The Precious Gift of Personal Revelation
Ricks College Devotional
October 24, 2000
It was exactly 20 years ago today that I spent my first whole day at the MTC and I was scared to death. Now I know what you're thinking, every missionary is scared on his first day, but with me it was different. You see, I had been baptized less than three years earlier and I felt I knew very little about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I had read the Book of Mormon once, but I had never read the Bible nor the Doctrine and Covenants. I had never attended an early morning "cemetery" class, and I had never participated in a family prayer or family home evening. I had been called to serve in Belgium and France, but I couldn't speak a word of French. I felt like Nephi must have felt when he was asked to get the plates of brass. You remember the story. He knew the Lord would prepare a way for him to accomplish the task but he had no clue how. He wrote, "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things I should do." (1) I felt the same way entering the MTC, although I was pretty sure I wouldn't find anyone there drunken and passed out. For the next two years, in fact, for the next 20, the Lord has directed the paths of my life in ways that I never would have expected.
I have chosen to speak today on the topic of personal revelation--more precisely, how to prepare to receive and recognize personal revelation. I'd like to illustrate the importance of this by beginning with a story.
There once was a father who had four sons. One day he sent his sons to their cabin to ready it for the winter. The cabin was located some distance away from their home, and was without phone connection, but the father didn't worry, because he had given each son a cell phone and knew that he could contact them in case of an emergency. Not long after the sons' arrival to the cabin, the father learned that because of heavy rains in the nearby mountains, the cabin was in the path of a potential flash flood. He called the first son to warn him to take his brothers and evacuate the cabin. The first son had not even turned on his cell phone and didn't receive the message. He then tried to call the second son. His phone rang, but the music he was listening to was so loud, it drowned out the phone and he didn't receive the message. He then tried to call the third son. The third son actually heard his phone ring, but he was so busy working on the cabin he didn't take time to answer it and didn't receive the message. When the fourth son's phone rang, he heard it and tried to answer it, but he wasn't used to working with a cell phone and didn't know how to get an incoming call, so he did not receive the message. The father was grieved for he had done all that he could to warn his sons, but for various reasons they would not receive his message.
This brings to mind something that Brigham Young once said, "There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God's people, he may have the Spirit of the Lord to signify to him his will, and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges" (2).
As was mentioned in the introduction, I was recently released as a bishop of one of the campus wards. Before that I served as a counselor in another campus ward. It seemed to me that every semester, starting about midterm, some of the young men and young women of the ward would start looking more friendly with each other. They also seemed much happier. I noticed that not much later some of them would schedule an interview with me, and inevitably I would hear the question, (you know, the question, the 'ring by spring or your money back' question) "Bishop, how do I know if he/she is the right one?" This afternoon, during this hour together, I would like you to pretend with me that I am your bishop and you are the ward member who just asked that most important, most vital, most perplexing question.
Now before you married students and pre-missionaries tune me out, I want you to know that this is more a talk about personal revelation than it is about getting married, so the principles I will discuss can be applied to many important situations in your life as well.
OK...so the first thing I would do as your Bishop is compliment you on your desire to do the right thing in seeking the Lord's guidance in this matter. Then I would have you turn to the bible dictionary, page 762, and read the following under the heading "revelation:"
Divine revelation is one of the grandest concepts and principles of the gospel of Jesus
Christ, for without it, man could not know of the things of God and could not be saved with any degree of salvation in the eternities. Continuous revelation from God to his saints, through the Holy Ghost or by other means such as visions, dreams, or visitations, makes possible daily guidance along true paths and leads the faithful soul to complete and eternal salvation in the celestial kingdom. The principle of gaining knowledge by revelation is the principle of salvation.
Next, ya gotta understand that revelation is a spiritual gift from the Lord. He will give it when He's ready, and it will always be in accordance with certain divine principles or spiritual laws. Can I give you some ideas of what you can do to prepare yourselves to receive revelation? I've got seven for you:
IDEA #1: Live clean, pure lives. Let me ask you a question: How many of you would take an advanced academic class without first having a knowledge of the fundamentals of that subject? Well it's just the same with personal revelation. In order to receive specific divine inspiration, you must already live the Lord's basic commandments. Elder Richard G. Scott tells us that trying to receive personal revelation while not keeping the commandments is like pouring contaminating fluid into a glass of pure water and expecting it to remain in only half of the glass, leaving the other half pure. The Spirit will not communicate continually where there is impurity. (3) In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord declared, And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done. (4) There is another reason why obedience is so important in receiving revelation. President Harold B. Lee taught a powerful principle that we're gonna get our answers from the source of the power we choose to obey. If we're following the ways of the devil, we'll get answers from the devil. If we're keeping the commandments of God, we'll get our answers from God. (5) Living a clean and pure life keeps the arteries of divine communication open. Sincere repentance is like a spiritual bypass operation that eliminates the cholesterol of sin from those arteries, thus clearing those heavenly channels again.
IDEA #2 is to search the scriptures. I love what Elder Bruce R. McConkie had to say about this. He thought that it is one of the best-kept secrets of the kingdom that prayerful study and pondering of the holy scriptures will do as much, or more than any other single thing to bring the spirit of revelation into our lives. (6) The scriptures are your personal liahona, pointing the way you should go in the wilderness of this world. They were written by prophets, many of whom were permitted to see our day. Several of the choice revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants were revealed as the prophets pondered the scriptures. (7) Nephi counseled us to "feast upon the words of Christ, for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do." (8)
Combined with scripture study is my next idea, Ask in faith. There is probably no more often repeated commandment in the scriptures than "Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (9) We may be worthy to receive revelation, we may even be feasting upon the scriptures, but if we don't ask, it is like having a driver's license and a new car, but no key. Prayer is the key to receiving revelation from the Lord.
So what does it mean if no answer comes? Maybe you're not doing the right things. Maybe you haven't been doing the right things long enough. This leads to my next suggestion, Be patient. Spiritual communication is given in the Lord's time not man's. Revelation is a process, an experience sometimes given to us "line upon line, precept upon precept." (10) Elder Boyd K. Packer has taught that spiritual things can't be forced. Don't be impatient to gain great spiritual knowledge. Let it grow, help it grow, but do not force it or you will open the way to be misled. (11) Forcing revelation is like baking bread and turning the oven up to 500 degrees so it will cook faster. The results will be disastrous.
So what can you do while you are patiently waiting on the Lord? Suggestion # 5 is Do everything that is in your power. During my last year as bishop, we had almost 20 marriages in the ward, and that was consistently the biggest piece of advice that I gave to my ward members.
They reasoned that since they didn't have that sure confirmation beforehand, they were justified in not making any action at all until they did. Remember you shouldn't be asking the Lord to guide your steps if you aren't willing to move your feet. Heavenly Father has given you your agency and common sense along with certain talents, gifts and abilities. He expects you to use them in your decision making process. Then when you have chosen a course of action you can approach Him in prayer for a confirmation. Listen to how Elder McConkie chose his wife:
How do you choose a wife? I've heard a lot of young people from Brigham Young University and elsewhere say, 'I've got to get a feeling of inspiration. I've got to get some revelation. I've got to fast and pray and get the Lord to manifest to me whom I should marry.' Well, maybe it will be a little shock to you, but never in my life did I ever ask the Lord whom I ought to marry. It never occurred to me to ask him. I went out and found the girl I wanted; she suited me; I evaluated and weighed the proposition, and it just seemed a hundred percent to me as though this ought to be. Now, if I'd done things perfectly, I'd have done some counseling with the Lord, which I didn't do; but all I did was pray to the Lord and ask for some guidance and direction in connection with the decision I'd reached. A more perfect thing to have done would have been to counsel with him relative to the decision and get a spiritual confirmation that the conclusion, which I by my agency and faculties had arrived at, was the right one. (12)
On one occasion, shortly after his call as a General Authority, Elder Packer received some counsel about a problem from President David O. McKay. Elder Packer said he was very willing to be obedient but saw no way possible to do as he was counseled. He then went to Elder Harold B. Lee and explained the situation. Then Elder Lee said, 'The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.' Elder Packer replied that he would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then, Elder Packer said, came the lesson of a lifetime. Elder Lee told him, "You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you." (13) Walk to the edge of the light and then a few steps into the darkness. There seems to be a delicate partnership here, to work as if everything depends on you and to pray as if everything depends on the Lord.
The saying goes that hindsight is 20/20 vision, but looking back now, every major decision I have made in life (and that includes joining the Church, going to BYU, going to Ohio State, choosing a career, even coming to Ricks) was made without a 100% sure knowledge that those were the things I was supposed to do. They felt right. I considered the alternatives and they didn't feel right. I look back on them now and have no doubt that they were right. But at the time I went forward with my plans, having faith in the Lord, knowing that as long as I stayed close to Him and sought His help, He would lead me by the hand, and give me answer to my prayers. (14)
IDEA #6 is, Be calm and at peace. The Lord told Joseph Smith, "Be still and know that I am God." (15) Elder Packer has addressed this theme many times in his general conference addresses, for example:
Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable, Comforter abound in the scriptures...(The trend in the world today) to more noise, more excitement, more contention, less restraint, less dignity, less formality is not coincidental nor innocent nor harmless. The first order issued by a commander mounting a military invasion is the jamming of the channels of communication of those he intends to conquer. Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit. (16)
A very good time for receiving personal revelation is in the early morning. When Elder Marion G. Romney, formerly a counselor in the First Presidency, was first called to be a General Authority, he went to his good friend, Elder Harold B. Lee of the Council of the Twelve, for some advice. His counsel is valuable instruction to us all. Elder Lee said, "My friend, I will give you one piece of advice: Go to bed early and get up early. If you do, your body and mind will become rested and then in the quiet of those early morning hours, you will receive more flashes of inspiration and insight than at any other time of the day." (17)
It is also important to remember that we can only truly be at peace when we are in harmony with our lives and with those around us. President Lee said that if we're worried about something or upset in our feelings, the inspiration won't come. But if we live so that our minds are free from worry and our conscience is clear and our feelings are right toward others, the operation of the Spirit of the Lord upon our spirit is as real as when we pick up the telephone. (18) On one occasion while Joseph was still translating the Book of Mormon, he and Emma had a disagreement. Joseph couldn't continue the translation until he asked Emma's forgiveness and made things right with her. (19)
My final idea is this: Write down the promptings you receive and act quickly upon them. When you know that he/she is the right one, don't be afraid to act. Remember that revelation always comes as a conclusion, not necessarily as an explanation. Elder Scott remarked that when the Lord gives gentle promptings in answer to our prayers, sometimes they require us to think, to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act. The whole answer to an important matter or complex problem rarely comes all at once. Usually, it comes a piece at a time, without the end in sight. (20) I firmly believe that the more you act upon the promptings you receive, the more your ability to receive future promptings is increased. Elder Scott believes that we often leave the most precious personal direction of the Spirit unheard because we don't record and respond to the first promptings that come to us when we pray. (21)
So, again, those seven ways to prepare to receive revelation are: 1) Live clean, pure lives; 2) Search the scriptures; 3) Ask in faith; 4) Be patient; 5) Do everything that is in your power; 6) Be calm and at peace; and 7) Write down the promptings you receive and act quickly upon them.
Now let's talk briefly about how personal revelation will usually come to you. You need to know that the way the Lord chooses to communicate to you is extremely personal. Hopefully you have already experienced the workings of the Spirit many times in your life. Please know that the Lord will not use a different manner to manifest His will to you now. I have heard Elder Packer say that as an apostle, he listens now to the same inspiration, coming from the same source, in the same way that he listened to as a boy, only now the signal is much clearer. (22) One common mistake is to look for some kind of heaven-rending major manifestation of the spirit accompanied by an angel or lightning and thunder. President Spencer W. Kimball said that most revelation comes to today's prophet in the less spectacular way--that of deep impressions, without spectacle or glamour or dramatic events. If we always expect the spectacular, we may entirely miss the constant flow of revealed communication. (23) Elder Neal A. Maxwell expressed it this way, God doesn't send thunder if a still, small, voice is enough or a prophet if a priest can do the job. (24) Don't ever think that just because someone else seems to have had a major spiritual experience and you haven't, that you are somehow less worthy or less loved by our Father in Heaven. Be assured that He whose work and glory is your "immortality and eternal life" (25) will not leave you without help or comfort.
At the risk of great personal embarrassment, may I illustrate this important point with a story from my own life? When it was time to propose to Karen, I had everything all ready. I took her to a little, romantic French restaurant where we enjoyed a soft candlelight dinner. (That's always the best way to eat snails.) But I couldn't bring myself to propose because I was doing exactly what President Kimball said I shouldn't do. I was looking for some major manifestation. I felt I was entitled to it. After all, wasn't this the most important decision I would ever make in my life? Now here's the embarrassing part: I excused myself to go to the bathroom and while there I pleaded one last time for that visitation or lightning to come. Nothing. After quite a few minutes, (Karen insists it was longer than that) I returned to the table and we left. But as we were going to the car, I realized that I really had already received my answer. When I considered making her my wife, I felt at peace and it seemed right. When I pondered the prospect of breaking up or living my life without her, I experienced a cold, empty feeling and I knew it wasn't right. So I proposed to her in the parking lot, in the middle of backing up my car. What a romantic, eh?!
Well, enough of that! Now let's look at some examples of how the Spirit works in the scriptures. Please turn with me to the New Testament, Galatians chapter 5 verses 22 & 23, page 1479. Here Paul gives a quick checklist of the workings of the Spirit. We read, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (which, according to the footnote, means self-control): against such there is no law."
Now please turn with me to Doctrine and Covenants, section 6, verse 15. I don't think it is a coincidence that several of the early revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith contain descriptions of how the Spirit works. In fact, one could say that he was being tutored in the workings of the Spirit while he was receiving revelations on other matters. In Section 6, verse 15 we read, "Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth." Now look at verse 23: "Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?" Now turn the page to Section 8, verses 2 and 3: "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind (thoughts) and in your heart (feelings), by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation..." Now turn the page to Section 9, verse 8: "But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right." Now please turn to Section 11, verses 12 and 13: "And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good--yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy."
You know that in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants, the scriptures refer to the Spirit as the "still, small voice." (26) Elder Packer stated that the Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all. (27) Notice how he used the word feel to describe the workings of the Spirit. This is the same word Nephi used in chastising his older brothers saying, "Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time, and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words." (28)
Inspiration from the Lord can also come as flashes of ideas. The Prophet Joseph told the Quorum of the Twelve, "A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon..." (29)
Now if you're not yet familiar with the way the Spirit communicates to you, don't worry. Joseph also told the Twelve that it is possible to "grow into the principle of revelation." (30) This is a gift that the Lord grants only after effort and repetition. All of us need to constantly develop this spiritual skill in our lives. Even the Prophet Joseph was not exempt. It is interesting to note that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to receive half of the first 16 revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants. (31) Joseph told Orson Pratt that at first the Lord gave him the Urim and Thummim when he was inexperienced in the spirit of inspiration. But later when he had advanced so far that he understood the operation of that spirit he didn't need the assistance of the Urim and Thummim anymore. (32)
Perhaps at this point you may have a question: How can you tell whether what you're feeling is true inspiration or indigestion or even "sinspiration" from Satan? Please turn with me to Doctrine and Covenants section 28. This revelation was given at a time when Hiram Page, who was one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was pretending to receive revelations for the Church with the help of a seer stone. In Doctrine and Covenants section 28, starting in verse 11, the Lord gave Joseph and the Church three ways to guard against false revelation:
And again, thou shalt take they brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him; For behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants. For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith (11-13).
Did you catch the three tests? If all three tests are positive, then what you are feeling or thinking is revelation. The first is found in verse 11. True revelation must be "of me." We are told in the scriptures that anything that is of God will edify, or in other words, uplift the recipient. This applies to your relationship too. Are you better people when you're with each other? Does each of you inspire the other to do his or her best in studies, jobs, church callings, and other significant responsibilities? Or do you both live below your standards and ideals when you are together? President Gordon B. Hinckley asked, "How do we recognize the promptings of the Spirit? That which is of Christ does edify, and if we have that feeling of edification, then we may know that the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost, is speaking to us." (33) For more details how to judge between good and evil, read Moroni chapter 7. For lack of time we won't turn there now.
The second test is found in verse 12. The Lord says that "these things have not been appointed unto him." Or, as the Prophet Joseph put it, "I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority higher than themselves." (34) Elder Dallin H. Oaks calls this the principle of "stewardship in revelation." About this principle Elder Oaks taught the students at BYU the following:
I have heard of cases where a young man told a young woman she should marry him because he had received a revelation that she was to be his eternal companion. If this is a true revelation, it will be confirmed directly to the woman if she seeks to know. In the meantime, she is under no obligation to heed it. She should seek her own guidance and make up her own mind. The man can receive revelation to guide his own actions but he cannot properly receive revelation to direct hers. She is outside his stewardship." (35)
This is completely consistent with another divine principle, the law of witnesses, whereby "in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." (36)
The third test is also found in verse 12, namely, true revelation must not be "contrary to the church covenants." In other words, it will be consistent with the principles of the gospel as revealed in the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets. In 1945 the First Presidency republished a message first given by the First Presidency in 1913, part of which contains this statement, "Be not led by any spirit or influence that discredits established authority...or leads away from the direct revelations of the Church. The Holy Ghost does not contradict its own revealings. Truth is always harmonious with itself." (37) For example, the Lord would not inspire a young woman to marry a young man before he serves a mission or tell a couple to marry outside the temple.
Now, as your bishop, after all this, I want you to remember three things: First, the Lord loves you and wants you to be happy and succeed in your life. Second, through personal revelation He has given you a precious gift that you can use to include Him in every major decision in your life. Third, remember that revelation will come in the Lord's time after you have prepared yourself to receive it. And usually it will come as still and small whisperings of the Spirit.
I testify that the principles we have discussed are true and that the Lord still continues today to direct that scared elder of 20 years ago. I am so thankful for the guidance the Lord has given me throughout my life--especially in helping me choose Karen as my wife. Personal revelation is one of the greatest gifts from a benevolent Heavenly Father and one of the greatest proofs that He lives and loves us. It is my prayer that we will always live worthy of our privileges with the Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. 1 Nephi 4:6.
2. Discourses of Brigham Young, 32
3. Gospel Principles, 15-16.
4. D&C 50:29.
5. Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 422.
6. Doctrines of the Restoration, 243-244.
7. For example, see headings to sections 17, 74, 76, 77, 86, 113, and 138.
8. 2 Nephi 32:3.
9. For example, Matt. 7:7; Luke 11:9; 3 Ne. 14:7; 27:29; D&C 4:7; 6:5; 11:5; 12:5; 14:5; 49:26; 66:9; 75:27; 88:63.
10. D&C 98:12.
11. That All May Be Edified, 338.
12. "Agency or Inspiration," New Era, Jan 1975, p. 40.
13. BYU Today, Mar. 1991, 22-23.
14. See D&C 112:10.
15. D&C 101:16.
16. The Things of the Soul, 91-92.
17. To Grow in Spirit, 28.
18. Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 415.
19. Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:131.
20. Ensign, Nov. 1989, 32.
21. Gospel Principles, 8.
22. That All May Be Edified, 14.
23. We Believe, 856.
24. The Neal A. Maxwell Sourcebook, 288.
25. See Moses 1:39.
26. See Hel. 5:30; 3 Ne. 11:3; 1 Kings 19:11-12; D&C 85:6.
27. That All May Be Edified, 11.
28. 1 Nephi 17:45.
29. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 151.
30. ibid, 151.
31. See headings to sections 3, 6, 7, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17.
32. (Millennial Star, Vol. 36, June 27, 1874, 497-498.
33. Ensign, Aug. 2000, 2.
34. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 21.
35. "Revelation," BYU Speeches of the Year, 1981, 25.
36. See 2 Cor. 13:1.
37. Messages of the First Presidency, 6:245.