How do you distinguish between spiritual voices?

Question: How do you distinguish between the voice of God, the voice of Satan and your own (internal) voice?


“Several years ago a brother in my ward, during his talk in Sacrament Meeting, quoted a statement from an author I did not recognize that has profoundly changed my ability to distinguish the origin of my thoughts. He said, quoting the author, that 80% of our thoughts are not our own.

Inwardly, I disagreed and decided at that moment that I would monitor my thoughts for 1 month, to prove him wrong and to satisfy my curiosity about how much of my thoughts really are not my own.

The first week of the experiment, I found that i monitored few of my thoughts in a day. I was accustomed, as most of us are, to function on auto-pilot while being influenced by many of these random thoughts.

By the beginning of the second week, I was determined and much more focused. As a thought would manifest itself (and again, I had to make my thoughts one of my highest priorities during this time period), I would filter it through a series of qualifying questions:

(1) Was it negative? Did it tear down myself or suggest I tear down another? Did it inspire selfishness or self-centeredness? Did I feel worse for having entertained it? Did it breed fear, anger, jealousy, hopelessness, impatience?

(2) Was it positive? Did it lift and inspire me to accomplish more? Or while recognizing a weakness, did it give love and encouragement? If it neither built nor tore down, was the thought random, “pure inspiration,” clear pure thoughts that “came from nowhere”? Was it “brilliant?” Did it give insights on how to solve a problem? If it gave direction, and if I was uncertain about it being my thoughts, did it provide a feeling of peace and stability with the information? Was I “arguing with myself”?

(3) Did the thoughts follow a logical pattern, step by step process of thinking through a problem or situation, or if scattered, have an obvious initiation from something I had just seen or heard? Did my thought seem whimsical, wishful or a realization of a need?

I generally followed this thought process until I had categorized it. As each week built upon the previous week’s success, not only my awareness of my thoughts increased, but also my ability to more quickly and confidently label my thoughts.

With this increased ability came the responsibility to then act accordingly. Although that may sound obvious, it proved to be more difficult than the original exercise. I discovered that I had developed bad habits of entertaining negative thoughts that took great effort to abolish.

I discovered, also, that obedience is much simpler when I am only aware of about 1/2 of my thoughts as I now realized that I received many promptings and insights in a single hour.

And, yes, I discovered that over 80% of my thoughts were not my own. Even years later, with some laziness having crept in, I am still much more keenly aware of my thoughts than I ever used to be, and much more confident about recognizing which camp I am in and determining to move if in the wrong one.

I encourage any who truly want to develop confidence in recognizing promptings to try this exercise for one month. I truly believe you will find it surprising, trying to monitor your every thought, and very rewarding.”

Lora Smith
“This is a great question. We know that in our fallen state men are carnal, sensual and devilish (Mosiah 16:3, Moses 6:49). We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). As fallen beings, our desires often conflict with Gods desires. For example,Joseph Smith was warned that if he followed after “the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall…” (D&C 3:4)

So when we desire something, or feel inspiration regarding something, how do we know if what we are inspired or not?

It is important that we purify our desires. Alma tells us that God, “granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life…unto salvation or unto destruction” (Alma 29:4). According to this, it is possible for a person to feel inspired about something, even if it is not what God wants for that person. Jacob (brother of Nephi) tells us that is what happened to the Jews. Since they despised words of plainness, God gave them things which they could not understand, because they desired it, even though it caused them to stumble (Jacob 4:14).

In order to avoid this, it is essential that we purge our carnal desires, and yield to the enticings of the holy spirit (Mosiah 3:19). Once we are in tune with the Holy Ghost, he changes our hearts. Alma the younger tells us there was a change wrought in his father’s heart according to his faith (Alma 5:11-12).

As we exercise faith and are obedient to God’s laws, our desires change. When we have the Holy Ghost in our lives, the fruits of the Spirit are present. Paul tells the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, righteousness and truth (Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5:9).

Scriptures tell us to ‘search diligently in the light of Christ’ (Moroni 7:19). When we are connected to truth, we are connected to light (D&C 84:45). Light and truth go together and are often used synonymously.

How can we discern if what we desire is in harmony with light and truth?

We can discern this because we can feel light. But how does light feel?

Have you ever had an experience where you said, “I feel lighter now.” Light carries with it certain emotions, the fruits of the Spirit. Darkness brings a different set of emotions, negative fruit. People say things like, “I feel down and depressed.” Those feelings come from darkness, they certainly are not the feelings that come with light.

Try this: Imagine a person full of light. What emotions would that person feel? Ponder on that for a minute. Wouldn’t they feel good emotions like love, hope, joy, gratitude and peace?

Now imagine a person full of darkness; what emotions would that person be feeling? Wouldn’t that person feel fear, anger, worry, stress, hatred, etc?

For me, it helps to look at this in two separate columns:

Light & Truth           Dark
Love                           Fear
Hope                          Despair
Joy                             Anger
Gratitude                  Worry
Peace                         Hatred
Patience                    Stress
Confidence                Doubt

Both of these lists could could include other feelings; you can add your own. Pay attention to these emotions of light and dark when you are seeking inspiration, and stay on the light side as much as possible. Scriptures tell us: “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; “ (D&C 50:23-24) When we are feeling light, we are feeling God’s influence.

Elder George Q. Cannon, also taught:

‘Whenever darkness fills our minds, we may know that we are not possessed of the Spirit of God. … When we are filled with the Spirit of God we are filled with joy, with peace, and with happiness, no matter what our circumstances may be; for it is a spirit of cheerfulness and of happiness. The Lord has given unto us the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is our privilege to have that Holy Ghost reign within us, so that from morning till night and from night till morning we shall have the joy, the light and the revelation thereof.’ (George Q. Cannon, in Brian H. Stuy, comp., Collected Discourses Delivered by President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, 5 vols. (1987–92), 4:137).”

Arden Compton

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6 Responses to How do you distinguish between spiritual voices?

  1. I LOVE this!! It resonates with me


  2. Heather Moore says:

    Thank you so much for this insight. Isn’t it interesting how by default if we’re not being proactive, then the natural man/woman will take over our thoughts? Gives me a lot of things to think about.


  3. I’m accepting the challenge to try this experiment; to analyze my thoughts for a month, as suggested in this post. In just a few moments, just by accepting the challenge, I feel already lighter, so I know I am on the right course. Like any course of learning I’ve taken, the pattern of , “… line upon line, precept upon precept …” seems to be consistent. I begin this new journey today. Thanks for the challenge.


  4. Maureen Olson says:

    Thank you so much for these wonderful posts and comments that were exactly what I needed to be reminded of and have made my day!


  5. Ella says:

    This is great stuff!
    I have been wanting to find a good way to get a better handle on the difference between thoughts and spiritual influences. Now I plan to experiment based on this!
    Here’s the plan:
    1) Pray for God’s assistance and blessings.
    2) Keep the list of qualifying questions on hand to categorize thoughts.
    3) Make a side by side list of good fruits and bad fruits to quickly pinpoint fruits as they appear.
    4) Document results.

    Thanks to everyone who contributed to the great post!!!


  6. The only way to continue to recieve light is to embrace all of the truth’s that God has placed in front of you. By living that truth, that truth becomes a light unto you which shines bright within you. Remember that as we recieve light it is meant to allow us to see the darkness that has hidden within our members, or mind, heart, body, and soul. This is the fulfillment of weak things being made strong. It is in the focus upon Christ that Brings light into our lives. As we focus upon the Rock that Rock is the only sure foundation that when we truly build upon we shall never fall.
    Hope you all are successful in bringing light, truth and the spirit of Christ into your lives.
    Your brother and friend in Christ, Paul


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