Discerning Between Our Own and God’s Desire

By: Guest
October 7, 2012

This is a guest post from Grace for Grace.

I used to read the blog Musings on Mormonism (it hasn’t had a new post in over a year.)  It is a blog from a former LDS member who is juggling family and spirituality and posts blogs that for the most part appear to be sincere.

One day I read the post entitled Can our Hearts be Trusted.   She said that praying and trusting our feelings is not what God asks us to do when seeking guidance or wisdom. She said that the Bible clearly states that our heart is a deceptive thing.  She noted that we are also told in the Book of Proverbs that we are to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not unto our *own* understanding.  Our “own” understanding or feelings can be deceptive. Feelings and emotions can take over and cloud us from receiving God’s word and will.  She then goes on to state the only thing we can trust is God’s word and nothing else.

This statement was very amazing to me for a number of reasons.  First, how are we to know God’s word if we can’t recognize and discern his voice?  Next, in my opinion it is borderline blasphemy to say that God can’t answer prayers and speak to our hearts through not only feelings, but in our minds and through scriptures as well.  Finally, I feel that it is a tool from Satan to deceive us into thinking that we do not need to pay attention to the feelings and promptings God gives us.  It states in scripture that God speaks to us in our minds and in our hearts through feelings, visions, scriptures, and other means such as prophecy.

The question then is how do we learn to discern between what our desires are and what God’s desires are?  Furthermore, if one claims to be a prophet and speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost as the prophets of the New Testament did, how are we to know if what they are saying is truth?  Many people may answer this by saying to look it up in the Bible and that will confirm the truth.  However, how is one to know what truth is when reading in the Bible or any other scripture for that matter?  Clearly the answer is through the Holy Ghost.  But once again, the question arises how do we know if what we are feeling is from God or just our own desires?  Worse yet, how do we know what we feel isn’t Satan trying to deceive us?

These thoughts caused me to reflect on a post I wrote a few years ago called “Receiving and Recognizing Answers to Prayers.”  In this post and especially in the comments by other readers, there are common threads on how we can live our lives in tune so we can receive and recognize answers to our prayers.

In one of the threads, it discusses how God will send us the Holy Ghost through feelings accompanied with a positive conviction.  Personally, I feel that all inspiration we receive should be backed up, as our “musings” friend alludes to with the scriptures.

From my own personal experience, I know this is a truth: God speaks to us through His Holy Spirit and we feel this many times as a burning in the bosom, or exceeding joy that is more than just our own made-up desires that confirms all truth.  We do need to learn and practice to discern from our own feelings and God speaking to us though.

Personally, I feel that our friend over at Musings has it half right.  We do need to test our answers to the Word of God and not solely rely on a desire…especially if we’re not sure if it’s from God or not.  We shouldn’t rely solely on just our feelings and also it is important to have had a witness of what scripture is truth and this will come through an answer from the Holy Spirit as well.

I know we can learn to recognize and discern between Heavenly Father’s promptings and our own desires.

What are your thoughts on this subject?

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15 Responses to Discerning Between Our Own and God’s Desire

  1. Cowboy on October 7, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    This is a common question, but I think it sort of begs the question…”why would God choose our “feelings” as his method of communication”. For an omnipotent being, certainly there would be more effective way’s of communicating his individual will to use. He would certainly be aware of our struggle to sort our feelings, and yet still choose to communicate in this more ambiguous language. It would imply that God intentionally chooses this method against more effective methods. Why? What strategic purpose could this serve?

    Secondly, if we are going to try and distinguish our own internally produced emotion from those which God gives us, where is the line of demarcation? In other words, what specific qualities are we measuring, and at what point do we conclude, “yep, this was God”?

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  2. NewlyHousewife on October 7, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Since most things relate to parenting: there are times when choosing the most direct response leads to greater rebellion. I think the ambiguity is to preserve our free agency and faith. Having a direct line means our communications with God is knowledge, not faith, and our actions rebellion instead of mistakes. There would be no need for the atonement either.

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  3. Howard on October 7, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    Discerning between our own emotions and the Spirit can be done by learning to meditate and using meditation to isolate and amplify the Spirit’s signal. As we gain experience our communication with the Spirit moves toward concepts and away from feelings although feelings may continue to be used to confirm the concepts.

    Discerning between the Spirit and the dark side becomes easy after a brief encounter with the latter.

    Discerning between our own and God’s desire is difficult and handicapped by the fears and rules indoctrinedated into Mormon’s by the church. Many times God’s lessons for us break the rules like telling Abraham to slay Isaac. Once we discern the direction is from God we must follow it to learn, be tested and to progress even when it opposes church rules or what we think we want for ourselves. If you walk in the spirit you are not under the law.

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  4. Alexei on October 7, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    In Alma, it talks about experimenting upon the word. Moroni’s promise could largely be considered an experiment as well. I believe that we grow in our capacity to discern the Spirit from our emotions as we attempt to follow the feelings that we have identified as the Spirit. Admittedly, this can be a challenge because not every experiment ends with a definitive result as sometimes God’s purpose for us pursuing a certain course is hidden from our view.

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  5. Glenn Thigpen on October 7, 2012 at 7:17 PM

    We cannot back up everything we may receive from God with the scriptures, except maybe in general terms. The reason that we need revelation is that everything that we may possibly have a question about is not contained in the scriptures.

    Discerning between our own desires and those of God may not be easy. There may be times in any one person’s life where he or she may desire something which is good and maybe even noble, but that thing may not be God’s desires. I have been in those situations all too often. And all too often I pleaded with God for the thing that I wanted and was not overly enthusiastic about awaiting on the Lord’s answer, if I indeed could hear it at all.

    It was only until I learned to really listen and be willing to accept what the Lord wanted and to seek it, that I was able to get clear cut answers to my prayers. And those answers did not come immediately. And they most often did not come the way that I had envisioned. But I could clearly see the wisdom in the way that the Lord brought about the answers.

    Those answers have not been ambiguous either. However, it does take a lot of patience and humility to pray for something specific, but to put the question into the Lord’s hands and await His judgement and answers. There were times that I was awash in anxiety because of what I felt were impending deadlines, but they were lines imposed by man and God had His own way in dealing with them.


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  6. whizzbang on October 7, 2012 at 10:31 PM

    doesn’t God say he will tell us in our mind and in our heart though? So, I see it as a balance, what your heart wants and what your mind thinks. You can be mislead by going to the extremes on both sides. I learned that lesson that hard way. I was led to believe that whatever my YSA Bishop said was what God wants me to do, “You want to want this, right?”

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  7. Hedgehog on October 8, 2012 at 2:11 AM

    Elder Gonzalez talk came down on the side of heart…

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  8. Howard on October 8, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    Some are told in their minds many are told in their hearts and some are told using both. There are many, many ways to receive the Spirit, a burning in the bosom was specific to Oliver Cowdery. The Spirit will customize a method just for you if you let him. It is disappointing to me that the church doesn’t teach how to receive the Spirit and encourage the participants to share the many diverse ways they receive the Spirit.

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  9. Cowboy on October 8, 2012 at 11:18 AM

    If we accept the story in section 9, then God has a very strange way of communicating. He was given some “strange” characters to look at, and then he was supposed to “study it out in your mind”, and then play a game of “hot or cold” with a “burning bosom”. How was he supposed to study out the supposed BoM characters in any kind of remotely rational way?

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  10. Justin on October 8, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    I agree with Cowboy’s [#1] answer. It reminded me of C.S. Lewis:

    I say the gods deal very unrightly with us. For they will neither (which would be the best of all) go away and leave us to live our own short days to ourselves, nor will they show themselves openly and tell us what they would have us do. For that too would be endurable.

    But to hint and hover, to draw near us in dreams and oracles, or in a waking vision that vanishes as soon as seen, to be dead silent when we question them and then glide back and whisper (words we cannot understand) in our ears when we most wish to be free of them, and to show to one what they must hide from another; what is all this but cat-and-mouse play, blindman’s buff, and mere jugglery?

    Why must holy places be dark places?

    I feel like if God had something to say — He’d say it. He wouldn’t need to rely on the preservation of thousands-of-years-old text written by Judean sheep-herders. He wouldn’t need established policy, reasoned interpretations, inspired feelings, etc.

    If Moses and the Israelites could experience His direction as a visible pillar of electric-plasma and specific and audible words — then why couldn’t we?

    I was attracted to the LDS church because they were the only ones saying that it can be for us now, as it was for them then. That the gods didn’t “hint and hover” among Mormons — but we could have continuing words of God, visions, prophecies, revelations, tongues, angelic ministrations, etc. again [as the scriptures describe having existed anciently].

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  11. Howard on October 8, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    Hot or cold is where it begins and unfortunately where it too often ends for many TBMs. As one progresses they learn to receive thought words and then concepts. Discerning them accurately in the beginning is very difficult so hot and cold are used as a teaching tool much like teaching a child to read.

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  12. Cowboy on October 8, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    I hesitate to even comment Howard, only because I don’t actually believe in revelation, and so I don’t want to come across as being facetious. I understand what you are proposing, but I’m still lost on the issue of demarcation. You state:

    “discerning them accurately in the beginning is very difficult…”. So how exactly is this accomplished? What is the criteria of measurement/demarcation?

    Justin’s point was spot on, that the most compelling assertion in Mormonism is the literal belief in revelation. However, I would argue that the rhetorical value of that assertion is diminished by the lack of clarity, and more likely, reality, to the claim. We can’t however, take the discussion beyond assertions and generalizations if those who claim to understand this experience can’t address simple things like measurement process’s.

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  13. Howard on October 8, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    How exactly did you learn to read?

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  14. Cowboy on October 8, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    I was provided with an alphabet and grammar, taught the rules of modern english, and then I put all of that to practice. I would assume that the rhetorical part of your questions is the implication on practice. If so we agree to that end, but disagree if you believe that practice was even possible without a study of the rules.

    To follow that line a little more, I recall reading excercises in school. My confidence in my understanding of the “rules” was reinforced by unambiguous group excercises. In class of 30+ students, one student would read out loud from a book, while the rest of us followed along silently. The consistency between how the voice students words matched with the written words I was reading, was good confirmation that I was doing it correctly. This is a strong measurement for reading progress. There are also comprehension excerises, where a person must explain in their own words, what they just read. This is another point of measurement.

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  15. Howard on October 8, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    It would help greatly if the church provided the foundational basis for receiving revelation, groups outside the church do this by teaching the basics of meditation but yes I was referring to what you call practice. The teacher has the student sound out the words as they begin to read and provides hot and cold guidance and motivation as the student progresses. The Spirit does the same as the newbie learns to interpret the thought words or concepts offered via. telepathy.

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