Following Impressions with Confidence

But 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.

Moroni 7:13

I like to think of myself as a spiritual guy, but I’m a far cry from what anyone would consider a mystic. While I firmly believe in the reality of God and angels and their ability to communicate with us mortals, I can’t pretend to having participated in many of those conversations. For the most part, my experience with holy things has been firmly fixed on this side of the veil.

I sometimes feel a little insecure when I hear people talking about “The Spirit told me this,” or “The Spirit prompted me to do that.” Truth be told, I think the Spirit tends to leave me alone in favor of better receptacles for revelation. Like most people, I rely to a great deal on my judgment and experience to determine what I do on a moment-to-moment basis, with the occasional insight that I attribute to the Spirit because it was a better idea than I could have come up with on my own.

We refer to communications from the Holy Ghost in a number of different ways. People talk of feeling inspired, prompted, moved upon, etc. Each is a rough attempt to describe what I think of as “outside thoughts coming from the inside.” At least for me, I usually trust that a idea is from the Spirit when it pushes me towards doing something that I wouldn’t ordinarily consider doing on my own, but the idea still vaguely seems like it came from my own heart or head. It’s that sudden idea, insight, or understanding that doesn’t have a clear origin, but feels valid.

Trying to describe a spiritual prompting is hard. Trying to distinguish inspiration from our own thoughts can be even harder. It is easy to dismiss the voice of the Spirit when we don’t like the message, or to imbue our own ideas with celestial authority when we do. When one of my daughters was at BYU, I had a t-shirt made for her that said, “I don’t care what the Spirit told you, I’m not the one.” Just a dad’s way of reminding young men that spirituality and chemistry aren’t co-equal.

Being able to distinguish between inclination and inspiration, whisperings of the Spirit from wishful thinking can frustrate and paralyze you with self-doubt. Fortunately, I’ve learned a principle over the years that has helped me a great deal:

It probably doesn’t matter.

It isn’t that I don’t care whether I am receiving revelation from God through the Holy Ghost. I most certainly hope that I am, and that I am cultivating a greater ability to receive, recognize, and act on such promptings. But from what I understand from the scriptures, as long as we focus on the direction the decision would take us, we don’t have to worry too much about the source of the idea.

Moroni explains this in the 7th chapter of his final entry in the Book of Mormon when he tells us that anything that invites and entices us to do good and serve God comes of God. That would include ideas and impressions. So if I have an idea or prompting to do something, and that thing objectively would be a blessing to someone else or would help bring someone to Christ, I can “go and do” without significant worry. The great likelihood is that the the idea came from my Father in Heaven and nothing but good will come of it.

This approach might be a little too pragmatic for some people, and it certainly compromises one’s ability on Fast Sundays to talk up how amazingly inspired he or she is, but I sincerely believe that our Father in Heaven is more interesting in us getting off our seats and doing good than having us agonize over whether we are oracles of revelation. Sorting out the source of an impression may well eat up valuable time that could be spent in the service of others.

Joseph Smith once observed that if we follow our first impressions, nine times out of ten we will do the right thing. If he was satisfied with a .900 batting average, I’m fine with it too.

Follow the promptings that you receive. Act upon them. Like the cairns on a trail less traveled, the Holy Ghost will show you all things you should do

Elaine S. Dalton
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