Personal Revelation: Getting in Our Own Way

Over the past few years, I have noticed several of our church leaders mention the idea that, as members, or priesthood holders, we are “living beneath our privileges.” (Holland, Uchtdorf, Wirthlin)

I was thinking of how this idea applied to our interaction with the Holy Ghost, and stumbled upon this quote by Elder Joseph Wirthlin: “I fear that some members of the Lord’s Church live far beneath our privileges with regard to the Holy Ghost.”  (Link)  I couldn’t agree more – and it is always nice to let an Apostle make your point for you.

Part of the great Plan of Happiness entails that the Holy Ghost would be available to help us through this mortal existence. His role is to testify of truth, to guide us, to comfort us, and myriad other things. Having the Holy Ghost with us is so important that God made this quest the key part of our weekly Sunday worship. God wants us to always have His Spirit to be with us.

But as I study and learn more about the Holy Ghost, the more I believe that we sometimes limit ourselves, and make it harder than it needs to be to receive personal revelation from the Spirit- we live beneath our privileges. 

And here is where I need to be careful:  I believe that our focus on some of the most important events and scriptures from the Restoration can actually get in our way as we seek Divine guidance. No, I am not a heretic – but I would like to talk about three deeply ingrained teachings that should, perhaps, be taught with an asterisk.

1) A Burning in Your Bosom.

When Oliver Cowdery was given an opportunity to translate the Book of Mormon, the Lord told him that the way he would know that things were correct would be that he would feel a “burning in his bosom.”  Here is the scripture from Doctrine & Covenants 9:8.

“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.”

This sensation of a burning in his bosom was, and is, a sign from the Holy Ghost for many people, including Oliver Cowdery – but not for everyone. Many people experience the manifestation of the Holy Ghost in completely different ways. Joseph Smith called it “peace and joy.” Others feel a calmness, or an infusion of pure intelligence. Some feel goosebumps, others butterflies.

I have learned over the years that the way the Holy Ghost manifested himself to Oliver Cowdery is not the way he communicates with me. Although it has happened to me on occasion, the sensations I feel would rarely be described as a burning.

Here’s my worry: If we are looking for a burning, and only a burning, we might completely ignore what feelings the Holy Ghost is sharing with us. One of the more important things we can do in this life is to recognize what the Spirit feels like to each of us, and become familiar with it – or we might spend our lives in search of a burning that might not ever come.

2) Joseph found his answer in the sacred grove.

I testify to you that this is true, and that it actually happened in 1820. The heavens were parted, and God the Father and Jesus Christ personally visited Joseph Smith in answer to his prayer. I am even loath to call it a “vision,” for it was actually a visitation.

We have heard many times that we need to have a quiet place of reflection – our personal “Sacred Grove” – where we can seek the Lord and personal revelation. This is true, but not always applicable.

Sometimes that inspiration needs to come when we are sitting around the dinner table, or at a Board meeting, or driving a kid to school, or when our hands are placed on someone’s head.  Sometimes we need the guidance of the Spirit at the most inopportune times – and we can’t always make a run for the grove, or our closet.

My fear is that sometimes we limit ourselves by assuming that the only time we can receive answers to our prayers is when we are in a place of solitude, on a mountain top, or in the temple. The Lord wants us to have His Spirit with us always – not only when it is geographically convenient.

3) Joseph found his answer on his knees.

True. Joseph did find many answers on his knees, but I imagine he found many when he wasn’t kneeling as well. In my personal experience, I don’t get much inspiration when I’m on my knees. There was a point many years ago that this used to bother me – even to the point where I asked a leader about it.  I was a young Elder’s Quorum President, serving an exploding quorum of over 140 elders. I was in a PPI with my Stake President and expressed concern that I didn’t feel like I was getting the answers I needed as I was seeking guidance through prayer.  My wise Stake President made a simple comment that solved my dilemma – and I was happy to hear Elder Dallin Oaks say the exact same thing years later:

“Revelation comes when we are on the move.” (link)

Amen to that.

Life is constantly moving, and we should be anxiously engaged. It is not feasible, nor expected, that we remain indefinitely on our knees until we get the answers we seek. If that were the case, precious little would ever get done.

Of course kneeling in prayer is one of the key tenets of our faith, but it is not the only time and place to receive personal revelation. I fear is that sometimes we underestimate the Spirit’s ability to reach us under any circumstance.  For example have been taught many times that we are more apt to receive revelation while immersed in the scriptures. Some have gone as far as to say, “We ask the Lord through prayer, He answers us through the scriptures.”  I wouldn’t go that far, but you get the idea.

Sometimes we need inspiration and don’t even know it. Elder Richard G. Scott said:

“Impressions of the Spirit can come in response to urgent prayer, or unsolicited when needed. Sometimes the Lord reveals truth to you when you are not actively seeking it, such as when you are in danger and do not know it.” (link)

I would be curious to know what places each of you are more apt to receive personal revelation that would not be considered “normal.”  At the risk of being ridiculed, I will share one of mine:  Mowing the lawn. For some reason, as I am walking back and forth pushing the lawn mower, I have a clarity of mind, and an increased accessibility to promptings of the Spirit. Maybe it’s the drone of the engine, or maybe because I can’t hear or speak, or maybe because I am now accustomed to that process. Whatever the reason, it works for me – and I’m not on my knees

There is so much to learn about personal revelation, and I need to study it more. I am more convinced than ever that many of us live “beneath our privileges” in regards to our communication with the Spirit. I do know that God wants us to be familiar with the voice of the Spirit, and learn to rely on it, and I hope that we can understand that each of us are unique in how that happens.

–one more thing–

As I was studying, I came across a wonderful story by the Apostle D. Todd Christofferson that touches on these subjects. It is from an article in the New Era where he answers questions about prayer. (link)

“We ought to remember we don’t dictate to God the timing of His answers to us and the content of what comes in response to our prayers. I learned this when I was about 16. I was in the pageant at Hill Cumorah. I lived in New Jersey at the time, and they had some of the youth from New Jersey and New York as participants. I thought I had a deep belief in the ProphetJoseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and felt that they were true and that the First Vision was as he described it. I thought, “This is the perfect chance. I’ll go to the Sacred Grove one night after the performance and get the final confirmation I need there.”

So I did. I went there late one night. It was a beautiful summer evening. Nobody else was there—perfectly reverent and peaceful. And I prayed. I didn’t ask for anything specific. I just said, “Can I have some confirmation of my belief?” Really I wanted a testimony of my feeling about the Prophet and the Book of Mormon.

Nothing happened. I prayed a long time—I’m sure more than an hour. Nothing. I was really disappointed. I said, “What did I do wrong? Why didn’t the Lord answer me? Wasn’t it the perfect place, the perfect time? What should I have done that I didn’t do?”

Later, what I was looking for came, but it was at home in a quiet moment when I was reading the Book of Mormon. That witness from the Holy Ghost flooded over me, and I knew. I knew I knew. And when I looked back on the experience, I said, “Why didn’t He answer my prayer then? Why was it later?” I learned two important lessons from that:

First, you don’t have to be any place special for the Lord to answer your prayer. You don’t have to make a pilgrimage to Palmyra or Jerusalem or anything like that. He knows where you are. He knows your name. He can answer you right here, right now, any moment.

And second, you don’t dictate to God. You just don’t tell Him what and when. That comes according to His will and His timing and His wisdom. He loves us; He knows what’s best for us, and our job is to be open. Our job is always to be willing and ready to receive. Then He knows what’s best and when to answer us and how to answer us. So, after all is said and done, we still have to live by faith.”Note: This post was originally posted on 2/13/13.- I felt it was time for a rerun – it helps that I spent last week at church history sites!

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  1. The late Elder Bruce R McConkie said once, “We should seek to get in tune with the Holy Spirit and to gain a witness, not solely of the truth and divinity of the work in which we are engaged but also of the doctrines that are taught by those who preach to us. We come into these congregations, and sometimes a speaker brings a jug of living water that has in it many gallons. And when he pours it out on the congregation, all the members have brought is a single cup and so that’s all they take away. Or maybe they have their hands over the cups, and they don’t get anything to speak of.” (Bruce R McConkie, BYU Speeches, “The Seven Deadly Heresies”, June 1, 1980)

  2. “I am even loath to call it a “vision,” for it was actually a visitation.” YES!

    As I have been trying to grow my testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, I came to the same conclusion. It was not just a vision, but a visitation. Great way of putting it, MMM.

  3. Great post!!! I find that revelation often comes while riding in a car-either driving or sitting. My daughter finds it while running. a few years ago she accidently left her ipod at home and was surprised at how any answers she found in the silence. Now she never uses it. My husband is a stake president and he finds that much of his pondering and answers come up in his barn. In fact he often will meet with people up there and I can look out and see them walking the fields together.

  4. You’re right that often inspiration comes during the repetitive chores we need to do. Mine is driving to work, or doing the dishes. It also occurs when I see someone face to face in the corridors at Church and feel like I need to pay attention as though it has been given to me as an absolute, even when they’re smiling and not yet uttered a word. Sometimes I say stuff that feels stupid and out of context, particularly to my daughters friends in Youth, but it transpires later that it was on a subject they’d been worrying over. It really is a great system if we will just let ourselves be guided and act upon the tiniest promptings. Just tiny nudges. Or in my case as a single mum working full time. letting things be still enough or being open enough for the Spirit to fight past the chores list and grab my attention. The only time I’ve ever been disappointed in myself is when I didn’t act upon a nudge and it turned out later that I missed an opportunity to serve someone how they needed it in the moment whether that is a big intervention or a hug or smile or dropping them an email as soon as they pop in my head. That’s always a kick in the pants when I let them and myself down but there will often be another opportunity, hopefully. Thanks for your work, I appreciate it.

  5. I don’t think I have ever had the “burning bosom” experience. I know I have had the “be still and know that I am God” experience. I know that I have had the “I know what I am doing, be patient” experience. I have also had the “why are you asking Me? You already know, and have always known” experience. Most significantly was when, almost as an afterthought, I threw in a question about a girl that I had just started dating…and my aunt said I looked like I had been hit in the head with a 2×4 when I walked into the kitchen for breakfast.
    I think the spirit talks to us in different ways depending on how we need to hear Him. It is all a matter of how in tune we make ourselves, and the significance of the message.

  6. I do my best praying in my car. As far as getting answers, sometimes I do, and just as often I don’t. But I find that as long as I keep praying and keep moving in the direction that “feels right” eventually I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. Or where I should NOT be. Every once in a while I get a super strong, specific overwhelming impression or confirmation. But usually I just go with “what feels right.”

    1. Tara: Your comment made me think about a great teaching from Richard G. Scott: “When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act.

      Most often what we have chosen to do is right. He will confirm the correctness of our choices His way. That confirmation generally comes through packets of help found along the way. We discover them by being spiritually sensitive. They are like notes from a loving Father as evidence of His approval. If, in trust, we begin something which is not right, He will let us know before we have gone too far. We sense that help by recognizing troubled or uneasy feelings.”

      1. Totally agree here! I had a blessing once over a decision I was making say that both were good choices and would lead me down a path where I would learn and grow spiritually. And a few years later Dallin H Oakes ‘Good Better Best’ talk spoke to the same thing! Thank you for bringing this important lesson on ACTING on our personal revelation to the blog!

  7. While I’m out jogging! Very useful time while preparing talks, lessons, and dealing with life in general.

  8. AuntSue When I was 12 years old, coming in from outside, I heard the Voice of the Spirit, “Turn around.” What? There was no one in my backyard. Huh. So I took another step, “TURN AROUND!” (a loud strong voice) Sooo I turned around, and there was my two year old cousin going through the fence. On the other side was a ditch of water running high and fast. Quickly I grabbed him and returned him to his mother, two houses down. Sometimes the Spirit is a nudge, to turn a different way, to buy something extra at the grocery (and find the missionaries are coming to dinner), to make hamburger soup for a ward sister who was in bed (and find this was her mother’s comfort food). Walking through the bathroom, when the Spirit spoke, “They are my servants” (when I had been praying about whether a calling to Cub Scouts was inspiration or desperation). Also in the shower to instruct me that I was never to remarry, (was the place or the message, the biggest shock?) The most unusual place was on a jet way at Oakland Airport, when the Spirit called me to quickly repent and forgive, for the Lord had already forgiven my deceased husband’s sins, and if I did not, I was under His condemnation (that was a WHAM!). The Holy Ghost has come as the Comforter on the gurney while waiting for surgery, but never as a burning in my bosom. But as I welcome the Spirit, he is there.

  9. Driving from El Mirage to Central Phoenix and back is my only real alone time. I say prayers at all the usual times, but my actual conversation with God prayers are done then.

    He answers me a lot then, but also just throughout my days, as I am doing stuff He will point things out at appropriate times for me to understand.

    I also say, in prayers, when I need an answer to a decision, “You know I will doubt this answer if you say yes to what I want, so please hit me over the head with it so I know it’s from You, not me. ” He does that for me.

    1. I have never been that brave! But since most of what He says is a correction, that is not a problem.

    2. I’ve also used the “You will have to hit me on the head” ultimatum. After He has done that a few times, I’ve learned to appreciate and prefer His gentle help instead.

  10. I enjoyed reading the responses to your article. I am new to your blog, and like the tone of your writing and of your friends. To me, this suggests there is mutual seeking in an open-hearted way. That’s particularly what I hear in the article above: the authentic authority of a soul oriented by faith. I’m feel comforted, counseled, and invited to reflection on my own experiences with feeling the Spirit. God bless you for your way with words and fellow wonderers. Have a lovely Sabbath.

  11. I always appreciate when point #1 you made in this post is repeated and made clear, as that was an issue for me for a long time.
    In our stake there has been a push for more participation in the church’s new self reliance programs. Every member is being asked to sign up wether or not they are currently seeking a job or anything similar. Having attended, I think the reason is similar to your 3rd point in this post. The self reliance classes help to break down the partitions we tend to build in our lives that keep business, education, work, etc. separate from family and religion and recognize and apply principles of prayer and personal revelation to times and places that we wouldn’t otherwise.

  12. Love this! I had an experience with this part today…”Sometimes we need inspiration and don’t even know it.” I was thinking and complaining and wondering about something going on in my life. My question to God really boiled down to “Why is this important?”
    I haven’t really prayed about it, but the question was starting to make this aspect of my life harder. Today in Sunday School someone went a little off topic and answered that unspoken prayer perfectly. And the Spirit confirmed that this was the answer to my question . With this change in perspective I can move on and forward.

    1. I had a similar thing happen this morning. A speaker answered a question that I have had for YEARS.

  13. I wish that I had a “like” button for the other comments on this thread. Great comments.

    I’m an executive secretary and for the bishopric meeting this morning I shared a spiritual thought of the importance of councils in the Church – how they are vessels for revelation that have been a part of the Church since almost the beginning of the Restoration. I’m a believer in that setting for “revelation by committee.”

    As I commuted to SLC from Orem as a grad student, I took a former stake president’s council and used the commute, with the radio off, as a time for prayer. Prolonged, focused prayer like that prompts revelation in a way that few other activities do for me.

    My burning-in-the-bosom experience regarding the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon was *exceptional*: on the knees in answer to prayer.

    My answer regarding Joseph Smith was more typical: walking through a field, just thinking. I don’t recall a burning — just a still, small, clear, unforgettable voice reminding me of what I already knew.

    Not only does the voice and the means differ from individual to individual, but also from one question and situation to another for the same individual. I find that the Lord answers me differently now than He did when I was younger.

  14. I like the lawn mowing/revelation connection; my solution is similar–I hang my laundry out to dry. In the morning I start one of many loads of laundry, then sit down to study a block of scripture. When the load is washed, it’s time to ponder the things I’ve read while hanging out wet items. The process is repeated as many times as I have loads to finish that morning. The repetitive process of the work allows me to think deeply and I can return to the scriptures eager for more. The fabulously fresh laundry is a bonus blessing.

  15. I was in a class once and the teacher was talking about this and how when her son feels the spirit (he was 11 at the time) it is an uncomfortable feeling. It was the first time I’d heard that and I LOVED it. It helped me look at all these other times as a kid I’d felt the spirit. I didn’t like talking about my emotions and so it would make sense that the powerful feelings of the spirit would make me uncomfortable. Luckily I don’t believe it stays that way, the more we feel, experience and understand the more we recognize and know what the feeling is.

  16. When I was a new member of the church, I spent a lot of time on the bus, city bus and the greyhound when I would go home to visit my family. It seems that I had a lot of ‘conversations’ with the Lord then, whether it was revelation or testimony strengthening, I will always cherish that time of learning to recognize the Spirit. I’ve also now been endowed for 18 years and what makes me chuckle about how the Lord communicates with me in the Temple is that it hasn’t ever been in the Celestial Room! Most often it’s in that peaceful, waiting time just before the Celestial room that I’ve been blessed with Heavenly communication. I absolutely love that the Lord knows us so personally that even how He communicates with us is extremely personal and individual.

  17. To me, praying is like making a phone call and leaving a message. Because I know my call will eventually be returned, I go about my day with one ear cocked for that ring. When I pray, I feel extra vigilant and attentive so that when the spirit does speak, I’ll have been awaiting it and will be better able to recognize it. And my answers almost always come while I’m doing the dishes, or folding laundry, or attending to the otherwise mundane chores that make up caring for a household. I once envied my husband’s far busier job as an engineer for the mental stimulation, but I’ve come to appreciate that my day has a greater number of quiet moments that allow me to be receptive to the spirit. And the spirit speaks like a drop of water in a still pool: a single, quiet thought that ripples outward. What it lacks in drama, it makes up for in expanding insight.

  18. Love this! Being a parent has helped me understand this principle. Every one of my children is so very different, and learn in very different ways. When I am being a good father, I teach and work very differently with each of them, in an attempt to match my communications to their respective needs.

    As the perfect Parent, Father communicates to each of us in a way that is perfect for us individually. I am okay with not having had the Oliver experience. He speaks with me in a way that is best for me. It’s one more testimony to me that God knows and loves me as an individual. It’s a testimony of my relationship as his child.

  19. There have been multiple times that personal revelation was received when showering. The other times are when listening to hymns. Your post today is timely for me. Thanks

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