An essential part of spiritual growth is learning to seek and receive personal direction from the Lord. This is often a challenge; requiring us to stretch in ways that are uncomfortable, sometimes taking action that we do not fully understand. Thankfully we are not left to muddle through on our own. If we step out in faith and follow those commands we will find the support, comfort, and guidance we need to successfully complete them. The promise Heavenly Father extended to Father Lehi as He explained that food would be made edible in the wilderness without fire is also extended to each of us: "And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. (1 Nephi 17:13 emphasis added)
Note that Heavenly Father doesn’t promise to explain to our friends where or why He will lead us, nor has He promised that the paths He leads us in will appear to be the most likely, reasonable, or logical. His promise is that we will know it is by Him that we are led, not that we will know He is leading others, or that others will know His hand guides us. No one can know the state of another’s relationship with Father, or the veracity of what she claims to have received through personal revelation, with the narrow exception of those few individuals whose authority extends that far. And yet sometimes, perhaps often, well-meaning friends and family will second-guess and criticize our decisions. This is a natural response to someone announcing plans that are out of the ordinary. Most of us have experienced both sides of this phenomenon. Who has not, at some point, reacted skeptically to a loved one whose decision seems ill-advised? And who has not, at some point, received clear guidance from the Spirit, made a decision to act upon it, only to find little or no support from loved ones who believe he is acting rashly or illogically?
This skepticism is often exploited by Satan, who wants to shake our confidence in our communication with God. He will use these well-intentioned, even righteous, friends and family members to try to confuse and dissuade us from what the Lord has instructed us to do. In these situations it is incumbent upon us to be steadfast and focused on what Heavenly Father has revealed to our hearts, even if everyone in our lives advises the opposite. “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. “ ( 2 Nephi 4:34)
But is it not true that Satan has the power to disguise himself and send us false promptings, masquerading as an “angel of light?” (2 Nephi 9:9) Yes. Satan may prey on our emotions, particularly when they run high, and attempt to misdirect us. What a blessing, then, that Father has given instructions on how to discern between the still small voice of the Comforter and the devil in angel’s clothing. Moroni 7 illuminates this beautifully. If you are facing an important decision and are unsure of your ability to discern His answer, read verses 12-19 of this wonderful chapter. In it we are told that everything that inspires us to do good is of God, and everything that entices toward evil is of the devil. God will not urge us to anything that is not in keeping with the revealed gospel, and Satan will not encourage us to do anything that is.
Furthermore, we are instructed to take care in our judgments. We stand to lose just as much from failing to heed a prompting from the Lord as we do from heeding one from Satan. If we fail to follow Father’s guidance when He speaks to us, He will soon stop, and the Spirit will send no more promptings. Like a muscle that atrophies, our ability to hear Him will shrink and wither. But if we hearken and obey promptly, that spiritual muscle becomes robust, the voice of the Lord ever louder in our ears, our hearts, our minds. We may move forward with peace and utter confidence that just as He will send us promptings, He will provide us the means of verifying that they come from Him.
“Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.” (Moroni 7:14-15) Once again, the promise that we may know of a surety by whom we are led. President Harold B. Lee expanded on the source of promptings in an article from February 1980’s Liahona, “Revelation and You” : “We get our answers from the source of the power we tend to obey. If we are following the ways of the devil, we will get answers from the devil. If we are keeping the commandments of God, we will get our answer from God.” If we are living righteously, and especially if we are actively seeking the Lord’s will and guidance, we are assured that we might know “with a perfect knowledge” that “it is by me that ye are led.”
Oh yes, Satan may at times fool even the “very elect,” and often these false promptings take the form of convincing a good person to cast doubt on true guidance a sister or brother in Zion has received. Just think, Enos wrestled with the Spirit to receive his answers. (Enos 1) In order to obtain clear guidance from Father, we frequently must strive and search, reasoning in our minds, seeking in the scriptures, fasting and praying. If it takes this much effort for my friend to receive personal revelation from the Lord regarding a problem she faces, what is the likelihood that I, after giving approximately three seconds’ consideration to her quandary, will receive instantaneous inspiration from God about the course of action she should take? Is it not far more likely that with a predisposition on my part toward skepticism, perhaps even criticism of her, Satan might give me just enough of a nudge to make me feel very wise and correct in telling her she is misguided and urging her to doubt the promptings she has received from the Lord?
We often do have an obligation to offer an outside perspective when a friend is deep in the mire of some personal trial, and part of offering loving insight may be asking (gently) if she is certain of the answers to her prayers. Providing a sounding board, helping with the “reasoning out” process, pro-ing and con-ning a bit may be an invaluable aid to her, assuming we do this with a properly placed heart. But, it is one of the loneliest feelings on earth to step out in faith, acting on hard-earned promptings from our Father, only to face criticism and derision from our fellow-saints. If we know the friend we are counseling is generally righteous and faithful, and that she has earnestly sought Father’s will, there is no reason to doubt her when she says she has obtained an answer from this loving father. And there is certainly no reason to assume we know more about her life or the Lord’s private communication with her than she does! I regret that I have ever been so careless with a sister or brother’s spirit.
It is not given for us to know the Lord’s will for our peers. I would hate to learn that I’d allowed myself to be manipulated by the Evil One and persuaded someone in a fragile state to take a path other than the one Heavenly Father had provided. As silly as she looks out in her yard hammering away at that ark, if I know her to be a faithful daughter of God, who seeks His guidance and does her best to follow His commandments, the best thing I can do is give her the benefit of the doubt and ask, sister, do you need any more nails? I pray we may all be and find such friends.
May we always know the daylight from the dark night, and always know the one by whom we are led!