Question: How can I know when my thoughts and feelings are
from the Holy Ghost and when they are just me?
In the past few months I have done a serious search for an answer to know if I am supposed to serve a full-time LDS mission. During this journey, I felt as if I had a million different answers through my pondering and asking. One day I felt like the spirit told me so powerfully that Heavenly Father wanted me to go, but the next day I felt strongly that I should stay home and go to school. We are told multiple times throughout the scriptures that Heavenly Father will reveal to us what we need to know and do through the Holy Ghost. I found this principle to become problematic because I simply didn’t understand how to separate my own thoughts, and the impressions that came from God. Many saints struggle with this today as we strive to follow God but feel as if we are receiving mixed-messages. I was able to decipher more clearly what Heavenly Father wanted me to do through study of the insights I found from the Doctrine and Covenants. I, and others, can find out the source of our inspiration by understanding how the Holy Ghost will communicate with us, the character of the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost’s divine mission.
1) The Holy Ghost will speak to our minds and our hearts. “Yea, behold, 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” (D&C 8:2). The Holy Ghost will brings both truth to our minds and peace to our hearts when directing us. In the October 1994 General Conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer stressed, “If ever you receive a prompting to do something that makes you feel uneasy, something you know in your mind to be wrong and contrary to the principles of righteousness, do not respond to it!” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1994). The spirit will never make us feel uneasy or uncertain, it will echo what we know to be true, and motivate us through the strength and comfort we will feel in our hearts. This does not necessarily mean that we should only follow promptings that we can make sense of or explain, because we will discount many impressions if we do that. This simply means that we are led by the Holy Ghost enlightening our minds to understanding and our heart softening. Richard G. Scott, in the 1989 Ensign, also mentions why it is critical that the Holy Ghost speaks to our minds and hearts by discussing the ways we respond, “When we receive an impression in our heart, we can use our mind either to rationalize it away or to accomplish it.” (http://www.lds.org/ensign/1989).
2) The Holy Ghost speaks to us reverently. President Kimball said, “The great volume of revelation… comes to today’s prophets in the less spectacular way-that of deep impressions, but without spectacle or glamour or dramatic accompanying” (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1999). We can expect that when we are receiving revelation from the Holy Ghost it will most likely be by subtle promptings rather than a large event, which is why we refer to the Holy Ghost as the still small voice. “Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things” (D&C 85:6). Lamanite guards in Helaman 5 also experience this piercing whisper, “And it came to pass when they heard this voice, and beheld it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul-” (Helaman 5:30). Elder Young in the 1976 General Conference said, “It will not be in the whirlwind, or in thunder, or in lightning, or in any spectacular display. It will come, as to Elijah, in a “still small voice”” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1976).
3) The Holy Ghost works under the patterns of Heavenly Father. Because the Holy Ghost works under the father, we know that the Holy Ghost teaches as the father does. We learn from the scriptures that we are not given all of the answers at once “For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12). We can know that if we are receiving all of the answers we need it is most likely not from the Holy Ghost. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24). Elder L. Lionel Kendrick stated, “This pattern for receiving promptings follows the principle by which the Savior was taught and tutored during the meridian of time. John bore witness that “he received not of the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fullness” (D&C 93:13. The Prophet Joseph Smith Counseled, “It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time.”” (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1999).
4) Because the Holy Ghost loves and follows Heavenly Father, The Holy Ghost will never tell us anything that is not supportive of what has been revealed through God’s prophets and church leaders. The Holy Ghost is completely obedient and true to Heavenly Father. Because Heavenly Father calls his prophets we can be sure that when we are trying to figure out whether or not we are receiving inspiration, that it is surely not the Holy Ghost if it does not follow the teachings of the prophet. “And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church… For, behold… neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants” (D&C 28:6, 12). A 1913 official first presidency message included “When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions, or any extraordinary gift or inspiration, convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-Day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear.” (https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-student-manual/sections-21-29/).
5) The Holy Ghost will lead us to joy and service. “I will impart unto you of my spirit…which shall fill your soul with joy” (D&C 11:13). One of the reasons the Holy Ghost will lead us to happiness is because it will lead us to do good and be obedient. “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually” (Moroni 7:13). We know that when we are doing good things continually, we will be led to happiness because of the opposite that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Whenever we are commanded to do something that is good we know it is from the Holy Ghost and will ultimately make us happy, and that is why we should, as Sister Kimball would say, “never suppress a generous thought” (http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1685).
6) The Holy Ghost leads us to Christ and repentance. Part of the mission of the Holy Ghost is to lead us to, and testify of, Jesus Christ and his divine role as The Savior. If our thoughts are leading us to repent and become more like the Savior, we can guarantee the thought is coming from the Holy Ghost. Marion G. Romney said, “Every person who knows or has ever known that Jesus is the Christ has received that witness from the Holy Ghost” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1974/). The Lord wants to bless us by helping us to know him through the Holy Ghost, “For behold, I will bless all those who labor in my vineyard…and they believe on his words, which are given him through me by the Comforter, which manifesteth that Jesus was crucified by sinful men for the sins of the world, yea, for the remission of sins unto the contrite heart” (D&C 21:9). When we truly understand Jesus’s mission through the Holy Ghost, we in turn are able to follow him because we recognize his love for us. We can know that we are being influenced by The Holy Ghost when we feel a deeper desire to live like Jesus and use his atonement to repent.
This insight lead me to my answer that yes, I should go on a full time mission. As I pondered what I was learning through my studying of D&C, I realized that the thought of staying home brought me more unhappiness and confusion to what I wanted to do. As I pondered the feelings and thoughts I was getting, I realized that the reasons I had felt for staying home were selfish and were not going to lead me closer to God and Christ. It wasn’t until a mission preparation class that I felt that I knew what Heavenly Father wanted me to do. As I role-played and taught a fellow member the story of Joseph Smith, the spirit really touched my heart and spoke to my mind that a mission would bring me, and those I taught, so much happiness. This prompting brought with it peace and a desire to follow Christ more diligently. It wasn't a lightning bolt, and it wasn’t the only time I felt I had an answer, but it was the ending to a sequence of small experiences that led me to truly desiring to serve a mission. Just like a lot of things, we see if something was the right answer or decision retrospectively. Ever since I have started my papers and gone on in this journey, I have felt so much happiness through the whole experience--even in the times I feel completely inadequate to go. This experience truly has motivated me to repent daily and choose to live better and follow Christ. Although I haven't gone yet, I know that this has been the right path for me to take looking back and already seeing the support i've felt through the Holy Ghost from my Heavenly Father. Just like I did, I know that anyone can find out if their answers are from God through these insights found in the Doctrine and Covenants.