Sunday, February 8, 2009

How do we receive personal revelation?

I’ve compiled a list of scriptures that have some very helpful things to say about how to receive personal revelation.
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1: 5-6)
These verses tell us several things about revelation:
• We can ask God for wisdom if we feel we lack it.
• God is a liberal giver, so He will give wisdom liberally.
• God doesn’t upbraid us when we ask him for something, meaning He doesn’t send us feelings of “Why are you asking about THAT?! That’s a stupid thing to ask about! Do you know what kind of trouble that will cause you?” (Rather, it is Satan that upbraids us for asking God.)
• When we ask God for wisdom we have to do it with faith (not wavering), with certainty that we will receive, and with the determination to act on what we are given.

I know that these things are true. I have tested it many times. Once I asked for help to fix rollup door with a messed up mechanism that would not roll up, and somehow I was able to fix it. I have asked for help with learning to play the organ and I was given wisdom little by little as I practiced. I have asked for wisdom to understand scriptures I was puzzled over, and as I studied them, ideas came to me about what they meant. I have asked for help with my schoolwork when I hit a brick wall and exhausted other options and ideas came. I have seen these things at work in my life many more times than I can count.

This scripture also inspired Joseph Smith in 1820 to pray to know what church he should join when he was confused and he was visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and personally told that none of the churches were true and they only had a form (or appearance) of godliness. Joseph Smith kept asking in faith for revelation and he was given power and authority and knowledge to restore lost truth and organize a church that would manifest the power of godliness.
7 ¶ Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew. 7: 7, see also 3 Ne. 14: 7)
We are told again in this scripture that every person who asks will receive, and we are further told that if we seek, we will find.

I am convinced that when Christ said to ask and to seek, He was not repeating himself; He was pointing out two different important parts of receiving revelation. We have to ask for it, but we also have to seek for it too, meaning that the searching process is just as important as the asking process. By searching, we find out what wisdom is already out there and discover the exact extent of our own ignorance. It prepares our mind with all the knowledge and wisdom that is already available so that when we receive the revelation from God that we need, we will recognize it immediately and rejoice over how it beautifully fits in with what we already know.

The process of seeking also helps us discover what in our lives might be in error. Frequently we can’t receive further revelation on something because there is something not quite correct about our attitude and/or understanding relating to that topic and the error has to be weeded out before the truth can take its place. When I was in the middle of writing my book, frequently I would find that I was being led in a certain direction by a verse of Isaiah, but I’d hit a brick wall and struggle for a while in confusion. Eventually I figured out this was a sign that I needed to repent of something; some attitude of mine was wrong and if I didn’t get rid of it, I wouldn’t be able to understand what I wanted to know or accept it when it came. I still remember the struggle I had when I found I was getting a message from some verses that “showing off is bad”. I didn’t see anything wrong with showing off and I had to do some serious repenting and pondering before I could understand why it was wrong. Yes, seeking helps us prepare our hearts to receive, through learning and repentance.

Study is a big part of receiving revelation.
7 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.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought… (Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-8)
These verses reinforce the idea that we must study things out first and then ask the Lord about it.

Now, if you were reading those verses carefully, you may have noticed that phrase “you must ask me if it be right”. There’s an “it” in there that is being asked about. This verse tells us about a kind of revelation by which the Lord confirms as correct something that we have in mind to do or something that we’re trying to discern the truth of.

It may seem odd that we are asked to study things out and get our own opinion based on the facts before we take it to the Lord for confirmation, but I see it as just another one of God’s ways to further the progress of His children toward eternal life. He wants us to exercise our minds and delve into the pros and cons of our options and think carefully about the implications and try to make the best decision possible ourselves, so that we can develop our reasoning ability and our planning ability. Once we have done this and we take our best idea to Him, asking for confirmation that it is the best idea and it is what He wants for us, when we receive that confirming revelation with a joyful burning feeling inside, we can act with true confidence and a certain amount of pleasure that we have found what God wanted us to find. It’s a very happy feeling!

What about when we have done our best to find the best option and we ask the Lord to confirm it and we feel nothing? This is when we have to trust that the Lord sees and knows something that we don’t about the option we want, something that makes it not good for us, or not good enough for us.

My most recent memorable experience with this was back in December when my husband and I were trying to find a house to buy. Based on what we wanted, we had three choices… but all of them seemed deficient in some way, but we were determined to buy and our lease was going to be up in a month. I was very confused about it and I made a chart that listed the positives and negatives of each option and my husband calculated the number of miles we would be driving to school and work each week in comparison to the place we were. We were studying it out. I didn’t feel good about any of them, but I felt under pressure to buy. I fasted and prayed about what would be best for us to buy, and I got the feeling that we needed to wait more. It wasn’t what we wanted to hear, but we are trusting the Lord sees and knows something we don’t.

Revelation comes through the scriptures.
3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. 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….
5 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
(2 Ne. 32: 3,5)
This scripture is for those of us who have always wished they could be visited by an angel like so many prophets in the scriptures have been. We are told two important things about angels:
They speak by the power of the Spirit of God
They speak the words of Christ.

So, we are told, if an angel visited us, they would tell us things that we already have in the scriptures. We might as well read our scriptures, because they will tell us all things that we should do.

Now, here is something that could seem contradictory. I’ve said in a previous post that “the scriptures don’t have everything that we need to know so we need revelation”, and then here is a scripture that seems to suggest that the words of Christ will tell us everything we should do and that all the answers are in the scriptures. How do these reconcile? I will explain. All the answers are not explicitly stated in the scriptures. But when we feast on the scriptures, as we think about our questions and bring our state of mind into harmony with the Spirit of God, we will be moved upon and have ideas come to our mind about our problems. The ideas will build off the text and show us how the text relates to our problem and bring some sort of insight or solution. This is revelation. This is why we need to receive the Holy Ghost, because, as verse 5 says above, it will show us all things we should do. The Holy Ghost also speaks the words of Christ.

I have experienced this revelation through the scriptures so many times I can’t count. All of the insights I gained about Isaiah that are in my book were gained by in this way, by reading with a problem or issue in mind. (I did a lot of studying it out too.)

You can get revelation this way too.
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal. (D&C 42: 61)
This scripture shows us again that we have to ask to receive revelation from God. It also points out that we will receive revelation upon revelation and knowledge upon knowledge. This means that what we are given will build upon the truth that we already know. What are these mysteries and peaceable things? It could be the point at which seemingly opposed truths come together into one great whole, the place where certain scriptural injunctions begin to make perfect sense (like “lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth” and “turn the other cheek”) and become extremely practical.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, 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.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moro. 10: 4-5)
This tells us that to really KNOW something is the truth is a revelation. We don’t have to wonder if something is true or just hope that something is true, we can pray to know and have the Holy Ghost confirm that it is true. You can even pray to know if what I have written here is true. I testify that it is. This is such a precious thing, because in an extremely uncertain world, the Holy Ghost can become a touchstone of truth to hold ideas up to.

Again, we have to ask.

Next we have some additional ways to receive revelation.
45 And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
46 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.
47 And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God. (Alma 5: 45-47)
In these verses, Alma tells that he wanted to know whether something was true and he didn’t just pray about it, he fasted too. Fasting is another way of focusing our devotion and it is incredibly powerful. Properly done, it essentially harnesses the principles of self-sacrifice and charity in a way that grabs the Lord’s attention very quickly and brings a response. If you’d like to learn more about fasting, you can read the chapter on it in my book here.

I’ve noticed that when I fast about a question or a problem I have, answers seem to come with such clear impressions. This is revelation.

Here is another place where fasting and prayer results in revelation.
2 Now…Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God. (Alma 17: 2-3)
These verses show us that these men gave themselves to much prayer and fasting, and so they didn’t just receive a few revelations, they received many. In fact, they had a number of other spiritual gifts that came naturally—prophecy and the ability to teach with power and authority from God.

I also want to point out again that they were also searching the scriptures diligently, so they were finding answers in the scriptures. Their diligent study filled their minds with scripture, and I’m sure that when they taught, the scriptures they needed would come to their mind to say. (This remembering exactly what is needed is also revelation.)

To someone who has never been in the habit of reading scriptures, this will all seem very incredible, but I know it is true, because I’ve experienced it in my own life.

And there are many among us who have many revelations, for they are not all stiffnecked. And as many as are not stiffnecked and have faith, have communion with the Holy Spirit, which maketh manifest unto the children of men, according to their faith. (Jarom 1: 4)
In this verse we see that an attitude of faith is required for revelation, while stiffneckedness will ensure that revelation does not come. Being stiffnecked is a symbol of pride, and refers to an attitude of “I’ve got all the answers” when we think we know better. It can even be a physical sensation that comes with the thought of “I know better”. One that is similar to it is hardhearteness, which is when we deaden our feelings to impressions that come to us to be better, to believe, to submit to Christ, to change. It manifests itself in a hard constricted feeling in the chest.

Having faith requires us to humble ourselves and soften our hearts. We have to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and be willing to have our hearts harrowed up by the Spirit when revelation comes. Revelation can stir the emotions and bring tender feelings to the surface. We may cry. But it’s okay to cry. Christ cried from time to time.

So. To review. Receiving revelation requires:
Asking (prayer)
Studying it out

Things we can do to increase revelation:
Read the scriptures
(again) Prayer