“I need help in praying for and receiving guidance and personal revelation.” Ensign, Oct. 1993, 60–61
Gaylen Hinton, high councilor, Merced California Stake. The Lord has promised that he will guide us and help us. This is not a privilege reserved only for prophets, seers, and revelators; divine guidance is available to all God’s children, although many do not take advantage of the privilege. In section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the section given as the “law of the Church,” we read the following:
“If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” (D&C 42:61.)
When Oliver Cowdery requested the privilege of translating the Book of Mormon by revelation, he somehow thought the Lord would just show it all to him, but nothing happened. After he failed to receive the expected revelation, the Lord gave him, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the now-famous formula:
“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
“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.
“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” (D&C 9:7–9.)
Some, in trying to use this formula, have swung the pendulum to the opposite extreme. They think that a person should not even ask the Lord for an answer until he has exhausted the limits of the arm of flesh in studying it out in his own mind. Yet when the Lord gave the formula to Oliver, he was instructing Oliver on how to receive revelations necessary to translate. In translating a document, a confirmation from the Lord would not be sought after the whole job was done, but rather on a phrase-by-phrase, if not word-by-word, basis. Oliver needed to seek answers almost continuously. This sheds a different light on what is meant by “study it out in your mind.”
With this in mind, we should not be afraid to seek answers from the Lord on a frequent basis. We should not be afraid to seek needed answers. (See Moro. 10:5.) We have been commanded, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matt. 7:7.)
Of course, the call to study a matter in our minds does not necessarily mean that the answer already resides there, waiting to be discovered solely by mental effort and then confirmed by the Lord. Often our answers will be less in the form of direct, fresh revelation than in guidance to find those answers that the Lord has already seen fit to reveal to the Church in general through the inspired words of our leaders or in scripture. Also, we may be guided to seek counsel or direction through a friend or through other resources. This preliminary process of information gathering or searching will clarify our thinking and expand our knowledge and thus prepare us to take an informed question to the Lord.
However, the Lord taught a principle to Oliver Cowdery when he counseled him: “Do not ask for that which you ought not.” (D&C 8:10.) He touched upon the theme again when he revealed through Joseph Smith this counsel: “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you.” (D&C 88:64.)
Some people miss the joys of inquiring of the Lord because they pray in private by emulating what they hear in public prayers. In public prayers we do not ask specific personal questions that need revealed answers. We do not confess our personal sins, share the inner desires of our hearts, or seek the will of God in all things in our lives. In contrast, personal prayers should be more in the spirit of two-way conversations with the Lord.
Some people seldom inquire of the Lord because they have a hard time recognizing the answers. They may not know the difference between a “burning in the bosom” and an emotional high or wishful thinking.
We need to remember that an answer to prayer is a spiritual experience. We need to look for spiritual responses and not physical feelings. These spiritual responses are feelings of peace, joy, and clarity. Such responses may be similar to the warm, glowing feeling that we have in doing a kind deed. Alma tells us that these feelings “will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:28.)
These calm, sweet, spiritual feelings of peace and joy may also be accompanied by physical feelings of warmth or swelling. But even though such physical feelings may accompany a true answer to prayer, one should be careful about interpreting physical sensations as a witness from God. Physical feelings may be counterfeited or misinterpreted, but there is no substitute for the peace and joy that come from the Lord.
For some, recognizing a “no” answer from the Lord is more difficult than recognizing an affirmative answer, but one ability is just as important as the other. If an affirmative answer is accompanied by peace, then a negative answer would be accompanied by the opposite. Just as the feelings associated with doing something kind and good may be of the same nature as the feelings of a “yes” answer, the feelings accompanying a “no” answer may be familiar also. When someone has done something wrong or hurtful to another, he or she has no peace about it. If he tries to think about his wrongdoing, perhaps he has a heavy, oppressive feeling, even a “stupor of thought” when attempting to think of his deeds.
In the Lord’s formula to Oliver Cowdery, he says that negative answers would bring a “stupor of thought,” something that would make him “forget the thing which is wrong.” (D&C 9:9.) Even though a negative answer to prayer may not cause a person to immediately “forget the thing which is wrong,” the negative feelings will make him unclear of mind.
One thing that will keep us from communicating with our Father, besides not trying, is our own iniquities. Isaiah tells us, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isa. 59:2.)
Repentance should be our first item of business as we bow before the Lord. By confessing our sins, seeking the Lord’s forgiveness for our failings, then seeking his help to overcome, we unburden ourselves before the mercy seat. Then, with clean hands and pure hearts, our “confidence [waxes] strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45), and we can stand worthy before our Father. In this state, we can communicate with our Father, express our love to him, and feel his love in return. We can pray as did the Nephites in the presence of the Savior: “They did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.” (3 Ne. 19:24.) The Spirit leads us in what to say, and our desires turn from the mundane to the glory of God as our souls reach toward our Father.
Our Heavenly Father wants to communicate with us even more than we want to communicate with him. He wants us to be able to recognize his answers. We are not bothering the Lord when we seek his guidance. He is always happy to communicate with us. Faith, discipline, and concentration are needed to communicate with the Lord; but prayerful communication with our Father in Heaven becomes easier the more we sincerely do it.