I live just 30 minutes away from where God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to the 14-year-old Joseph Smith 200 years ago.
Living so close to where this miraculous event and many others took place has sparked my interest in the stories from many early Saints. Their experiences have helped me better understand how to recognize and receive personal revelation.
Here are just a few of the stories that have helped me. Whether or not you ever have the chance to visit a Church history site, I hope these stories will help you see how personal revelation can work in your life too.
When you have questions, ask.
Growing up near the Sacred Grove, I never quite realized just how unique and miraculous the First Vision was! But over time, as I’ve pondered this event, I’ve found hope in the fact that God and Jesus Christ appeared in response to a 14-year-old boy’s sincere prayer—hope that if I pray, I can receive answers to my questions and concerns, even miracles, if I sincerely ask.
Now, receiving answers is not always as simple as saying one prayer, but if I have a question, why wouldn’t I take it to Heavenly Father? Asking is the first step in receiving personal revelation (see Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9–10; 3 Nephi 14:7; Doctrine and Covenants 4:7; 6:5; 66:9).
Even if you haven’t yet received an answer, choose to act in faith.
Have you ever said a prayer and then heard nothing but radio silence? It can be super discouraging and a real test of faith when you feel like your prayers are sincere but you still aren’t getting a clear answer.
But faith isn’t exercised by sitting around waiting to be told what to do. Faith is a principle of action. And when we choose to trust God enough to follow Him, even when the outcome isn’t clear, our faith can be strengthened. President Russell M. Nelson recently encouraged us to “act in faith,” explaining that we “receive more faith by doing something that requires more faith.”1
After Joseph received that initial incredible answer to his prayer, he received no comparable guidance for three years.2 Yet in the face of opposition and criticism,3 he decided “to continue as I was until further directed” (see Joseph Smith—History 1:25–26). It would have tested anyone’s faith. But trusting God and moving forward as best he could eventually brought further direction. This evidence that his faith had not been misplaced must have served to strengthen his faith for the next step in establishing the Church.
When we don’t receive a clear answer right away, we can follow Joseph’s example of trusting God and continuing forward until further directed. Surely nothing can be lost spiritually by continuing to study the scriptures, participate in temple and family history work, and pray. If we do these things, we will be ready and prepared when an answer does come.
When things don’t happen as quickly as you’d like, be patient while you wait for answers.
My favorite Church history site to visit has always been the Grandin Building, where the first copies of the Book of Mormon were published. I was always fascinated, walking from room to room, as the missionaries explained the laborious process of printing and binding those early copies.
But printing wasn’t the only arduous task in publishing the book that Joseph had poured so much time and effort into translating by the gift and power of God. The process of obtaining and defending the copyright, finding a willing printer and a way to pay for it, and combating criticism was a collaborative effort that required a lot of sacrifice and tact from all involved.
It was only after diligence, perseverance, and patience that so many could enjoy the blessings of being able to study and share this sacred text, a text that brings people to Jesus Christ and His restored gospel.4 In our lives, we can learn to wait patiently for the blessings that we are so anxious for as we work through trials, endure the mundane, face criticism. That includes being patient while waiting on answers and revelation.
As Joseph Smith taught, “Patience is heavenly, obedience is noble, … and he that holds out faithful to the end shall in no wise lose his reward.”5
When opportunities arise, advocate.
Though the Church’s history is rich here in upstate New York, people still have a lot of misconceptions about our beliefs. While many early Saints were persecuted or sometimes even killed because of misunderstandings,6 we’re not likely to face the same physical threats to our safety as those early Saints did.
But like the early Saints, as disciples of Christ we are still asked to advocate for Him despite outward opposition or feelings of personal inadequacy. When we do so, we are blessed with answers to our prayers, a stronger testimony, and a closer relationship with God.
As we seek honest and open conversations, they will come. Even in unexpected places. Honestly, some of the most profound religious discussions I’ve ever had have occurred with random people in cafés and grocery stores!
What a time we live in to have so many resources available to help us connect with the early Saints, who were imperfect yet remarkably indefatigable. Though their stories happened a long time ago, they are so relevant to modern-day life and can provide strength and clarity for us in facing our trials while seeking God’s will.
I sincerely hope that as you faithfully study and seek personal revelation, you will be able to “hear Him” more clearly in your life.