Question: How can you know if your answer to prayer, your personal revelation, is true?

Table of Contents

Question: How can you know if an answer to prayer, a personal revelation, is true?

Regarding all revelation, understand how the spirit works and consider how it works with you

With regard to all revelation, we should first understand how the Spirit works (as an aside, the pneumatology is unique in several ways) by studying the scriptures (especially modern revelation) and the teachings of living prophets and apostles [1]. It stands to reason that if we want to be led by Christ’s spirit and follow him, then we will try and measure our lives against what he has revealed through his servants so that we aren’t deceived (JS Matthew 1:37). This means we interrogate and weigh the words of the standard works (since they are our standard of truth) and we take into consideration what has been taught by the living prophets and apostles in trying to make good decisions and bring ourselves in tune with the spirit’s whisperings.[2].

As taught in Preach My Gospel:

As you pray for inspiration, you should also confirm your feelings. For example, compare your decisions with the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets. Be certain that the feelings are consistent with the assignment you have; for example, you will not receive revelation to tell a local bishop how he should perform in his calling. Discuss your decisions and conclusions with your companion, your district leader, or your mission president when appropriate.

President Howard W. Hunter offered this counsel: “Let me offer a word of caution. … I think if we are not careful … , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, 184). The Spirit of the Lord always edifies.
[3]

Doctrine and Covenants 50:24 “he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

Regarding the revelation given for foundational testimony, if you want to know the truth of it, then you should test it. Alma, in the Book of Mormon, suggests that we treat it like a seed, and make an experiment out of it by seeing how it grows and as it continue to grow we can know with greater confidence that it is good and true. But debating its validity in a sort of theoretical way, won't ever provide you with an answer.

Regarding specifically impressions to do something, we need to remember that the spirit always brings knowledge. It won’t be just an emotion. It will be an impression that warns of danger, or directs you, or presses feelings and thoughts on your consciousness. It will usually be some sort of physical phenomena accompanied by revelation or inspiration to the mind (D&C 8:2). The key is to understand that if something is being revealed to us, then we will understand when the revelation is coming from a source other than our normal thoughts and feelings, it will feel as though it came without great effort and independent of manipulation. Regarding its manifestation in our mind, Joseph Smith talks of "pure intelligence" flowing into you:

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.[4]

However, as Boyd K. Packer points out, revelation does not "flow without effort" on the part of the person desiring it.

To one who thought that revelation would always flow without effort (although sometimes the revelation is spontaneous), the Lord said:

“You have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” [5]

This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.

Describing the promptings from the Holy Ghost to one who has not had them is very difficult. Such promptings are personal and strictly private![6]

Personal revelation can differ between two people in nature

Often people describe the unique way in which the spirit works with them. Some are able to feel deep impressions such as the swelling of their chest as described in Alma, the peace in the mind experienced by Oliver Cowdery, or the burning in the bosom described by the disciples on the road to Emaus. Others may experience clarity of mind or they may feel that the Spirit gives scripture a new, richer and more personal meaning to their lives. Latter-day Saints don't believe that differences in the phenomena experienced while feeling the spirit should always be the same—even when trying to receive revelation for the same thing. What it means is that 1) We are all working at understanding and following the spirit and 2) that we are all receiving personal answers to our prayers from a loving Heavenly Father, and others are receiving personal answers to theirs. Personal revelation is beautiful precisely because these differences can exist. It deepens our understanding and love of the fact that we are all unique children of our Heavenly Father. Some may have “spectacular” experiences while others only hear a still small voice because God speaks to all of us in a way that we can understand and relate to (2 Nephi 31:3).

Boyd K. Packer:

We do not seek for spectacular experiences. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the many who "have no ear for spiritual messages … when they come in common dress. … Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication."[7]

Ultimately, it is a choice to believe in the reality of the spirit, understand the epistemology, work to be worthy to feel the spirit’s influences, and follow those influences courageously

Lehi gives his children this counsel at his death, teaching us an important principle.

2 Nephi 2: 27-28

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit

As Elder Neal L. Anderson has taught “The future of your faith is not by chance, but by choice.”[8]. We’re promised that as we continue in light, that our testimony will shine brighter and that understanding of how inspiration flows will come more readily. If we are humble, he will lead us by the hand and give us answers to our prayers (D&C 112:10) We’re promised that the signs will follow the believers (D&C 68:10).


Notes

  1. For a fuller treatment of Latter-day Saint pneumatology, see Oscar McConkie’s The Holy Ghost: A Study of the Holy Ghost, According to the Standard Works of the Church
  2. There are many times in scripture that there is an attempt to identify the Spirit. See for example D&C 11:12.
  3. "How Do I Recognize and Understand the Spirit?," Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004)
  4. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," 151.
  5. D&C 9:7–8
  6. Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
  7. Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test, and the Promise," Ensign (November 1994).
  8. Anderson, Neal L. “Faith is not by Chance, but by Choice” General Conference; April 2015 [1]