Personal revelation comes as a result of many things. They are very rarely visions of angels and things of a glorious appearance. It is also rarely a distinct voice heard from beyond the veil – all circumstances we see in the scriptures. So how can we know how to discern a voice of revelation that ‘speaks’ to us? Elder Dallin H. Oakes taught in the March 1997 Ensign “Visions do happen…I know this. But these experiences are exceptional…Most of the revelation that comes to leaders and members of the Church come by the still, small voice or by a feeling…” Therefore we need to have an understanding when these feelings are from God, when and how we will receive them and what they mean.
- He enlightens our mind.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that revelation can come as ‘a sudden stroke of ideas’ that come into our minds as ‘pure intelligence’ or it could come as peace to our minds. In D&C 6:23, the Lord states to Oliver Cowdery “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” Here, Oliver Cowdery was asking for a further witness that Joseph’s calling and work were divine and the Lord tells him he’s already had peace spoken to his mind – his mind was enlightened.
2. He may come as a burning in the bosom.
This is often regarded as the only way someone can ‘feel’ the Holy Ghost teaching them or bearing witness – maybe because it is a well known scripture or a more common occurrence. However, it is certainly not the only way one can feel the Spirit. In the October 1994 General Conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer explained “This burning in the bosom in not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.” Elder Dallin H. Oakes further emphasised the point in the March 1997 Ensign, saying “Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity.” So, the feeling of the Spirit isn’t necessarily this burning and by ‘burning’ we are meant to understand the feeling is a peaceful, comforting feeling – not s literal burning sensation of fire in our heart.
3. Often, revelation is revealed ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.
We receive revelation according to how prepared we are and even then, we may well not receive a complete answer to our problems initially, rather, part of the answer. We may need to listen carefully to the Spirit’s response, act on it and then ask ‘Is that all?’ – then more light will be revealed to us.
Now, it is important that we have some cautions with talking about about personal revelation.
- It is the Lord’s will.
In D&C 109:44, the inspired dedicatory prayer at the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith says “But thy word must be fulfilled. Help thy servants to say…Thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours…” meaning that we should be willing to act on the answer – even if it’s not the answer we desire.
- In the Lord’s own time and way.
In speaking about this principle, Elder Dallin H. Oakes in the March 1997 Ensign said “Many people do not understand this principle. They believe that when they are ready and when it suits their convenience, they can call upon the Lord and He will immediately respond…We cannot force spiritual things.” Just like we cannot force a plant to grow faster or into the type of plant we desire by shouting at it, spiritual answers come in the Lord’s time and in His own way.
- We don’t receive revelation out of our stewardship.
The Lord’s house is a house of order, and so, if we think we receive revelation out are our area of responsibility – we can be sure it is not of God.
- We should discern whether the revelation is of God or not.
How can we know? Simply, the First Presidency stated “When…inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of it’s constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know it is not of God, no matter how plausible it appears…” This is the base test to see if a revelation is not of God. Any other prompting that leads to ‘good’ can be recognised as by the Spirit.
I am so grateful to know that we can indeed receive and recognise this personal revelation as it really can, and does, guide our lives. To know that God doesn’t change and still loves us by giving us guidance if we will but ask, is life-changing.