I have been praying about a problem, and I’m not sure I’ve received an answer. How can I discern promptings of the Spirit from my own thoughts, hopes, and fears?
The scene is a familiar one. You kneel by your bed and pray about something that has really been of concern to you. You pour out your heart to the Lord, close your prayer, and then wait for an answer. Thoughts float around in your mind. Are they inspiration, or are they your own imaginings?
First, don’t be so afraid of your own thoughts, hopes, and fears. If you have considered your problem carefully and honestly, your thoughts will form the basis of a decision that you can take to the Lord for confirmation. And if you are keeping the commandments and living the way Heavenly Father wants you to, your decision has a good chance of being correct.
Your hopes and fears are harder to judge, because they involve the emotions, which can imitate spiritual insight. Your hopes can be righteous hopes and your fears well-founded, or they can be selfish and destructive. Try to identify which, if any, emotions may be motivating your conclusions. Discuss your feelings with the Lord. Doing so will help you put your decision into perspective and open your heart and mind to other possibilities.
But what about the thoughts and feelings that come after study and prayer? Well, they’re more likely to be real spiritual insights—but they could still be from your own mind.
To be honest, it’s not always easy to tell the difference. Like all skills, recognizing the promptings of the Spirit requires time and work. It’s a little bit like learning a language. You can understand some words and phrases after the first lesson, but you will understand a lot more with practice.
One way to test the source of your inspiration is to follow the advice given in Moroni 7:13:
“Behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.” [Moro. 7:13]
Carefully examine the promptings you’re receiving. Are they in agreement with the scriptures and the teachings of the Church? Will they bring you closer to Heavenly Father? Will they help you to help your friends or family? Or is there some potential for harm—physical, spiritual, or otherwise?
But, you may ask, what about when you are trying to decide between two things that both “enticeth to do good”? You need to realize that although both alternatives are good, maybe neither of them is right for you, or maybe both of them could be right and you need only decide which one you want. It is also possible that the decision is of no particular importance in your life and does not require divine confirmation.
Make a decision based on study and on the promptings you have received; then take that decision to the Lord. If the decision is right, you’ll feel good about it; if it’s wrong, you won’t (see D&C 9:7–9).
Of course, no one can tell you exactly what you will feel when the Spirit is acting on you. Some of the readers who responded to the question refer to a burning in the breast—others to a calm, peaceful feeling. You will have to learn from experience how the promptings of the Spirit affect you.
Remember, too, that the Lord doesn’t always provide an instant answer to your prayers. Sometimes he responds only after years of study and prayer on your part. Sometimes he even lets you solve a problem on your own so that you can grow. At such times, you must do what seems to be best for you, while continuing to ask for guidance.
Once you feel that you’ve acted on the promptings of the Spirit, don’t start doubting just because the outcome isn’t exactly what you had hoped for. That doesn’t necessarily mean you misread the Spirit. If you examine the outcome, you’ll probably find that you were guided toward greater blessings than what you had originally hoped for. And the more you follow the Spirit, the better you will be able to discern its guidance.
The Spirit speaks with a still, small voice to our heart and mind—we can’t always hear it with our ears. When we seek inspiration, we have to watch for an idea that comes to our minds as well as a feeling that comes into our hearts. The overall impression is that of peace and righteous certainty.
We should remember that if the idea is good and tells us to do what is right, then it comes from God and we should follow it (see Moro. 7:13–14).
Gilson F. da Silva, 19, Fazendinha Ward, Portão Curitiba Brazil Stake
There were many times in my life when I thought I wasn’t receiving an answer to a question I had taken to my Heavenly Father. However, the truth was, the answer came. It just wasn’t what I expected or wanted, so I wouldn’t accept it. We must be willing to accept God’s will, and not insist on our own.
Also, we need to realize that the solution to our problem is not handed to us by our Heavenly Father without effort on our part. We must arrive at our own righteous solution and then take it to Heavenly Father, praying for his blessing on our decision.
Katiuska Gutierrez Marinado, Capitán Avalos Ward, Santiago Chile Gran Avenida Stake
As a Young Adult group, we answered the question individually, then prepared this summary.
We agreed that if we approach our Heavenly Father in an indecisive way, then any response we receive may be equally unclear to us. We know he hears us and wants the best for us, but it helps for us to be clear in our own minds as to the purpose of our prayer.
According to the scriptures, our Heavenly Father can respond to our petitions affirmatively (“you shall feel that it is right”) or negatively (“a stupor of thought”).
On other occasions the answer may not be immediate. This is not because Heavenly Father has forgotten us, but because he knows when the time is right to reveal the answer. Meanwhile, acting under our own agency, we strive to do what is right and hopefully make good decisions.
Finally, we believe in the reciprocity of faith—as faith increases, the power of personal revelation increases. We become like Nephi, who “was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Ne. 4:6).
Young Adults, Villa Alemana Ward, Villa Alemana Chile Stake
Before praying to the Lord for an answer to a question, I make sure my inquiry is a righteous one. Then I prepare myself by prayer and fasting. Of course, I have to use the intelligence the Lord gave me to try to find my own solutions. Only then do I seek his confirmation. The answer may come directly from the Holy Ghost or perhaps through someone else the Lord has chosen as an instrument. I can tell if the solution comes from Heavenly Father because all good comes from him, and he will always help me when I prove faithful and worthy of his guidance.
Anna-Louise Fleckinger, Colmar Branch, Nancy France Stake
You can prepare yourself to be open to the promptings of the Spirit by giving talks and bearing your testimony at church. The more you share your testimony, the more sensitive you will be to the voice of the Spirit.
Sergei Oudan, 16, Leeuwarden Branch, Apeldoorn Netherlands Stake
Before one becomes a successful engineer, he has to attend engineering school, read the right books and magazines about engineering, undergo exams, and have all the necessary tools. He must develop contacts within the engineering field and heed the advice of more experienced engineers. He must believe in his own ability and have faith in something higher than himself.
There are things that we as Latter-day Saints need to know to develop ourselves as the spirit children of God. We need our school—the organization of the Church. We need to read the right books—the scriptures. We need to counsel with our more experienced brothers and sisters—especially those in leadership positions. We need to believe in our Father in Heaven and develop a confidence in our faith that will withstand worldly pressures.
If we daily apply all that we learn, we will have a better relationship with God. And every time we commune with Heavenly Father, we can feel confident of the Spirit’s inspiration and discern that which is eternal from that which is temporal.
Aileen Tandan, Taft Branch, Surigao Philippines District
I know that we can be inspired through the Spirit if we strive to live in tune with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Studying the scriptures each day guides my life so that my thoughts and desires more easily become manifestations of the Spirit’s inspiration.
Each day is a new day, and I progress more and more.
Guillermo Calvo, Hospitalet Ward, Barcelona Spain Stake
We need to remember the Lord’s admonition that we not use “vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
“Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:7–8; emphasis added).
Kim O-sik, Shin Jeong Ward, Pusan Korea Stake