Conditioning Our Hearts and Minds to Recieve Personal Revelation
John D. Griffith
Managing Director, Pathway
I appreciate all those who have taken time out of their day to gather in this beautiful building on a campus that I so dearly love. I also appreciate and extend a special greeting to Pathway and online students participating today via the web. Please know that many here on the campus of BYU-Idaho are praying for your success and well-being.
On a recent visit to the dentist as I was situating myself into the chair, the dental hygienist, a young lady, asked me if I had a little girl. With five children, two boys and three girls, I simply assumed that she had met one of my little girls from a previous dentist appointment. So when she asked me if I had a little girl, I replied rather confidently, with a hint of pride as only a father could do, "Yes, I do; do you know one of my little girls?" to which she replied, "No, you have glitter on your face."
The hygienist had asked a simple question, one that I did not interpret very well. However, I would like to discuss a response to a simple question that I posed to a priesthood leader just over a year ago, that ultimately lead to my message today being titled, “Conditioning Our Hearts and Minds to Receive Personal Revelation.”
It all started when a colleague and I were in Tampico, Mexico, preparing to open another BYU-Idaho Pathway site. While in Tampico, we had the opportunity to spend a few days with Brother Aaron Chavez, the Institute Director who had recently returned from serving as a mission president in the Mexico City South Mission.
One afternoon we had some unscheduled time, so Brother Chavez took us for a drive around the city. I took this opportunity to ask him a wide variety of questions. One particular question and answer stood out in my mind the most. I asked Brother Chavez, “As a recently returned mission president, what do you teach differently now to pre-missionaries attending institute to help them prepare for their mission?” His answer was fairly short and concise, but I believe it can easily be applied to each of us in any stage of our lives. He said, “I teach them the importance of knowing how to receive personal revelation." Just as quickly as he answered, I followed up with another question, “And how do you do this?” In his reply, he humbly talked about how each individual must condition his or her heart and mind to learn how to recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost.
I was fascinated by the word “condition” in his response. I have pondered this word since that time. President Boyd K. Packer speaks of it in this way:
“Each of us must stay in condition to respond to inspiration and the promptings of the Holy Ghost. The Lord has a way of pouring pure intelligence into our minds to prompt us, to guide us, to teach us, and to warn us. Learn to receive and act on inspiration and revelation.”1
When I think of the phrase, “stay in condition” used by President Packer, I think of conditioning, training, and exercising. When we try to get into shape, we start an exercise program; we try to stay in condition. At first, it is hard, our muscles are sore, we are tired, but if we stay with it, over time it gets easier. This type of training and conditioning is much like the conditioning needed to receive personal revelation.
When it comes to exercising and training our hearts and our minds, we know far too well that there are no shortcuts. I am reminded of a time when my wife had trained for several months prior to running a half marathon here in Rexburg, Idaho.
On the day of the race, I thought it would be great if I gathered the kids into the car and drove to the course to cheer my wife on. We headed over to Summer’s Hill, a long up-hill stretch of the race, through some dry-farms. I stopped the car and we got out and cheered on Mom as she ran past us. We jumped back in the car and I rolled down the windows, and cheered her on as we drove past her. We parked the car again a mile or so down the road and repeated this process.
Toward the end of that particular stretch, Lily, my youngest daughter, who was two and a half years old at the time, was apparently tired of getting in and out of the car and watching Mom run passed us. Nearing our last stop, Lily stayed seated in the car with the windows rolled down. As my wife passed the car, Lily screamed out the window “Mom, get in the car!” Lily did not quite understand this process. In her mind, there was an easier way to tackle this long stretch of roadway, and she was apparently frustrated with the approach we were taking.
However, just as my wife never would have thought she could jump in the car and ride to the finish line, we too should not think that we can shortcut our approach to conditioning our hearts and minds to receive personal revelation. There are times in each of our lives when we may feel frustrated or even distanced from the Lord, when we are not adequately connected to the whispering of the still small voice. In essence, we have fallen out of shape, or out of practice, and we need to start a conditioning program.
I would like to suggest three specific approaches that I have applied in my life to help me in the conditioning process. When actively seeking personal revelation, we must first, strive for personal worthiness, creating an environment for the Spirit to dwell. Second, act when called upon, building a confidence in our ability to be an instrument in the Lord’s hand.2 Third, submit to the will of the Lord, realizing that as one’s will is increasingly submissive to the will of God, we can receive the inspiration and revelation needed to help us through life’s trials.3
First, I believe our conditioning starts with personal worthiness. Elder David A. Bednar reminds us of the importance of personal worthiness when seeking revelation when he stated:
"Because the Spirit whispers to us gently and delicately, it is easy to understand why we should shun inappropriate media, pornography, and harmful, addictive substances and behaviors. These tools of the adversary can impair and eventually destroy our capacity to recognize and respond to the subtle messages from God delivered by the power of His Spirit."4
“If you are doing the right thing and if you are living the right way, you will know in our heart what the Spirit is saying to you."5 Sometimes the Spirit, that still small voice, is heard within, but more often, it is felt.
As President Packer noted, “that sweet, quiet voice of inspiration comes more as a feeling than it does as a sound. . . . We may feel the words of spiritual communication more than hear them."6 In the Book of Mormon, we learned that the rebellious hearts and minds of Laman and Lemuel caused them to be past feeling. In 1 Nephi 17:45 we read, “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."7 Hence, it is no wonder why we are continually counseled to repent and strive for greater personal worthiness so as to not affect negatively our ability to feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost.8
Second on my list of ways to condition our hearts and minds to receive personal revelation is to act when called upon. Conditioning ourselves to act when called upon builds-up our strength and confidence. This in turn increases our ability to be instrument in the Lord’s hand.
Let me share two personal examples of how the Lord helped me learn the valuable lesson of acting when called upon.
I had been serving in the Ireland Dublin Mission for two months when I was transferred to a new area and asked to train a brand new missionary. After being introduced to my new companion, Elder Matthew Whalquist, I was actually a little embarrassed to tell him I had only been in the mission field for a few months. We determined, however, that what we lacked in experience we would make-up for by working hard.
One day we were introduced to the mother of a member in our area. This sweet 67-year-old woman asked us to call her Granny Addis. Granny was not a member of the Church. She announced to us right away that all the missionaries had tried to teach her the gospel and she could just as easily turn us away as she had done with the many, many missionaries before us. We would check-in with Granny from time-to-time when we needed a place to rest our feet after hours and hours of tracting.
Over the next few months our spirits and enthusiasm were beginning to wane as a result of very little success. One Fast Sunday we desperately prayed for an investigator to teach. After prayerful consideration, both my companion and I felt the prompting to ask Granny Addis if she would hear the missionary discussions. However, we were a little nervous to ruin a good thing; she was one of the only people in town feeding us an occasional meal. Nonetheless, wanting to following the prompting, we knocked on her door the next night, unannounced, and asked if we could visit with her.
After some awkward moments, highlighted by the fact that we were two young in-experienced missionaries, we finally built up the courage and said, “Granny, we would like to know if we can teach you the missionary discussions?” She looked down at her feet for what seemed like forever and then looked up at us and said, “No” and then she politely excused us from her home.
We were devastated. We wondered aloud why the Spirit would prompt us to do such a thing? We went straight to our flat and sat in silence.
The next morning as we were reviewing our schedule for the day (there was really not much to review), my companion was very quiet. I said, “Elder, let’s say another prayer this morning to see where the Lord wants us to go.” As we knelt in prayer and prayed for guidance, I had the strong impression to go back to Granny’s home. We concluded our prayer and I said to my companion, “Elder you’re not going to believe this, but I think we should go back to Granny’s and ask her again.” To my surprise, Elder Wahlquist said, “I had the very same impression.”
So there we were back on Granny’s doorstep where just the night before we had been sent away. My heart pounded as we knocked on her door and she answered and invited us in. There was no need for small talk as we jumped straight to the point. “Granny, we are back to ask you again if you would hear the missionary discussions?” Repeating her actions from the night before, she looked down at her feet for a moment, then looked up at us, and said, “Yes.”
She then went on to explain that the first time she met us, she had the impression that we were going to teach and baptize her. However, she got scared, and in essence, was testing us to see what would happen if she said no. The fact that we came back so soon was an answer to her prayer. We went on to baptize Granny later that month. To this day, I am still grateful to our Heavenly Father for allowing my companion and me the opportunity to struggle through this experience, and then to ultimately enjoy the blessing of witnessing the conversion of this sweet sister.
My second example takes us back to a time when my wife and I bought our first home in a brand new subdivision. As I was outside installing the yard and other things associated with owning a new home, I quickly made friends with the head supervisor of the housing development. I later learned this brother was an inactive member of the Church. While his wife and six children were all active in the Church, he had made it very clear to me that he was not active.
As our friendship grew, I began to feel whisperings of the spirit regarding my opportunity to share testimony of the importance of being active in the Church as a father of six children. Through prayer, my wife and I determined that we wanted to invite him and his family to one of our Family Home Evenings. The challenge, however, was that it was going to be up to me to find the right time to do so. Based on previous discussions about the Church, I knew this was going to be a delicate subject. I prayed to recognize when I should act.
Several months went by, and I began to wonder if I would ever find the right time. Even worse, I began to wonder if I had already missed my opportunity. As I continued to pray for the ability to act in behalf of my friend, the timing finally did present itself.
On one particular night, my friend was helping me install a garage door opener. We were putting the finishing touches on the key pad just outside the garage. I was standing inside the garage and he was standing outside. As he entered the code and the garage door began to close, the spirit quietly whispered to me that now was the time. I thought to myself, “Now?" the garage door is closing, and the spirit said, "Now." As the door was closing with me in the garage and him on my driveway, I yelled out, “I'd like to invite you and your family to Family Home Evening next Monday.” At this point, as the garage door continued to close, I could only see him from the waist down. I held my breath and waited. About the time the garage door was at his shins, and I could only see his boots, I heard him respond, “Ok.”
Two days later, he participated in Family Home Evening, and two weeks later, on a Sunday morning, he walked through the chapel doors with his family for the first time in nearly eight years.
Both of these personal examples started out the same way, through a prompting, followed by personal prayer seeking additional revelation. Prayer provides a firm foundation for personal revelation. When we begin with prayer, then act when called upon, we are conditioning our hearts and minds to respond more easily to future impressions and thoughts.
Third on my list of ways to condition our hearts and minds to receive personal revelation is to faithfully submit to the will of the Lord. If we are able to condition our minds to succumb to the will of the Lord, our hearts will naturally follow.
Early in our marriage, my wife began having strong impressions that we needed to start having children. I had felt similar impressions but had set aside those impressions because of various distractions. At that time, I was finishing my undergraduate degree and applying for graduate school. President Packer warns us that "occasionally, the Spirit will press just firmly enough…for us to pay attention; but…most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling…the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking..."9
As described by my wife, her promptings continued to increase. Nonetheless, she submitted her will to the Lord and prayed that if it be the Lord’s will, that I would recognize the same whisperings of the Spirit to start our family. She waited for many months with no answer. In a world of instant communication, it is often difficult to wait for answers to our prayers. And when the answer to prayer does come, and they always do come, we may not recognize it as an answer at first, and we will most likely not understand the timetable our Father in Heaven used to answer our prayer. Elder Robert D. Hales reminds us that “revelation comes on the Lord’s timetable, which often means we must move forward in faith, even though we haven’t received all the answers we desire."10
Finally, one Sunday afternoon, my wife received another prompting; this time the prompting was to ask me to give her a priesthood blessing. As a righteous daughter of God, knowing that the priesthood is intended for the family and that fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners,11 she acted in faith and approached me for a blessing. I readily agreed, however, something happened during the blessing.
As the two of us sat in our small apartment on that Sunday afternoon, I laid my hands upon her head to give her a priesthood blessing. Halfway through the blessing, in my mind, I saw a little girl, with brown curly hair and big blue eyes. The spirit whispered to me that this was our little girl, waiting, not so patiently, to come join our family.
To this day, I do not recall any of the words mentioned in the blessing. I do remember ending the blessing quickly so that I could mention to my wife what I had seen while laying my hands upon her head.
Within the year, we welcomed our first child, Hanna Rose, to our family. And yes, she was born with lots of brown curly hair and beautiful big blue eyes. When we submit to the will of the Father, “He changes our hearts to want what He wants and to act as He would act."12 I love this about my wife: her ability to show forth-tremendous faith, submitting to the will of the Father.
I also love the insight offered by Elder Neal A. Maxwell when he stated:
"Submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give,’ are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!"13
Fast-forward about two years down the road from this experience with my wife. I returned home from work one evening and found a freshly developed stack of pictures on our kitchen counter. This was back in the day when you actually took pictures with a camera, using film. One had to wait to get the film developed. It was always an exciting time to sit down and review freshly developed photos that had been taken over series of weeks, months, or even years. On a side note, there was no such thing as a selfie back then because no one wanted to waste precious film…oh the good ole’ days!
On this particular evening as I sat down and looked through the new photos with my wife, one specific photo stopped me altogether. As I pulled the photo from the pile, I asked my wife when she had taken this photo of our daughter Hanna. She explained it was simply a few weeks prior, on a day when they were laughing, singing, and dancing together in the kitchen. She asked me why I was so interested in that particular photo, to which I replied, "Because when I saw the vision of a little girl in heaven, with brown curly hair and big blue eyes waiting to join our family, this was the image I saw."
My only worry with sharing this personal story is that sometimes we tend to think that personal revelation needs to be an overwhelming experience filled with unmistakable impressions. Elder Bednar stated that he talks, “with many individuals who question the strength of their personal testimony and underestimate their spiritual capacity because they do not receive frequent, miraculous, or strong impressions.”
He goes on to state that:
"Immediate and intense manifestations… found in the scriptures, recounted in Church history, and evidenced in our own lives… (tend) to be more rare than common…. Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father (happen) gradually and gently…This pattern of revelation tends to be more common than rare."14
By seeking spectacular or dramatic spiritual experiences, we may overlook the small and subtle messages of the Holy Ghost. “We may not see angels, hear heavenly voices, or receive overwhelming spiritual impressions."15 Therefore, our goal should be one of constant personal evaluation to make sure we can feel the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. During this personal evaluation, we may realize a need to re-condition our hearts and minds.
Likewise, every few years, my wife trains for another race. She will be the first to admit that each time she commits to a race; she needs a re-conditioning program. We too need re-conditioning from time-to-time regarding our quest for personal revelation. When it comes to a re-conditioning program, I have two suggestions that have worked for me.
1. Document when during the day you have felt the Spirit.
First, you might consider documenting in your journal when during the day you felt the Spirit of the Lord or you followed a prompting. Much like President Henry B. Eyring taught in the October 2007 General Conference when he stated that each night he would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?"16
As I have felt this need to re-condition, each night before going to bed, I ponder and write just a few lines in my journal that start out with, “Today I felt the Spirit when…” It does not take much time or effort. Some days it is very easy and other days it takes a while to really stop and consider when, during the day, did I feel the Spirit or follow a prompting?
If you will take the time to jot down these moments, I promise you that you will begin to see a pattern. And this is my second suggestion as to how we can re-condition ourselves to receive personal revelation.
2. Look for patterns in your life that reveal a closeness to the Spirit.
Look for patterns in your life that reveal a closeness to the Spirit or look back on a time in your life when you felt a strong connection to the Spirit.
When re-conditioning, several of my journal entries end like this, “today I felt the Spirit during my personal scripture study” or “when I was sitting in the Temple” or “playing with one of my kids.” Looking back on my journal entries and seeing these patterns, I realize that I need to spend more time doing these particular things.
What I did not see was, “today I felt the Spirit when I was mindlessly watching TV, or playing video games, or engaged in frivolous social media content”. Elder Richard G. Scott put it this way, “It is important that our daily activities do not distract us from listening to the Spirit."17
When you give heed to thoughts and impressions and document them in your journal, you will begin to see patterns in your life that reveal a closeness to the Spirit, and as such, you are in fact conditioning your heart and mind to react to the spirit of revelation.
You can put this challenge to the test and begin now. At some time throughout this past hour, you may have felt the whispering of the spirit to do something, to make a change in your life, to contact a loved one, or to move forward on a decision you have been contemplating. If you have felt the spirit of revelation today to do something, show that you value this blessing by being sensitive to and aware of the spiritual prompting by courageously following that prompting.18
My hope and prayer is that each of us will exercise our ability to listen to the Spirit and receive personal revelation by conditioning our hearts and minds to feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost. As we strive for personal worthiness, act when called upon, and seek the will of the Lord, I am convinced that the Spirit, our Constant Companion,19 will continue to do just that, constantly whisper to us. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Boyd K. Packer, “These Things I Know,” Ensign, May, 2013
2 Alma 26:3
3 Neal A. Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1995
4 David A. Bednar, “The Spirit of Revelation,” Ensign, May, 2011
5 Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 260-61.
6 Boyd K. Packer, “Prayer and Promptings,” Ensign, Nov. 2009
7 1 Nephi 17:45
8 David A. Bednar, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” Ensign, Nov. 2010
9 Boyd K. Packer, “How Does the Spirit Speak to Us?,” New Era, Feb. 2010
10 Robert D. Hales, “Personal Revelation: The Teachings and Examples of the Prophets,” Ensign, Nov. 2007
11 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995
12 Henry B. Eyring, “Act in All Diligence,” Ensign, May 2010
13 Neal A. Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1995
14 David A. Bednar, “The Spirit of Revelation,” Ensign, May 2011
15 David A. Bednar, “The Spirit of Revelation,” Ensign, May 2011
16 Henry B. Eyring, “O Remember, Remember,” Ensign, Nov. 2007
17 Richard G. Scott, “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” Ensign, May 2012