Was That Revelation or Just Me?

Contributed By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer

  • 8 September 2015

How do we know whether or not inspiration is from God? One of the strongest manifestations of the Spirit is peace. We access that peace through fervent prayer. 

Article Highlights

  • Members of the Church may likely feel the Spirit but not recognize it, or they may doubt it.
  • Elder Oaks counsels to judge revelation in three areas: personal obedience, bias, and content of the message.
  • If you are found doing your duty, the Lord will have you where you should be, when you should be doing what you should be doing.

“If we got an answer every time we sought counsel we would be on revelatory welfare.” —Jack Marshall, institute instructor at the University of Utah

Many people in the Church struggle knowing whether they are feeling the Spirit or creating something on their own.

Jack Marshall, an institute instructor at the University of Utah, spoke in the Marriott Center during the 2015 BYU Campus Education Week about an often-asked question in an address titled “Was That Revelation or Just Me?”

Brother Marshall read from the Book of Mormon: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). He said, “Isn’t that a wonderful promise?”

Receiving personal revelation doesn’t just stop with the Book of Mormon, he said. It can be received about all things. “Dealing with marital concerns, family concerns, health concerns, and financial concerns—all those aspects that trouble us in a very imperfect world,” Brother Marshall said.

Sharing a story about his grandson, Jonas, who has cancer, Brother Marshall explained that it was crucial for his family to be able to access personal revelation during life’s challenges.

“As you and I traverse this challenging course called mortality, it’s so essential to have revelation, guidance, and direction to help,” Brother Marshall said.

Attempting to answer the question of knowing whether or not inspiration is from God, Brother Marshall explained that one of the strongest manifestations of the Spirit is peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

He then quoted Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from a 1997 CES devotional explaining that verse of scripture: “I submit to you, that may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart.”

Members of the Church may likely feel the Spirit but not recognize it, or they may doubt it, Brother Marshall said.

He then read a quote from Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Perhaps lifelong members of the Church don’t recognize the testimony of the Spirit because they have had it so often they take it for granted. Perhaps they are looking for something startling and different. … I have heard adult members of the Church claim they do not have a testimony because they have never experienced a ‘burning in the bosom’ (D&C 9:8).

“If I thought this scriptural ‘burning’ only referred to caloric heat, I would have to say that I have never had a burning in the bosom either. … In this usage, it does not seem to refer to heat but rather to an intensity of feeling” (“Recognize Spirit when It Is Manifest,” Church News, Apr. 1989).

When it comes to personal revelation, people want a clear set of instructions to follow, said Brother Marshall. “That’s what we want, right? Just tell me what to do.”

He then quoted Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy from a BYU speech in 1979: “Because He knows we need the growth, He generally does not point and say, ‘Open that door and go twelve yards in that direction; then turn right and go two miles.’”

“We love to get counsel in this Church from the stake president and the bishop, but don’t get me wrong,” said Brother Marshall. “Do you notice many times when you go to get counsel, you may get good suggestions or recommendations but many times you don’t get the answers? … If we got an answer every time we sought counsel we would be on revelatory welfare.”

Elder Oaks developed a test that can be administered to determine if a particular revelation is from God, said Brother Marshall. The first principle Elder Oaks gave is concerning receptivity of God’s word. People are most likely to hear a voice or know the will of God when they themselves are keeping the commandments and following God’s words. “Obedience gives clarity and understanding,” Elder Oaks said.

The next principle from Elder Oaks is the test of bias. Brother Marshall continued with Elder Oaks’s article: “It is therefore significant when we feel prompted to do something contrary to our personal preference. That is good evidence of authenticity. Conversely, a feeling that seems to confirm a person in some action he or she strongly desires should be received with caution and subjected to more than one test of validity.”

A final test that Elder Oaks gave for helping determine the validity of revelation is the content of the message, said Brother Marshall. Quoting Elder Oaks again, he said: “God doesn’t prompt His children to sin or go contrary to specific counsel from the scriptures or Church.”

Brother Marshall then said Brigham Young was quoted one time as saying that if you are found doing your duty, the Lord will have you where you should be, when you should be doing what you should be doing.

Members of the Church need to act and hammer out their experience with faith and struggling so they can grow, said Brother Marshall.

He explained that there are three places to receive revelation: at home, church, and the temple. Personal revelation can come from the scriptures, prayer, the temple, statements from the prophets, dreams, and hymns.

At the end of his presentation, Brother Marshall issued some words of caution from an article by Elder Oaks in the August 2013 Ensign: “The people I have found most confused in this Church are those who seek personal revelations on everything. They want the personal assurance from the Spirit from daylight to dark on everything they do. I say they are the most confused people I know because it appears sometimes that the answer comes from the wrong source.”

“Individuals must do the best they can with faith that God will guide them even if they are not cognizant of His help,” Brother Marshall said. “Take confidence in that and know that a loving Heavenly Father is looking out for you.”