I spoke in sacrament meeting last month. The topic was personal revelation. I have been debating cutting the talk down, translating it into essay format, etc. But I think I want to post it in its entirity as is. It's long. Sorry.
We Mormons like to tell stories about Apostles, Prophets, and sometimes as missionaries even Zone Leaders or Assistants that seem to be constantly led by the spirit in all that they do and all that they say. We are fascinated by tales of an Apostle changing his direction that he is walking or driving, approaching a stranger, and performing a miracle. If only we could be more like that and know without being told by human lips how we can perform the Lord’s work most effectively. But how does one receive this gift? Paul tells us to seek out the best gifts, but how does one seek out revelation?
When I was fairly new to the mission this question was broached with a companion of mine. He had an idea that I feel was inspired. We as Elders called to serve in the Jardines area had the stewardship of all non-members in that area, and as stewards we were capable of prophesy – being the mouthpiece of God – unto the un-baptized of our area. We had the ability to be led by God in our work, and surely he was leading us in everything we did. The question wasn’t whether or not he was guiding us, but learning to hear his voice and to differentiate it from noise of the world.
My companion’s idea was, every morning before we were to leave, to pray for guidance to the one person, in particular, that God had prepared for us to talk to that day. This wasn’t a vague prayer that we find a new investigator, but a specific question: Who among our list of 50-or-so investigators is most ready to talk to us today. We would pray separately, pondering through our list of investigators in our heads, and after we both felt we had come to an inspired thought we would talk about it. If we had come to the same conclusion, we could relatively safely say that it was inspired and we were learning to know God’s voice. If they were different, we could conclude that at least one of us was hearing noise, and we would both pray again until we settled on what we believed to be an inspired prompting.
Now we realized that God had – hopefully – prepared more than one person for us to talk to each day, but we felt confident that he also wanted us to learn to recognize His voice. So we felt comfortable that he wouldn’t try to confuse us by telling each of us different inspirations.
Over the weeks that ensued it became easier and more natural. It wasn’t always the first attempt, but we were usually able to reach an agreement quickly. And the results felt inspired when we visited the investigators as well. We often reached them to find that they had had something special happen to them the day before and were eager to talk to us.
We, as baptized members of the church, by the authority of the priesthood have received the gift of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. President Woodruff taught that "every faithful member of the Church is entitled to receive personal revelation," Every member, Entitled to receive.
I would like to quote a passage from Roy W. Doxey’s book Walk With the Lord:
“Every day men and women come, by revelation, to understand the basic truth that God has restored his gospel and church.
“Every day leaders of the Church are led by revelation to conduct the affairs of the Church, general and local, throughout the world.
“Every day Latter-day Saint missionaries are impressed by the spirit of revelation to bear witness, to know what to say, to know what to do, and to teach by the spirit of revelation.
“Every day the mind and will of the Lord as revealed in the standard works of the Church are illuminated in the minds of the Latter-day Saints by the spirit of revelation.
“Every day faith is increased in the hearts of the faithful by evidences of revelation in their lives—in decisions regarding marriage, vocations, home concerns, business ventures, lesson preparations, danger signals—in fact, in all facets of life.
“Every Latter-day Saint may know by the spirit of revelation that President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke the truth when he said: ‘The Lord not only blesses the men who stand at the head and hold the keys of the kingdom, but he also blesses every faithful individual with the spirit of inspiration’ ” (Roy W. Doxey, Walk with the Lord , 173–74; emphasis in original).
Our doctrine teaches us that our Father has a very personal love for each of us as his sons and daughters. He put in place a large organization that we call the Church for us to be able to come together, as a community in Christ, and hear his words through the mouth of a Prophet. But, in addition to that, he speaks to each of us, individually. He reveals his will, his love, his doctrine to our hearts and to our minds. He speaks to us in times of need and helplessness, as well as in times of rejoicing. As the truths of the restored Gospel are taught to us, he sends his comforter to confirm the message that we are hearing. When facing a life decision, he directs us where to go, what to do, who to be with.
Jesus taught us, while speaking of the father and his willingness to answer our questions and desires in Luke 11
9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
10 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Our Father in heaven is a loving Father who desires to speak to each of us, probably on a much more regular basis than we are accustomed to, or attuned to, hearing him speak.
Presence of God
I've noticed that we Mormons often have a tendency to try to limit God's power and abilities. Sometimes we think that our Father can't speak to us if - - - and we fill the if with any one of a hundred reasons. The truth is that Our Father wants to commune with us, he wants to help us and guide us. Often we need it the most when we have fallen the hardest. The Spirit can and will speak to us in our times of need, even if we might not be the shining standard of perfection.
I have heard people warn that upon entering a bar, or any establishment or location that might be associated with sin, that the spirit won't accompany them. I tend to find this paradigm sad. While Helaman 4:24 does tell us that the "Spirit dwells not in unholy temples." this scripture is about us, we are the temples, if we are worthy, the spirit dwells with us. When Jesus walked the earth, he was often found among sinners and yet he still communed directly with our Father. We too, can be sure that we can be guided and receive revelation in the world, among the world, if we have a virtuous reason for being there.
That's not to say that I would go to a rock concert in preparation to receive personal revelation - After all, there are probably more appropriate places to expect guidance in our lives. Howard W. Hunter said "Temples are sacred for the closest communion between the Lord and those receiving the highest and most sacred ordinances of the holy priesthood." (Howard W. Hunter, “The Great Symbol of Our Membership,” Ensign, Oct 1994, 2) Temples, church, the home, nature, there are a number of places that one could go when seeking guidance in life.
I would just emphasize that God will not leave us in our time of need, if He has something to say to us, he is capable of teaching us while amidst sinners, even at 3am.
Now, speaking of unholy temples, even temple square needs to be vacuumed every week; it too gets a little dirty. And yet despite a little dust on the furniture, and perhaps some dirt on the carpet, the light of God still shines brightly, and revelation is received and followed in that temple. Similarly at times we may find that we too are a little dusty, a little unclean, that does not mean we can't receive guidance as long as we are not wholly unworthy.
Liberal nature of God
I tend to think that the spirit of the Lord flows very freely, and the scriptures time and time again attest to this idea:
-And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
-If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
-And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
-What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
-And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
-that I may pour out my Spirit upon all flesh—
-But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
There are many times when the scriptures speak of the Holy Ghost as “Liberal”, Freely-Flowing, “constant companion”. I don’t personally know of any scriptures that speak of the Holy Ghost as “rare”, “elusive”, or “fleeting”.
I think many would like to think of the Holy Ghost and its manifestations as more rare, and I agree that those life-changing mind-blowing experiences are not a daily event, but I think the companionship of the Spirit can be, and is, and one can, should, and probably does more often than they realize, receive guidance from the spirit daily.
President Faust, speaking on the subject of revelation said: [T]he right to enjoy the marvelous gifts of the Holy Ghost is conferred upon every member of the Church soon after baptism. This is in fulfillment of the promise of the Savior: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16).
This powerful gift entitles the leaders and all worthy members of the Church to enjoy the gifts and companionship of the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead whose function is to inspire, reveal, and teach all things. The result of this endowment is that since the Church was organized, the leadership and members have enjoyed, and now enjoy, continuous revelation and inspiration directing them in what is right and good. Inspiration and revelation are so common, so widespread, so universal among the leaders and the members that there is a strong spiritual base underlying what is done. This can be found in the gatherings of the Church, both large and small.
Latter-day Saints, having received the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, are entitled to personal inspiration in the small events of life as well as when they are confronted with the giant Goliaths of life. If worthy, we are entitled to receive revelations for ourselves, parents for their children, and members of the Church in their callings. (James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, Mar 2002, 2–7)
I think President Faust really emphasizes the ubiquitous nature of revelation in our church.
After this he goes on to add a caveat:
But the right of revelation for others does not extend beyond our own stewardship. . (James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, Mar 2002, 2–7)
Now, I have stewardship over my family. It is possible for me to receive direction from the Lord in how we should administer our household. The Bishop has stewardship over the affairs of the ward, and has the right to receive revelation in how to administer the ward affairs. Each person with the gift of the Holy Ghost has the ability to receive guidance from the spirit within the realm of their own stewardship. I however do not have the right or ability to receive revelation about the administration of the Creekside Ward. Similarly, to my understanding, the Bishop would not likely receive revelation about what I should cook for dinner. Not because it's not an important question, and God would never direct something so trivial. Believe me, my dietary needs are of utmost importance. But because my culinary designs do not fall under his stewardship; the Bishop would not be entitled to any such revelation.
I point this out because I think it's an important, and sometimes overlooked concept. I'll give you a better example: I could decide to live a very healthy life, I might feel inspired in this pursuit to give up corn syrup from my diet. I think it is very possible that the Holy Ghost might prompt me to do this, and this pursuit could very likely bring me closer to the Lord through purification of my temple.
A few weeks later there might be a lesson on the Word of Wisdom in Elders Quorum and I decide to share my experience. “Brethren,” I say, “I have felt prompted in my life to discontinue consuming corn syrup. Since I have done so I have felt healthier, I feel that I have a better relationship with my family, and I feel the influence of the Holy Ghost stronger than ever before. I feel that the Spirit has guided me to abstain from this ingredient.” - - so far so good, I've shared a personal story that I find relevant that has brought me peace and happiness, but then I decide to add - "I would challenge each of you to do the same." And there's the problem. I haven't received revelation for my Elder's Quorum. And even if I'm the President, it would still be possible for me to receive personal revelation for my life, and maybe even for my family's, and not have the revelation be relevant for my Quorum. We need to be careful, because there is a phrase for us applying our own guidance to the lives of others outside our stewardship - Unrighteous Dominion.
Asking in Faith
We are probably all familiar with the scripture James 1:5
James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith . . .
Much discussion has been given to that passage amongst Latter Day Saints. We all know that one of the key parts is to ask in faith. What does it mean to ask in faith? Does it mean to ask with a belief that you will hear Gods voice, and failing to hear is a sign of a lack of faith?
Not at all.
We should be hopeful that God will respond to us in a manner that we will recognize, but often God does not answer our inquiries for days, months, or years. Sometimes we never recognize his answer until much later on in life, but that doesn't mean that he didn't answer, and it doesn't mean that we didn't ask in faith.
I believe that to ask in faith means that no matter the answer we receive, we will be faithful to Our Lord. Whatever he asks of us, we will do. If we go seeking direction in our life, but we already have our mind made up that no matter what the answer, we're going with plan A, then we are not asking with faith, humble to the direction of the spirit.
Confirmation of the Spirit
The following passage is taken from a talk about Priesthood found in the Millenial Star - November 13 1852 attributed to Joseph Smith Jr.
We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do any thing they were told to do by those who presided over them if they knew it was wrong, but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us. it is slavery in the extreme and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings until he turns from his folly. A man of god who seeks for the redemption of his fellows would despise the idea of seeing another become his slave who had an equal right with himself to the favour of god. He would rather see him stand by his side a sworn enemy to wrong so long as there was place found for it among men. Others in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents they should do it without asking any questions. When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong or else because they have done wrong and wish to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with. (Millennial Star, vol.14 #38, pp. 593-95)
The Lord has given us the Spirit, to confirm by way of revelation, the truths as they are being taught by the Lord’s Anointed. Nephi taught us “For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” Each of us should learn to be directed by personal communion with God to protect ourselves from Wolves entering among us in sheep's clothing, and so we can distinguish without any doubt the good fruits in the world.
Doctrine and Covenants 8:2 directs us that when the spirit speaks to us, he will speak to our mind and our heart. This to me means, to put it as simply as possible, that it will make sense to us, and feel good. That's not to say that the Lord's ways will always make the most logical sense to us, but I do have an expectation that when the Lord talks to us he usually speaks with a voice of reason. When Joseph Smith was receiving line upon line, precept upon precept, to the point that he restored truths of the Gospel as well as Doctrine which had been lost from the earth for generations, these truths usually had two common traits, they made sense, and they felt right.
I think it is very possible for something to “feel good” but not make any sense. This may not be promptings of the Spirit. Now it might be a yellow light, it might be an ambiguous answer, but a person receiving a “good feeling” about an idea that makes no logical sense might do well to pray some more.
Similar to this, I’ve seen people walk away from things that were the most sensible option, because they had a bad feeling. Now I wouldn’t dare comment on a case to case basis whether another person had received a bad feeling as personal revelation, as it is not my revelation to receive. But I feel safe saying, generally, that sometimes we get bad feelings and they might just be cold feet. The Lord will speak to our mind and our heart. When one of these is lacking, often more guidance is needed.
I don't believe in discounting any person's communion with God, I believe that we all have a right to receive direction from the Holy Spirit, and I believe we should cherish those experiences, and when others humbly share those experiences with us, for our benefit, we should appreciate the wisdom that they are sharing with us, and at the very least give them the benefit of the doubt that what they received was revelation for themselves.
At the same time, I feel that personal revelations are usually meant to be personal, and should be kept sacred to oneself. They should be shared when prompted by the spirit, but should not be expressed as a demonstration of spirituality. For this reason I believe it was wisdom in God that I cannot receive personal revelation for any other person.