Recognising Personal Revelation

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Personal Revelation

Recently, whilst studying a Sunday School lesson on personal revelation, it hit me just how vital this amazing opportunity is from God – to receive personal, customised guidance from Him!

In the Bible Dictionary pg 762, it says:
“…Continuous revelation from God to his saints…makes possible daily guidance along true paths and leads the faithful soul to complete and eternal salvation in the celestial kingdom…Without revelation, all would be guesswork, darkness, and confusion.”
We all need revelation in our daily lives to help guide us. It’s fantastic having a living prophet who can receive direction for the whole Earth, but he can’t give each of us revelation individually everyday – that would be impractical and impossible!

How do we ensure we are receiving this vital revelation? We can learn from the example of Joseph Smith’s study in JSH 1:8-17. First, his “mind was called up to serious reflection…[his] feelings were often poignant…[he] attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit.” (v8) Here we see that he thought deeply and actively about a problem he wanted answered – to know which Church to join himself to. He then was “…one day reading the Epistle of James…” (v11) – he searched the scriptures! Elder Dallin H. Oakes in the Jan 1995 Ensign said:
“Scripture reading may…lead to current revelation on whatever [subject] the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at the time. We do not overstate the point when we say that the scriptures can be a Urim and Thummim to assess each of us to receive personal revelation.”
This is why it is so important that we read the scriptures everyday – they are a conduit to allow the Holy Ghost to speak to us.

Continuing with the experience of Joseph Smith, he must have recognised the power of what he felt and read because he then said “…I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.” (v13) He made a conscious decision to act and that can often be where we fall – not having the real intent to act when we receive an answer. For example, when teaching investigators on my mission – the first struggle was to help people feel comfortable to pray to ask God if the Book of Mormon was true. The second stumbling block was the investigators intention. Those who were sincere seekers of truth and wanted to change if it were true invariably got an answer (not in the same ways or times but an answer they did receive). A handful of investigators simply prayed merely for educational or general knowledge about the Book, and they often struggled to receive a clear answer. Joseph Smith had real intent – even when all powers combined against him to stop his efforts. He recalled he “…was exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me,” (v16), in other words he didn’t give up when things got (extremely) difficult! And then, finally, he received his personal revelation…and what a revelation it was!

Now, in Joseph Smith’s story, we see Satan trying to stop him from receiving this personal revelation. Note where Joseph Smith went to receive his answer. “I retired to the woods to make the attempt…to the place I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God.” (v14-15) He was in a quiet woodland which he had planned to go to beforehand. Today we see – physically and mentally – that Satan is making the world a louder and louder place to be in. Elder Boyd K. Packer in the October 1991 General Conference told us that:
“This trend to more noise, more excitement, more contention…is not coincidental…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.”
Don’t forget this was declared in 1991! Satan uses these loud distractions even more so today to jam our ability to receive quiet, calm and peaceful revelation from God. He is crafty and this is working. Set some quiet time aside. Plan to go to your own Sacred Grove and listen! The Lord wants to – needs to – guide us (for our own sake). Open your ears, mind and heart and he will speak to you.