Q&A: Questions and Answers


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

I know the Holy Ghost can guide me, but how can I tell the difference between my own thoughts and feelings and the inspiration of the Spirit?

New Era

Since you are young and will soon be making numerous important decisions about your future—education, mission, marriage—it is vital that you have an understanding of what it means to feel the Spirit.

First, in order to recognize the Spirit, you must make sure that you are living the kind of life that will allow you to be in tune with the subtle promptings that the Spirit usually gives. Are you remembering to pray sincerely every day? Are you regularly studying your scriptures? Are you attending and participating in your church meetings? Are you repenting as necessary?

Next, put yourself in situations where you know the Spirit will be present. Being at church and at the temple are two obvious choices, but you can also feel the Spirit in other settings—at home, in nature, at school, and in wholesome social settings. You can be sure the Spirit will not be in places where there is drinking of alcohol or use of drugs, inappropriate music or language, or other kinds of inappropriate activities and entertainment. Avoid those situations.

Once you’re prepared to feel the Spirit, you must learn to observe what the Spirit actually feels like to you. Different people describe the feelings of the Holy Ghost in different ways. Some people describe the feeling as a “burning in the bosom” (see D&C 9:8), others talk about feeling filled with light (see D&C 88:67), and still others simply describe the promptings of the Spirit as a feeling of joy, peace, or calm (see D&C 6:22–23; D&C 11:13). Sometimes the Spirit gives us promptings by putting words into our minds; other times promptings come as impressions. On rare occasions, spiritual promptings come in the form of a vision or a dream.

Determining how you personally feel the Spirit requires that you be observant. The best place to start is in a lesson in church or family home evening where everyone is reverent and paying attention. Or worthily participate in baptisms for the dead if you can. You can be certain that in a setting like that, the Spirit is present. Think about how you feel; then take a few minutes to write your feelings in your journal. Do you feel good? Do you feel joy? Do you feel a burning? A calm? A light? You may describe your feelings in a different way, but what you call those feelings doesn’t matter as much as remembering how you feel. Now, when you are in a less overtly spiritual setting and you have those kinds of feelings, you will know they are from the Holy Ghost.

As for determining whether your feelings are your own or the promptings of the Holy Ghost, it may be that they are one and the same. The Holy Ghost inspires people to do good. If you’ve made a right decision, then you and the Holy Ghost are simply moving in the same direction. If, however, you feel confused about something, you can be pretty sure that you’re either not yet in tune or you’re acting on your own thoughts.

Learning to feel the Spirit is exactly that—learning. Don’t be discouraged if you make some mistakes along the way, and don’t give up! Pray for help from our Father in Heaven. Remember, the voice of the Holy Ghost is small and still, but if you know what to listen for and you’re living worthily, you’re sure to hear it.

* For a more thorough discussion of this topic, see President Boyd K. Packer’s talk, “Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 59–62 or New Era, Jan. 1995, 4–9.

Readers

I know the Holy Ghost can help me, and I can tell the difference between it and my own thoughts and feelings when I feel peaceful inside. When I make my own decisions, even though I know it might not be right, I face the consequences. It isn’t hard to tell the difference when you are in tune.

Jennifer Mallett, 14 Moorpark, California

I often receive inspiration in the form of helpful ideas that pop into my head or very strong feelings about something. Be careful to not dismiss those ideas or feelings as just good luck.

Gordon Larsen, 16 Kearns, Utah

It takes practice to recognize the Spirit. We can begin by obeying the commandments, which will make us susceptible to the promptings of the Spirit. When we respond to those promptings, we will be blessed and comforted and will be worthy to always have the Spirit with us.

Mari Alice Crofts, 17 Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

I used to wonder about the same thing. My seminary teacher once told me to stick with my conscience. I think we are inspired more often than we realize.

Nathan Pettit, 15 La Grande, Oregon

There’s a difference in the feeling that overcomes you when the Holy Ghost is speaking to you. It’s like your body has been taken over by all the warmth and happiness in the world. It’s a great feeling! And though you may try, you will never be able to create the same feeling with your own thoughts.

Will Perkins, 12 Salt Lake City, Utah

The scripture in Ether 4:12 helped me with the answer to this question. It says, “And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me.”

Charity Fort, 15 Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania

Sometimes inspiration from the Spirit comes to you through your own thoughts. If your thoughts are telling you to do what you think Jesus would do, it just might be the prompting of the Spirit.

Brandae Mosley, 13 Simi Valley, California

Photography by Welden Andersen; posed by model

After His resurrection, the Savior met two of His disciples while they were walking on the road to a town called Emmaus. Although the disciples did not recognize Him at first, they described the feeling He gave them by saying, “Did not our heart burn within us while he talked with us by the way?” (See Luke 24:32.) They recognized this burning as one of the ways the Spirit can testify of the truthfulness of something. (Painting The Walk to Emmaus by Harold Copping.)