“Chapter 6: To Hear the Voice of the Lord,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee (2011), 48–58
“Chapter 6,” Teachings: Harold B. Lee, 48–58
President Harold B. Lee once said: “I have a believing heart that started with a simple testimony that came when I was a child—I think maybe I was around ten or eleven years of age. I was with my father out on a farm away from our home, trying to spend the day busying myself until my father was ready to go home. Over the fence from our place were some tumbledown sheds that would attract a curious boy, and I was adventurous. I started to climb through the fence, and I heard a voice as clearly as you are hearing mine, calling me by name and saying, ‘Don’t go over there!’ I turned to look at my father to see if he were talking to me, but he was way up at the other end of the field. There was no person in sight. I realized then, as a child, that there were persons beyond my sight, for I had definitely heard a voice. Since then, when I hear or read stories of the Prophet Joseph Smith, I too have known what it means to hear a voice, because I’ve had the experience.”1
Although the Lord might not speak to us audibly, as we learn to talk to Him and recognize how He communicates with us, we begin to know Him. President Lee said that “to know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (see John 17:3), as the Master told his disciples, is to begin on the sure course that leads to eternal life in the presence of these glorified beings.”2
I listened to an inspired sermon at Brigham Young University by President [J. Reuben] Clark. … He analyzed the various kinds of revelation that come. He talked first of a theophany, which he described as an experience where the Father or the Son or both put in a personal appearance, or speak directly to man. Moses talked with the Lord face to face [see Moses 1:1–4]; Daniel had a theophany, or personal appearance [see Daniel 10]. When the Master came to John the Baptist for baptism, you remember, a voice spoke out of the heavens and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” [Matthew 3:17.] At the conversion of Paul, … there was also a personal appearance, and an audible voice was heard [see Acts 9:1–6]. At the transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John went with the Master to a high mountain where Moses and Elias appeared before them, again a voice was heard speaking out of the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. …” (Matthew 17:5.)
Perhaps the greatest of all theophanies of our time was the appearance of the Father and the Son to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the grove [see Joseph Smith—History 1:14–17]. Following that there were several appearances, one of which is recorded in the 110th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, when the Savior appeared to Joseph and Oliver. …
Another way by which we receive revelation was spoken of by the prophet Enos. He pens this very significant statement in his record in the Book of Mormon: “And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind. …” [Enos 1:10.]
In other words, sometimes we hear the voice of the Lord coming into our minds, and when it comes, the impressions are just as strong as though He were sounding a trumpet in our ear. …
In a story in the Book of Mormon, Nephi upbraids his brothers, calling them to repentance, and gives voice to the same thought when he says: “… and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words. …” (1 Nephi 17:45.)
Thus the Lord, by revelation, brings thoughts into our minds as though a voice were speaking. May I bear humble testimony to that fact? I was once in a situation where I needed help. The Lord knew I needed help, as I was on an important mission. I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning and was straightened out on something that I had planned to do in a contrary way, and the way was clearly mapped out before me as I lay there that morning, just as surely as though someone had sat on the edge of my bed and told me what to do. Yes, the voice of the Lord comes into our minds and we can be directed thereby.
We also receive revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. The Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the early days of the Church, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall … dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation. …” (D&C 8:2–3.) The Master comforted His disciples, you remember, just before His crucifixion when He said, “… if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you. … Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth [or the Holy Ghost], is come, he will guide you into all truth: … he will shew you things to come” (John 16:7, 13), “and bring all things to your remembrance. …” (John 14:26.) Thus we see the power of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet Joseph Smith, speaking about this, said, “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 328.)
May I change that about … and say, Any Latter-day Saint who has been baptized and who has had hands laid upon him from those officiating, commanding him to receive the Holy Ghost, and who has not received a revelation of the spirit of the Holy Ghost, has not received the gift of the Holy Ghost to which he is entitled. Therein lies a very important matter. Let me refer to what the Prophet Joseph Smith said about revelation:
“A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, 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.” [History of the Church, 3:381.]
On what matters may you receive a revelation? Is it startling to you to hear that you—all members of the Church who have received the Holy Ghost—may receive revelation? Not for the president of the Church, not on how to look after the affairs pertaining to the ward, the stake, or the mission in which you live; but every individual within his own station has the right to receive revelation by the Holy Ghost. …
Every man has the privilege to exercise these gifts and these privileges in the conduct of his own affairs; in bringing up his children in the way they should go; in the management of his business, or whatever he does. It is his right to enjoy the spirit of revelation and of inspiration to do the right thing, to be wise and prudent, just and good, in everything that he does. I know that is a true principle, and that is the thing that I would like the Latter-day Saints to know. Now then, all of us should try to strive and give heed to the sudden ideas that come to us, and if we’ll give heed to them and cultivate an ear to hear these promptings we too—each of us—can grow in the spirit of revelation.
Now there’s one more way by which revelations may come, and that is by dreams. Oh, I’m not going to tell you that every dream you have is a direct revelation from the Lord. … But I fear that in this age of sophistication there are those of us who are prone to rule out all dreams as of no purpose, and of no moment. And yet all through the scriptures there were recorded incidents where the Lord, by dreams, has directed His people. …
The thing that all of us should strive for is to so live, keeping the commandments of the Lord, that He can answer our prayers, the prayers of our loved ones, the prayers of the General Authorities, for us. We always pray for the members of the Church, and we thank God when we know that they are praying for us. If we will live worthy, then the Lord will guide us—by a personal appearance, or by His actual voice, or by His voice coming into our mind, or by impressions upon our heart and our soul. And oh, how grateful we ought to be if the Lord sends us a dream in which are revealed to us the beauties of the eternity or a warning and direction for our special comfort. Yes, if we so live, the Lord will guide us for our salvation and for our benefit.
As one of the humblest among you, and occupying the station I do, I want to bear you my humble testimony that I have received by the voice and the power of revelation the knowledge and an understanding that God is. …
I bear you my solemn testimony that the Church today is guided by revelation. Every soul in it who has been blessed to receive the Holy Ghost has the power to receive revelation. God help you and me that we will always so live that the Lord can answer the prayers of the faithful through us.3
There is a lot of difference between saying a prayer and talking with God. There are a few whom I have heard pray who did talk with God, one of whom was the late [Elder] Charles A. Callis. I never heard him pray at the holy altars in the temple, I never heard him when we knelt together in prayer when we were out on a difficult mission but what he seemed, as he talked, to be reaching right into the portals of our Father’s holy dwelling place, and he talked with divine beings. Do not say prayers, do not read prayers, but learn to talk with God and that talking with God is the kind of prayer that I think was meant by Moroni when he wrote in the closing chapter of our Book of Mormon … :
“I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” [Moroni 10:4.]
… This is what I understand to be a prayer of faith, … faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, without which no person can talk with God.4
I came across an experience that our beloved Richard Evans [of the Quorum of the Twelve] had on one of his trips. … He was sitting by a man at dinner some evenings ago, by the side of a distinguished industrialist, who told him simply in a few sentences how he faced the heavy problems of his life and how he met the decisions of each day. “When I get up in the morning,” he said, “I often feel that I can’t face it, but if I go down on my knees and say simply, ‘God, help me to do what I have to do this day,’ strength comes, and I feel that I’m equal to it. And I think of Him simply as my father and I talk to Him simply and directly as I used to talk to my father when he was here on earth.” …
[Elder Evans reflected:] “I was mellowed and humbled by the direct and simple friend with whom I sat the other evening. He was not of my faith, but [it is] my own earnest belief he could not have talked to God with so much satisfaction and assurance if he had thought of Him as merely a force, or as an ineffable essence, the nature and purpose of which he knew nothing, or at least nothing that would bring him the assured feeling that he was in fact talking to his father.” …
As Jacob said to his family … , “O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.” (2 Nephi 9:20.) Now, if you will just keep that in mind you have a beginning point, you have a relationship with Him. We are His son, His daughter. He knows us. He knows the very things and the times before appointed, and the place where we would live, and the times in which we would live. So in Him only can we place full trust.5
One of the most prized of all the possessions that we can have or the prized knowledge that we can possess is that the Lord hears and answers prayers—or, to put it in another way, that we learn how to talk with God. Praying is not just a matter of saying words, as some various churches would teach, but to recognize that God, our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, are living, real personalities and that through the ministry of the other member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit, we can communicate with Him, our Heavenly Father, and receive an answer to our inquiry and strength for our days.6
In humility be prepared to say with Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). And with dauntless courage say with the boy Samuel, “Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:9). Be humble, be prayerful, and the Lord will take you by the hand, as it were, and give you answer to your prayers [see D&C 112:10].7
President [David O.] McKay taught us this in the temple one day. … “I want to tell you one thing: When the Lord tells you what to do, you’ve got to have the courage to do it or you had better not ask him again.” I’ve learned that lesson, too. Sometimes in the middle of the night I’ve been awakened and am unable to sleep until I’ve gotten out of bed and put down on paper the thing that I have been wrestling with. But it takes a lot of courage to act when directed as an answer to prayers.8
Fast two meals on the first Sunday of the month and pay the full value of those two meals from which you have abstained. … The Lord said to Isaiah, that those who would thus fast and deal out their bread to the hungry, could call and the Lord would answer, could cry and the Lord would say, “Here I am.” [See Isaiah 58:6–9.] That’s one way to get on speaking terms with the Lord. Try it this year. Live the law of fasting perfectly.9
When we stand at the crossroads of two alternative decisions, let us remember what the Lord said we should do: Study the whole matter out in our mind to a conclusion; before action, ask the Lord if it be right; and attune ourselves to the spiritual response—either to have our bosom burn within us to know that our conclusion is right, or to have a stupor of thought that will make us forget it if it is wrong [see D&C 9:7–9]. Then, as the Lord has promised, “… the Spirit shall be given unto [us] by the prayer of faith.” (D&C 42:14.) …
If we seek earnestly, we can reach into that spiritual dimension for answers that will secure for us not only great blessings, but also the sublime witness in our hearts that our acts, our life, and our labors have the seal of approval of the Lord and Creator of us all.10
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. If you learn to give heed to the sudden ideas which come to your minds, you will find those things coming through in the very hour of your need. If you will cultivate an ear to hear these promptings, you will have learned to walk by the spirit of revelation.11
How do we develop the spiritual quality in our natures in order to serve our earthly missions more completely and thus become attuned with [God’s] infinite power … ?
Ammon answered that question in part: “Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God. …” (Alma 26:22.) …
David, the psalmist, learned even as a young man the source of spiritual power. The spirit whispered, “Be still, and know that I am God. … The God of Jacob is our refuge.” (Psalm 46:10–11.)
Prophets of old learned, as all must know, how to communicate with the Lord by prayer, to talk with and then receive answers in the Lord’s own way. …
The Lord told Elijah, the prophet: “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
“And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
“And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. …” (1 Kings 19:11–13.)
All too often when God speaks in this still, small voice, as he did to Elijah in the cave, it may not be audible to our physical hearing because, like a faulty radio, we may be out of tune with the infinite.
… So often today, men and women are living so far apart from things spiritual that when the Lord is speaking to their physical hearing, to their minds with no audible sound, or to them through his authorized servants who, when directed by the Spirit, are as his own voice, they hear only a noise as did they at Jerusalem. Likewise, they receive no inspired wisdom, nor inward assurance, that the mind of the Lord has spoken through his prophet leaders.
… Enos, grandson of Lehi, gives us to understand why some can receive a knowledge of the things of God while others cannot. Enos recounts his struggle to obtain a forgiveness of his sins that he might be worthy of his high calling.
He then concludes: “And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments. …” [Enos 1:10.]
There you have, in simple language, a great principle: It isn’t the Lord who withholds himself from us. It is we who withhold ourselves from him because of our failure to keep his commandments.12
When we approach the Lord for a blessing we want to make sure that we put ourselves in the state of worthiness to receive that for which we pray.13
Wouldn’t you like to so live that when God spoke you would be able to hear it, or to be able to be worthy to have a visitation from an angelic visitor, or perhaps to be ready to go into the presence of the Lord? The Lord told us how we could be ready. Here he said in a great revelation these words: “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am” (D&C 93:1).
When the voice came from the heavens to people in the land Bountiful they heard it not. It was just to them a confusion of noises, and when they tuned their hearts they could hear words but they couldn’t understand; but when with all their hearts and minds they concentrated upon it, then the voice could be understood. (See 3 Nephi 11:3–5.)14
God grant that each of us may so live that we may enjoy that communion with Deity through the Holy Ghost, and know without doubt that he does live, and be prepared one day to enter into his presence.15
On what matters may we receive revelation? How can we increase our ability to hear the voice of the Lord and “grow into the principle of revelation”?
What are some of the ways we receive revelation through the still, small voice of the Spirit?
What are the differences between saying a prayer and talking with God? What does it mean to pray “with real intent”? (Moroni 10:4).
How does knowing that you are a son or daughter of God affect the way you approach Him in prayer? How does that knowledge enable you to trust Him?
When you are faced with important decisions, what should you do to receive direction from the Lord? Why does it take courage to act on the promptings of the Spirit?
How do we sometimes “withhold ourselves” from our Father in Heaven? How can we draw continually nearer to Him in our own lives and in our families?