I like trying to reduce concepts to visuals to help me cement an idea in my mind. It’s part of the study process that lets me see everything has a place. I sometimes start with a piece of paper for a rough sketch. Sometimes I’ll use Microsoft Excel because spreadsheets let you easily put words in boxes in a location on the screen and you can easily move them around by cutting and pasting. Once I have something of a list going on, I use a graphical program to simplify the idea and maybe make it a little prettier. Spreadsheets and tables are powerful tools though for comparing things, but that’s for another post.
I find myself constantly trying to understand how to better get revelation, so I’ve been studying the topic a bit lately. This blog post is just an attempt to organize my study on the topic and hopefully motivate me to improve my attempts at it. Writing things helps me cement ideas and hopefully by sharing some things, gives others insights as well (and ideas for how to study a topic and use Scripture Notes to organize your gold nuggets). This won’t be fully comprehensive of the subject or I’d be writing a novel, but I’ll share some resources and thoughts and hopefully benefit someone (besides myself).
Let me start with a brief story of a friend.
I know someone who discovered revelation on his mission and every day would write down 10 questions and then pray for answers and write the answers that came into his mind in order to build this gift of revelation. By the end of his mission, if I remember right, he had written over 900 pages of content. It’s stunning to contemplate a 19-21 year old doing this, but why not? It doesn’t mean everything he wrote was 100% true, it means he was trying to get answers from God and wrote down the thoughts that came to him. God wants to give us revelation. The issue is always in the strength of our desire to receive it and admittedly, mine has been too weak for too long. Thus my desire to explore this topic more.
President Russell M. Nelson has said:
“One of the things the Spirit has repeatedly impressed upon my mind since my new calling as President of the Church is how willing the Lord is to reveal His mind and will. The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.” – April 2018 General Conference, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for our Lives”
Joseph Smith taught the importance of revelation in these words:
“Reading the experiences of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experiences through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose. Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.” – (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section 6, Subheading 59, paragraph 1, p. 324.)
Elder Richard G. Scott said,
“Were we to receive inspired guidance just for the asking, we would become weak…” -BYU Campus Education Week August 21, 2007
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote about the privilege we have to receive revelation:
“Now I say that we are entitled to revelation. Every member of the Church is entitled to get revelation from the Holy Ghost; he is entitled to have angels visit; he is entitled to view the visions of eternity; and he is entitled to see God the same way that any prophet in reality has seen him.
We think in terms of prophets who tell the future destiny of the Church and the world. But, the fact is that every person should be a prophet for himself and in his own affairs. It was Moses who said, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them” (Num. 11:29).” – April 1981 General Conference, “How to Get Personal Revelation”
There are a LOT of great resources available on this subject and if you have a favorite resource or quote I don’t link to or share, please share it in the comments below. One of my favorite talks I’ve listened to a few times over the years is “How to get Personal Revelation” by Elder Bruce R. McConkie. He gave a number of powerful talks on getting revelation but this is one of my favorites. Here are the links to listen to it or read it, along with some other great resources on the subject which I also read for this.
As shown in the infographic, the basic formula for obtaining revelation is the path from right to left across the top. I’m not trying to draw this like a typical flowchart with decision symbols and such, but items related to something on the top I have put underneath those items. I have identified 6 core steps but others may draw this differently. I will share a few things from the articles and scriptures studied above, but I encourage everyone to read those for themselves to go deeper. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject.
The Savior commanded us “ask and ye shall receive.” Revelation by definition means something is revealed to an individual. Revelation requires questions. God doesn’t give us more than we ask for. A person that can’t drink milk, won’t stomach meat. If we want the feast, we’d better “hunger and thirst after righteousness” or the Lord’s supper won’t be able to fill us.
Revelation can happen while we study. This happens all the time for me. I read a verse, have a question, ask in my mind what it means, and the Holy Ghost starts pointing me toward scripture searches or resources to answer my question.
However, not all answers are found in the written word. Once we exhaust a topic by our study, we may need direct answers from God. Often the things we are desperate for revelation on, aren’t scriptural questions, but life questions. Revelation is critical for personal and family issues that need wisdom beyond our ability to solve.
The first step toward getting revelation is formulating the right question. The right question will sometimes turn into a series of questions that require preparation. The Brother of Jared had a couple questions for the Lord about how to handle air and light issues inside the barges to carry his people to a new land. The Lord solved one issue that was beyond the Brother of Jared’ ability to solve (air), but then told him to bring him a solution to the issue of light (Ether 2:19-23). He had to go use his mind and abilities and study what others had done to solve such a problem. He may have taken inspiration from Noah’s problem and so he made stones and brought them to the Lord to touch to illuminate the barges. That required action and faith that the Lord could and would perform the miracle.
Coming up with the right questions may require study and actually writing down the question and reworking it a bit. More on that in a bit.
There are at least 2 very important things to prepare for the actual prayer, besides prior effort.
The first is making sure we are clean. An unrepentant person will not receive revelation from God. There must be an attitude change. To repent means to turn to God. This doesn’t have to be a lengthy process. It’s an orientation change and when we turn to God, we turn to the light.
“When transgression severely clouds a life, the focused spiritual truths of repentance cut the blackness as a laser penetrates the darkest ink.” -Elder Richard G. Scott, “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Oct. 1993 GC
Second, the environment must be one of stillness. It took me a lot of years to finally come to the point of getting answers and it started happening when I changed what I was looking for, but also embraced meditation. Being still in a quiet area and focusing on your breathing and clearing your mind of worldly thoughts is very conducive to receiving answers. I’m always up pretty early in the morning when the world is still. I find that if I focus my mind on seeing the Savior sitting in a chair near me and just relax for a few minutes, I can engage in a bit of a conversation. I’m not as good at it as I want or need to be, but when I get into a focused state, the answers come more clearly. My confidence has increased as I try and do this every day for at least 10 minutes and sometimes a while longer.
Prayer and revelation are fully intertwined. They are in essence, spiritual synonyms. We pray to express gratitude but also to seek wisdom. What is revelation but Godly wisdom which we seek?
There are a few keys to asking questions. One must have faith in Christ and believe that God will answer your question in prayer. To get an answer, your question should be something important to you. Without the desire and feeling of need, we lack the longing necessary to generate what I’ll call divine sympathy at our plight. Sometimes a question is simple, doesn’t have major implications, but it’s important to us and gets a quick answer. Other times a question requires deep thought and serious reflection.
It also requires humility and an acknowledgement to God that we lack wisdom and need his. In a great talk (“As a Child”) by President Henry B. Eyring in the April 2006 General Conference, he shared this story illustrating we much approach God as a child looking to do his will and not our own.
“Over many years I have seen a recurring pattern in the times when the answers to such a prayer have come most clearly.
Once, for instance, I prayed through the night to know what I was to choose to do in the morning. I knew that no other choice could have had a greater effect on the lives of others and on my own. I knew what choice looked most comfortable to me. I knew what outcome I wanted. But I could not see the future. I could not see which choice would lead to which outcome. So the risk of being wrong seemed too great to me.
I prayed, but for hours there seemed to be no answer. Just before dawn, a feeling came over me. More than at any time since I had been a child, I felt like one. My heart and my mind seemed to grow very quiet. There was a peace in that inner stillness.
Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself praying, “Heavenly Father, it doesn’t matter what I want. I don’t care anymore what I want. I only want that Thy will be done. That is all that I want. Please tell me what to do.”
In that moment I felt as quiet inside as I had ever felt. And the message came, and I was sure who it was from. It was clear what I was to do. I received no promise of the outcome. There was only the assurance that I was a child who had been told what path led to whatever He wanted for me.” – https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2006/04/as-a-child?lang=eng
Having the right attitude in prayer is critical to receiving answers.
(Featured image by volokhatiuk @ 123rf.com)