In the Sacred Grove, Joseph Smith gave a very simple but powerful example of how to hear the voice of the Lord and how to seek wisdom and guidance from God. We can all strive to go to the Lord in prayer regularly. Heavenly Father has given us all what we call the Light of Christ—that sense of truth and right and wrong—to guide us. As I seek Him, He gives me what I need according to His wisdom, love, and understanding of my needs and according to my preparation to receive what He is willing to share with me. I would like to share with you several ways that I have learned to “hear Him.”
I Hear Him through Sincere Desire
I hope that everyone can understand that there is not a “perfect prayer.” We do not have to follow a specific kind of pattern or verbiage. The one thing that is required is the heart—the real desire to receive what the Lord would have us receive. Our commitment to act on His promptings is what really draws forth His voice and His direction.
Even when you are being as sincere as is possible, you may not get the immediate response from the Lord that you were expecting. It comes at His discretion and according to His will. We must be sincere, having the patience and the humility to wait for God to respond, as Joseph did. Sometimes we wait a long time; other times it is almost instantaneous.
I Hear Him When I Am Willing to Trust His Timing
When I was a teenager, I had the chance to be at the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York. I was participating in the Hill Cumorah Pageant that was presented at that time in the summer. After the performance one evening, I went alone to the Sacred Grove. It was a very pleasant and quiet summer evening in July, and a beautiful moon was shining down. I entered the grove alone and thought, “This is really the perfect setting for me to pray and to receive the kinds of answers that Joseph Smith received here in this very place.”
I prayed with deep sincerity for a long time and wanted a similar confirmation. I thought I was humble in the sense that I said, “However you want to respond is fine with me.” But nothing came—no response. I finally left disappointed, not knowing what I had done wrong.
About six weeks later, I was home reading in the Book of Mormon, pondering a little in a quiet moment, when there came flooding over me that confirming spirit. I learned from that experience that you cannot tell God how and when He should respond to your prayers. You have to say, “I am always open. I am always ready. I am always willing to hear.”
We Can Hear Him Wherever We Are
My Sacred Grove experience also taught me that I did not have to be in any special place or make a pilgrimage to some special location to receive a witness of the Spirit and an answer to my prayer, just as you do not have to go to Jerusalem to get a witness of Jesus Christ and His Atonement and Resurrection. I learned from that experience that the location is quite immaterial and the Lord can find us wherever we are.
I Hear Him by Writing Down My Experiences
My former mission president, Elder Richard G. Scott, used to say to us as missionaries, “When you get communications from the Spirit … write it down, make a record. It is important to remember it.” When we wrote down what we had received, Elder Scott encouraged us to pray and ask, “Have I captured it, and is there anything more?” More often than not, there was more. It was the springboard to additional communication from the Lord. That is a process that I found indeed helps me to hear His voice, remember it, and then hear more.
Remembering the communications that have come when you have heard Him does two things. It refreshes the spiritual direction that has come to you, but it also brings back the feelings of that moment. It brings back the things you experienced in that moment, and the witness of the Spirit that was present returns again and reaffirms what happened, whenever that might have been. When you write down your impressions, you have more to build on and can develop a deeper, broader foundation.
I Hear Him through Pondering and Quiet Reflection
In our culture, there is so much noise and distraction that you have to intentionally work to find that quiet time regularly. A prayer in which you are the only one speaking shuts off the communication coming the other way. There has to be time to meditate and think and ponder as well as speak.
I would hope no one would look at someone who seems to have an open conduit into heaven and feel discouraged or think, “Well, that is not my experience. I will never have that.” Just keep striving, and over time you will increase and enhance your ability both to receive and to understand what comes to you. I do not think any of us ought to compare ourselves to someone else in that regard.
In the Book of Mormon, the Savior said: “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again” (3 Nephi 17:2–3).
That is like all of us. We are often weak, certainly in comparison to Him. We cannot immediately understand everything that He has to give us or that is appropriate for Him to speak at a given moment, and that is all right. He did not condemn the people; He just said, “Go to your homes, ponder it, ask the Father, and prepare your minds to faithfully receive more.”
If faith becomes a struggle, it is something you can ask for, just as the man who sought the blessing for his child said, “Help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). We ought to ask for the spiritual gift of faith to believe and seek the knowledge that He is willing to give us, diligently following the path that He has outlined. This applies to every person in the world. He does answer, and we can hear Him.