame we’re not as averse to taking the Spirit’s name in vain as we are to taking the Lord’s in vain.

  8. As a convert to the Church, I felt an invigorating, liberating Spirit as I gained a testimony of the restored gospel. I felt something very similar as I came to feel in my mind that it’s OK if same-sex marriage becomes legal nationwide. Can’t deny either, just trying to make sense of it.

  9. Jason K. says:

    I completely agree that the Spirit can be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, but doesn’t such usage often coincide with someone’s attempt to co-opt the Spirit into some coercive scheme (which this MP’s schtick absolutely is, and ditto the bishop with the race essay)? These things fail the D&C 121 test, so I feel fairly safe in condemning them.

    The self-justification side of things is trickier—perhaps having to do with attempted rhetorical suasion of oneself or others—but I’m more hesitant to judge Mat’s last two examples than his first two. Why can’t the Spirit prompt someone to participate in a beauty pageant or submit an OW profile? Both are things about which I personally have reservations, but I don’t think that my reservations are sufficient to rule out the possibility that God could have some purpose in telling a person to do them. Neither is an obvious moral evil.

    And finally, don’t we all, more or less always, walk a fine line between following the Spirit and deceiving ourselves that what we really wanted to do all along is actually right and cosmically defensible? I don’t really see a way out of that particular rabbit-hole, so we basically just have to do the best we can and thank God for grace.

    My usual tactic is not to claim spiritual authority as the basis for anything I say or do, even if I felt prompted to say or do it. If it’s right, the Spirit will witness to others; if not, oh well.

  10. While dating at BYU, I once had a girl tell me, after 3 reasonably successful dates, that the Holy Ghost told her not to date me anymore. I wish the Spirit had been nice enough to CC me on that memo.

  11. Daniel, all you get is a BCC.

  12. I’m curious about “the Spirit is telling me not to use those documents.” Where is that line anyway, and how do we deal with paradoxes of inspiration? Especially when it’s between you and someone above you in the Mormon hierarchical arrangement.

  13. it's a series of tubes says:


  14. ^Start with the assumption that you are right and the other person is wrong you’ll be all right.

  15. Johnna says: But she did want to get into the beauty pageant, and compete like her mother had before her.

  16. The very few times I’ve been absolutely sure it was the Spirit telling me what to do, it was telling me to do something that I didn’t want to do. I’m sure much of the time people who claim they have the Spirit’s support believe that they do, in fact, have that support. Perhaps we need to have less confidence that our own decisions are supported by the Spirit, and more humility to admit that perhaps God’s ways aren’t our ways.

  17. Jason K. says:

    Tim speaks truth.

  18. D&C 58:26

    How about you just do what you know is right….you know, ’cause it’s the right thing.
    I had a mission companion that wanted to pray on every street corner to know which one to tract out. By the time he was done we could have done them all.

  19. I thought you were talking about this article…

    In my last ward we were taught a lesson…always listen to a compassionate impulse, always question a divisive one.

  20. “Mormons have a hard time just owning their sh*t.”


    I believe in spiritual promptings. But Mormons are ridiculous in their spiritual rationalizing. Either the spirit told you to do it or leadership’s failure caused your behavior. We should confess more and blame less.

  21. WVS, I wonder that all of the time. Especially when my bishop calls counselors for me without my input. Or honestly when he does any number of other things that I’ve received different promptings about, that directly affect me and the calling I supposedly have stewardship over. At this point, I have basically zero confidence that the Spirit is backing my decisions. So, mission accomplished there, I guess.

  22. The Other Clark says:

    What about taking a completely ordinary and common action, and then discovering that others attach divine meaning to it? Was I too preoccupied/dense to feel the Spirit? I’m clueless either way.

  23. FarSide says:


    Mathew, I think your second explanation is the more compelling (“Mormons have a hard time just owning their sh*t.”)

    When your church is the only “true” one, when your church is perfect, and when your leaders are infallible (or, in today’s vernacular, “incapable of leading you astray”), then it’s real tough for an ecclesiastical official—or anyone else who has a warm, fuzzy feeling about their decisions—to admit to a mistake. And, of course, there is never, ever a need to apologize for anything.

    After Gordon B. Hinckley did his interview with Larry King he was asked by a reporter why he had agreed to do the show—to discuss the church, its history and policies in such a setting, something that was unprecedented for a President of the Church. I figured he would say, “We fasted and prayed about it, and the spirit directed us to seize this opportunity to preach the gospel.” But he didn’t. Instead, he said something along the following lines: “Well, we weren’t entirely sure it was a good idea, but we talked about and figured it was worth a try.” I miss him.

  24. Peter Yates says:

    But I still love you Steve Evans. :)

  25. Some of the times I’ve felt the Spirit strongly have been times when I wanted to punish myself for screwing things up and the Spirit basically said, “Yeah, you don’t need to do that.” I don’t know if that was my unconcious wanting to avoid self-inflicted punishment, the Spirit opposing my tendencies toward self-laceration (metaphorically), or whatever. Tendencies toward neuroses don’t make discerning the Spirit’s influence any easier.

    That said, I take it as an article of faith that when I’ve been a jerk to someone, deserved or no, that was all me.

  26. I think women, in particular— tied directly to their institutional powerlessness— tend to abuse this stick to get their way when there are no other options. I have seen women use the claim of being more spiritual, and more in-tune with the Spirit, to manipulate people in their lives in sometimes unhealthy ways. It’s one of the darker underbellies of the pedestal.

  27. “When your church is the only “true” one, when your church is perfect, and when your leaders are infallible (or, in today’s vernacular, “incapable of leading you astray”), then it’s real tough for an ecclesiastical official—or anyone else who has a warm, fuzzy feeling about their decisions—to admit to a mistake.”

    A couple of things. One, the teaching is that the “president of the church” will never lead us astray. It does not apply to any ecclesiastical official. Regardless, it is not the same thing as infallibility. Terryl Givens addressed this myth of leader infallibility better than I can:

  28. FarSide says:

    Marc, you may believe that the proposition that president of the church will never lead us astray is not the same thing as infallibility, but the church conflates the two concepts all the time, primarily to discourage questioning and dissent. Further, it is not uncommon to hear general authorities in general conference promise the members that “WE will never lead you astray.” They don’t just limit the guarantee to the prophet.

    More to the point, the notion that a prophet cannot lead us astray is dubious, at best. Where in the Bible or Book of Mormon has the Lord ever given such an assurance? Did the Lord prevent David, Solomon and other ancient prophets from leading the Israelites in the wrong direction? And if Brigham Young didn’t lead the entire church astray with the priesthood ban, then who did? Finally, wouldn’t God break his own rules if he abrogated the agency of the president of the church by striking him down before he taught a false doctrine?

    For all of these reasons, Givens’ efforts, and those of others, to distinguish these two concepts are not persuasive.

  29. FarSide

    I disagree that church leaders are using this teaching to discourage questioning. But I’ll try to answer your questions.

    “Where in the Bible or Book of Mormon has the Lord ever given such an assurance?”

    Don’t know. That doesn’t mean he teaching is wrong. Bible and BOM don’t teach many things that we believe are true.

    “Did the Lord prevent David, Solomon and other ancient prophets from leading the Israelites in the wrong direction?”

    Do we classify David and Solomon as prophets? Even if they were, I don’t think they fit your argument. They both were relieved of their spiritual authority.

    “And if Brigham Young didn’t lead the entire church astray with the priesthood ban, then who did?”

    Generally speaking, I don’t believe members who accepted the ban as a matter of faith (and not to rationalize prejudice) because of the teachings of their leaders will be held accountable for their false beliefs. I think those errors will be on the leaders’ heads.

    I don’t believe “lead astray” means to not be perfect in faith and doctrinal understanding. I think it means not being lead away from the right path. By “right path” I mean as it is taught in Lehi’s dream.

    “Finally, wouldn’t God break his own rules if he abrogated the agency of the president of the church by striking him down before he taught a false doctrine?”

    No. Agency doesn’t equal avoiding consequences. I have the agency to walk in front of a bus. The consequence is the killer.

  30. FarSide says:

    Marc, I’m sorry, but I don’t find your responses very persuasive, especially in light of the origins of the notion that the president of the church is incapable of leading us astray.

    It was first uttered by Wilford Woodruff as an offhand remark for the express purpose of silencing criticism about his decision to disavow what his predecessors had said on the subject of polygamy. President Woodruff never claimed that the Lord revealed this doctrine to him. Rather, he claimed full authorship for this idea. And it’s an idea premised on the worst form of circular reasoning:

    Can the Prophet ever lead the church astray?
    Why not?
    Because he’s the prophet.
    How do we know that to be true?
    Because the Lord will never let that happen.
    Who says so?
    The prophet says so.
    Why should we believe him?
    Because the prophet will never lead the church astray.
    Why not?
    Because he’s the prophet.

    Also, Woodruff’s declaration runs directly contrary to the words of President Young who said, in a sermon he gave in 1874, that Latter day saints, should “live so that you will know whether I teach you truth or not. Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world [e.g., racial discrimination] and to accept things that are not of God, [e.g., blacks are the seed of Cain], how easy it would be for me to lead you astray!” (Journal of Discourses 18:248)

    Now, you either agree with Brother Brigham that he was capable of leading us astray or else you assume the position of denouncing his statement, which leads to only one possible conclusion: he was trying to lead us astray by suggesting that he was capable of doing so.

    Nephi said it best: O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever, I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. (2 Nephi 4:34)

    I, for one, will not blindly trust any arm of flesh, even if that arm belongs to the prophet.

  31. “I, for one, will not blindly trust any arm of flesh, even if that arm belongs to the prophet.”

    Good. None of us should “blindly” trust any leader. We should all seek spiritual confirmation of what the prophet teaches. When we think we are more enlightened than the prophet then there may be a problem IMHO.

  32. The Spirit; A Play in One Scene

    Nephi: I don’t want to kill Laban.
    Spirit: Kill him.
    N: My innermost moral compass and religious code of ethics forbids it.
    S: Kill him.
    N: Well, OK, I guess it is kind of justifiable based on a couple of things.
    S: Kill him.
    N. Fine.

    Nephi cuts off Laban’s head. Spirit exits.

    N: Now what, Spirit?
    S: (Silence).
    N: Spirit?
    S: (Silence).
    N: Well, I guess I’ll just put on Laban’s clothes. Seems like a good idea to me. (Whispers, pleadingly) Spirit?
    S: (Silence).

    Nephi shakily fumbles with the corpse and makes a gory mess of the dead man’s clothes. Seeing the bare and bloodied torso of the slain man and his mutilated neck and smelling Laban’s clothing on his own skin and feeling the now clammy and clotting blood of Laban clinging to his neck and chest, the reality of the moment cripples Nephi.

    N: Spirit, this feels…wrong.
    S: (Silence).
    N: Spirit?
    S: (Silence).
    N: (yelling, in tears) SPIRIT?
    S: (Silence).

    Nephi staggers off stage.


  33. Matt Rasmussen says:

    I would like to berate the Bishop in Hawaii that released the youth Sunday School teacher for using material to answer a question about race. That story came to my attention because it’s on Yahoo’s front new page. What a way to put us in a position of buffoonery and close-minded robots. I submit the Bishop is the one to be released.

  34. Clark Goble says:

    A few really brief comments.

    First I do wish that at Church we spent as much time teaching people to be critical of intuitions as part of “feeling and recognizing the spirit” as we do just trying to get people to listen to the spirit. No matter how good you are at it you’ll be inconsistent and make mistakes. Our teaching on the subject should keep that in mind. Of course just getting people to listen to the spirit is admittedly the biggest job.

    Second, I think we have to be more cautious about people’s individual journeys. There’s a bit too much ridicule of what people perceive the spirit to be guiding them. Just because in your life a beauty contest, a dating profile, or other seemingly trivial things don’t matter doesn’t mean they aren’t important for those individuals at that time in their lives. I’ve no idea if these people really were prompted or not. But having been prompted many times in my own life on trivial or mundane matters or things others might judge as inappropriate for the spirit to worry about I tend to get a tad upset on this matter.

    Might I even suggest that if we think the spirit can’t prompt us in such matters we are cutting ourselves off from promptings of the spirit? If listening and discerning the spirit is a skill, then often we develop that in the mundane and trivial so we can recognize it when more important matters arise. It might not seem important to follow the spirit in petty concerns – especially for those we focus on in our early 20’s. Yet at the same time often in those same early 20’s there are crucial decisions we are making that we may find difficult to discern from the flotsam of our other critical concerns. Who to date, peers to associate with, even activities which are trivial on their own but which bring us into contact with other choices that are significant.

  35. fbisti says:

    IMO: It is extremely faith-promoting to teach, foster, and reinforce a belief in “being led by the Spirit,” and that our leaders (local and general) are “inspired by God”–the soaring rhetoric such as “prophets, seers, and revelators.” That benefit (promoting faith and belief) MAY justify all the hyperbole and misuse/overuse of the concept.

    However, in my experience (45+ years as an adult), the evidences that inspiration actually exists are rare. There are very many instances where “inspired” or “led by the Spirit” decisions proved not to be (and/or were reversed later)…polygamy; priesthood ban–and the delay to 1978 in fixing it; changing all full-time missions to 18 months…then reversing that (1970s?); buying forged documents from Mark Hoffman–on the GA level; excoriating homosexuals as sinners–until quite recently when the GAs (suddenly became enlightened Christians). Locally, we all have seen decisions about whom to call to a position, decisions about how to structure an activity, etc. that turned out to be failures.

    That is not to say that it is not extremely faith-promoting to teach that we and our leaders ARE “led by the spirit.” …Right along with teaching that fasting and prayer and obedience will yield rewards, e.g., the Lord blessing you by changing things and people around you to make what you are wishing for come true.

    But, then, with all the disappointments I have experienced with regard to what I have been taught regarding the history, the so-called gospel, and “doctrines” of the one true church, I have become somewhat curmudgeonly and only get to spout my unpopular opinions regarding such things online.

  36. Anon for this comment says:

    My favorite horrible experience is when the bishopric I was in called a child molester to serve in the Young Men’s. Fortunately he only preyed on his own children and was soon found out, and is now in prison. So yeah, I’m never going to buy that “every calling comes from the Lord”. I mean, sure, in a sense, the calling was made with authority, but in terms of some grand jigsaw puzzle in which everything works out just the way God wants it to in the end, bollocks!

    To be sure, I’ve also seen some improbable yet ultimately fantastic calls made. But the arguments being made by some right now that any old craziness people claim is from the Lord really might not be contradictory after all because life and progression are “messy” is just plain and simple self-deception.

  37. Angela C says:

    ” Just because in your life a beauty contest, a dating profile, or other seemingly trivial things don’t matter doesn’t mean they aren’t important for those individuals at that time in their lives. ” True confession. I once prayed for a boyfriend and totally got one.

  38. Whenever anecdotes and exhortations about the guidance of the spirit become a little too much I remember one of my favorite quotes from a man of little faith named Bruce McConkie at an obscure denominational university in the western US:

    How do you choose a wife? I’ve heard a lot of young people from Brigham Young University and elsewhere say, “I’ve got to get a feeling of inspiration. I’ve got to get some revelation. I’ve got to fast and pray and get the Lord to manifest to me whom I should marry.” Well, maybe it will be a little shock to you, but never in my life did I ever ask the Lord whom I ought to marry. It never occurred to me to ask him. I went out and found the girl I wanted; she suited me; I evaluated and weighed the proposition, and it just seemed a hundred percent to me as though this ought to be.

  39. Great McConkie quote.

  40. Too Old to Care says:

    “So yeah, I’m never going to buy that “every calling comes from the Lord”.”

    According to my friend, the bishop’s wife, most callings are extended to the people that are least likely to turn them down. Maybe that’s why no one has bothered me for the last 30 years. I take that back. I did have one Bishop tell me that I could have any job I wanted. I told him I’d take being one of his councilors. This was way before the Ordain Women movement. I thought it was funny, he didn’t.

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