Inspiration is divine guidance that comes through the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It is the most common form of revelation bestowed by God. Worthy members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands after baptism. This constant companionship of the Holy Ghost enables the worthy member to receive inspiration in his personal life, family life, business, and church callings. The Holy Ghost, however, can inspire men of all religions at any time, since all are God's children.
- Personal revelation comes as a testimony of truth and as guidance in spiritual and temporal matters. Latter-day Saints know that the promptings of the Spirit may be received upon all facets of life, including daily, ongoing decisions. Without seeking the inspiration of the Almighty God, how could anyone think of making an important decision such as “Who is to be my companion?” “What is my work to be?” “Where will I live?” “How will I live?”
- Some guidelines and rules are necessary if one is to be the recipient of revelation and inspiration. They include (1) to try honestly and sincerely to keep God’s commandments, (2) to be spiritually attuned as a receiver of a divine message, (3) to ask God in humble, fervent prayer, and (4) to seek answers with unwavering faith.
How is inspiration received?
How is inspiration received? Enos stated, “While I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10). One does not necessarily hear an audible voice. The spirit of revelation comes by divine confirmation. “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,” says the Lord (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2).
Agency and Inspiration
- When we dwelt in the presence of God our Heavenly Father, we were endowed with agency. This gave us the opportunity, the privilege, to choose what we would do—to make a free, untrammeled choice. When father Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden, he was given this same power, and we now possess it. We’re expected to use the gifts and talents and abilities, the sense and judgment and agency with which we are endowed.
- But, on the other hand, we’re commanded to seek the Lord, to desire his Spirit, to get the spirit of revelation and inspiration in our lives. We come into the Church and a legal administrator places his hands upon our head and says, “Receive the Holy Ghost.” This gives us the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead, based on faithfulness.
- And so we’re faced with two propositions. One is that we ought to be guided by the spirit of inspiration, the spirit of revelation. The other is that we’re here under a direction to use our agency, to determine what we ought to do on our own; and we need to establish an intricate balance between these two, if we’re going to pursue a cause that will give us joy, satisfaction, and peace in this life and lead to eternal reward in our Father’s kingdom.
We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it. Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment. We cannot force spiritual things. It must be so. Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and to develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith.
The Lord expects men to use their reason and agency to make decisions. He expects them to work to understand their circumstances and make sense out of cause and effect. He expects them to do many things of their own volition that are good and honorable, and He expects not to have to direct His children in every minute dealing of earth life. After effort is made, inspiration is available to all who are humble enough to ask:
- We’re entitled to the spirit of revelation, but what I’m attempting to teach is that there’s a proper way and a procedure, and there are conditions that we must meet before we get the spirit. It is our obligation to go to work on our problems and then counsel with the Lord and get the ratifying seal of the Holy Spirit on the conclusions that we’ve reached; and that ratifying seal is the spirit of revelation.
- God grant us wisdom in these things. God grant us the courage and the ability to stand on our own feet and use our own feet and use our agency and the abilities and capacities we possess; then let’s be sufficiently humble and amenable to the Spirit to bow our will to his will, to get his ratifying, confirming seal of approval, to get in our lives in that way the spirit of revelation. And if we so do, there’s no question about the result; it’s peace in this life; it’s glory and honor and dignity in the life to come.
Sometimes, however, a child of God becomes desperate. No matter how he tries to solve his problems, nothing changes, and he realizes he is powerless to solve them himself. In moments like these, the Lord hears any one of His children who throws himself at the feet of the Lord in abject humility and pleads for help. Often, the answer received is so unusual that it takes much strength to follow the inspiration. One has to rely on the Lord's endless vision and trust the inspiration enough to act on it. An example is inspiration received by President Wilford Woodruff. He was moved by the Lord to establish a sugar beet refining plant in Utah. All business sense seemed to rail against the proposal, and even the Apostles were doubtful. President Woodruff met with them as they studied all the opinions opposing such a decision. He said,
- From the day I received a knowledge of the divinity of the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, from the day that I went out as a humble priest to proclaim that gospel, although it looked like death in front of me, if the path of duty that the gospel required me to tread called me to face death, I have never turned to the right nor turned to the left; and now the inspiration of the Lord to me is to build this factory. Every time I think of abandoning it, there is darkness; and every time I think of building it, there is light. We will build the factory if it bursts the Church (In Conference Report, June 1919, 8–9).
The factory was highly successful, and others were built.
One of the difficult lessons of living on earth has to deal with recognizing the voice of God when it speaks to us. Latter-day Saints, even though they have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, must learn to distinguish inspiration from God from their own ideas, especially those borne of deep desire. Prophets have given guidelines to help to distinguish true inspiration from one's own thoughts:
- In its more familiar forms, revelation or inspiration comes by means of words or thoughts communicated to the mind (see Doctrine and Covenants 8:2–3; Enos 1:10), by sudden enlightenment (see Doctrine and Covenants 6:14–15), by positive or negative feelings about proposed courses of action, or even by inspiring performances, as in the performing arts. As Elder Boyd K. Packer has stated, “Inspiration comes more as a feeling than as a sound” (Boyd K. Packer, “Prayers and Answers,” General Conference, October 1979).
- Assuming you are familiar with these different forms of revelation or inspiration, I have chosen to discuss this subject in terms of a different classification—the purpose of the communication. I can identify eight different purposes served by communication from God: (1) to testify; (2) to prophesy; (3) to comfort; (4) to uplift; (5) to inform; (6) to restrain: (7) to confirm: (8) to impel.
Inspiration from God will not prompt a person to break the Lord's commandments. The Lord will only give revelation that helps to build the kingdom and work to His children's spiritual advantage. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord. The best way to recognize revelation given as inspiration is through experience:
- 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 … and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation” (J. F. Smith, editor, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151).
We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it. Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment. We cannot force spiritual things. It must be so. Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and to develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith. Even in decisions we think very important, we sometimes receive no answer to our prayers. This does not mean that our prayers have not been heard. It only means that we have prayed about a decision which, for one reason or another, we should make without guidance by revelation. Perhaps we have asked for guidance in choosing between alternatives that are equally acceptable or equally unacceptable. No answer is likely to come to a person who seeks guidance in choosing between two alternatives that are equally acceptable to the Lord. Similarly, the Spirit of the Lord is not likely to give us revelations on matters that are trivial (Oaks, "Revelation").
- “It is a great thing to inquire at the hands of God, or to come into His presence: and we feel fearful to approach Him on subjects that are of little or no consequence” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:339).
Where a choice will make a real difference in our lives—obvious or not—and where we are living in tune with the Spirit and seeking its guidance, we can be sure that we will receive the guidance we need to attain our goal. The Lord will not leave us unassisted when a choice is important to our eternal welfare (Oaks, "Revelation").
- James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, Mar 2002, 2–7.
- Bruce R. McConkie, “Agency or Inspiration,” Tambuli, Apr 1978, 31.
- Dallin H. Oaks, “Revelation,” Tambuli, Dec 1983, 30.
- Chapter 8: "Following Those Whom God Has Chosen to Preside,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 71.
- Dallin H. Oaks, “Revelation,” Tambuli, Dec 1983, 30.