Church History Lesson 06 (Topical Lesson)
This lesson is topical—it draws from scriptures throughout the Doctrine and Covenants to help us learn how to recognize personal revelation from the Holy Ghost.
How the Holy Ghost Communicates with Us
The spirit of revelation comes by the power of the Holy Ghost (D&C 8:1–5). He is a member of the Godhead whose responsibility is to teach, comfort, warn, strengthen, and guide us. He accomplishes this in a variety of ways:
● A still, small voice communicates to our minds and hearts (D&C 8:2–3).
● He enlightens our minds.
● He brings peace to our minds .
● He causes a “burning in our bosom.”
● He reveals things “line upon line, precept upon precept” rather than all at once.
Elder 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.”1
George Q. Cannon said, “This spirit is] “the same spirit of revelation that Moses had . . . [and] rests upon him who holds the presidency as senior Apostle in the midst of the people of God. The Apostles of this Church have all the authority, they have all the keys, . . . all the spirit of revelation necessary to lead this people into the presence of the Lamb in the celestial kingdom of our God. . . . The same spirit of revelation that rested upon Moses, and which enabled him to lead the children of Israel through the Red Sea, rests upon the servants of God in the midst of this people, and you will find it so to your entire satisfaction if you will listen to their counsels and be guided by them.”2
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “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.”3
Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “These delicate, re-fined 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.”4
Sometimes we expect the Holy Ghost or revelation to be manifested in more spectacular ways. We must be careful not to be “seeking for a sign” in receiving revelation. It generally comes to us in less dramatic ways.
Elder 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.”5
IN YOUR HEART AND IN YOUR MIND
The Lord revealed to Oliver Cowdery that he should expect to receive revelation in his heart and in his mind. This involves two connected steps:
1. The Spirit enlightens our minds with the words or thoughts that we need to receive.
2. The Spirit bears witness to our hearts that the words or thoughts in our minds have come from God.
The Holy Ghost Enlightens Our Minds (D&C 6:15)
The Spirit enlightens our minds with new ideas or insights, flashes of inspiration, and strong feelings or impressions (D&C 11:13–14; 128:1).
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “[Revelation may come as] sudden strokes of ideas” that flow into our minds as “pure intelligence.”6 This is the first step of revelation—the receipt of the answer, the idea, or the message that God would have us hear.
These do not always come immediately or when expected. They may come from pondering, while praying, while reading the scriptures, while hearing someone speak or teach, or in a variety of other ways. They generally do not come while in the midst of noise or chaos. We need to turn off the music or the television and find time to quietly meditate as we go about our daily activities or during or after prayer or scripture study.
He May Cause a Burning in the Bosom (D&C 9:7–8).
Although D&C 9 has to do with Oliver Cowdery’s attempt to translate the Book of Mormon, these principles also apply to personal revelation (Luke 24:32). A burning in the bosom is only one way the Holy Ghost can communicate with us.
Elder 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.”7
Elder 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.”8
He Brings Peace to Our Minds (D&C 6:22–23).
Oliver Cowdery stayed in the home of Joseph Smith’s parents for a time before meeting the Prophet. During this time, Oliver had prayed and received a peaceful assurance that Joseph’s calling and work were divine. Oliver then traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, and began his labors as scribe for Joseph in the translation of the Book of Mormon. Soon thereafter, Oliver desired a “further witness” of the assurance he had received earlier (D&C 6:22).
What did the Lord reveal to Oliver Cowdery about his desire for a “further witness” of the Prophet’s divine mission? Invite class members to tell of experiences when the Spirit has spoken peace to their minds. How can we become more trusting of the peace that the Spirit speaks to our minds?
The Need for Sincere Intent
Oliver Cowdery had proceeded to translate the Book of Mormon; however, Oliver’s faith was insufficient to receive the essential inspiration to accomplish the task. In this revelation (D&C 9), the Lord instructs him to be content to serve for the time being as scribe.9
The reasons why Oliver could not translate the record (D&C 9:1–11).
— He went his own way, using his own wisdom (vv. 1–2).
— Revelation was the only way he would be able to translate (vv. 5, 11).
— He allowed fear to overcome his faith (vv. 8–9).
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 into my mind through my thoughts, accompanied by a feeling in the region of my bosom. It is a feeling which cannot be described, but the nearest word we have is ‘burn’ or ‘burning.’ Accompanying this always is a feeling of peace, a further witness that what one heard is right. Once one recognizes this burning, this feeling, this peace, one need never be drawn astray in his daily life or in the guidance he may receive.”10
Revelation Comes “Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept” (D&C 98:12).
We usually receive revelation over time rather than all at once. It comes in accordance with our preparation to receive it. As we become more prepared, more is revealed to us.
Elder 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.”11
CAUTIONS ABOUT PERSONAL REVELATION
Sometimes the answer is “no.” How can we recognize when this is the case?
● Negative Feelings, Confusion, Feelings of Unrest and Uneasiness, or
● A “stupor of thought” [D&C 9:9].
Revelation Will Come in the Lord’s Own Time and Way (D&C 88:68). 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.
Elder 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.”12
Revelation Comes According to Our Stewardship and Responsibilities (D&C 28:2, 6–7; 43:2–4).
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.”13
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “Our Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order . . . Only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. . . . The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. . . . Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another per-son outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord.”14
Discern Whether the Revelation Has Come from God (D&C 11:12–14; 50:23–24).
It is important for us to discern whether a revelation is truly from God. 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. They will be edifying. They will not lead us to do something that is contrary to the principles of righteousness.
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.”15
WHEN REVELATION IS NOT RECEIVED OR RECOGNIZED
What should we do when personal revelation does not come when we desire it?
● Be patient and continue to wait faithfully on the Lord (D&C 98:2). He will answer in His time. Exercising patience helps us grow spiritually and develop attributes of godliness. Even prophets must exercise patience as they seek divine guidance.
● Increase our efforts to be in tune spiritually so we can receive and recognize the whisperings of the Spirit.
● Increase our efforts to study and pray, recognizing that we may not have done this as long, as faithfully, or as honestly as we should.
● Be more faithful in obeying the commandments Set the matter aside for a while (Isaiah 59:2). Flashes of inspiration often come when we least expect them, while our minds are no longer consumed by the matter.
● Recognize that we may be seeking counsel on matters that we should determine for ourselves, using our best judgment based on study and reason (D&C 58:25–28; 60:5; 61:22; 62:5). In these cases the Lord may leave us to decide on our own. The Lord often allows us to make our own decisions in righteousness.
● Evaluate whether we may have received an answer already but have not accepted it because it was not what we hoped for or expected. If we insist on what we want, we may close off the. Spirit’s communication with us.
Elder 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.”16
1. Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 10 Apr. 1956], 8.
2. In Journal of Discourses, 21:270–271.
3. “Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Man 1997, 14.
4. That All May Be Edified, 335.
5. Ensign, March 1997, 11–12, 14.
6. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 151.
7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 77; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 60.
8. Ensign, March 1997, 13.
9. History of the Church, 1:36–37.
10. “The Still Small Voice,” Ensign, May 1976, 23.
11. In Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 40; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 32.
12. Ensign, Mar. 1997, 10–11.
13. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 21.
14. “Revelation,” New Era, Sept. 1982, 45–46.
15. In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols., 4:285.
16. In Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 29–30; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 21.