There are very few gospel principles that I think are formulaic. But when it comes to learning how to distinguish between the voice of the spirit, and our own voice and emotions there is something that you can practice to bring you to a place of confidence in always recognizing the spirit of the Lord.
This pattern has worked really well for me personally, I hope it may be helpful for someone who has faced the same challenge.
The formula goes like this.
- First, it is always really helpful to always go through the prayer repentance process before asking the Lord for guidance or an answer to a question. This process is described here.
- When you receive an impression write it down immediately. This principle is described here. This is the point you may wonder if the impression is coming from you or not. But we are going to write down everything, no matter what. Regardless if you are confident whether or not it is from you are the Lord, record the impression.
- Act on that impression. If it is to clean your room, do it. If it is to call someone, do it. If you are acting with real intent to do good, and to listen to the spirit (and only you can judge that), act on that prompting.
By acting on the prompting regardless of whether it is actually from the Lord, and if we do it in good faith and with sincerity to follow the voice of the Lord, a principle from D&C 46 will become active.
Section 46 is teaching about the operations of the gifts of the spirit. Receiving revelation by the gift of the Holy Ghost is one of these gifts. Here is the principle:
“For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts“(D&C 46:13).
Notice the verse says the gifts are for those who keep the commandments, and also for those that are seeking to do so.
In other words, through the grace of the Lord, if we are wholeheartedly seeking to keep his commandments (receive his promptings) even though we may be mixing them up with our own thoughts (and literally giving ourselves our own revelations), he will bless those efforts as well.
How does he bless us? Through giving us an increase of his spirit. This spirit is always light and truth. So, even when we are sincerely trying to do follow the spirit and may mistake our own voice for the voice of the Lord and do it anyways, we will receive an increase of light and truth.
This process is described here:
“That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day”
The Lord will give you more light if you are acting with full sincerity of heart to follow each prompting that comes to you. Because of this you will increase in more light. Because you have more light in you, the next time you have a prompting, you will have more light to discern it with.
This is the process of learning to taste light.
The more light we have, the more ability we have to taste it and we will be more likely able to distinguish our own emotions form the light of God.
Alma speaks of this process when he wrote:
“… 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 32:28).
… for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect? (Alma 32: 28,34,35)
We can come to understand how to taste light. And the more we strive to obey promptings, the more the Lord will infuse us with light (even if we get it wrong). The more light we have we will better be able to discern future promptings.
And we will soon reach a point that we can easily discern light from darkness (or lack of light). We will very soon be able to discern between our own thoughts / emotions / desires and the light of the spirit.
This is a practice that can be done immediately.
The more we desire to receive impressions and messages from God, the faster he will capacitate us to receive them.
If we keep these impressions sacred by writing them and not sharing (unless prompted to do so), we will grow in the principle of revelation.
Joseph Smith described this principle when he taught the following:
“The Spirit of Revelation is in connection with these blessings. 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” (27 June 1839, Commerce, Illinois Willard Richards Pocket Companion, Teachings and Sayings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 98).
- Sanctify yourself and repent as much as you can so that you receive pure promptings.
- Write every impression you receive, regardless if you are confident if they come from the Lord or yourself.
- Act on the impression
- You will have an increase of receive light if you are honestly trying to follow the Lord
- With an increase of light you will be able to better discern future promptings.
- As you practice this you will learn what the light of the Lord tastes like and in time you will be able to perfectly discern between your own thoughts and emotions and the light of the Spirit.