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This question has been nagging at me for a while, how can one tell the difference between honest-to-God inspiration from the Holy Spirit and thoughts that are induced by themselves out of the needs or fears of the person. The Spirit is described as a 'still small voice' which can be strikingly similar to the things you tell yourself if you want to convince yourself of something.

Example: I have this friend who went on about three dates with a guy before he proposed to her claiming he had prayed to God and received revelation from the Spirit that they were meant to be together. She of course didn't buy into it and rejected him flat out, because he had convinced himself of revelation that was simply untrue, no matter much he wanted it to be.

How can we prevent ourselves from making similar mistakes?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Caleb Jun 29 '13 at 9:23

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Welcome to C.SE. This is a good question, but it might be difficult for this site to answer. –  Affable Geek May 20 '13 at 19:02
    
This question and my answer are related. Some of the points of my answer there can translate to this issue. For example, if you have thoughts that defy Scripture, then they cannot be from God. –  fredsbend May 20 '13 at 22:05
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These things can be understood only through personal experience. Therefore, this might fall in the category of "Truth" or "Pastoral Advice" question. –  Mawia May 21 '13 at 8:21
    
As Affable noted, this is a very good question to be asking. As a Christian it is certainly something that needs to be resolved. Unfortunatly in this form it is not a good match for this site. I know it's confusing but we're really more about Christianity as an collection of beliefs and traditions than we are about the things that Christianity itself is about. You're looking for answers to life questions. All we can really do here is give you answers about what various traditions say about those questions. Do you see how this is one step removed from what you're trying to get at here? –  Caleb Jun 29 '13 at 9:29
    
We'd be hapy to walk you through figuring out what you can ask here. Do you have any idea who you want to hear from as far as what doctrinal traditions you are interested in learning about? –  Caleb Jun 29 '13 at 9:30

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Catholic Church has a fairly well-established attitude (and rules) towards private revelation. They're summarized in Contemplation - Revelations and visions. The first two, most important, "rules" regarding private revelation are explicitly mentioned:

Firstly, the spiritual director must judge whether the revelation directs the person to deeper love of God or the saints. If so, the revelation is at least "provisionally" inspired. If not, and especially if a call to some [costly] endeavor is present, the director must demand signs from God. (Note: The first rule implies that the person has a spiritual director, and that the spiritual director knows their prayer life!)

Secondly, the receiver of a revelation should resist the revelation, accepting it only after a spiritual director decides that the "seer" should place some confidence in them. (Again, an experienced spiritual director is implied!)

These particular rules seem pretty strict, intended to safeguard the "seer" and The Church against "big", public deceptions. But, slightly less stringent rules along a similar vein apply to revelations of a seemingly limited, personal matter. In particular, I'd suggest looking into St. Ignatius's Discernment of the Spirits. On the more strict end, there are 22 rules. But, the gist of it is knowing and loving God, first and foremost, and then recognizing spiritual "consolation" and "desolation."

In very rough terms, consolation is a feeling of "being set on fire with love for God." Desolation is a feeling of uncertainty, turmoil, or confusion. The basics of discernment involve, usually under the guidance of a spiritual director, imagining a decision and feeling whether it gives you consolation -- whether it sets you on fire with love for God. If not -- and especially if desolating -- it's probably not God's call.

It might be worth picking up a copy of Ignatius's spiritual exercises.

I think you'll find that the rules for discernment also call for a spiritual director. And that they also call for some reluctance in leaping to assume you've heard God's voice.

Remember: If God wants you to know something, He's not going stop bugging you after the first call. The prophets had a tendency to ignore their visions at first. Be a good prophet and do the same!

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There is actually no way you can do it by yourself. Because you would be bias towards any information. We can always pick any experience or dream and tell ourselves its a message from God or it wasn't if we didn't like the message(even if it really was from the holy spirit). fredsbend had answered this type of questions here. But even with those rules, you would still be biased.

For example.. a person had an experience and God says to him that he should sacrifice his daughter. The holy spirit had passed all the test... Like when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son.. If you had this experience.. lets say it passed all the test.. Would you even try to attempt to sacrifice your own daughter?

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This answer will assume that you think God has all authority in Heaven and Earth. He is capable, by His almighty omnipotent power, to do all that He pleases.

When concerned whether you should or should not perform an act that is allowed by Scripture because you think God might have told you to do it you always have this recourse: God the is sovereign of all that is. There is nothing that happens without God ordaining it. God does one of three things for everything that happens: He makes it happen, He stops it from happening, or He lets it happen.

With that in mind there are a few things to consider. First, do you earnestly wish for God's will to be done or your own? The Lord's prayer is clear; we are to pray for His will to "be done on Earth as it is in Heaven" (Matthew 6:9-13). The Psalms are filled with songs of conforming your thoughts to God's. If you are doing your best to be Christian, like Christ, I think it is safe to assume that your action and thought will be Christ driven.

The next thing you should consider is how righteous men in Scripture have determined the will of God when they had a thought to do something. The most notable is Gideon with the fleece (Judges 6:36-40). There is also the remaining eleven disciples deciding who to elect as a twelfth by casting lots.

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. Acts 1

Note that they started with "Lord, you know everyone's heart." They earnestly only wanted to please God.

Ultimately, no matter what your thoughts are concerning actions you should take, whether they are from God or not, this is the thrust of the Bible and our relationship with God: Trust in God. Do your best to be righteous in His eyes and believe, have faith, that He is good and Righteous in all His ways.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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I have this friend who went on about three dates with a guy before he proposed to her claiming he had prayed to God and received revelation from the Spirit that they were meant to be together.

What if we turned this around? How can he be sure it is not the great deceiver, trying to tempt your friend, via his lust, desire or any other sin?

In addition, the physical (which means carnal, not always from the spirit) brain can produce all sorts of false thoughts, messages, visions...

We can also probably twist Bible passages to support either argument.

In cases like this, stick with what is clear to you, the guessing and uncertainty is not of God.

The answer there is that there is no answer.

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

2 Corinthians 11:14

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Rom 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

Act 16:6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, Act 16:7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

How to be led by the Spirit of God by Kenneth E. Hagin and Keith Moore's Spirit Led Life v1 and the second set v2 are in detail teaching on how to revere, recognize and respond to the Holy Spirit. Brother Keith and Brother Hagin teach that its possible to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit or our own Spirit as influenced by the Holy Spirit something I disagree with as God is a Spirit not a mind and desiring to hear a voice of any form or having thoughts in your mind which do not originate from yourself can literally make you mentally ill. It is inviting problems. Kenneth Hagin talks a little bit about this in the book I recommend. However there is nothing unscriptural about knowing what is right and wrong to do based on reasons which you cannot explain. That is how I interpret Rom 8:14, Act 16:7.

Luk 12:12 For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.

There also is nothing unscriptural about speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit concerning things of the word like is said in Luke 12. We believe in speaking in tongues so naturally it need not always make sense to your mind. However randomly doing things because you "feel" like it is you not God.

Act 8:29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

Heb 10:15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,

1Ti 4:1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

Joh 5:19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

God literally speaking audibly or inaudibly to a person (rather than through a person) is rare even in the Bible. It happened in Act 8:29, Heb 10:15 and 1 Timothy 4:1. (Jesus constantly was in communication with the Father but He had the Holy Spirit without measure: John 3:34) Except when we are absolutely certain we should take credit for what we say or think rather than attributing the words we speak or thoughts we have to God. If you want to hear God's voice read the Bible and think those precisely recorded thoughts.

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