The subject of personal revelation is of such great importance that we have been given a second lesson on the topic. Unlike the previous lesson, this lesson is a topical one—ranging throughout the Doctrine and Covenants to bring together many principles of revelation that are found therein.
General Principles of Revelation
“In Your Mind and in Your Heart”
As noted in our previous lesson, the Lord had responded through the Spirit to the prayers of Oliver Cowdery as often as he had inquired through prayer, and it was through that Spirit that Oliver had been led to visit the Prophet Joseph Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania (D&C 6:14). The Lord describes this inspiration as the “enlightening” of his mind (D&C 6:15).
In a subsequent revelation to Oliver Cowdery, the Lord said, “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” (D&C 8:2). Thus, we learned that revelation is a dual process—receiving thoughts in our minds and a confirming witness in our hearts.
Harold B. Lee said: “Thus the Lord, by revelation brings [ideas] into our mind as though a voice were speaking. May I bear humble testimony, if I may be pardoned, to that fact? I was once in a situation where I needed help. The Lord knew I needed help and I was on an important mission. I was awakened in the hours of the morning as though someone had wakened me to straighten me out on something that I had planned to do in a contrary course, and there was clearly mapped out before me as I lay there that morning, just as surely as though someone had sat on the edge of my bed and told me what to do. Yes, the voice of the Lord comes into our minds and we are directed thereby.” (“Divine Revelation,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 15 October 1952, 6–7).
Boyd K. Packer said: “I have come to know that inspiration comes more as a feeling than as a sound. . . . The Lord has a way of pouring pure intelligence into our minds to prompt us, to guide us, to teach us, to warn us. You can know the things you need to know instantly! Learn to receive inspiration.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 28–29; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 20). Elder Packer later added that, “These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears.” (That All May Be Edified [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 335).
Revelation comes to us in variety of ways and in various levels of intensity. Of all of these, Marion G. Romney said: “The type of revelation most common is that which comes into our minds and feelings and induces us to do what is right.” (Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 10 Apr. 1956], 8).
Men, Women, and Children Receive Revelation
The Old Testament Joel prophesied of the last days, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). In the book of Acts in the New Testament, after quoting Joel’s prophesy, Luke adds the promise that “on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18).
Bruce R. McConkie said, “Revelations are not reserved for a limited few or for those called to positions of importance in the Church. It is not position in the Church that confers spiritual gifts. . . . Rather it is personal righteousness; it is keeping the commandments; it is seeking the Lord while he may be found. God is no respecter of persons. He will give revelation to me and to you on the same terms and conditions” (Improvement Era, December 1969, 85).
Elder McConkie later observed, “It is the privilege and the right of every member of the Church to receive revelation and to enjoy the gifts of the Spirit. When we are confirmed members of the Church, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is the right to the constant companionship of that member of the Godhead, based on faithfulness. The actual enjoyment of this gift depends upon personal worthiness. . .” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 100–101).
This promise is not restricted to adults. Children, in the purity of their innocence, are often vessels of revelation that adults may be too occupied or faithless to receive. They dream dreams, they see spiritual beings, and they feel the Spirit when it falls upon them.
I remember very well the first time I experienced the Spirit as a child. I was in a sacrament meeting in Nephi , Utah , on a summer night (there were no air conditioned chapels in those days). My father was in the bishopric and sitting on the stand. My mother and I were seated on hard wooden benches as the young men prepared to pass the sacrament. We were singing a hymn, and I had my head laid in my mother’s lap, listening to her sing. I was overcome with a feeling of warmth and peace, very pleasing to my young soul. I knew that I was in the right place and that my Heavenly Father wanted me there. It was strong enough that I have never forgotten it. I did not know then, but have come to understand since, that I was receiving a witness from the Holy Spirit.
Janette Hales Beckham said, “A few weeks ago our four-year-old grandson, Michael, reported to his parents, `When I pray, my heart feels like a roasted marshmallow’. . . . My daughter Karen shared her experience. She said, `When I was just a little girl, I started reading the Book of Mormon for the first time. After many days of reading, I came one night to 1 Nephi 3:7: . . . I felt strongly impressed. . . .but the deep impression was really more of a feeling. I had seen my parents mark verses in their scriptures with red pencils. So I got up and searched through the house until I found a red pencil, and with a great sense of solemnity and importance, I marked that verse in my own Book of Mormon.’ Karen continued, `Over the years as I read the scriptures, that experience was repeated time and time again. . . . In time I came to recognize that feeling as the Holy Ghost.'” (Ensign, November 1997, 75).
How God Communicates with Us
Precisely how the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost communicate to our hearts and minds is a mystery. As a lifelong broadcaster, I prefer to understand it through the metaphor of radio waves, though I am sure that the Lord and His Spirit use higher physics than those that we know in this world. Still, it is instructive to know how information can move through space unnoticed and yet be perceived by those who are “in tune.”
Radio waves carry the information we hear on radio and watch on television. Simply put, radio waves are forms of light. The light we see coming off the ceiling lights in our room are also forms of radio waves—those that our eyes are capable of discerning. But there are many light (radio wave) frequencies we cannot see, and some of these are used by broadcasters. If our eyes were capable of seeing it, the radio waves coming off of broadcasting towers would look like a light glowing brightly and filling up the area surrounding the tower with pulsating, ever changing light. And this light goes forth from the tower to fill the air with their encoded messages. Hundreds of them are traveling through the room you now occupy, and you are not even aware of them because your eyes are not capable of seeing them nor your ears of hearing them. You need an appropriate receiver that is properly in tune with those frequencies of light.
In a similar manner to how light can carry the signals of radio and television stations here on earth, the light of Christ and of the Holy Spirit “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space” ( D&C 88:2). In a way which we do not fully understand, this same light is the source of light for the sun, the moon and the stars (vv. 8–9). This same light keeps the earth in its proper orbit (v. 10), and enlightens and quickens our personal understanding of things (v. 11). Furthermore, this light “giveth life to all things,” “is the law by which all things are governed,” and is the very “power of God who sitteth upon his throne (v. 13). Thus, if our spirits are properly “in tune” we can detect the guiding messages of the light of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, but if we are not in tune then they will go completely undetected by us.
The Light of Christ
The light of Christ is given to every person born into the world ( Moroni 7:16–18). God has not left his children alone in this world to fend for themselves. He granted unto each of His children sent to earth (v. 16). This light is sometimes referred to as our conscience because it enables us to “know good from evil” (v. 16). Those things that are good and that persuade us to believe in Christ are “sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God” (v. 16). On the other hand, that which leads us to not believe in or follow Christ, or to deny Him, or to refuse to serve God “then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him” (v. 17). Thus, each child of God has an innate ability to tell the difference between good and evil, between right and wrong, which makes them fully accountable for their choices, no matter how much or little they may know about the entire plan of salvation. They are required to judge and choose righteously according to the light they’ve been given.
The “Whisperings” of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost “whispers” in a “still, small voice” (D&C 85:6). Neither the Holy Spirit nor the Lord speak to us in a loud or demanding voice. Their communications are accomplished through “the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things,” though its effect can be penetrating, sometimes causing “bones to quake while it maketh manifest.” This is the same still, small voice that Elijah heard after the loud and convulsive winds, earthquakes, and fires that preceded it (1 Kings 19:12). It is the same still, small voice that often spoke to Laman and Lemuel but they were “past feeling” and could not detect it (1 Nephi 17:45). And it is the same “still, small voice of perfect mildness” that spoke out of the darkness to those who stood around the prison walls that had just collapsed, freeing the prophets Nephi and Lehi in about 30 B.C. (Helaman 5:30).
Dallin H. Oaks said:
“Some [people] have looked exclusively for the great manifestations that are recorded in the scriptures and have failed to recognize the still, small voice that is given to them. . . .We need to know that the Lord rarely speaks loudly. His messages almost always come in a whisper. . . . Not understanding these principles of revelation, some people postpone acknowledging their testimony until they have experienced a miraculous event. They fail to realize that with most people . . . gaining a testimony is not an event but a process. . . .
“Visions do happen. Voices are heard from beyond the veil. I know this. But these 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.” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Man 1997, 11–12, 14).
It is vitally important that we understand these principles of how the Holy Ghost communicates, because there are dangers of expecting divine communication to come in more dramatic or spectacular ways. Particularly the spiritually immature are prone to seek some kind of sign in answer to their prayers rather than listening carefully to the promptings of the Spirit and paying attention to the tender confirmations that come to their hearts.
The Holy Ghost Enlightens Our Minds
As noted in our previous lesson, the Prophet Joseph Smith said revelation may come as “sudden strokes of ideas” that flow into our minds as “pure intelligence” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 151). This is what is meant by “enlightening our minds” (D&C 6:15). This is the method by which he received inspiration on the subject of baptism for the dead, which; he said “seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest” even while he was in hiding from the pursuit of his enemies (D&C 128:1). As was true in Liberty Jail, the Prophet was able to discern heavenly communication even under the most trying of circumstances. He was a remarkable servant of God and the greatest revelator of this (and possibly any) dispensation. He referred to the revelations that came to his mind as an “overflowing surge” which was so vast he did not have time to teach it all before he died.
The Holy Ghost Brings Peace to Our Minds
While Oliver Cowdery stayed in the home of Joseph Smith’s parents for a time before meeting the Prophet, he prayed for and received a peaceful assurance that Joseph’s calling and work were divine (D&C 6:22–23). This feeling of peace, rather than some kind of divine “burning in the bosom” is often the kind of confirmation that comes when we take a problem to the Lord through prayer. Instead of fear and the doubt that so often consume us as we wrestle with our spiritual and temporal problems, the Spirit conveys a sense of peace—the assurance that all will be well.
The Holy Ghost Touches Our Hearts
While enlightening our minds, the Holy Ghost also touches our hearts. How can we know that the ideas we have received are from God and not just our own enthusiasm or the deceptions of Satan? The Lord answers, “I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind” and “which shall fill your soul with joy” (D&C 11:13). Thus, we are not simply asking for ideas, nor are we asking for some manifestation or feeling. We need both to know our inspiration comes from the Lord. We receive the idea into our minds, and we feel the peaceful confirmation in our hearts that what we have received is the Lord’s will. And “by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive” (v. 14).
This effect of the Holy Ghost on our hearts is often called “a burning in the bosom” (Luke 24:32). Although D&C 9:7–8 has to do with Oliver Cowdery’s attempt to translate the Book of Mormon, the principles also apply to personal revelation. The disciples on the road to Emmaus felt this warm confirmation in their bosoms as they walked unknowingly with the resurrected Lord. It usually confirms the correctness of what is then happening to us or what we are thinking or doing. It is not a “sign” that stands independent of all other considerations. It is the Lord’s way of saying, “Yes, my child, proceed with what you are thinking or doing.”
Boyd K. Packer said, “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 77; Ensign, Nov. 1994, 60). Thus, it is not always dramatic or sudden. Dallin H. Oaks said, “I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom ‘burn within’ them. What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? 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.” (Ensign, March 1997, 13).
Line upon Line
The Holy Ghost usually reveals things “line upon line, precept upon precept” rather than all at once (D&C 98:12). We usually receive revelation in accordance with our preparation to receive it. As we become more prepared, more is revealed to us. Richard G. Scott said, “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.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 40; Ensign, Nov. 1989, 32).
Some Cautions about Personal Revelation
Feel Free to Pray over Everything in Your Life
The Lord invited Joseph Knight (and all of us) to “pray vocally before the world as well as in secret, and in your family, and among your friends, and in all places” (D&C 23:6). There is nothing wrong with asking the Lord for the things we desire, whatever they may be. The Psalmist said, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed . . . and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalms 37:3–4). And the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Seek to know God in your closets; call upon him in the fields. Follow the directions of the Book of Mormon, and pray over and for your families, your cattle, your flocks, your herds, your corn, and all things that you possess; ask the blessing of God upon all your labors, and everything that you engage in” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 247).
Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Be prayerful. You can’t do it alone. You know that. You cannot make it alone and do your best. You need the help of the Lord . . . and the marvelous thing is that you have the opportunity to pray, with the expectation that your prayers will be heard and answered. . . .The marvelous thing about prayer is that it is personal, it’s individual, it’s something that no one else gets into, in terms of your speaking with your Father in Heaven in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Be prayerful. Ask the Lord to forgive your sins. Ask the Lord for help. Ask the Lord to bless you. Ask the Lord to help you realize your righteous ambitions. . . . Ask the Lord for all of the important things that mean so much to you in your lives. He stands ready to help. Don’t ever forget it” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 468).
Be Willing to Submit to God’s Will
Though we are encouraged to ask for whatever we feel we need, we must also pray for the Lord’s will to be done and be willing to submit to him (D&C 109:44). The Savior taught us to add to our prayers,“Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And the Prophet Joseph Smith prayed at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple , “Thy word must be fulfilled. Help thy servants to say, with thy grace assisting them: Thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours.” That can sometimes be difficult to do when we want something very much.
Richard G. Scott said, “Progress is accelerated when you willingly allow Him to lead you through every growth experience you encounter. . . . When you trust in the Lord, when you are willing to let your heart and your mind be centered in His will, when you ask to be led by the Spirit to do His will, you are assured of the greatest happiness along the way . . . If you question everything you are asked to do, or dig in your heels at every unpleasant challenge, you make it harder for the Lord to bless you” (Ensign, May 1996, 24–25).
Whatever God Requires Is Right
The Lord will always do what is best for us if we will turn to Him and trust Him (D&C 88:64–65; 122:6). The Lord promises us “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you” (v. 64). But we must be careful not to ask amiss because if we ask for “anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation” (v. 65). To the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail the Lord said, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7) Through this and other experiences of his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned that “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 256).
Marion G. Romney said, “We need have no fear that our well-being will not be served by such an approach. It is God’s work and glory ‘ . . . to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39.) I think I am within the mark when I say that the obtaining of eternal life by each individual person, including specifically you and me, is part of the work of God and adds to his glory. His will concerning us and our affairs cannot be other than for our advancement toward immortality and eternal life. Submitting to his will in every instance will be for our own good. And this we must do in faith if we would have peace and happiness in our present state of imperfect living.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1944, 55–56).
The “Economy of Revelation”
We receive revelation only for our own lives, stewardships and responsibilities (D&C 28:2, 6–7). The early members of the Church, all being converts from orthodox Christian sects, knew little or nothing about the principles of revelation. In particular, some struggled with the question of who can receive revelations for the Church as a whole. The Lord made this crystal clear when He said, “no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses” (v. 5). They were not to “command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church; For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead” (vv. 6–7; see also D&C 43:2–4).
Expanding on this doctrine, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 21). This means that we can receive revelation for ourselves and for those over whom we have proper stewardship. But we cannot receive revelation for others, nor for our leaders, nor for the Church.
Consider the all-too-frequent circumstance of one young person telling a potential mate that he has prayed about it and the Lord has told him that the two of them are supposed to be married. This is never appropriate. John H. Groberg said: “ I would . . . caution you that you cannot receive a one-sided revelation from God in regards to an eternal marriage. Only as both parties feel the same way can you have the assurance that it is from the Lord. Those who try to force another’s free will into their supposed-revelation mold are doing a great disservice to themselves and to their friends.” (“What Are You Doing Here?” New Era, Jan. 1987, 37–38).
In addition, the First Presidency 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. . . . Anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable.” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75], 4:285).
Discern the Source of Thoughts and Feelings
We must be sure that the revelation has come from God (D&C 11:12–14). Sometimes what we think is a revelation may be a projection of our own desires. And sometimes false revelations may come from Satan. Revelations from God will be in accordance with scripture and the counsel of the living prophets. One way to discern this is to “put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit” (v. 12). Anything that leads to injustice, price, or unrighteous judgment of others does not come from the Lord. Also, the Spirit of the Lord will always “enlighten your mind” and “fill your soul with joy” (v. 13). That which brings confusion, darkness, or sorrow does not come from the Lord. By these two tests we can know whether “all things whatsoever you desire of me . . . are pertaining unto things of righteousness,” and if so we will receive them through faith (v. 14).
Revelation Is Edifying, Not Showy
That which does not edify is not of God (D&C 50:23–24). During a time when some were being deceived by those who would shake and quake and roll around, supposedly under the influence of the Spirit, the Lord taught the Saints that “that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness” (v. 23). God does not manifest His Spirit through unseemly means, but with dignity and solemnity. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (v. 24).
When Answers Do Not Seem to Come
Boyd K. Packer said, “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. Sometimes we are confused simply because we won’t take no for an answer. . . . Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives. Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them. The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (D&C 98:12). Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. The promptings will be clear and unmistakable.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 29–30; Ensign, Nov. 1979, 21).
Each of these suggestions, and several others, are discussed below.
Sometimes the Answer Is “No”
When God wishes us to go a different direction from the one we are anticipating, instead of peace and confirmation we receive negative feelings—confusion, feelings of unrest and uneasiness, or a “stupor of thought” (D&C 9:9). Such confusion and uneasiness never come from the Lord their presence is a manifestation of the lack of the Spirit and therefore of the Lord’s approval.
James E. Faust said, “Of all that we might do to find solace, prayer is perhaps the most comforting. We are instructed to pray to the Father in the name of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost. The very act of praying to God is satisfying to the soul, even though God, in his wisdom, may not give what we ask for. President Harold B. Lee taught us that all of our prayers are answered, but sometimes the Lord says no.” Finding Light in a Dark World [ Salt Lake City : Deseret Book Co., 1995], 30–31).
If the answer is not what we had hoped for or expected, we must not murmur. If we insist on what we want and are angry when we don’t receive it, we may close off the Spirit’s communication with us. To Oliver Cowdery the Lord said, “Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner” (D&C 9:6). The Lord has higher purposes in the events of our lives, and we often do not fully understand or appreciate them until much later.
Sometimes We must Wait for an Answer or a Blessing
Revelation will come in the Lord’s own time and way (D&C 88:68; 98:2). We are instructed to “sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God.” If we do this, our righteous desires will be granted, but “it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.” We do not always receive revelation at the time or in the way we expect. If we try to force revelation to come when and how we want it, we may be deceived.
Dallin H. Oaks said, “The Lord will speak to us through the Spirit in his own time and in his own way. 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, even in the precise way they have prescribed. Revelation does not come that way. . . . The principle stated in [D&C 88:68] applies to every communication from our Heavenly Father: ‘It shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.’ We cannot force spiritual things.” (Ensign, Mar. 1997, 10–11).
Richard G. Scott said, “It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately. Some prayers require considerable effort on our part… When we explain a problem and a proposed solution [to our Heavenly Father], sometimes He answers yes, sometimes no. Often He withholds an answer, not for lack of concern, but because He loves us—perfectly. He wants us to apply truths He has given us. For us to grow, we need to trust our ability to make correct decisions. We need to do what we feel is right. In time, He will answer. He will not fail us.” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 38; Ensign, Nov. 1989, 30–31).
In connection with this, sometimes we need to set the matter aside temporarily while we ponder and pray (D&C 88:62, 71). Flashes of inspiration often come when we least expect them, while our minds are no longer consumed by the matter. The Lord commands us to ponder His sayings in our hearts “for a little season” and call upon Him while He is near (vv. 62, 71).
Sometimes We must Increase Our Spirituality
Without sufficient spirituality, we cannot receive and recognize the whisperings of the Spirit (D&C 9:5, 7). Remember that Oliver Cowdery took the process too lightly, with insufficient effort. He started out all right, using his faith and the spirit of revelation to translate the first few lines. But then, perhaps taking it too lightly, he began to assume that it would get easier and stopped applying himself as he had before, and the Lord withdrew the privilege from him (v. 5), saying, “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” (v. 7).
Revelation comes only from the Lord, who is the source of all truth and light. Thus, we must be “in tune” with Him before we can discern his will. In some cases, we may not have prepared ourselves as long, as faithfully, or as honestly as we should. We have been too casual in our preparation, study, or meditation on the matter. Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “To soundly plant good seeds in your heart requires prolonged, intense, unremitting pondering. It is a deep, ongoing, regenerating process which refines the soul.” (Ensign, May 1982, 23–25).
Spencer W. Kimball said, “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns. I find myself loving more intensely those whom I must love with all my heart and mind and strength, and loving them more, I find it easier to abide their counsel.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 135).
Sometimes We must Be More Obedient
Any degree of willful unrighteousness will disqualify us from receiving the Spirit and thereby being able to discern the spirit of revelation (Isaiah 59:2). S. Dilworth Young said: “ If I am to receive revelation from the Lord, I must be in harmony with him by keeping his commandments. Then as needed, according to his wisdom, his word will come. . . . ” (“The Still Small Voice,” Ensign, May 1976, 23).
Joseph Fielding Smith said, “If we want to have a living, abiding faith, we must he active in the performance of every duty as members of this Church. I am as sure as I am that I am here that we would see more manifestations of the Spirit of God, for instance in the healing of the sick, if we would live just a little nearer to these fundamental truths.” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56], 2:311–312).
Sometimes Fear Blocks Faith, and Therefore Revelation
When Oliver Cowdery began, he was full of faith. But as he began to lose his gift, he allowed fear to overcome him (D&C 9:10–11). The Lord said to him, “it is not expedient that you should translate now. Behold, it was expedient when you commenced; but you feared, and the time is past, and it is not expedient now.” James E. Faust said: “Action is inhibited by fear. . . . You rightly have concerns about measuring up and finding your place in life. You more often recognize your inadequacies rather than your strengths. . . .We can overcome all of our fears, not all at once, but one at a time. As we do so we will grow in confidence.” (Ensign, November 1997, 43–44).
Sometimes We Should Choose for Ourselves
Some issues are not of great importance, and we may do as we wish. Other times we may be blessed regardless of which choice we make because they are equally good. When the Lord asked the elders to return speedily to the East from Jackson County, Missouri, he said, “Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis” (D&C 60:5). He also didn’t care whether they went by water or by land (D&C 61:22), nor whether they went all together or two by two (D&C 62:5). In all these cases the Lord said simply, “it mattereth not unto me.” He was more concerned that they “be faithful, and declare glad tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, or among the congregations of the wicked” as they went (D&C 62:5).
The Lord does not wish to “command in all things,” and when we expect Him to do so we experience no growth. At times, He expects us to use our own best judgment based on study and reason (D&C 58:25–28) and then to make our own decisions in righteousness. The Lord said, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward” (v. 26). We are commanded to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (v. 27). We are not helpless, and the Lord does not want us to be totally dependent upon Him for every action. “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (v. 28).