Main Source: Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Message: Eight Ways God Can Speak to You” New Era, Sep 2004, 4 — From a devotional address given at Brigham Young University on 29 September 1981.
I mentioned in my post How a new Apostle is Chosen that personal revelation is what sets The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apart from the rest of the world. It is a precious and undeniable gift.
Elder Oaks writes:
Search your own experience. You have already received revelations, and you can receive more revelations because communication from God to men and women is a reality. President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) declared that it is “the grand privilege of every Latter-day Saint … to have the manifestations of the spirit every day of our lives.”
In the Book of Mormon, inside the book of Alma 32:23 we are told: “And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned.
Isn’t that a beautiful promise? Each of us is entitled to revelation within the realm of our stewardship. In other words, only the living prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, can receive revelation for the entire church. The apostles receive revelation within the mantle of their stewardship, which is huge. And as we go through the organization of the Church, the bishop receives revelation for the entire ward and you — well you start with the right to receive revelation for yourself. If you are parents you are able to receive it for your family and so on.
So how does one recognize revelation? In Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-9 we are taught:
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 that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
Elder Oaks outlines eight different ways in which we can recognize the whispers of the Holy Ghost as we seek further answers.
1. The testimony or witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel is true is a revelation from God.
This is one of the most beautiful aspects of personal revelation. In a world so bent on destruction and the denial of Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior and God of this world, this type of revelation is one of the most precious. When we follow the admonition laid out in D&C 9:7-9, then we will receive that witness that Jesus is the Christ and the gospel as laid out in the principles and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. But will you ask?
2. Prophecy is another purpose or function of revelation.
I believe it best to relay Elder Oaks direct words on this topic: “Speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost and within the limits of his or her responsibility, a person may be inspired to predict what will come to pass in the future. The one who holds the office of the prophet, seer, and revelator prophesies for the Church, as when Joseph Smith prophesied concerning the American Civil War (see D&C 87) and foretold that the Saints would become a mighty people in the Rocky Mountains. Prophecy is part of the calling of a patriarch. Each of us is also privileged occasionally to receive prophetic revelation illuminating future events in our lives, like a Church calling we are to receive.
3. A third purpose of revelation is to give comfort.
There are times when life becomes so overwhelming that we turn to our Father in Heaven begging for surcease from the load. While the direct solution to the problem may not always be whispered to us, certainly comfort equal to the Balm of Gilead is poured out upon us. Over the last 18 months as one loved one after another approached or crossed death’s threshold I fervently prayed for strength, comfort and peace. These blessings I did receive.
Another example of this type of comfort comes to us from the Doctrine & Covenants.
Such a revelation came to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. After many months in deplorable conditions, he cried out in agony and loneliness, pleading for the Lord to remember him and the persecuted Saints. The comforting answer came:
“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:7–8).
In that same revelation the Lord declared that no matter what tragedies or injustices should befall the Prophet, “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).
We must trust our Heavenly Father, in that we trust we have a sure promise of a loving and kind Lord and Savior who boldly declared . . . “this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
4. Closely related to the feeling of comfort is the fourth purpose or function of revelation, to uplift.
In times of depression, weakness, trial, tragedy . . . all that challenges us, one of the sweetest gifts of revelation is the lifting up of our spirits. The Holy Ghost never fails to offer the comfort his title indicates The Comforter. It is a sweet blessing when things begin to overwhelm.
5. The fifth purpose of revelation is to inform.
In times of danger or confusion, the Spirit will whisper to us instructions to keep us safe. In addition, if one is called to teach or speak a humble prayer will provide the information needed to reach those listening. Even in times of great study the Spirit will whisper to us further light and knowledge, if we but prayerfully consider this before beginning.
Elder Oaks said,
In other circumstances, needed information is communicated by the quiet whisperings of the Spirit. A child loses a treasured possession, prays for help, and is inspired to find it; an adult has a problem at work, at home, or in family history research, prays, and is led to the information necessary to resolve it; a Church leader prays to know whom the Lord would have him call to fill a position, and the Spirit whispers a name. In all of these examples, familiar to each of us, the Holy Ghost acts in His office as a teacher and revelator, communicating information and truths for the edification and guidance of the recipient.
6. The sixth type or purpose of revelation is to restrain us from doing something.
If we are living our lives in such a way that we hear and obey the whisperings of the Holy Ghost then a wonderful protection is placed around us. We might be cautioned to not walk down a certain path or to not strike a business deal that looks good on every other level. This is a protection that can save untold disaster waiting around the unseen corner.
7. A common way to seek revelation is to propose a particular course of action and then to pray for inspiration to confirm it.
This follows the admonition previously referred to in Doctrine & Covenants 9: 7-9. When a weighty decision is upon us and we are uncertain which way to go, then we study it out. We research and examine the different alternatives and then make a decision. Then we kneel and in humble prayer ask the Father if this decision is right. We will be told whether it is or not.
8. The eighth purpose or type of revelation consists of those instances where the Spirit impels a person to action.
Elder Oaks describes this instance of when revelation is not being sought, but it is given to us at a time in order to spur us on to action we may not have taken without the prompting of the Spirit.
There are many ways in which revelation or answer to prayer might be heard. Whether it is that soft whisper to our heart, or through the words of a trusted religious leader, parent, spouse or friend, or in the words of the scriptures . . . there are many ways. Do not close off the paths the Lord chooses to reveal truth to you.