Q&A: Questions and Answers


Answers are intended for help and perspective, not as pronouncements of Church doctrine.

How can I tell the difference between inspiration and my own thoughts?

New Era

  • Pay attention to thoughts that enter your mind after you pray.

  • Thoughts the Spirit puts in your mind will match the feelings He puts in your heart.

  • Personal revelation won’t conflict with what the Lord has told us through His prophets.

  • Personal worthiness determines how clearly you receive messages from the Lord.

  • Don’t put off obeying promptings. Doing what God asks will show Him He can trust you with promptings in the future.

The scene is familiar. You kneel by your bed, you pour out your heart to Heavenly Father, you close your prayer, and then you wait for an answer. Thoughts float around your mind. Are they inspiration or just your own ideas?

There is no simple answer to this question, because we’re talking about spiritual communication. If learning to receive and correctly understand revelation were easy, mortal life would hardly be a test at all. Growing in our ability to receive revelation is like learning to play a musical instrument. It is a skill we must practice diligently for a long time before we feel comfortable with it.

Fortunately, through His prophets and apostles, the Lord has given us guidance.

President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) counseled: “All of us should try to … give heed to the sudden ideas that come to us, and if we’ll give heed to them and cultivate an ear to hear these promptings we too—each of us—can grow in the spirit of revelation” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee [2000], 51).

The Lord said: “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation” (D&C 8:2–3). In other words, when your mind receives an idea and your heart feels a spiritual confirmation of it, you are receiving personal revelation.

President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has taught: “The voice of the Spirit is a still, small voice—a voice that is felt rather than heard” (“The Cloven Tongues of Fire,” Ensign, May 2000, 8).

It may help you to remember the Lord’s counsel to Hyrum Smith: “Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit” (D&C 11:12). If something draws you closer to your Heavenly Father, it is likely the inspiration of His Spirit.

The only sure way to recognize revelation is through your own experience. Do what you are prompted to do. As you exercise faith and act upon the feelings you receive, you will become acquainted with the Holy Ghost and better able to recognize His voice.

Remember to be patient. The Lord doesn’t always answer quickly. Sometimes He responds after much study and prayer. Sometimes He even lets us solve a problem on our own.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Like a radio, you cannot experience “clear reception” if some part of your life is out of order. As you become more pure through keeping the commandments and repenting of sin, your ability to receive and recognize spiritual promptings will increase.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

The teachings of the Spirit often come as feelings. That fact is of the utmost importance, yet some misunderstand what it means” (Ensign, March 1997, 13). —Elder Dallin H. Oaks Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Readers

President Harold B. Lee taught, “When your heart begins to tell you things that your mind does not know, then you are getting the Spirit of the Lord” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 37). Inspiration is more of a feeling than a voice. Ubong Awak, 23, Ikeja Ward, Lagos Nigeria Stake

The Holy Ghost can direct me if I live according to Heavenly Father’s commandments, even if it is hard. If we do our best, our Father will reward us. The Holy Ghost will be with us and will lead us in difficult choices. Maria Kleis, 14, Silkeborg Branch, Aarhus Denmark Stake

If you are living a good life and partaking of the sacrament worthily, your thoughts and feelings will echo what the Spirit is telling you. Inspiration is a feeling that fills not only your mind but also your whole being. When you have no doubt about what you should do, that feeling is the Spirit. Doubt is in the unsure mind; the Spirit knows exactly. Colby Park, 17, Monument Park 14th Ward, Salt Lake Monument Park Stake

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled us recently to try our faith by acting on our impressions (see “To Acquire Knowledge and the Strength to Use It Wisely,” Ensign, June 2002, 32). We will know our impressions are from the Holy Ghost when we receive a confirmation that what we have done is right. I know the impressions I receive are from the Spirit when they consistently return to my mind and I feel confident and peaceful, not confused or doubtful. Sister Kristen Kerr, 21, Scotland Edinburgh Mission

Each person may have an individual way of discerning spiritual manifestations. We need to be sensitive to discover how the Spirit speaks to us. If we pray and study the gospel of Jesus Christ and if we have patience and humility and try each day to be pure in heart, certainly we will feel the Spirit. Raquel Akemi Inokuti, 15, Bairro Alto Ward, Curitiba Brazil Tarumã Stake

Our hearts are filled with love when we receive inspiration. Everyone can receive an answer in his or her heart. I know because this is how I have received my answers. Srinakorn Supakot, 15, Korat Branch, Khon Kaen Thailand District

When we want to feel the guidance of the Holy Ghost, we must come to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ better. We must become as pure as we can be. We must fast and pray. Then we will feel peace in our hearts. When our hearts are broken and contrite, we feel a simple, peaceful, soft voice that teaches us what to do. Cíntia Pamela Frías, 20, Sión Ward, La Paz Bolivia Miraflores Stake

[photo] Photography by Jed Clark