While we Latter-day Saints emphasize the reality of revelation and inspiration from God in the operation of the Church and recognize that we can receive inspiration from God in our own lives and in our stewardship in the Church, we would be wise to be cautious about making any claims to having received such. This is the theme of a noteworthy article by Orson Scott Card, “Be Careful Claiming Inspiration.” I encourage you to read and ponder that article before weighing in.
Even Church leaders such as bishops, who may have keys entitling them to receive revelation for the work of their ministry, need to recognize that not every idea and thought, no matter how prayerfully obtained, is necessarily inspired. Decisions made while seeking prayer and revelation can still be bad decisions. I can say that because I’ve served in that role and can see that while there were many times when I have no doubt real inspiration was received, there were also times when I made poor decisions on my own.
But even those ideas that are inspired and obtained from revelation should be given caution in terms of what claims are made. Orson Scott Card makes the point that claiming an idea or thought is inspired tends to shut off discussion and close doors to further light and knowledge that may have come had others been allowed to treat it as a proposal for consideration and discussion. I think the same can apply to callings. A decision to issue a calling to someone may be inspired and often is, but there may also be good reasons why that person should not or cannot accept that calling. There are dangers in declaring that the Lord wants that person to serve in a calling before we learn that, for example, the person is moving away next week or has a major issue making them unable to serve.
The first calling I ever issued as a new counselor in a bishopric in Atlanta was one I prepared for and wanted to be a spiritual experience. When I issued the calling to the woman, tears came to her eyes. “Wow,” I thought, “this is cool. A spiritual experience!” Then she blurted out, “I need to get out of this church.” Yikes! I ran over to the bishop and had him meet with her in his office. This was a less-active woman who was struggling with major issues. It would have been unwise for me to proclaim that God wanted her to serve in that Relief Society calling at the time (I didn’t say that, fortunately). My meeting with her led to her being able to come in and talk with the bishop and move forward in some way. I’m not sure where she ended up–the bishop kept that completely confidential. Accepting the calling would have been absolutely wrong, but perhaps the decision to invite her in to discuss a calling was an inspired catalyst, perhaps, though the calling was not right for her to accept.
Revelation is sacred and real, but it is not a faucet that can be turned on at will or one that drips continually. The influence of the Spirit in guiding us, when we are open to its influence, can be clear and direct at times, but most often is quiet and subtle, a still small voice, that can easily get shouted down by the obnoxiously loud voice of our own will. It’s fair to always be a little hesitant in declaring that something that has entered into our head is necessarily revelation from God. I like the way Brother Card frames this complex issue.