“A few years ago I was observing a bug as it moved across
the floor. From my vantage point I could
see that approximately 15 feet ahead he was going to run into an obstacle that
would cause him to lose quite a bit of travel time. I wanted to say, ‘Little bug, if you will
change your direction and go 25 degrees to the left, you will save yourself a
lot of time and trouble.’ But of course
he continued his path and ran head-on into the obstacle. He butted his head against it no fewer than
20 times as he first made a series of futile attempts to the right, then
finally found his way around to the left.
“I thought, Is it not
so with us and the Lord? Is His
vantage point not higher and greater than our own?” (John B. Dickson, Ensign, Feb. ’01, pp.
The problem with the little bug was not that there was no
higher source who would have liked to help him; the problem was that he was
unable to receive communication from that source. Our lesson today is to assure us that we, as
human bugs, are able to understand the communication that we receive from our
Father’s higher and greater view!
“Our Heavenly Father wants to communicate with us even more
than we want to communicate with him. He
wants us to be able to recognize his answers.”
(Gaylen Hinton, Ensign, Oct.’93, p. 61)
The difficulty of
recognizing personal revelation
When my friend was a student at BYU, she was sharing an
elevator with a young man. Now, this can
be dangerous in any situation, but most especially at BYU, because the young
man turned to her and said, “I have just received a revelation that you are to
be my wife!” Now, knowing how beautiful
my friend was, I can imagine that it might have been quite easy for many young
men to have had a “revelation” about her.
Unfortunately, this particular young man found out quickly that his
revelation was false, as she told him, “I’m sorry; I’m already married.” Apparently, his love was truly blind and he
didn’t see the ring on her finger.
So how do we tell whether we are receiving revelation from
God, or whether we are getting a message from our own desires, or even from an evil source? Or maybe we don’t recognize
that we are receiving revelation at all.
Jesus said of the converted Lamanites, “at the time of their conversion,
[they] were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they know it not.” (3 Nephi 9:20) How many of us are in that boat? President Boyd K. Packer said, “It is not
unusual for one to have received the gift [of the Holy Ghost] and not really
know it.” (Conference, Apr.‘08;
and Ensign, May ’00, p.8)
This year in class we are having the blessing of studying
the marvelous occurrences relating to the coming forth of the restored
church. After the First Vision, the
heavens were opened and there were many other great and glorious visions, which
we will learn about. In light of this,
it is very fitting that we have this lesson today, at the beginning of the
year, so that we can recognize that the heavens are also open to us.
In the Munich Germany Area Conference in 1973, President
Spencer W. Kimball said: “The burning bushes, the smoking mountains, … the Cumorahs,
and the Kirtlands were realities; but they were the exceptions. The great volume of revelation came to Moses
and to Joseph and come to today’s prophet in the less spectacular way—that of
deep impressions, without spectacle or glamour or dramatic events.
“Always expecting the spectacular, many will miss entirely
the constant flow of revealed communication.” (Quoted by Graham W. Doxey, Ensign, Nov.’91,
Brother Doxey continues, “Even at the highest levels of
responsibility in this kingdom of God, which is being built up upon the earth,
the [still, small] voice is still small.”
“Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, ‘every common bush [is]
afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.’ (Aurora Leigh, book 7, lines 822-3)
“The questions are not, ‘Does God live? Does God love me?’ … The critical question
is, ‘Are you listening to him? Have you
removed your shoes?’” (Ibid.)
Ways in which the
Visions and great spiritual manifestations still do occur in
among the faithful today. Voices are
heard from beyond the veil. Angels do
appear. But, as Elder Dallin H Oaks
experiences are exceptional … Most of the revelation that comes to leaders and
members of the Church comes by the still, small voice or by a feeling rather than by a vision or a voice that speaks specific words we can hear. I testify to the reality of that kind of revelation, which I have come to know as a familiar, even daily, experience to
guide me in the work of the Lord. “ (Ensign, Mar.’97, p.14)
D&C 9:8 – The Spirit Causes Our Bosoms to Burn
This is one of the most familiar scriptures regarding
revelation. When this feeling occurs, it
is a tangible manifestation confirming truth or answering prayers. We need to be aware, however, that this is
not the only way in which the Spirit speaks.
We would miss many, many revelations and and inspirations if we expected
each of them to be accompanied by a powerful burning in our chest. One of the Apostles is quoted as having said,
have traveled throughout the Church.
I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the
bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people
tell me they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that
feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time.” (Jay E. Jensen, Ensign, Apr.’89, pp.21-2)
There are many different ways in which the Spirit speaks to
us, and we are going to go over those today.
I got a great deal of help in preparing this lesson from Ensign
articles, especially one by Jay E. Jensen, who was at the time Director of
Scriptures Coordination for the Church Curriculum Dept., entitled “Have I
Received an Answer from the Spirit?” in
If class members have
experiences to share after each scripture, forego the stories I have written
and use theirs instead. Put up
wordstrips or write on the board each of the headings as it comes up.
D&C 6:23 – The Spirit Speaks Peace to the Mind
The most common manifestation of the Spirit is a feeling of
peace, of calmness, of tranquility – or a departure of anxiety and fear.
One night when two of my brothers, both young adults with
their own cars, were out late and my mother was home alone reading, the phone
rang. It was about 11:30 at night. When she picked up the phone, the voice on
the other end was very garbled. The only
words she could understand were “accident” and “hurt.” This was in the days before cell phones, and
she had no way to contact my brothers and make sure that they were okay. Needless to say, she became flooded with an
intense worry. She was overcome by a
terrible, dark feeling. She fell to her
knees and said a prayer. She asked the
Lord to tell her if there was something she was to do if one of the boys was in
trouble, and if there was nothing she could do, or if there was no trouble,
that he might please take away this horrible feeling. She closed her prayer and stood up. Immediately, as she stood, the fear left and
she was wrapped in a feeling of peace.
She returned to her reading, and less than ten minutes later, my
brothers both drove in at the same time, one into each of our two driveways. She heard them call to each other across the
lawn, and then they came in the house together laughing. There had been no problem and she never knew
whether the phone call had been a prank or a wrong number.
D&C 11:13-14 – The Spirit Enlightens Our Minds
The Prophet Joseph Smith indicated that at these times you
pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas…”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.151)
How do you know that it is the Spirit and not just your own
idea? After the words “enlighten your
mind,” the Lord adds the phrase “which shall fill your soul with joy.” The feeling of understanding in the mind
given by the Spirit is always accompanied by some type of positive
emotion. Brother Jensen says, “Not only is
our understanding affected, but our souls seem to expand – the whole experience
is delicious to us.”
D&C 11:12 The Spirit Leads to do Good
“Have you ever learned of someone in need, perhaps a close
friend, and felt strongly impressed to help?
Have you ever talked with someone and been led to say the right thing? Have you ever suddenly felt a need to fix
something in the house or to weed the garden?
This is how the Spirit can work – he leads us to do good.
“Have you ever felt that you should forgive someone? Have you ever been prompted to pay tithing
before you pay certain bills? Have you
ever seen a child learn to share his toys?
These are a few times in which the Spirit can prompt a person, even a
small child, to do justly. “ (Ibid., p.24)
I saw the Spirit work upon my daughter Savannah in this way
when she was six or seven. She was on
the back patio and accidentally knocked over a really cute flowerpot which I
had made from a kit a friend had given me as a gift. Like most little kids, she was afraid for
having made such a mistake, but she felt moved to come right in the house and
confess to me. She was upset as she told
me, but knowing that it was just an accident, I thanked her for letting me know
and we cleaned it up. A few minutes
later, she came back in the house and said, “Mom, I have such a strange
feeling. It’s like I’m all warm right
here,” and she rubbed her chest. Because
she followed the first prompting of the Spirit to confess, she then received a
confirmation that she had done the right thing.
D&C 128:1 – The Spirit Occupies our Minds and Presses
upon our Feelings
How many times does this type of revelation come to the
leadership of the church?! This is how
Joseph Smith was prompted many times.
The fact that the subject of baptism for the dead pressed upon Joseph’s
mind at the particular time that it did is a remarkable manifestation of the Spirit, when
we realize that at the time Joseph was
being pursued by enemies and was facing numerous difficulties and distractions. This is how President Spencer W. Kimball was
prompted to seek for priesthood blessings for worthy members of every
race. Another irony is that in his
conference talk on revelation, Elder Graham Doxey stated that this subject, revelation, had
been on his mind since the speaking assignment came. He obviously had received revelation that he
should give a talk on revelation.
President Joseph F Smith’s great vision recorded in D&C 138 was precipitated by the thoughts of the deaths of beloved family members, his
own imminent death, and deaths of millions worldwide, due to the Spanish
Influenza and World War I.
D&C 8:2-3 – The Spirit Tells us in our Minds and our
Elder Richard G. Scott explained this scripture very
specifically in an address at the annual Church Educational System Religious
Educators Symposium at BYU, August 11th, 1998: “I would
explain that an impression to the mind
is very specific. Detailed words can be
heard or felt and written as though the instruction were being dictated.”
Here is an amazing experience Elder Russell M. Nelson had
with this type of revelation:
“Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of
prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I
first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early
pioneering days of surgery of the heart. This saintly soul suffered much
because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition
resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.
“Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty
valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an
operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.
“Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in
desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: ‘Dr. Nelson, I have
prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me
how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so
prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what
to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you
“His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I
turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In
preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not
know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation
commenced, my assistant asked, ‘What are you going to do for that?’ I said, ‘I do not know.’
“We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of
the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be
intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should.
While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind:
Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant.
‘The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring
toward its normal size.’
“But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to
tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as
one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind,
showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to
accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete
with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as
diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced
remarkably. My assistant said, ‘It’s a miracle.’ I responded, ‘It’s an answer
“The patient’s recovery was rapid and his relief gratifying.
Not only was he helped in a marvelous way, but surgical help for other people
with similar problems had become a possibility. I take no credit. Praise goes to
this faithful patriarch and to God, who answered our prayers. This faithful man
lived for many more years and has since gone to his eternal glory.” (Elder
Russell M. Nelson, Conference, Apr.’03; and Ensign, May ’03, pp.7-8)
To continue with Elder Scott’s words: “A
communication to the heart is a more
general impression. The Lord often
begins by giving impressions. Where
there is recognition of their importance and they are obeyed, one gains more
capacity to receive more detailed instruction to the mind. An impression to the
heart, if followed, is fortified by a more specific instruction to the mind.”
It is important to note that Elder Scott, another time,
counseled that we may miss further revelation if we do not record in our
personal scriptures, our journals, those that we do receive. Writing down promptings received helps us to
recognize them even better the next time.
(See Richard G. Scott, Helping
Alma 14:11 – The Spirit Constrains
When the wicked inhabitants of Ammonihah were about to burn
the believers, Amulek suggested to Alma that they exercise their priesthood
power to save the innocent. But through
the Spirit, the Lord held Alma back from doing something contrary to His divine
Wilford Woodruff related a constraining encounter he had
with the Spirit. He was bringing some
Saints from New England and Canada to the West.
They had scheduled passage on a boat, but the Spirit spoke to President
Woodruff, “Don’t go aboard that steamer, nor your company.” He obeyed the voice. The boat departed and some fifty yards
downstream caught fire and sank (A Story to Tell, p. 320). I wonder how many times the Spirit constrains
us to do something and we never get to see what might have happened had we
John 14:26 – The Spirit Brings Things to our Remembrance
This happened to Enos as he went hunting. The Spirit brought the teachings of his
father back into his mind. They sunk
deep into his heart, and he was moved to pray.
(See Enos 1:3-4.) Had he not
followed that prompting through remembrance by meditating and praying, he would
not have received the testimony he did.
How many of us at key moments have had the Spirit bring to
our remembrance the words of our parents, teachers, a conference address, or
As we keep putting the words of Christ and our testimonies
into the memories of our children and those we teach, the Spirit will be able to
call their attention to those when the time is right. Hopefully, they will then follow the Spirit
when it prompts them to remember those words they have been taught by us.
D&C 98:12 – The Spirit Gives Revelation Line upon
In his Conference address of October 1989, Elder Scott also
“When we seek inspiration to help make decisions, the Lord gives gentle
promptings. These require us to think,
to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act. Seldom does the whole answer to a decisively
important matter or complex problem come all at once. More often, it comes a piece at a time,
without the end in sight.”
This is in keeping with President Joseph F. Smith’s account
of how he received his testimony. Having had the Prophet Joseph as his uncle, and Hyrum Smith as his father, he was, no
doubt, accustomed to hearing of marvelous manifestations of the Spirit. As a young teen, he served as a missionary,
and these are his words about how he gained his testimony. I suspect many of us received
ours in the same way.
“When I as a boy first started out in the ministry, I would
frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order
that I might receive a testimony. But
the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line,
precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until He made me to
know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until
doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me.” (Gospel
Doctrine, 5th edition, p.7)
D&C 43 – The Spirit Prompts According to our
This is not just one way in which the Spirit prompts – this is a rule that governs revelation. The prophet holds the keys of revelation for
the entire church, the bishop can receive revelation for the ward, and you can
receive revelation for your own family.
You cannot receive revelation for something or someone over which you
have no stewardship. (See Dallin H Oaks,
“Revelation,” New Era, Sep.’82, pp.45-6)
In addition, any revelation we receive in our own capacities
must be in harmony with truth received through the prophet. The First Presidency has said, “When …
inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of
the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities,
Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it
may appear” (Messages of the
First Presidency, 4:285).
This is the same reason why the young man in the elevator
was mistaken in his revelation about my friend.
He had no stewardship over her.
What if revelation
does not come?
“Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an
answer. What could be wrong? It may be that you are not doing anything
wrong. It may be that you have not done
the right things long enough. Remember,
you cannot force spiritual things.
“Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go
about your lives. Ponder and pray
quietly and persistently about them.”
(Boyd K. Packer, Oct.’79 Conference)
Remember, it took three Church presidents pondering and
praying before the revelation was given that
all worthy males could receive the Priesthood.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks has also counseled on this subject. “We do not always receive inspiration or revelation
when we request it. Sometimes we are
delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own
judgment. We cannot force spiritual
things. It must be so. Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and
develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every
act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the
consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith." (BYU Devotional, Sep. 29, 1981; and Ensign,
Oct.’94, p.13) (See also D&C 8:10,
It may appear that Joseph Smith died prematurely, before the
work of the Restoration was complete.
But he was allowed to exercise revelation from the other side of the
veil in order to give counsel to his successor, Brigham Young, many times. It’s ironic that it was at one of these
appearances when revelation was obvious and grand that he gave counsel to
Brigham Young on how to encourage the Saints in receiving the less obvious
“Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to
keep the Spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the still small
voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits
of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to
keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to
them, their hearts will be ready to receive it.
[And here is where he gives the best overall guide for recognizing
revelation:] They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it
will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife,
and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good.” (Juvenile
Instructor, 8:114 (1873); Quoted in Apr.’89 Ensign, p.21)
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These times are no less troubled than Brigham Young’s time. Although we are minuscule human
“bugs” in a universe of obstacles, being able to receive and recognize
revelation makes us open to the Lord’s help from his vantage point high above
us. This is one of the greatest
blessings given to members of the Restored Church. As Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
“We need not live in fear of the future. We have every reason to rejoice and little
reason to fear. If we follow the
promptings of the Spirit, we will be safe, whatever the future holds. We will be shown what to do.” (Boyd K Packer, Apr.’00 Conference; and
Ensign, May ’00)