“Personal Revelation,” Ensign, Sept. 1999, 7
From an address given on 20 May 1997 at Brigham Young University.
It is a tender experience to petition our Heavenly Father in sincere, heartfelt prayer and look to Him for personal guidance.
I would like to focus on some of the sacred principles that apply to receiving personal revelation. I will rely heavily on the scriptures and the words of the prophets, seers, and revelators.
After we experienced our spiritual birth, Heavenly Father counseled and corrected us, and we were instructed, enlightened, and edified in His holy presence. Now that we have experienced our physical birth in mortality, He desires to continue to communicate with us and to give us counsel and direction. He does this through personal revelation, which involves preparation, prayer, and promptings. Personal revelation is one of the greatest gifts and blessings we can receive.
Receiving personal revelation is not a passive process. As we seek such revelations, we must prepare for these sacred experiences. President Spencer W. Kimball told us that “God reveals himself to [people] who are prepared for such manifestations.”1
The Savior spoke of this principle of preparing to receive personal revelation. He shed light on the things that we must do to properly prepare: “It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins [repents] and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name [prays], and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments [obeys], shall see my face and know that I am” (D&C 93:1).
To properly prepare to receive personal revelation, we must repent, ask through prayer, be obedient, search the scriptures, fast, think pure thoughts, and develop a spirit of reverence.
Repent. Mormon explained the fruits of repentance in receiving revelation: “And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost” (Moro. 8:26).
Ask through prayer. The Savior promised, “And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done” (D&C 50:29).
Be obedient. Obedience is essential in preparing to receive personal revelation. The Savior gave this counsel: “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:21). He promised, “But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom” (D&C 63:23).
Search the scriptures. We must make scripture study a part of our daily schedule. We must not just read but must search diligently as did the sons of Mosiah (see Alma 17:2). Nephi gave a marvelous promise to all who searched the scriptures: “Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:3).
Fast. At times we need to fast so that we can receive personal revelation. Alma had a great desire to know the truthfulness of the doctrines. To know with a surety, he prepared himself through fasting and prayer:
“Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me” (Alma 5:46).
The sons of Mosiah prepared themselves by the same means: “They had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the … spirit of revelation” (Alma 17:3).
Think pure thoughts. If we are to have the channels of communication open, we must clear our minds of worldly and impure thoughts. We must follow this counsel of the Savior: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45).
Develop a spirit of reverence. To receive revelation, we must develop a spirit of reverence. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counseled, “Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings.”2 He added, “Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit,” and “Reverence invites revelation.”3
Irreverence not only shows disrespect to Deity but also makes it hard for the Spirit to teach us the things we need to know. The Savior said, “And your minds in times past have been darkened because … you have treated lightly the things you have received” (D&C 84:54). He counseled, “Trifle not with sacred things” (D&C 6:12). The process of receiving revelation is sacred. It is a divine discussion with Deity and must be reverenced if it is to work.
To pray is to have a conversation with Deity. This sacred and supernal communication with Heavenly Father is a divine and delicate process. This crucial communication should be conducted with great care and in compliance with sacred counsel.
Pray often. To receive personal revelation requires a constant, concentrated effort in which we continue to petition Heavenly Father about our concerns. We cannot become casual in our communications with Him. To do so is to ignore the counsel to “trifle not with sacred things” (D&C 6:12). We must follow the counsel to “pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night” (2 Ne. 9:52). It is not the duration of our prayers but the depth of our desire that results in revelation.
Ponder before you pray. The Savior counseled, “Study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right” (D&C 9:8). The Prophet Joseph Smith was pondering the meaning of John 5:29, concerning the Resurrection. He said, “And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened” (D&C 76:19).
We must ponder before we pray. We must study, meditate, and seek for enlightenment concerning the matters for which we seek personal revelation.
Ask for the right things. We must be careful that we ask for that which is right. The Savior counsels that we should “not ask for that which you ought not” (D&C 8:10). He warns, “And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation” (D&C 88:65).
Avoid vain repetitions. The Savior has counseled that “when ye pray, use not vain repetitions” (3 Ne. 13:7; see also 3 Ne. 19:24). Our individual prayers should not be rote recitations; they should be personal in nature and not preset presentations. We should express our thoughts and feelings in a heartfelt way. President Harold B. Lee counseled: “The most important thing you can do is to learn to talk to God. Talk to Him as you would talk to your father, for He is your Father, and He wants you to talk to Him. He wants you to cultivate ears to listen, when He gives you the impressions of the Spirit to tell you what to do.”4
Ask in faith. Prayers of faith are heard and answered. The Savior gave a powerful promise concerning the power of faith in our prayers: “And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Ne. 18:20).
Ask in humility. Our communications with Heavenly Father must be done with great humility. This is a form of reverence and respect for Deity. It is submitting our will to His will. The Savior said, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers” (D&C 112:10).
Praying with great humility is essential if our prayers are to be heard and answered. The Savior has given a warning to all who forget the importance of the principle of humility: “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him” (D&C 3:4).
Ask in sincerity. If we are to receive personal revelation, we must petition Heavenly Father with the sincerity of our soul. If we are not serious about the things we ask, He will not bless us with answers to our prayers. Mormon cautioned, “And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such” (Moro. 7:9).
Ask with intensity. Enos is a great example of one who prayed with great intensity. He wanted more than anything else to be forgiven of his sins. He described his desire and the level of intensity of his prayer: “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul” (Enos 1:4).
Mormon counseled, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” (Moro. 7:48).
To pray intently and with energy of heart involves focusing with faith on your conversation with Heavenly Father. It also involves closing out the world as if only you and He are present during this divine discussion.
Wait for answers. In a world of instant communication, we are prone to become impatient and want instant answers to our prayers. God always answers prayers, but He does it in His own way and in His own time. Perhaps it is wise to remember this counsel: “Be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101:16).
One of the most crucial parts of our communications with Heavenly Father is the ability to recognize the means by which He speaks to us through the promptings of the Spirit. If we have properly prepared, we will become sensitive to these promptings.
Nature of promptings. Revelation is spiritual in nature rather than physical. We can only understand the things of the Spirit by communication with our spirit. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: “All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality … are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all; and those revelations which will save our spirits will save our bodies.”5
Capacity to communicate. Our spirits carry with them a capacity to comprehend and to receive the things of the Spirit. This was given to us with our spiritual birth in premortal life. Elder Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of this capacity: “I believe that, notwithstanding the fact the spirits of men, as an incident to mortality, are deprived of memory and cast out of the presence of God, there still persists in the spirit of every human soul a residuum from his pre-existent spiritual life which instinctively responds to the voice of the Spirit until and unless it is inhibited by the free agency of the individual.”6
The Spirit cannot be compelled. The Spirit is sensitive and cannot be subjected to constraint, control, and compulsion. It is independent and responds only to invitations and not to impositions. Elder Packer explained, “While we may invite this communication, it can never be forced! If we try to force it, we may be deceived.”7 Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952), a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, counseled, “Revelation always comes; it is not imposed upon a person; it must be drawn to us by faith, seeking and working.”8
“Line upon line.” The Lord gave great insight into the nature of receiving revelation: “I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Ne. 28:30; see also D&C 98:12).
This pattern for receiving promptings follows the principle by which the Savior was taught and tutored during the meridian of time. John bore witness that “he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness” (D&C 93:13). The Prophet Joseph Smith counseled, “It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time.”9
Frequency of revelation. It is a misconception to believe that we should consult Heavenly Father on every matter in life. He expects us to solve a portion of our problems without petitioning Him for potential solutions. It is through this process that we grow, develop, and become more perfect. He is not always concerned about mundane matters unless they are not in keeping with sacred principles. We should daily petition for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. With this presence of the Spirit, we will feel the promptings without petitioning Heavenly Father on every personal matter.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained this principle: “We are often left to work out problems, without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality. Fortunately, we are never out of our Savior’s sight, and if our judgment leads us to actions beyond the limits of what is permissible and if we are listening to the still small voice, the Lord will restrain us by the promptings of His Spirit.”10
We have the initial responsibility to seek solutions for our own problems. This will always involve effort on our part. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles expressed it this way: “We are to solve our own problems and then to counsel with the Lord in prayer and receive a spiritual confirmation that our decisions are correct.”11
In the economy of heaven the Lord never uses a floodlight when a flashlight is sufficient—and so it is in receiving personal revelation. This principle is true even with revelation that comes to prophets.
President Kimball once said: “The great volume of revelation … come[s] to today’s prophets in the less spectacular way—that of deep impressions, but without spectacle or glamour or dramatic events accompanying.
“Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication.”12
Personal revelation comes with different forms of answers. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explains these different answers:
“When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.
“When He answers no, it is to prevent error.
“When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.”13
The Lord gave instruction to Oliver Cowdery concerning the means by which He reveals His will to man by the manifestations of the Holy Spirit: “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now behold, this is the spirit of revelation” (D&C 8:2–3).
Personal revelations are received in both the mind and in the heart. These impressions come to the mind as thoughts and to the heart as feelings. Elder Packer explained, “This guidance comes as thoughts, as feelings, through impressions and promptings.”14 At times the Spirit will impress both the mind and the heart at the same time. Usually when your head and your heart are receiving the same impression, you know that you are receiving a personal revelation. The Savior instructed Hyrum Smith, “I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy” (D&C 11:13).
On other occasions the impressions will come only to the mind or to the heart independent of the other. President Harold B. Lee once counseled, “When your heart begins to tell you things that your mind does not, then you are getting the Spirit of the Lord.”15
The means by which the Spirit speaks to both the mind and the heart is through the still, small voice spoken of in the scriptures. This voice is often called the “voice of the Spirit” (1 Ne. 4:18). Sometimes that voice is heard within, but more often it is felt. It may prompt us with both a thought and a feeling concerning a matter.
Elder Packer described the still, small voice with these words: “These delicate, refined 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.”16
He added: “The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all. …
“Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening.”17
In addition, there are specific ways in which the mind and the heart are touched as we receive personal revelation.
Promptings to the Mind
The scriptures indicate that manifestations of the Spirit come to the mind in a variety of ways. They come as an enlightenment, just as scriptures seem to be illuminated with understanding. They may come in the form of instant recall of things or as a clear, audible voice. Sometimes they come by way of counsel from leaders. They come in dreams, visions, and visitations.
Enlightenment. This enlightenment comes as an increase in light, knowledge, and understanding. The Savior instructed Oliver Cowdery, “I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth” (D&C 6:15).
Light and understanding. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon spoke of the vision given to them with these words: “By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God” (D&C 76:12). “And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened” (D&C 76:19).
Prophets, seers, and revelators have described this process of receiving personal revelation through the enlightenment of the mind:
“When you feel pure intelligence flowing into you,” said the Prophet Joseph Smith, “it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.”18
Elder Marion G. Romney said, “This is a very common means of revelation. It comes into one’s mind speaking words and sentences.”19
President Harold B. Lee further taught, “When there come to you things that your mind does not know, when you have a sudden thought that comes to your mind, if you will learn to give heed to these things that come from the Lord, you will learn to walk by the spirit of revelation.”20
Role of scriptures. There are times while searching, studying, and pondering the scriptures that we receive personal revelation. Joseph Smith had this experience as he pondered James 1:5. He said: “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart” (JS—H 1:12).
In our scriptural search certain passages of scripture may impact us. They may appear almost in illumination as we read them. Answers to our prayers may come as the Lord speaks to us in the scriptures. Once again, as Nephi promised, “Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:3).
Instant recall. Personal revelation may come in the form of an instant recall of things the Spirit once taught us that may apply to our present situation. The Savior counseled, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
Audible voice. Although not a common means of communication, it is possible to receive a revelation by means of a clear, audible voice. A revelation was given to Nephi and Lehi and those who had imprisoned them: “And it came to pass when they heard this voice, and beheld that it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul” (Hel. 5:30).
Leaders’ counsel. The Lord speaks to us through His chosen leaders. The Savior taught this principle when He said, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, … whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).
Dreams or visions. The Lord has given personal revelations in dreams or visions. Lehi explained, “Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision” (1 Ne. 8:2).
Visitations. Alma taught the principle that the Lord communicates with man by means of visitations of angels. He said: “And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned” (Alma 32:23).
An angel was sent to reprove Laman and Lemuel (see 1 Ne. 3:29). It was an angel who showed Nephi a vision (see 1 Ne. 11:14). An angel made known to King Benjamin the things he was to say to the people in his sermon from the tower (see Mosiah 3:2). Angels appeared to Alma (see Alma 8:14) and also to Amulek (see Alma 10:7).
Promptings to the Heart
The Spirit reveals the will of the Lord through the feelings of the heart. We must be in tune with the Spirit and in touch with these feelings. Nephi spoke of the need to have a receptive heart to receive revelations. When he spoke to Laman and Lemuel, he reminded them that an angel had spoken to them: “He hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words” (1 Ne. 17:45).
These feelings may be characterized as peaceful, warm, compelling, or dark or confusing in nature. They will always come in response to sincere, heartfelt prayer if we are prepared to receive them.
Peaceful feelings. The most frequent confirmation of the Spirit comes to us as peaceful feelings. The Spirit indeed “showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom” (D&C 39:6; see also D&C 36:2; D&C 42:61; D&C 111:8).
President Brigham Young quoted these words of the Prophet Joseph Smith: “They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls.”21
Feelings of peace are promptings and proof that the Spirit is bearing witness to us in response to our petitions. The Lord said to Oliver Cowdery through the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23).
Warm, spiritual feelings. The Lord has given us specific instruction that if you ask if something is right and it is right, He will “cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:8).
Mormon described this feeling that came to the Nephites when a small voice spoke to them. He said, “It did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn” (3 Ne. 11:3).
Compelling feeling. A compelling feeling is a pressing feeling. It is characterized by a sense of urgency, a sense of restlessness, and a sense of surety. It was the feeling that Nephi experienced when he was commanded to slay Laban (see 1 Ne. 4:10).
The Prophet Joseph Smith described this feeling when he spoke concerning the principle of baptism for the dead: “That subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest” (D&C 128:1).
Dark and confused feeling. When we petition Heavenly Father in prayer, there are times in which He answers us with the distinct impression that we have not identified the proper course. The answer will come not as one of peace but as a feeling of darkness. He has counseled that when you ask about something, “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 9:9).
The Lord has given us powerful promises concerning personal revelation. These promises are given based upon certain conditions: “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things” (D&C 42:61; see also 1 Ne. 10:19; Enos 1:15; Morm. 9:21; Moro. 7:26; D&C 29:6; D&C 88:64; Matt. 21:22).
It is a tender experience to petition our Heavenly Father in sincere, heartfelt prayer and know that He will respond with personal revelation. His promises are sure, but we must properly prepare to be receptive to the promptings of the Spirit in receiving this guidance.