Obtaining truth through the Holy Ghost is the key to all spiritual progression. We cannot become sanctified without understanding the things the Spirit communicates to us. In fact, one of the main roles of the Holy Ghost is to help us understand how we can become pure so that we can receive the Second Comforter. He can tell us what we need to repent of and how to do so. He can also show us the attributes we are lack in order to become more like Jesus so that we can be in His presence. Nephi summarized the role of the Holy Ghost:
5 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.The language of the Spirit can be confusing and difficult to understand, but with practice we can understand the things He is communicating more easily.
6 Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do. (2 Nephi 32)
Sudden Strokes of Ideas
Joseph Smith said:
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, p. 151)The first indication that the Spirit has spoken to you is that you have a new thought in your mind ("sudden strokes of ideas"). In other words, you begin thinking about something that you weren't thinking about previously. This information could be new or you could be reminded of something you knew previously. For example, the other night as I was getting into bed, I suddenly had the thought to move something that would be in my mother-in-law's way when she returned home. I hadn't been thinking about it previously, but it was a thought that interrupted what I was thinking about at the time. This was the Holy Ghost speaking to me.
Satan Mimics Revelation
Just as the Holy Ghost can place thoughts in our head, Satan can too. The experience is the same, however while everything the Holy Ghost communicates to us is true, Satan presents us with partially true or false information (2 Nephi 2:18).
Just because the idea comes from Satan does not mean that we will automatically be able to detect that it is not from God. Sometimes he tells us to do good things, but they distract us from what we really should be doing in order to connect with God. When a false "revelation" enters our head and we don't yet know whether the thought is true or false, it can be hard to determine where the thought came from (God, Satan, or ourselves). We may also have false beliefs which lead us to believe a revelation from Satan. Or, we may think a revelation from God is false because of our false beliefs (which we are unaware of). We may be told to do something that seems "wrong" or "false." Until we know it is from Satan we should not disregard it. Don't assume something is leading you away from God, without actually knowing it is.
In the past I have had thoughts while praying to check on something or someone. When I check on them, everything is fine. Checking on someone is a good thing and is not an inherently evil act. However, through not knowing the source of that thought, I was taken away from what I should have been doing: praying.
Determining the Source
Since Satan is incredibly good at mimicking the Holy Ghost, if we aren't able to determine who is speaking to our minds, we may not progress fast enough to obtain the blessings we seek, both in and after this life. Satan will do everything he can to lure us away from what really matters. So if a new thought pops into your head, how do you know if it is from the Spirit, yourself, or Satan? Simplistically speaking, you can answer this question by asking yourself a question: "Is it true?" However, answering this question is not always straightforward.
Watch for the Fulfillment
When we are told of a future event (in other words, we are given a prophecy), we can determine whether it is true if it is fulfilled. If it is never fulfilled, we can know that that revelation was not from the Lord.
Soon after my third child was born the thought came into my head that we would have two more children. I was told that first we would have a girl and then a boy. At the time I believed it was from the Lord but when it was fulfilled, I then had knowledge (no longer belief or faith) that it was from the Lord. As Joseph Smith said in the quote above, "those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass...."
A few years ago when I was pregnant with my last baby, the thought kept coming into my head that this baby was going to be twins. The experience felt exactly like the times where the Spirit had told me of things to come and they were fulfilled. However, when there was no doubt that I was just having one baby, I knew it was a false revelation. Although, I did feel very confused for a long time because the experience was exactly the same as receiving a true revelation. However, this was clearly from Satan because it was not true. The experience was invaluable though because it showed me how easy it is to be deceived and how the experience of being deceived mimics the experience of receiving true revelation.
Observe the Fruit
Another way we can know if the thought that came into our mind is true is to observe the fruit that develops from that idea: That which is true will draw us closer to God.
13 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.14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. (Moroni 7)At times we can't know of the fruit until we act on the thought. This requires experimenting on the idea. Jesus said,
If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)Alma also spoke about experimenting on the word we receive and determining the fruit that comes as a result:
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.Alma said that when we experiment on the word we receive and we experience our understanding being enlightened, we can know it is from God. In other words, through the revelation we receive, we obtain greater light and truth and this brings us closer to God. We will be more filled with love for others. We will feel more humility. Being closer to God involves being able to be more like Him.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. (Alma 32; emphasis added)
Several months ago I was struggling with being frustrated with the wild and crazy behavior of my kids every day. I wanted to be patient and calm but no matter how hard I tried, I still felt impatient with them. One day the thought came into my head that instead of studying my scriptures at night after they went to bed, I was to go to bed early and get up at 5am to study and pray. I immediately experimented on this idea and within a day I could see that my patience levels changed. I also had more energy. Somehow going to bed early helped me conquer my impatience. Thus, through my experimentation I could determine that this thought I had was from the Lord.
The ideas that come into our minds can also range from being vague to being clear. It is usually difficult to discern the source of vague ideas. As we seek for further enlightenment from the Lord, He can help us understand more if it was in fact from Him. In other words, we can ask God for more revelation in order for us to know that what we received is from Him as opposed to our own thinking. Other times, without asking an idea can come into our heads multiple times.
When the Lord first told me to sanctify myself, I asked Him if this was from Him (I didn't know if I had created this thought in my own head). The revelation came 8 times within a short period of time. After knowing it was from God, I did not fully understand what it meant. All I knew was that it had to do with becoming holy and with repentance. Over the following few months as I prayed and studied to understand it more, I found my mind becoming enlightened with what it meant and how to do it. This initial revelation led to more light and truth.
There have been many times when the Spirit has spoken and I have felt very confident that the idea presented to my mind is from the Lord. (Although I have made mistakes in the past feeling confident that an idea is from the Lord when in fact it was not -- it really does take a lot of practice.) However, there are other times when I am not sure and my confidence in what I received being a true revelation is low. Until we know that the revelation is true, bear in mind that it is always possible that it was not from the Lord. Being open to the possibility of being it false enables us to be open to correction from the Lord. When our confidence in whether it is from the Lord or not is low, we can either experiment on what we have received or ask for further clarification.
When my husband and I were trying to figure out where the Lord wanted us to move when we were leaving Utah, the thought came into my head many times regarding the specific place where we were to move. However, my confidence was low in knowing whether it was from the Lord. As I asked God for further revelations telling us where to move, the same thoughts returned. We decided to follow what I had received and over the following few months we were able to see the fruit of making that decision. We have also received further revelations showing us that this was in fact the will of God. Our confidence in that revelation being from the Lord has become stronger.
Don't Let Feelings Mislead You
When we receive revelations from the Lord they can elicit emotions within us. Receiving truth that aligns with what we already believe often makes us feel good and is easy to accept. Satan is very good at giving us false revelations that lead to us feeling good. Once I received a revelation that was very flattering about my spiritual standing before God, but within a short time I was able to determine that the revelation was from Satan and was encouraging me to disobey a previously given commandment from God. Not everything that makes us feel good is from Satan, of course, but we cannot use how we feel as a way of determining the truthfulness of the message we have received.
On the other hand, truth that goes against what we currently believe can be painful to hear and can make us uncomfortable. We may even feel anxiety or anger as a result. These feelings have the potential to lead us to reject the message we have received. I have received many, many revelations that made me feel uncomfortable, but when I don't allow my feelings to determine what is true or false and instead determine if it draws me closer to God, I am able to gain more light and truth.
Several months ago I had a dream which I suspected was from the Lord, but I did not understand it. As I prayed about the meaning of the dream, thoughts came into my mind regarding it's meaning. My heart hurt because it showed an aspect of my impure heart I was previously unaware of. But, pushing through those negative feelings to examine the message I was receiving enabled me to know how I needed to repent.
We cannot progress very far if all we are willing to hear is truth which makes us feel good. Instead we should set our anger, offense, or anxiety aside and be willing to listen to whatever is being communicated to us before throwing it out because it is too hard to hear.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Many people use feelings as a gauge for determining truth because of Paul wrote about the fruit of the spirit:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,The fruit of something is the effect or consequence of something. When the spirit speaks truth to us and we apply it, it will bring love, joy, and peace, despite the fact that hearing the truth is at times painful. We will also increase in our ability to be longsuffering and gentle and our faith and self-control will increase.
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5)
As I have tried to apply the truth I have learned through the Spirit on how to repent, I have felt the Father's love for me several times. This love is a feeling that cannot be described but has to be experienced to be understood. I have also felt a feeling of joy that is beyond any earthly feeling of happiness. These feelings came from God and are beyond what my body can produce (like feeling happiness when someone is nice to me). But, they have only come as I have tried to draw closer to God and live by the revelations He has given me.
Frequency of Revelations
The more we seek revelations, the more we will receive them. The more questions we ask God, the more He will speak to us. The more we act on what we have received, the more He teaches us. However, as the frequency of revelations from God increases, so will the frequency of revelations from Satan. We have to be prayerful and cautious that we are not deceived.
Seek to Become Proficient in the Language of the Spirit
It is up to us to become proficient in the language of the Spirit. Just like learning another language, we determine how good we will become in understanding that language through practice. The Lord constantly wants to teach us but we aren't always open, our hearts are hardened, or we are too busy. As we take time to clear our minds, seeking to hear His voice, as well as pay attention to all the thoughts that enter our minds as we go about our day, we will find that the Lord speaks to us often. Then, seek to know the truth of those "sudden strokes of ideas" and live by them. You will find yourself closer to God than you could have ever imagined.