Seeking and receiving revelation

My Relief Society Presidency Secretary Elisabeth S. Weagel is someone I really look up to. Her scriptural knowledge and reverence for gospel principles inspires me a lot. I am grateful to be able to serve with her and learn from her gentle example. She sent me the talk she gave in church on Sunday, which I missed as I was traveling.


Sister Julie B. Beck says, “The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life.”[1] To aid our efforts to develop this ability, we have examples throughout the scriptures of what seeking, receiving, and acting on revelation looks like, as well as Nephi’s guidance to “liken all scriptures unto us.”[2]
I have learned a great deal about the pattern of seeking and receiving revelation as I have studied the experience of Joseph Smith, whose search for truth resulted in the paramount revelation of this dispensation. Joseph lived at the turn of the 19th Century during the Second Great Awakening—a period of religious revival in the United States. He was in his adolescence when his family moved to the epicenter of this movement known as the burned-over district. Joseph reflects that:

the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.


Though far removed from this period of religious excitement, the cries of “lo, here!” and “lo, there!” continue to ring in our ears. We live in a world divided by politics, religion, class, experience, and opinion. Like Joseph, I have often felt “my mind…called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness” as I have contemplated the problems that plague our contemporary experience. Whether we are concerned about current world or community events, or are struggling with challenges in our families or friendships, or we are suffering from darkness or confusion in our individual sphere, we have been promised that if we ask, it shall be given to us. That if we seek, we shall find. And if we knock, it shall be opened unto us.[3]  This is something available to all because all have the light of Christ.[4]  When we are baptized and confirmed, this power is magnified by the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Joseph says that his “feelings were deep and often poignant,” but he refrained from joining any specific organization. Nevertheless he “attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit.”[5]  Rather than sit in a cupboard and pray, expecting an answer to materialize in the air, he dedicated himself to learning the teachings of the various sects. He coupled this research with scripture study and prayer and then his question was answered. Among the many things his story teaches us about the way God communicates with His children is the lesson that revelation does not come in a vacuum.


This same concept is found in section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is directed to Oliver Cowdery after he failed to receive revelation as a translator of the Book of Mormon. In response to Oliver’s frustration, the Lord says, “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.”[6]  Revelation requires work on our part. Joseph did that work as he attended the various camp meetings, and pondered, “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” Such pondering paired with scripture study prepared his heart to receive the witness that the promise in James 1:5 is true.


The passage says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and abraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph records in his history: “never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine.” This powerful impression from the Holy Ghost was a form of revelation, guiding Joseph Smith in his path toward truth. When he decided to do as James directs and ask God, he was acting on the revelation that he had received.


Another example of study preceding revelation is found at the end of the Book of Mormon. The promise in Moroni 10:4 that God, the Eternal Father, will “manifest the truth of [The Book of Mormon] unto [us], by the power of the Holy Ghost,” is predicated on our first, “receiving these things,” or, in other words, actually reading the book; and second, asking.


The nature of the prayer—the manner in which we approach God with our questions—is as important as the preparation that precedes it. Moroni stipulates that we must “ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.” James declares that if we lack wisdom we can ask God, “but,” he says, “let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave upon the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”[7]


I don’t think we can overestimate the power of faith in opening the channels of Heaven. Daughters in my Kingdom shares the story of Amanda Barnes Smith who was at Haun’s Mill when it was attacked by a mob in 1838. Her husband and one son were killed in the attack, and her son Alma had his hip blown away. She was all alone, and there was nothing she could do except exercise her faith as she prayed for revelation. She turned to God as her physician and asked, “Oh my Heavenly Father…what shall I do? Thou seest my poor wounded boy and knowest my inexperience. Oh Heavenly Father direct me what to do!” (Notice that she didn’t simply ask the Lord to heal her son, instead she asked Him to direct her own actions.) In response to her plea, a voice spoke to her and gave her detailed instructions about how to clean and repair her son’s hip. Amanda called on the faith of her son as well, “Alma, my child…you believe that the Lord made your hip?” “Yes, mother,” he replied. “Well, the Lord can make something there in place of your hip, don’t you believe he can, Alma?” The Lord did. Five weeks later, his hip was restored and he was able to walk.
Both Joseph Smith and Amanda had visions in response to their prayers, but revelation does not often come this way. Remember what Elijah said:

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.[8]

Sister Barbara Thompson identifies several other descriptions of the Holy Ghost’s communications in the scriptures:[9]

“Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?” (D&C 6:23)
“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.” (D&C 8:2-3)
“I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” (D&C 9:8)
“I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.” (D&C 11:13)


It is our privilege and responsibility to learn how the Holy Ghost communicates with us personally. We might consider when we have felt the Holy Ghost in the past and what that felt like.[10]


Elder David A. Bednar explains that universally revelation will come one of two ways. Either an a specific moment as a unity, or more gradually over time. He says that the former can be compared to turning on a light switch, whereas the latter is more like the sunrise, where light begins to appear before the sun ever comes over the horizon:

A light turned on in a dark room is like receiving a message from God quickly, completely, and all at once. Many of us have experienced this pattern of revelation as we have been given answers to sincere prayers or been provided with needed direction or protection, according to God’s will and timing. …The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently “distil upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45).


While we are promised that if we ask we shall receive, we are never promised that this will happen in a certain time frame. In the twentieth century there were many prophets and general leaders who sought revelation that would allow all worthy men to receive the priesthood and all worthy women and men to receive temple ordinances. President David O. McKay “pleaded and pleaded with the Lord” for such revelation but it did not come.[11]  President Kimball studied it out though extensive research and consulting with his fellow leaders.[12]  He spent “many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.”[13]  After decades of prayers from prophets, apostles, and members of the Church around the world—all asking, seeking, and knocking—the answer came in June 1978. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until Heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.”[14]


To close, I would like to return to Joseph Smith’s story. Something that strikes me about his experience is that he felt doubt, but he was nevertheless full of faith. Though he was confused about the teachings he heard, his persistence in seeking truth and trust in the Lord ultimately led to theophany—seeing Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ face to face.


We, too, may feel doubt. There may be principles of the gospel that we struggle to understand or gain a testimony of. Or perhaps the bedrock of our understanding has been shaken by difficulties that we, or those close to us, have faced. This is ok. When our vista is limited, and shadows of doubt present themselves in our lives, we can remember this promise made by the Savior: “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them and not forsake them.”[15]
For me, the philosopher Rene Descartes is an example of maintaining faith in God even in times of doubt and darkness. He began his philosophical work by doubting everything, even his own existence. What he found when everything else was pushed away, was God. He built his entire understanding of the universe upon this one, crucial idea. As a result, the center of all of Descartes’ work—from philosophy to math to science—is the assurance that God exists. There are many things that I struggle to understand. Like Joseph Smith, I remain aloof as I evaluate the cacophony of feelings and opinions around me, and like Descartes I call into question my assumptions and paradigms. But what I know to be irrevocably true is that I am a daughter of Heavenly Parents. In my very darkest moments, when even the flame of hope had burned out, this fact remained with me. If we hold to this key of knowledge, and trust that Christ really will make darkness light before us, then we will survive whatever doubts or storms we may face, and we will experience the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”[16]


[1] Julie B. Beck, General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 2010.

[2] 1 Nephi 19:23

[3] Luke 11:9

[4] See Gospel Topics: Light of Christ

[5] JSH 1:8

[6] D&C 9:7-8 (Emphasis mine.)

[7] James 1:6

[8] 1 Kings 19:11-12

[9] Barbara Thompson, “Personal Revelation and Testimony,” General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 2011.

[10] David A. Bednar, “The Spirit of Revelation,” General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 2011.

[11] Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood,” in BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008), 22.

[12] Ibid., 46

[13] Doctrine and Covenants Official Declaration 2

[14] Jeffrey R. Holand, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,” General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1999.

[15] Isaiah 42:16

[16] 1 Corinthians 13:12

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: