Based on the talk
By Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr.
October 2007 LDS General Conference
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We've all wondered at one time if what we thought was a prompting from the Spirit or from our own mind. Here are 4 easy steps to discerning the Spirit and a great object lesson to teach your children how.
1. Is the feeling or impression you have consistent with the pronouncements of the Lord found in the scriptures?
The Lord has given us wonderful and extensive guidance in the scriptures. Because the focus of these inspired writings is on doctrine and principle, the specific application is usually left with us. For example, we know that keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a commandment, but how we do it, in part—and even in some places in the world, when we do it—is left to our best judgment. We need to know the doctrines well and be exposed to them regularly so that we are not misled. Most individuals who believe that they have doctrinal issues with the Church do not really know the doctrine!
2. Is your inspiration consistent with the statements and counsel of the living prophets?
It is a serious mistake to take the counsel of living prophets lightly or to disregard it. We need to know what they have said and thus we have the responsibility to listen to general conference, read their words in the Church magazines, and pay attention to their statements and pronouncements.
A rather common error made even by some who consider themselves faithful members is to say that “the Brethren really do not understand my circumstances and therefore their directions do not apply to me.” A much better approach is to have the attitude, “given the experience and closeness to the Lord of His servants, I will try to understand and apply to my own situation their counsel and direction.” When we take that approach, we will almost always understand and appreciate the wisdom of their direction in helping us avoid serious error.
3. Is the prompting you feel consistent with your own area of responsibility?
It is a too common misjudgment to develop feelings or express opinions that are outside the scope of our own stewardship. A bishop receives revelation only for his ward, not another. Only the President of the Church receives the Lord’s direction for the entire Church. A father and mother are entitled to divine direction related to their own family, but the neighbors are not instructed through them. We will frequently see others’ mistakes and achievements—as they will see ours—but revelation is always restricted to our own proper sphere.
4. Have you respected the agency of others?
On occasion we may receive promptings that affect us and may also involve others. This opens the potential for confusion unless we clearly understand the doctrines and principles of agency and revelation. As missionaries, many of us have felt prompted that certain investigators know what we have taught is true and that they should accept baptism and confirmation. This is a sweet experience that often inspires us to work and pray harder to assist the investigators with their challenges.
Ultimately, however, the investigator must also receive the impression and act on it. However impressive the spiritual feelings of the missionary, the investigator must experience the “mighty change of heart” for the conversion to really occur. Missionaries are required to provide the environment in part and share their testimonies, but they are not authorized to dictate individual decisions or impose their own impressions that would violate the agency of another.
This council also applies to those claiming to receive revelation concerning marrying another person. Both parties need to gain their own personal witness before marriage should be committed to.
Display a bowl of sugar and a bowl of salt. You wouldn't just guess at which was which or your baking might taste terrible. As a family, list ways to determine which is which. What steps did you use? Taste, smell, touch?
We don't have to guess when the Spirit is speaking to us. We can use the list with the four questions above. Have family members share how they can know when the Spirit is influencing them.
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