I am grateful for the personal revelation that has come to me from our loving Heavenly Father and for the many blessings that have come from seeking information from God. I want very much to be able to better understand the process of receiving personal revelation, recognizing the answer, and taking appropriate actions.
Revelation has been described as God's way to communicate with His children on earth. The Bible Dictionary gives the following definition: "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 … makes possible daily guidance along true paths and leads the faithful soul to complete and eternal salvation in the celestial kingdom" (p. 762).
Members of some churches believe that revelation has stopped and that God no longer communicates with His children, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that God still speaks to man. The First Presidency stated, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principles of continuous revelation" (Church News, 10 January 1970, 12).
The Prophet Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in the early spring of 1820 and received information directly from them. "After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God….
"… I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
"…When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other - This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith - History 1:15-17; italics in original).
On September 21, 1823, the first of numerous heavenly beings appeared to Joseph Smith and began tutoring him in preparation for the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside….
"He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people….
"At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate. On the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they [the plates] were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me….
"… I commenced copying the characters off the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them…. (Joseph Smith - History 1:30, 33, 59, 62).
Revelation has been an important part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since its beginning, but Joseph Smith and other prophets are not the only ones to receive personal revelation. Every baptized member of the Church who is trying to live righteously has the right and privilege to receive personal revelation. General Authorities, stake leaders, ward leaders, and individual members receive personal revelation to help them in their career, their Church callings, their families, and individual lives.
"… Fathers and mothers also may receive inspiration, revelation … to help guide their families. And of course each of us, if we will live for it, may be the recipient of spiritual communications for our own personal guidance" (Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Ensign, May 1974, 93).
Revelation comes from God in many different ways. 1) Heavenly messengers (Moroni's appearance to Joseph Smith; the angel Gabriel's appearance to Mary, the mother of Jesus); 2) Visions and dreams (Moses' vision of the earth's creation; Lehi's dream; Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream; Brigham Young's dream of Joseph Smith; 3) Sacred instruments (Lehi's use of the Liahona for direction; Joseph Smith's use of the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon); 4) Inspiration (Oliver Cowdery receiving peace and a testimony through the Holy Ghost; Nephi determining how to obtain the brass plates from Laban).
Inspiration is the most common type of personal revelation experienced by members of the Church. Inspiration comes through the Holy Ghost, and it can come by way of feelings, thoughts, or words. The Holy Ghost prompts us in the following ways:
1) Peace: "Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God" (Docdtrine and Covenants 6:23); 2) Knowledge in our minds and hearts: "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart" (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2); and 3) Enlightenment and joy: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill our soul with joy" (Doctrine and Covenants 11:13).
Personal revelation can also come to us through the scriptures or another person. The Holy Ghost may prompt us to read a certain verse of scripture, or he may inspire a parent, teach, or Church leader to tell us what we need to hear. (For example, when Joseph Smith needed to know which church to join, he was prompted to pray while reading James 1:5 in the Bible.) Priesthood blessings can also be valuable sources of personal revelation.
Many people have received and recognized inspiration from the Holy Ghost; others may not have received it or may not have recognized it as inspiration. Recognizing revelation and inspiration from the Holy Ghost takes experience and practice.
Satan tries to imitate the promptings of the Holy Ghost by giving us strong feelings that we may confuse with revelation from God. President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told us how we can recognize a feeling from Satan.
"There can be counterfeit revelations, promptings from the devil…. As long as you live, in one way or another the adversary will try to do something that makes you feel uneasy, something you know in your mind to be wrong and contrary to the principles of righteousness, do not respond to it!" (Ensign, Nov. 1994, 61; italics in original).
In a situation like this, it is the feeling of uneasiness that is the actual revelation. This uneasiness is the Holy Ghost warning us that what we are considering is wrong. God will never give any of us personal revelation that contradicts what has already been revealed in the scriptures.
Thousands and even millions of people have received promptings from the Holy Ghost. Some experiences are as follow:
"In 1921 Elders David O. McKay (who later became the ninth President of the Church) and Hugh J. Cannon visited missions around the world. While in
Hawaii, they visited the Kilauea volcano, the largest active volcano in the world, with some of the missionaries. They discovered a natural balcony just inside the volcano, and Elder McKay and several of the missionaries climbed down to stand on it. On this balcony they were out of the chilly wind and had a marvelous view of the inside of the volcano. After a while, Elder McKay said, "Brethren, I feel impressed that we should get out of here." Almost immediately after they climbed back to the rim, the balcony on which they had been standing crumbled and fell into the molten lava below." (See Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss, rev. ed. , 51-53.)
"A young elder of the Church in the armed services was stationed in
during World War II. He became acquainted with a family living on a nearby farm and spent a good deal of time with them while off duty. The family members became interested in the gospel and desired to learn more about it. The elder had attended seminary, priesthood meetings, and Church classes as a boy but felt unqualified to teach this family the gospel. He decided, however, to do his best and pray for help. He later explained that in his attempt to teach the family he quoted many scriptures that he had long forgotten." Australia
"When Annie was born she was so tiny that her mother's wedding ring would fit over her wrist. When Annie's mother died, she left the ring to Annie. One day Annie wore the ring, which she loved dearly, while she was doing her housework. When the work was all done, she discovered that the ring was gone. She frantically searched the house, but it was nowhere to be found. Finally she knelt down and asked Heavenly Father to help her. She felt she should look in the bedroom. She looked everywhere in there, but could not find the ring. Disappointed, she went into another room, but again she felt she should look in the bedroom. As she went through the bedroom door, there, beneath the bed, she saw the ring."
Sometimes inspiration or revelation simply comes to us, as it did to Elder McKay in the story above. More often, however, we must ask for the revelation through prayer.
When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were working on the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Lord taught Oliver how to seek and receive the revelation he needed to translate. We can use the same pattern to seek personal revelation. In a revelation to Oliver Cowdery given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said: "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
"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.
"But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me" (Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9).
According to this scripture, the steps to receiving revelation are: 1) Study the matter and make a decision; 2) Ask the Lord if your decision is correct; 3) Receive a burning feeling (if the decision is good) or a stupor of thought (if it is wrong).
Because personal revelation is - well personal and individual - we may not have the same feelings that Oliver Cowdery had. We may have a feeling of peace rather than a burning in the bosom, or we may feel uncomfortable about a wrong decision rather than forgetting it.
There are many, many reasons why people seek personal revelation, and those reasons can include: 1) Resisting temptation; 2) Understanding the scriptures; 3) Enduring sickness and trials; 4) Overcoming discouragement; 5) Staying safe; Dealing with family members; 6) Whether or not to move or take a specific position.
President Lorenzo Snow, the fifth President of the Church stated: "The spirit of God … will reveal to [people], even in the simplest of matters, what they shall do, by making suggestions to them. We should try to learn the nature of this spirit, that we may understand its suggestions, and then we will always be able to do right. This is the grand privilege of every Latter-day Saint. We know that it is our right to have the manifestations of the spirit every day of our lives" (in Conference report, Apr. 1899, 52).
Once we receive revelation or inspiration, we must act on that message. If we do not act on the inspiration that comes to us, we have a more difficult time receiving inspiration the next time we need it. The more we seek and act on personal revelation, the more in tune we are to receive it.
I am very grateful for the knowledge that I can ask Heavenly Father for assistance and feel confident that He hears and will answer my prayers. I am grateful for the many, many times that He has given me answers to my questions and pray that I may be continually worthy of this great blessing.