The following is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a friend today.
As I mentioned, I’ve been thinking about our discussion of personal revelation (I’ve included another friend in this message since you said that you and he have the same basic modus operandi). You said that your normal procedure is to examine a problem from every possible angle, decide upon the solution that seems to make the most sense, pray, maybe but certainly not always receive a confirmation that you’ve made the right decision, and then move forward with that decision, while J?B and I seem to have a more efficient insta-revelatory method. I admit that I do receive answers to questions/problems in this way, maybe even frequently, and I love it when that happens. But I’ve found that, as a rule, God uses this method only when the answer or idea is something I wouldn’t or couldn’t have thought of on my own. Generally, I study questions to death and beyond, trying to find the best answer (and worried that I’m going to get it wrong – but that’s a whole nuther subject); when I think I’ve made a decision, I ask God about it, and then, like you, move forward even if I don’t feel I’ve received a clear confirmation (following D&C 9:7 and 58:26). Sometimes when I’m weighing the options I can see, God sends me an entirely new option – one, again, that I would never have thought of myself. In other situations, God has to intervene because I’m ignoring all signs that I’m heading down the wrong path – as when last year He told me very clearly what my ideal weight was (I was not at all happy about that at first). And then, sometimes God sends me ideas completely out of the blue – for example, that I should move to Germany for a few months. In all of these cases, whatever He’s telling me to do is really important, so He has to do some prompting to make sure I get it. You’re probably very good at figuring out what God wants, so He doesn’t have to supply creativity in your case. 🙂
All this brings up the completely valid question of how I know whether a prompting comes from God or from my own sometimes overexcited imagination. The clearest indication that it’s from God is, again, that it’s something I wouldn’t have thought of myself. There’s also an indescribable but unmistakable feeling that accompanies most of these revelations. In the absence of unprecedented creative genius or obvious emotional response, though, I just have to apply the Ether 4:12/Moroni 7:13 litmus test – if it’s something good, that will make someone else happy, or at the very least won’t hurt anyone, then I figure I might as well do it.
End of e-mail excerpt. Beginning, I hope, of discussion.