Why Spiritual Experiences are Central to Mormon Belief and Practice
Religion, while making use of the intellect, is not primarily an intellectual pursuit. While it is interesting to study the science or history behind a given spiritual topic, this isn’t, ultimately, what gives us a testimony of its truthfulness. A person can know all the facts there are to know about prayer and still not have a testimony that prayer works.
In order to gain a testimony of a specific doctrine, and ultimately of the church that teaches it, we have to have spiritual experiences with that doctrine. A person who is considering becoming a Mormon is taught to first make certain God wants him to join the church. This involves the process of gaining a testimony. The missionaries who teach the investigator (a person learning about Mormonism) will present facts about the church and will teach the member how to learn more. They will teach him how to gain a testimony—but they can’t give him a testimony. That is an entirely personal responsibility.
Spiritual experiences help people gain a testimony and they also serve to strengthen a testimony previously gained. They have another purpose as well, one that ensures a successful mortal life.
Spiritual experiences soften our hearts and make them more open to promptings from the Holy Ghost. To receive personal inspiration, we need to first demonstrate a commitment to God by living the gospel He has taught. The Holy Ghost can’t be present in a setting of intentional sin. If we ignore a prompting, we lose access to the comforting guidance we would otherwise receive.
Mormons, then, work to create an environment that will invite the Holy Ghost. Each day they pray and study their scriptures. They try to live a Christ-like life of service and obedience. They create spiritual experiences, not just at church, but also at home and any other place they might be. Any place can generate a feeling of spirituality if we are doing what we are supposed to do, keeping our thoughts pure, and seeking for things of eternal value in our minds. Cleaning house leaves our thoughts free to ponder a gospel principle or to talk informally to God about a problem. When we are at work, we can make sure our professional behavior fits into our eternal values. We can organize our time to create space for things of eternal value.
Richard G. Scott, a Mormon apostle, said:
“Spirituality yields two fruits. The first is inspiration to know what to do. The second is power, or the capacity to do it. These two capacities come together. That’s why Nephi could say, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” He knew the spiritual laws upon which inspiration and power are based. Yes, God answers prayer and gives us spiritual direction when we live obediently and exercise the required faith in Him.” (To Acquire Spiritual Guidance, Richard G. Scott, October 2009)
Mormons welcome spiritual experiences because they build our relationship with God, confirm eternal truths, and keep our hearts focused on the eternal perspective.