Oil & the Holy Spirit

Kyle Gill portrait

Kyle Gill, Software Engineer, Particl

Last updated

To preface this whole essay/discussion, Elder Robert D. Hales once said in General Conference a few years ago:

What is said is not as important as what we hear and what we feel. - Elder Hales | October 2013 General Conference

We are all agents unto our own selves, to really change our hearts, it requires some individual effort.

To have a fruitful discussion, you need some things to discuss, and ideas to challenge, so I’ll start with some context.

Discussion Question
If you simplified as much of the Gospel of Jesus Christ down to 1 guiding principle to live by, what would it be? (5 words of less, no cheating)

“Choose the right?”

Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and love your neighbor. So would you say: “Love your neighbor?”

“Try to be like Jesus?”

If it were the only thing you followed, and you wanted it to cover as many cases for how to make good decisions, and lead a fruitful life.

If I had to distil as many gospel principles down into a single aphorism I’d choose:

Follow the Holy Ghost

Going through a few talks and resources, I think I can make a case for this.

General Goal: See the importance of the Holy Ghost in a new light

There are couple resources to get there: many scriptures, some quotes from General Conferences, a parable, with the main source material coming from the most recent General Conference.

Exercises in Superlatives

I have a tag in my study journal labeled Superlative, whenever I see something that is labeled as being of the highest degree, I like to take note.

A superlative adjective is one that expresses the utmost of something, like “the best way”, “the most important”, or “the greatest way”.

I now have dozens of entries under this tag, and I’ve started to notice some patterns from them.

Now, not everything can be the most important thing, if everything is the most important thing, all of a sudden nothing is. I still find it’s interesting to see how often people say certain things are the most important.

Discussion Question
Can you think of or identify any quotes or scriptures that are superlative in nature?

Here are a couple ideas to get your wheels turning:

21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.
7 For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people.

Let me give you a couple examples that will hopefully emphasize my point:

Recently in General Conference from the prophet:

in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost. - Pres. Nelson | April 2018 General Conference

In past teachings of other modern prophets & general officers:

The most important thing in our lives is the Spirit. I have always felt that. - Ezra Taft Benson | Teachings of Presidents of the Church

President Wilford Woodruff called the gift of the Holy Ghost the greatest gift we can receive in mortality - Elder Oakes | October 1996 General Conference

The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life. - Julie B. Beck | April 2010 General Conference

Now to move onto the key source material, and a key scripture that I think everyone should pay attention to:

(story of Sister Wright being told she had cancer)

In the end, because of Jesus Christ, everything can be OK. We learn from a careful study of the Doctrine and Covenants what “OK” looks like:

(This scripture has been cited 55 times in General Conference, or teachings of the Prophets)

57 For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.
Discussion Question
What does OK look like?

In my understanding, we cannot afford to overlook the fact that the Lord is literally telling us that nothing really matters unless we take the Holy Spirit as our guide - Elder Busche | BYU Devotional 1996

Discussion Question
What things in your life matter less when you are feeling the Spirit?

Why was the Spirit the thing that the 12 Nephite apostle most desired? Had they learned that lesson themselves?

9 And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.
More examples (not as directly related to the Spirit)
None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth.
Nothing invites the Spirit more than fixing your focus on Jesus Christ.

With so many instances of church leaders (often prophets) calling the Holy Ghost the most important thing, it starts to become hard to ignore.

Sister Amy Wright gave a talk in the October 2023 General Conference titled “Abide the Day in Christ”. She said:

I have learned from personal experience that spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord is not only essential but the only way to find true peace and happiness. [emphasis added]

Parable of the 10 Virgins

With some of these themes as a backdrop, a parable has a lot of room to teach.

You can’t just frantically scramble for some oil. When the wedding feast begins, it’s too late. You have to have the oil with you already.

When Sister Wright was diagnosed with cancer, she said:

It was too late to put oil in our lamps. We needed every single drop, and we needed it right now!

Oil has tons of symbolism:

Discussion Question
What are some things that the oil symbolizes? How do these symbols relate to the Spirit?
Source of LightHistorically, oil, particularly olive oil, was a primary fuel for lamps in the Middle East.
Valuable CommodityOil was a valuable commodity in ancient times, often requiring significant labor to produce.
Used in Anointing and ConsecrationOil was used for anointing in religious ceremonies, signifying selection, sanctification, or empowerment by God.
Healing PropertiesOil was also known for its healing properties, used medicinally to soothe and heal wounds.
Symbol of Prosperity and BlessingIn the Bible, oil is frequently a symbol of God’s blessings and favor, associated with prosperity, joy, and celebration.
Essential for Daily LifeGiven its various uses in cooking, lighting, medicine, and religious rites, oil was an essential part of daily life in ancient times.
Preservation and PreparationThe act of storing oil for future use reflects foresight, preparation, and the willingness to preserve what is necessary for future challenges.
Discussion Question
What does this parable teach us about individual responsibility & preparedness? Why can't the wise virgins share their oil?
Were the five wise virgins selfish and unwilling to share, or were they indicating correctly that the oil of conversion cannot be borrowed? Can the spiritual strength that results from consistent obedience to the commandments be given to another person? Can the knowledge obtained through diligent study and pondering of the scriptures be conveyed to one who is in need? Can the peace the gospel brings to a faithful Latter-day Saint be transferred to an individual experiencing adversity or great challenge? The clear answer to each of these questions is no.

Oil was not easy to obtain in their day, and required effort to produce. Like the Spirit, it is not something that can be borrowed or shared. I can’t give my spiritual promptings to you, and it takes care to get them in the first place!

Discussion Question
How does the difficulty of obtaining oil relate to the principles discussed?

When it comes to thinking about filling our lamps with oil, and if we consider the Spirit to be like the oil (though it could be applied to many other things too):

Why not seek peace while peace can be obtained?

If our lives are “OK” now, we should be filling our lamps. Hindsight is 20/20. It’s so easy to look at the 5 foolish virgins and think that we would never be like them while we refresh the gamecast in Stake Priesthood meeting.

Discussion Question
If it's so obvious in retrospect? Why do we put off actions that will invite the Spirit?
Discussion Question
Is this parable reinforce a harsh view of God and salvation, where you can be excluded for a seemingly small mistake? What about love and forgiveness?

There are many correct answers to the above question, but one that I find very common for myself is I’ve made myself too busy. I’ve filled my life with so many things that I don’t find time to fill my lamp with oil.

Simplification & Spiritual Preparedness

What else could the foolish virgins have been up to?

  • they could have been fixing each other’s hair or dresses
  • finishing their own makeup
  • reviewing bullet points for their maid of honor speech at the wedding reception
Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to “abide the day.” Abiding the day does not mean adding to an ever-increasing to-do list. ... We need to simplify, focus our efforts, and be gatherers of the Light of Jesus Christ. We need more holy and revelatory experiences.

When Elder Bednar asked Elder Hales the lessons he’d learned as he’d gotten older and less physically able, Elder Hales said:

When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most.

Perhaps, one of the very best things we can do to make our lives better is not to try and focus on how to have the Spirit more, but to focus on doing a little bit less of everything else! If the only thing on your TODO list is fill your lamp with oil, you’ll probably get it done!

Discussion Question
What are some things you could do less of to make more room for the Spirit?

Specifically try not to think of things that you could do (not “go to the temple more”, or “pray more often” though those are great things), but more things that you could do less of. For most people I think this can be actually be just as effective.

I heard just this morning on Music in the Spoken Word from Stephen Covey that “The key (superlative) is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”

There’s a lot of junk on our “schedules” (likely similar to the foolish virgins). Here’s some that I thought of:

  • Overworking (I work a lot of days from home and it’s easy to keep working past when I should)
  • Home projects (the other day I’d made 2 trips to the Home Depot before I realized I hadn’t read my scriptures yet)
  • Virtually all social media (I don’t schedule this but somehow it always finds a way into my schedule)

It’s junk! It really doesn’t matter if you don’t get to it. In the grand scheme of things it’s not going to matter in 5 years, and it’s not going to matter in 5 minutes.

Recall the suplerative maxim from before: “Follow the Holy Ghost”.

Storms That Will Come

Like in Helaman 5:12, storms will come, and when they do, what will we have done to prepare?

When storms of life come, and they inevitably do, questions often follow. Sister Wright said:

The questions you may be asking are questions of the heart that ache in the depths of your soul. Similar questions are found in the holy scriptures: “Master, carest thou not that [my family] perish?”

Pay attention to the lyrics in this song:

(Master the Tempest is Raging)

Discussion Question
What did you hear in this rendition that altered your perspective on storms of life?

The comfort of the Spirit will help us weather storms, and will prepare us for life’s challenges and the coming of the Lord.