July 23, 2012 by FHElessons
As you all know, prayer is one of my favorite gospel topics and is a topic on which I will probably be writing a lot of posts. However, lately I have been thinking about the topic of receiving personal revelation. I know it would make more sense to begin with a lesson on prayer and then move on to personal revelation (the answers to prayer) next week, but I just feel the need to focus on this today. I guess the posts will have to be a little out of order. Oh, well.
A lot of times when it comes to attempting to receive personal revelation, we are tempted to be like Laman & Lemuel who, when asked by Nephi, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” responded, “We have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8-9). Sometimes we get discouraged about trying to hear the answers to our prayers and feel that the Lord may speak to others but he does not speak to us. However, Bruce R McConkie promises that, “It is the right of members of the Church to receive revelation” (Ensign, June 1971) and Joseph Smith declares, “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them. …” (Teachings, p. 149). Elder L. Lionel Kendrick tells us, “After we experienced our spiritual birth, Heavenly Father counseled and corrected us, and we were instructed, enlightened, and edified in His holy presence. Now that we have experienced our physical birth in mortality, He desires to continue to communicate with us and to give us counsel and direction. He does this through personal revelation, which involves preparation, prayer, and promptings. Personal revelation is one of the greatest gifts and blessings we can receive” (BYU Address, May 20, 1997).
OK – so it is our right to receive personal revelation, and our loving Father in Heaven desires us to receive it so that He can communicate with us. But, how do we make it happen? How do we develop a talent for it? How can we practice?
I think that just like Alma’s teachings on how to have faith, to be able to receive personal revelation, we must begin with a desire to be able to receive it. Spiritual things cannot be forced, but if you begin with what you CAN do – if you begin with a desire to have it, the Lord will help that desire to grow into ability and then into strength.
Of course, as with all gospel principles, we must prepare by cleansing ourselves personally. This is especially true of receiving personal revelation since God “doth not dwell in unholy temples” (Alma 7:21). Of course, this doesn’t mean that if we’re not hearing the answers to our prayers that there is something wrong with us. Nor does it mean that we have to perfect ourselves before we can hear God’s voice. But the more we repent of our sins, attend our meetings, attend the temple, study our scriptures, strive for obedience, and pray diligently and regularly, the better our chances of being able to hear God’s voice on a regular basis will be.
Boyd K. Packer says, concerning personal revelation, to just begin where you are: “You must begin where you are. Pray, even if you are like the prophet Alma when he was young and wayward, or if you are like Amulek, of the closed mind, who ‘knew concerning these things, yet … would not know.’ Prayer is your personal key to heaven. The lock is on your side of the veil” (Ensign, Nov 1994).
Realize that the ability to receive revelation, to hear God’s voice, to understand the answers to our prayers, is a spiritual gift. D&C 46 gives us a discussion of spiritual gifts and lists some of them. It counsels us, in vs. 8, to “seek ye earnestly the best gifts.” I would say the ability to receive personal revelation is one of the best gifts, wouldn’t you? So, we are told it’s OK to want it, to seek it. In fact, we are told to seek it earnestly. How do we do that? Well, in vs. 30, after it finishes listing the spiritual gifts, it says, “He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh.” So, our next step (after desiring the gift) is to ask for it. When we ask for a spiritual gift, we should ask daily. We should importune the Lord. We should continue to ask until we receive our desires. It won’t bug Him – this is what He has told us to do.
OK – so we’ve desired to have the gift of revelation, and we’ve importuned the Lord to grant us this gift. The next thing we can do is to practice for receiving it. And how do we practice? Through lots and lots of prayer. The scriptures tell us repeatedly to “pray always.” I have pages and pages where I’ve gathered scriptures with those same two words, and perhaps that will be the subject of another blog post. But, suffice it to say, that to “pray always” we need to pray about everything. No matter is too small to take to the Lord. No time is wrong for praying. We can ask the Lord anything – from which route should I drive to get to my destination to how should I prioritize my studying to what should I say to my child/sibling/spouse/parent/friend to where can I go to find a sale on what I want to buy to all the big matters we normally think to pray about.
In addition to praying for answers to questions, we can pour out our worries and troubles to the Lord, and He will comfort us. We can share our joys with Him, and He will rejoice with us. We can discuss our schedules for the day with Him and our goals in life, and we may receive direction in response. We should practice talking to Him as we would to our earthly father, as we would to a close friend. When we practice like this, we develop a relationship with Him, and we learn to hear His voice.
And after we talk our hearts our, we should of course spend time listening. Here’s a quote I like from one of my favorite books – Spiritually Centered Motherhood by Sherrie Johnson (p.33): “Listening is the most important part of prayer. It doesn’t make any sense to ask for answers and then close our prayer and jump into bed. To get an answer to prayer we must listen to the promptings and feelings within us. The quiet moments of listening allow the Spirit to speak to us. One night while kissing five-year-old Anissa good night, I started to review the process of how to pray and then listen, only to have her raise her little hand and interrupt. ‘I know, I know, I always do that,’ she said, waving her hand to stop me from saying more, ‘because once when I listened, Heavenly Father said, “I love you”!’”.
When we do receive answers to our prayers or promptings of any kind (whether solicited or un-), we should be sure to act on them as this is another form of practice. The more we act on promptings and revelation we receive, the more we will be attuned to receive it.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know if we’re receiving an answer or if it’s just our own desires making themselves known in our minds. And sometimes we receive an answer contrary to our own desires, and it’s difficult to obey the Lord instead of our own desires. But the more we practice praying frequently and with intensity and with the true thoughts and feelings of our heart, the easier it will be to distinguish true revelation from our own thoughts. And the more we practice acting on promptings, the easier it will be to obey. Hopefully, the times that we have to learn “the hard way” (by obeying our own desires instead of the Lord and then regretting it later) will be few.
Now I’d like to discuss some different ways that we might receive answers (this blog post is probably getting to be too long, but oh, well). Here is a list of scriptures that tell different ways to receive answers to our prayers and/or spiritual promptings:
Moroni 10:4-5: By the power of the Holy Ghost. All of us who have been baptized have received this gift and thus are entitled to receive revelation.
D&C 9:8-9: A specific process given to Oliver Cowdery where you first draw your own conclusion and then go to the Lord for confirmation (through a burning in your bosom – good feeling) or denial (through a stupor of thought – bad feeling or forgetfulness of what you were trying to say).
John 14:26: By bringing something you previously knew to your remembrance.
1 Nephi 8:2: Through dreams or visions.
Moses 5:4: Actually hearing God’s voice. Developing a personal relationship with him.
Enos 1: 4-8: God grants your righteous desires when you ask for them.
D&C 76:19: While pondering, the Lord can open your understanding – send thoughts to your mind.
D&C 6:14-15: After we ask, He can enlighten our minds.
D&C 6:23: Through feelings of peace.
1 Nephi 4:10 and D&C 128:1: He can give us a feeling of being compelled to do something or have a matter continually press upon our minds.
In my own life, I have most often received answers to my prayers through just general feelings or ideas after praying. I will feel my mind directed towards a certain thought or I will have a “good feeling” about an idea. Other times I have had the words of a hymn come into my mind or the words of a scripture come into my mind that were the answer to something I was thinking about and praying about. For example, one time when we were shopping for a new house and we had made an offer on one that had been refused, I was in the kitchen doing dishes and the words of a hymn kept repeatedly playing in my mind, “Victory, victory, through him that redeemeth.” These lyrics were unsolicited, and we hadn’t sung the song recently, so I knew they meant that we would be victorious in having our offer accepted for that house. Sure enough, the people called back a month later and said they were now willing to accept our offer.
I have infrequently had prayers answered in dreams that I remembered when I woke up and knew they were the answer to my prayer. I also have a special way that the Lord speaks to me to direct my relationships. When I meet a new person, I will sometimes feel very eloquent when speaking with them and sometimes feel very awkward. These are my perceptions only and are not shared by the other person. When I have this eloquent feeling, it means that the person will be a very good association for me, and when I have the awkward feeling, it means I should not associate with that person. I know that to others it sounds silly, but I have learned through experience that this is one way that the Lord communicates with me.
I think it’s important for each person to learn how the Lord communicates with them personally. It will be different for everybody, I think. I know that Grandma likes to look for the answers to her prayers by letting the scriptures fall open and reading the first verse that comes to her. And I think it also helps to study our scriptures daily so that we know them well enough that the Lord can bring scriptural passages to our mind in answer to our prayers, or so that, like the teenage Joseph Smith, we might find answers just during the course of our study. We can learn how the Lord communicates with us through experience – through practicing as described above and then listening for answers.
Lastly, if we find we are having trouble hearing the answers to our prayers, even after much time spent in listening, we can also ask the Lord specifically to teach us how He communicates with us. Remember, anything we ask for, He will grant us. So why not ask Him to teach us to learn to hear His voice?
Now, after all this practice and work to learn to develop the gift of personal revelation, can we expect that it will always come easily and just at the time that we desire it? Nope. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. Although we may be used to instant communication through texting, e-mail, and Facebook, communicating with the Lord has to be done on His own time. God will always answer our prayers, but He does it in the way and the time that is best for us. Although we may want an answer immediately, sometimes the Lord knows it is best for us to wait. As it counsels in Psalms 27:14, we need to learn to “Wait on the Lord.” We need to learn to trust that He knows what is best for us. We cannot compel revelation but can only do our part to sanctify ourselves, to ask with faith, to listen intently, and wait for the answer.
One thing that can add power to our prayers and can purify us to be more able to hear answers is fasting. I’ve always loved the speech by Alma: “And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me” (Alma 5:45-46).
Did Alma kneel down to pray and receive an immediate answer? No, he had to fast and pray MANY days before he received revelation. So, in addition to purifying ourselves and praying, we must be patient. We must be diligent. We must continue to fast and pray, and the answer will come in the Lord’s own time.
Well, this has been a ridiculously long blog post. In the future, I’ll try to make them a little shorter. I’ll leave you my testimony that God does answer prayers. He wants us to communicate with Him, to come to Him in prayer, to develop a close relationship with Him. He is our loving Father in Heaven and is always available to us for comfort, counsel, guidance, and a listening ear. I challenge you to deepen your relationship with God by more frequent and heartfelt prayer and by increased faith that He will hear and answer you. I challenge you to importune for the gift of personal revelation in your life. I pray for you to have the strength to heed that revelation. As you do so, your life will be improved and you will be happy.