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!