Questions and Answers
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“Questions and Answers,” Liahona, Apr. 2003, 44

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?

Liahona’s Answer

The scene is a familiar one. 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 in 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.

Fortunately, the Lord’s prophets and apostles have given us guidance.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “a person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 151).

President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) gave this counsel: “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.

It may help you to remember the Lord’s counsel to the Prophet Joseph: “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. You have to 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.

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.

Comfort and Serenity

“The teachings of the Spirit often come as feelings. That fact is of the utmost importance, yet some misunderstand what it means. I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom ‘burn within’ them [see D&C 9:7–8].

“What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Liahona, May 1999, 22.

Readers’ Answers

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

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,” Liahona, Aug. 2002, 12–19). We will know our impressions are from the Holy Ghost when we receive a confirmation that what we have done is right (see Ether 12:6). 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 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

If it is inspiration, your bosom will burn within you and you will feel and know it is right. But if it is not, you will have a stupor of thought. Your own thoughts will not give you the same kinds of feelings the Spirit does.
Jason Starr, 17,
Gilbert 12th Ward, Gilbert Arizona Val Vista Stake

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

I write down thoughts that come to me about things to do, people to talk to, and so on. The Spirit uses our thoughts to guide us. As you follow those ideas, you will come to realize what is from the Spirit and what isn’t. You don’t learn the language of the Spirit until you put it into action.
Sister Nickell Rae Christensen, 22,
Idaho Boise Mission

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

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

Not everything we think is right really is. This is why we need to listen to the soft and peaceable whisper that invites us to reflect and ask, “What would Jesus Christ do?” The Holy Ghost leads us to do good things.
Gexa Paredes Mariduena, 20,
Rego Park Second (Spanish) Branch, Queens New York West District

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

Photograph by Jed A. Clark, posed by model