How do you know that the inspiration you receive in prayer is a communication from God? What makes an inspiration “from God” and not simply a “good idea”? The answer is: the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know about you, but when I took religion in grade school it often felt like the memorization of a bunch of lists: the Ten Commandments, the cardinal virtues, the seven deadly sins, the precepts of the Church, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and on, and on, and on. At that time I hated memorizing all that stuff. I complained and whined. “Memorization… yuck,” I would think to myself. Then when it came time to buckle down and do the work of committing the lists to memory I would slump my shoulders, huff a disgruntled sigh and mope my way through the activity. Be that as it may, if I was to go back to my younger self I would simply say, “Suck it up. This is important even if you can’t see why.” (Oh wait, that’s what my parents said! Nowww I get it!)
Among those many lists that I memorized were the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, modesty, chastity, long-suffering. While at the time I simply rambled off that list to get a good grade (motivated by a fear of being grounded) as I grew in the spiritual life I realized how invaluable that list is to understanding my relationship with the Living God. That list is the answer to the questions listed up above. How do I know an inspiration is from God: by recognizing the fruits of the Holy Spirit that accompany an inspiration.
You see, the fruits of the Holy Spirit are the “gas gage” of the soul. Just like a gas gage lets me know my truck is full of gas when the needle leans towards the ‘F’, so too, I know that I am ‘filled’ with the Spirit of God when I tangibly see the fruits present in my prayer. If an inspiration in prayer is filled with peace, patience, long-suffering, goodness and the like then I can be certain it is motivated by the Spirit of God. Conversely, if the needle on my gas gage is leaning toward the ‘E’ then I know I am low on gas, so too, if my prayer is ‘low’ on the fruits of the Holy Spirit then it is not from God. If prayer is filled with anxiety, frustration, judgementalism, immediate gratification, and the like, then it is not from God and one should not act in accord with that inspiration.
So, as we near the feast of Pentecost, my advice is this: pull up your boot straps and memorize the fruits of the Holy Spirit. They will tell you if you are in a good relationship with the living God.