I have been reading in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He was on his third missionary journey and stopped in Ephesus where he received a message from Corinth. He wrote the letter in answer to questions that they had asked him. One question must have been about receiving and comprehending spiritual truth. He told them that spiritual knowledge is only available through the means prepared by God.
12 Now we have receive, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).
Paul taught that spiritual information is discerned by the Spirit. The word discerned means examined, tried, judged. In other words, we must study the material, make a decision, and then ask God if we came to the right decision. If we ask in faith, He will let us know if we are right or if we are wrong.
Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Quorum of the Seventy compared gaining knowledge spiritually with using scientific methods to prove theories. Even though both methods involve studying and making decisions, there is a difference in how they work.
In the scientific world the scientific method is used to learn truth and advance knowledge. It has been extremely helpful over the years and has yielded tremendous amounts of scientific knowledge and continues to push back the curtain of ignorance about our physical world. Learning spiritual things, however, requires a different approach than learning scientific things. The scientific method and intellect are very helpful, but they alone will never bring spiritual knowledge.
Learning spiritual things involves the intellect, but that is not enough. We only learn spiritual things by the Spirit. …
… Answers to spiritual questions are given to individuals who don’t harden their hearts; who ask in faith, believing they will receive; and who diligently keep the commandments. Even when we follow this pattern, we don’t control the timing of getting answers. Sometimes our answers come quickly, and sometimes we must place questions on the shelf for a time and rely on our faith that has developed from the answers we do know. (See “A Pattern for Learning Spiritual Things” [Seminaries and Institutes of Religion satellite broadcast, Aug. 7, 2012]; si.lds.org.)
Elder Johnson explains that we gain answers to spiritual questions in a different manner than we can scientific answers. The important final step is to remember that the Lord determines when we are prepared for the answer and we must exercise patience while we wait upon Him. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gives additional instructions to receiving spiritual answers.
The Lord’s prescribed methods of acquiring sacred knowledge are very different from the methods used by those who acquire learning exclusively by study. For example, a frequent technique of scholarship s debate or adversarial discussion, a method with which I have had considerable personal experience. But the Lord has instructed us in ancient and modern scriptures that we should not contend over the points of his doctrine. (See 3 Ne. 11:28-30; D&C 10:63.) … Gospel truths and testimony are received from the Holy Ghost through reverent personal study and quiet contemplation (“Alternate Voices,” Ensign, May 1989, 29).
Elder Oaks tells us that we must not contend with each other for more knowledge but seek it reverently and quietly through the Holy Ghost. One important principle that we must remember is that the Holy Ghost will not give us knowledge if we have contention with anyone. When I have a lesson or talk to prepare or even an essay to write for school, I must insure that there is no contention between my husband and me. On several – maybe even numerous – occasions I have had to put aside my preparations and to go to my husband to solve whatever problem we were having. Once the problem was solved, I could return to my preparations and receive inspiration through the power of the Holy Ghost.
One truth that I know is that the communication connection with God is quite fragile. It must be maintained faithfully with obedience to the commandments, reverence, and unity. I know that we can gain spiritual information through this channel but only if we follow the Lord’s instructions in doing so.