Question: Why might someone not be able to see their spiritual impressions come to successful, obvious, and/or beautiful fruition?

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Question: Why might someone not be able to see their spiritual impressions come to successful, obvious, and/or beautiful fruition?

Introduction to Question

It is sometimes wondered how one might respond to a situation in which an impression to do or believe something doesn’t come to fruition—whether that be in an immediate, obvious, or good way.

This article will offer a number of things to consider when in this type of a situation. They are not things we have to constantly be worrying about when trying to receive inspiration nor are they set possibilities. These are simply all the logical possibilities as the author sees them that you can consider when confronted with this type of a situation. One is free to reject or embrace these possibilities as they feel best fits their circumstances and/or they feel comfortable with.

Response to Question

1. Consider that the impression is brought to fruition without you immediately recognizing the benefit

The first thing we can always consider is that the impression has brought fruit but that it won’t be immediately obvious to us how those experiences benefit us or the life of someone else right now or in the future.

2. The Lord may have wanted to see if you'd merely follow through with the revelation

Many faithful members have reconciled such situations by seeing that the Lord may have simply wanted them to follow the impression so that he knows that you are faithful enough to at the very least follow through with the impressions he wants you to have.

3. Continuing in light until the perfect day (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)

Just as the Lord has given his will for the entire human family "line upon line", could it be that the Lord accommodates revelation to our particular understanding until a later time when he's ready to give us further knowledge about something? Could it be that we are not ready for some knowledge in particular but that the Lord intends to reveal something to us later when we are more mature and able to receive it? Doctrine and Covenants 40:24 tells us that "[t]hat 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." It could be that our incomplete revelation now will be added on with the light of experience or even further revelation from the Holy Ghost.

Consider what any parent has to do when their young children ask them where babies come from. They have to accommodate their understanding until a later time when they are spiritually and emotionally mature enough to know the whole truth. Could it be that God, in a similar way, allows us to hold onto one narrative about what is true and maybe even gives that to us by revelation until a later time when we are mature enough to know the whole truth? As Paul reminds us, milk before meat is a true principle.[1]

4. Dallin H. Oaks: "[A person may have] a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but . . . unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things."

Dallin H. Oaks teaches that we can be led by false revelation if we extend our desire to receive revelation into praying about unnecessary things:

[A person may have] a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but . . . unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things. A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don't receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable. We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment. Persons who persist in seeking revelatory guidance on subjects on which the Lord has not chosen to direct us may concoct an answer out of their own fantasy or bias, or they may even receive an answer through the medium of "false revelation"[2]

5. There is some other greater good that you are not aware of right now but will be in the future

If you miss the fruition of an impression, it may bring about a greater good as when Joseph was sold into Egypt. Sometimes the greater good is not immediately forthcoming or obvious to us.

6. The Lord is chastening you

The Lord tells us that he chastens us and scourges us because he loves us in Proverbs, Hebrews, and Helaman.[3] We have to be faithful to receive blessings. When we are humble we are more likely to be faithful and turn to him for assistance. King Limhi in the Book of Mormon taught his people that "if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage."[4]

7. The Lord is providing you an Abrahamic test of faith

It provides an Abrahamic test of faith. The prophet Joseph Smith is canonized saying “deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become second nature to me, and I feel like Paul, to glory in tribulation”.[5] The Lord isn’t going to spare us any test of faith in life. He told Brigham Young that "[m]y people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom."[6] He will actively test us to prepare us for greater things. Trying to learn how to receive and follow inspiration and trust in God is not an exception.

8. Confusing an emotion for the Spirit

It is possible to confuse emotion for a spiritual impression. Sometimes a warm feeling or heart murmur may be over-interpreted as coming from a spiritual stimulus. We should take time when trying to receive inspiration to ponder what we are feeling and seek to counsel long with the Lord if wanting to receive an answer to prayer.

9. You received a true revelation, but didn't interpret it correctly

Some people do receive an impression, but don’t interpret them correctly. Oftentimes we are receiving inspiration from the Spirit to confirm a thought but perhaps we aren’t still enough to capture its still small voice and we may get distracted from what it is trying to communicate to us. Some revelation requires conscious thought to interpret correctly. The Doctrine & Covenants records Joseph Smith having to be left to wonder as to the proper meaning of revelation that he received relative to the Second Coming of the Savior (Doctrine & Covenants 130: 12-17). We may have to do the same at different points of our lives. As a word of caution: it may be only while looking back on that revelation in retrospect that we’ll recognize exactly why we were inspired to do, say, and or/believe something.

It is important to be still and focus so that we can carefully discern what exactly the spirit is prompting us to do and/or believe. Oftentimes we haven’t studied an issue out in our minds thoroughly as is often required of us when trying to seek inspiration. When we don’t, we may not get what we’re looking for (Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-9).

10. Wrong Roads May Lead to More Certain Conviction of the Truth

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offers apostolic perspective on this important question in this video from the Church's YouTube page.

11. Perhaps this is God giving us an opportunity to learn how to forgive a fallen divine

Here is just one thing that the author considers a logical possibility. It's not a traditional recommendation but it may be an orthodox one.

We know that God's essential nature is love from 1 John 4:8.

We also know from places like Alma 42:13, 22, 25 that God, if he ceases to do what is the most moral thing to do, ceases to be God; he ceases to have that title. We learn that it is a logical possibility for God to fail to do what is moral; what the right thing to do is. He hasn't ceased to do the most moral thing over eons of time and that's why we worship him: he could have failed to do the moral thing but he hasn't. He has remained everlastingly good.

The Lord tells Brigham Young in Doctrine & Covenants 136 that "[m]y people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom." We learn that the Lord gives us these trials so that we can be instructed in how to love and thus adopt his nature. Part of the definition of love is to restore happiness to someone's life that has had evil/pain/discomfort introduced into it.

Well, what it the Lord tries us by allowing a spiritual impression/revelation to fail for the purpose of learning a kind of "forgiveness" of the Lord for his "failure" to bring the the promised fruition?

Paradoxically, the Lord hasn't failed us because he has taught us how to tolerate and forgive the failure of a God and thus an important part of what love means and what its fullest practice is, but he has failed to provide the promised fruition of a blessing. The Lord has succeeded in instructing us in the fullest meaning of the law of love.

Conclusion

Revelation takes time to master. We should understand how the Spirit functions and continue to test our knowledge. Eventually we are promised to see fruits for our efforts—even miracles

Revelation takes time to master. The best we can do is understand how the Spirit works by reading the scriptures and following the impression we receive as best as we can discern them. We are promised that as we are humble, the Lord will lead us by the hand and give us answers to our prayers (Doctrine & Covenants 112:10) and that signs will follow the believers (Doctrine & Covenants 63:9)

A key to understanding when something is authentic is its effect on you. It should feel like it didn’t come from you or was willed by you or as Joseph Smith says, like “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.

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.” 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!

Doctrine & Covenants 50:24

The fruit of our impressions will become clearer to us as we continue in God. As expressed in Doctrine & Covenants 50:24:

24 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.

As we remain humble, patient, and allow things to play out, God will allow us to understand what he means to teach us. As we grow into the principle of revelation, we will be better prepared to understand the Lord’s design and method for shaping our lives.

Trust and Follow All Spiritual Impressions

Some may take some of the suggestions of this article to mean that they should not trust their spiritual impressions or not act on them. On the contrary, one should trust and follow all spiritual impressions since they will ultimately shape us into the type of disciples the Lord would have us be. They'll also shape us into the gods that we are meant to become after this life. Reviewing all of the proposed explanations above, one common theme running through them is that they are moments of instruction via different modes of spiritual pedagogy. They instruct us in following God and learning the law of love as taught by the Savior and the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No-one should feel any incentive to believe that their spiritual impressions are "untrustworthy" because of these different "failures" of spiritual impressions. True it is that Moroni tells us that "by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."[7] However, he does not tell us how the Holy Ghost will lead us into the truth of all things. The Holy Ghost will lead us to the truth, but how it does that may be different than we expect. Additionally, we have to remember that there are false spirits that may lead us away from the truth. Doctrine & Covenants 50:1–3 informs us of that. Perhaps God allows us to be led away by these false spirits for the purpose of shaping us as people and as disciples.

We hope that no one will turn away from the Spirit and their experiences with it because of confusions and trials of their faith such as this. It may come down to a choice to continue to believe and we hope that everyone will "choose eternal life, according to the will of [H]is Holy Spirit[.]"[8]

Notes

  1. 1 Corinthians 3:1-2
  2. Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign 24, no. 10 (October 1994): 13–14.
  3. Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-6; Helaman 15:3
  4. Mosiah 7:33
  5. Doctrine & Covenants 127:2
  6. Doctrine & Covenants 136.31
  7. Moroni 10:5
  8. 2 Nephi 2:28. Emphasis added.