Yesterday while looking for some books in my office, I found a newspaper that I had saved for a friend in our District Presidency, a certain Brother B. who had been interviewed in a local Shanghai newspaper for a business story. The interview was accompanied by a nice color photo. Turns out he wasn’t aware that the article had published when I mentioned it to him, so I assume that he didn’t already have a copy and that others hand’t given it to him. I ran into the article by chance on one of those two or three days in a month when I look at that newspaper, so it was a lucky find.
When I ran into my saved newspaper yesterday, I had an impression: “Put it in your bag and take it with you Sunday.” But that was obviously ridiculous because Sunday I was going to Suzhou to speak in the Suzhou Branch in my capacity as a District Councilor (like a High Councilor for a District, not yet a Stake), and President B. was not going there. So I dismissed the impression. And I was right: President B. did not go to Suzhou. I would not see him.
This morning, as I was rushing to get ready to catch an early train, I stepped back into the office, saw the newspaper again, and had the same impression. “Just stick it in your black leather bag and take it with you to Suzhou.” Naw, that makes no sense. I could be confident that President B. was not going to Suzhou. In fact, he was going the opposite direction to Hangzhou. I would not see him.
I took a taxi to the Hongqiao train station on the west end of Shanghai (one of Shanghai’s 4 train stations) heading to Suzhou. No, President B. was not there or anywhere near, as far as I know. But within 5 seconds after passing through security at the airport, I was approached by another District Councilor who had arrived at the same time. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. In this city of 25 million people and vast crowds at gargantuan train stations and airports, it’s pretty easy to travel without running into anyone you know, much less a fellow District Councilor. He told me where he was going: to the Branch Conference in Hangzhou. Yes, that’s right, the place where Brother B. would be also. I laughed and told him the story. “You know, this is a good lesson for me. Let me tell you what happened yesterday….”
Our reasons for ignoring the promptings of the Spirit, the standards and commandments of the Church, or even our testimony of the Gospel are often very logical. We may even be entirely correct in our analysis, except for a little missing piece of information that later makes sense of the ridiculous. No, President B. was not coming to Suzhou. But I would see someone who was going to meet President B. and could have done something kind and perhaps even useful for reasons I still don’t know, if only I had exercised a little faith and acted.
Yes, I know there are many whims people have that look random and likely are not impressions of the Spirit. It’s often not easy separating our voice or random voices from the voice of the Spirit. But we need to try and we need to listen and act in faith, learning from experience as we do so. One thing I think I have learned, as I ponder my experiences in this area, is that when there is a prompting about how we can help someone else, then this is something to pay attention to. If it comes again, and especially if it is confirmed when we pray about it, then perhaps we should pay attention and act. Seeking to follow the guidance of the Spirit in serving others is a great way to encounter many small miracles of timing and divine intervention that can help us grow closer to God and strengthen our own testimonies of His reality and love. If we dismiss such promptings as annoying whims, we’ll soon find the Spirit annoys us less and less until it is silent and all we experience is perfectly logical, scientific, and devoid of some of the charm and joy that could be ours, with many missed opportunities to make the world better.
And yes, I recognize this missed opportunity was relatively trivial compared to the big issues like war, famine, and the Green Bay Packers. But God’s work is often done with small means, including small acts of kindness where small souls like mine can occasionally make a difference, and if we are to magnify our ability to serve and make a difference, we need to be trained to listen to and respond to that still, small voice. I hope we can learn from experiences like this and do a better job of serving and helping when God tries to move us in His direction.
19 thoughts on “Just Another Ignored Impression”
A touching story. Here's another. In 1642 a Puritan colonist named John Underhill was leading an expedition of fellow worthies in pursuit of a band of Pequot Indian warriors. He decided that rather than engage the warriors directly he would attack the women, children, and old men in the Indian stockade that the warriors had left behind them. The fort was palisaded by close-set, pointy-topped logs; a frontal assault quickly proving too dangerous, Underhill decided to burn it down instead, in the process killing about 400 noncombatants.
I'll let Underhill himself tell the story, starting at the point where Underhill decides to burn the fort instead of attacking it directly:
"…seeing the Fort was to hotte for us, wee devised a way how wee might save our selves and prejudice them, Captaine Mason entring into a Wigwam, brought out a fire-brand, after hee had wounded many in the house, then hee set fire on the West-side where he entred, my selfe set fire on the South end with a traine of Powder, the fires of both meeting in the center of the Fort blazed most terribly, and burnt all in the space of halfe an houre…. there were about foure hundred soules in this Fort, and not above five of them escaped out of our hands. Great and dolefull was the bloudy sight to the view of young souldiers that never had beene in Warre, to see so many soules lie gasping on the ground so thicke in some places, that you could hardly passe along. It may bee demanded, Why should you be so furious (as some have said) should not Christians have more mercy and compassion? But I would referre you to Davids warre, when a people is growne to such a height of bloud, and sinne against God and man, and all confederates in the action, there hee hath no respect to persons, but harrowes them, and sawes them, and puts them to the sword, and the most terriblest death that may bee: sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents; some-time the case alters: but we will not dispute it now. We had sufficient light from the word of God for our proceedings."
I see no reason to doubt Underhill here: he sincerely believed he had "sufficient light from the word of God" to commit mass murder, just as his biblical predecessors did in massacring the women and children of Ai, just as his successors did at Mountain Meadows.
You might think that the "still, small voice" you're hearing comes from God, but you just might be terribly wrong, and contra Jeff's efforts to argue otherwise, there's no reliable way to tell where that voice is really coming from.
Fortunately, religiously inspired massacres have long been passe in this country. I'm not suggesting that spirit-crazed Mormons are going to repeat Mountain Meadows. But there are lesser forms of harm, e.g., opposition to gay marriage, to which the Church contributes because their God has supposedly told them to. What I am suggesting is that such positions are no more justified than the Pequot massacre.
By their fruits ye shall know them. Jeff, your posts always make me feel good. Keep on helping us.
Great story! Thanks for sharing it.
I find it wise to nest these personal experiences in larger realities, as you have done here. Too often, after having justified ignoring the prompting, we also justify the experience afterward. There is no end until we turn and soften ourselves. It is only through small experimentation, a la Alma, that we grow to truly understand that voice, and to eventually be empowered by it. I have learned to love that mortality is really our ability to be influenced by that small voice first over all the other influences that clamor for our attention. Thanks.
"Touching story, here's another…."
Ugh, that was ugly and unwelcome. Come on.
Nice attempt to hijack the thread and totally miss the point. Sure, villains have done bad stuff and used religion as an excuse, just as Hitler and modern dictators have killed millions fueled by warped science and vile ideology. Big evil always needs some excuse. Religion, Darwin, Marxism, science, any excuse will do for eugenics, genocide, abortion, whatever.
Had John Underhill been prayerfully seeking ways to emulate Christ, to love his enemies, to help the helpless women and children before him, or otherwise seek to follow the Spirit of God, the outcome would have been different.
And really, it's a bit extreme to compare genocide or mass murder to civic and civil efforts to preserve the millennia-old basis of marriage (marriage involving a man and woman, linked to nurturing the basic unit of society, the family). Quite a stretch.
Thanks for your story, Jeff. It's a nice contrast to the persistently pathetic (should I say it–deranged) comments by Eveningsun, which remind us how miserable life would be without the gospel.
Anonymous, what in the world are you talking about?
In what way are my comments pathetic? In what way deranged?
Why would you say my life is miserable?
Eveningsun, comparing Jeff's story to a depraved slaughter of Indians was pathetic; characterizing that slaughter as a "touching story," is deranged. And I didn't say or imply your life is miserable; your reading that into what I wrote suggests that might be the case, but I have no way of knowing. I expressly referred to the account of Underhill's murder of Indians, which demonstrated actions contrary to the gospel that lead to great misery.
Characterizing the slaughter as a touching story is irony, not derangement. And how do you know that Underhill's murder of Indians was contrary to the gospel? He didn't seem to think so. Nor did William Bradford and the other Puritan worthies of the time, men who were steeped in the Bible, men who had given up everything to establish the gospel in the New World, men whom Christians to this day extol as exemplars of upright, Bible-believing Christian faith. As Underhill said, there was biblical precedent for the massacre.
I have ignored that quiet voice many times and to this day regret not obeying. I listen now. I learned my lesson.
Cause (someone) to become insane: "a deranged man".
Throw (something) into confusion; cause to act irregularly
I definitely think someone was trying to confuse the topic Jeff was posting on. Jeff spoke of the importance of listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost . How we can become a tool in the hands of God. Others may wish to confuse the topic, to push their own agenda. Truly the work of Satan.
The Lord speaks with a clear voice while Satan wishes to try and confuse.
33 For God is not the author of confusion…. (New Testament, 1 Corinthians, Chapter 14)
Thanks for the hard work, Jeff. You are truly inspiring.
Bunker, the whole point of my original comment was that it can be difficult to tell whether those promptings are in fact divine. Even if it is true, as Paul said, that "God is not the author of confusion," that does nothing to assure us that any given prompting is actually from God. Surely you can agree, from your own perspective, that Satan is clever enough to disguise his own wiles and make them look like they come from the Holy Spirit; as my example shows, even such vaunted believers as the New England Puritans mistook evil promptings for good, with disastrous consequences.
The question then becomes, how are we (so much less devout than the Puritans) to know the difference? Rather than simply call me deranged, it would be nice of you, not to mention a lot less lazy of you, if you (or Jeff, for that matter) would actually address that question.
Until you do that, here's the essence of our little dialogue:
Eveningsun — How do we know it's God whispering in our ear, and not Satan?
Bunker — When we hear whispering in our ear, we know it's God speaking to us because God does not sow confusion.
Eveningsun — But Satan DOES sow confusion, and he DOES whisper in people's ears to prompt them to do things. So your response is not to the point, and I will ask you again, How do we know that it's God and not Satan whispering in our ear?
Bunker: God does not sow confusion. You are deranged.
Can't you do any better than that?
Eveningsun. I guess I wasn't clear enough in my comment. You asked earlier "In what way are my comments pathetic? In what way deranged?".
I gave the definition of deranged
Cause (someone) to become insane: "a deranged man".
Throw (something) into confusion; cause to act irregularly
I am trying to point out the fact that you are trying to confuse the topic. We all know your agenda.
This is hopeless. I give up.
No better truism than that of the Spirit. I commend you on your story. Intellectualism needs more Spiritualistic truths to help through our boring day.
"Had John Underhill been prayerfully seeking ways to emulate Christ, to love his enemies, to help the helpless women and children before him, or otherwise seek to follow the Spirit of God, the outcome would have been different."
–I greatly appreciate your wisdom, Jeff. Thank you. 🙂
Had Josef Stalin truly observed the tenets of genuine communism, the outcome would have been different….
Anyway, Underhill sincerely thought he WAS following the Spirit of God. You and Jeff are saying he wasn't. William Bradford says he was. How can one possibly know who is right? Prayer? Underhill and Bradford both prayed regularly. Heck, so did Osama bin Laden.
Instead of giving us wisdom, Jeff has given us a variant of the True Scotsman fallacy. If only Underhill had been truly prayerful….
E., your deliberately offensive comments need to be spread to other blogs for maximum effect. For example, find a blog where people share their favorite cute kitten photos and upload some gruesome images of dead cats just to help people think more progressively about the realities of life. That would be equally appreciated.
Your attempted hijack of this thread with a pathetic example of people rejecting the teachings of Christ and killing children does not illustrate the futility of the Christian life and the hopeless of trying to follow the Savior. It represents the horror that occurs when men IGNORE what Christ taught and do things their own evil ways. Of course great villains always look for justification for their sins. He may have found attempted justification from the Old Testament, but he did not find instruction and inspiration from the Bible to commit such an atrocity, and it was certainly not guided by seeking the will of God through prayer. Your assertions are groundless, offensive, and a far cry from real dialog. OK, I know, I know, that's not your purpose here.
Jeff, nowhere have I said I was trying to "illustrate the futility of the Christian life and the hopeless[ness] of trying to follow the Savior." My example was meant to illustrate a much more specific point about the futility of relying on subjective "impressions" and other forms of highly unreliable personal "testimony."
Think about it. What do you and John Underhill have in common? A belief in the reliability of subjective "testimony." What makes you different from Underhill? Whatever it is that makes you someone who, unlike Underhill, would not kill babies must be something other than the efficacy of "testimony." What that something is, of course, is your adherence to some external moral code (one that I happen to share).
Why "external"? Because you believe that Underhill should not have killed those people despite his sincere belief that he "had sufficient light" for his "proceedings." Even you believe there is something external to testimony that can and should override testimony.
Is that such a hard thing to accept? Is that so hard to accept that it justifies your ludicrous mischaracterization of my position (aka lying)? Is that so hard to accept as to drive you to such an uncharitable response to my legitimate point?
Nor did I mean to suggest that the actions stemming from your testimony would include anything so terrible as mass murder. Fortunately we live in gentler times, and the damage done by your naive trust in "testimony" is limited to things like denying gay people equal treatment under the law.