Revelation. No other topic in religion is conceptually understood so well yet so practically misunderstood by pretty much everyone to one degree or another (obviously myself included).
What Is Revelation?
What is revelation? I can tell you conceptually, but can I communicate to you exactly how I receive revelation? Can a basic framework of methods be taught, or are there a diversity of gifts or methods? Is receiving revelation something that can only be learned through personal experience, and not taught?
Why are there so few that seem to be able to receive true revelations, or communicate reliably with God through the Holy Ghost with out personal bias or tarnish? If you want short discussion, ask an LDS elder’s quorum to explain the mechanics of revelation based on personal experience. You’ll likely get a few “while I was on my mission I..” and some “25 years ago I prayed to know…” and even a couple “I felt really good about…”.
How Can One Receive Revelation?
This is a big deal.
Lots of people have difficulty accessing the Holy Ghost. There are those that have difficulty despite great effort, and there are those whose difficulty is driven by a lack of effort or carelessness. I don’t know why some receive revelation more readily than others, but despite the difficulty connecting more and more with God is essential and always always always worth the effort. So if you are having difficulty, never give-up. Ever.
I’m going to describe the mechanics of how I receive revelation, and I hope that it might be helpful for whoever is reading this; however, I fully recognize that each of us has different capabilities and different gifts and that I’m quite a poor example. Therefore my methods may not be profitable for all. Test and try. Test and try.
Step 1: Ask!
Ask, ask, ask. Knock, knock, knock. Engage God. Don’t expect to receive anything if you aren’t engaging God. Don’t be like Laman and Lemuel who don’t know anything because they didn’t ask. “We don’t know this because God didn’t tell us” is definitely in the top 5 silly things said by someone in the Book of Mormon.
12 Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
13 For everyone that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened.
7 Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.
23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
Step 2: Calm your mind until you can start recognizing the influence of the Holy Ghost
This of course presupposes that one has experienced the Holy Ghost before and can recognize the flavor of the Holy Ghost. If you can’t recognize the Holy Ghost, then revert to asking God to help you discern the Holy Ghost better and understand when it’s speaking to you. I prayed for this for years, and still do pray for this. Similarly ask God to unplug your spiritual ears so you can hear his voice. Be determined, and weary God with your pleas.
Step 3: Ask God to encrypt your conversation so that dark influences or ungodly influences can’t tamper with the communication
This is important because there are often times ungodly spirits or influences that are ready to jump in and tell you all sorts of stuff that isn’t from God. These sources will gratify your pride, tell you to do things that are carnally appealing, or mislead you to any degree possible.
Step 4: Remove all bias
I don’t know how many times I’ve received faulty answers because of bias. Either 1) God will allow you to do what you want because he knows that’s what you’ll do anyway and it will be a learning process for you, or more likely 2) you self revelate or because you aren’t humble and meek enough to receive from God another false spirit will jump in right away and derail you.
I can’t stress how crucial this is. You must be open to God for him to be open to you. The second you introduce your own bias to the slightest degree you introduce significant risk that you will be deceived.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have opinions about stuff, we all do. This just means that you shouldn’t make up your mind to a great degree on the subject for which you are praying. If you do, God will know you’re not ready to receive.
Step 5: Ask the right questions
God is a God of truth. He can’t lie. That doesn’t mean he won’t tell you something that’s encoded. He does that a lot, and it’s for our own good. Many times he’ll tell us stuff that’s encoded so we’ll figure it out later at the right time, or because we weren’t ready to receive the full answer at that moment.
If you don’t frame the question correctly, then you may get a nonsensical answer, or no answer at all. Be very specific in what you are asking. General questions will produce general answers. Stupid questions likely won’t get answered or worse, you’ll be chastised for asking a dumb question. Primary questions will get primary answers. If you want to know the truth of a matter, it might take multiple iterations of questions. Each iteration will supply you with knowledge with which you’ll be able to proceed to the next iteration, building upon understanding, because you may not understand the full answer at first. Of course, you could receive a vision or a download to receive all the understanding at once. I’ve heard about these, but have yet to experience them for myself.
Step 6: Receive Godly communication in your mind and your heart
Step 6 is where you and I may diverge in our understanding and practical experience. In D&C 8 God tells Oliver Cowdery the formula for the spirit of revelation.
2 Yea, behold, 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.
3 Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
In this scripture God is telling Oliver Cowdry THE formula for the spirit of revelation. It comes into your mind and in your heart. Simple simple. Ease pease right? Sure sure.
After Oliver Cowdery isn’t able to translate, the subsequent section D&C 9 tells him the following:
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.
First, it’s important to note that God doesn’t deviate from the formula he previously gave to Oliver. Mind & heart, got it.
Second, it’s important to note that this was Oliver’s way of receiving revelation. The two components are to receive in your mind and your heart. You receive the information in your mind, and then you receive a heart confirmation. Oliver’s heart confirmation was the burning in the bosom. Receiving in our mind seems to be fairly straightforward, but people get their pants in a wad when they don’t receive the burning in the bosom. Perhaps your heart confirmation isn’t the burning. Maybe it’s one of the other fruits (See Galatians 5:22).
I get the burning of the bosom. I get a tangible burning in my chest and sometimes my entire body when I get an answer from the Lord. Often times it’s accompanied by a tangible feeling of love. That’s me. How interesting it would be if Oliver Cowdrey’s heart confirmation would be profound peace accompanied by love, or profound joy. A whole lot of burning bosom peeps out there might be a little confused as to why they were experiencing heartburn when they prayed.
Receiving an answer often is much more involved than just sitting there saying “hit me with it God”, or “I’m waaaaaaaaaiting?????”.
Consider the following:
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
Let me pose a question. Did Joseph Smith know Reformed Egyptian at this time to any meaningful degree?
Then what was he studying out in his mind? We fall all over ourselves during church saying that we need to study and study and do a whole ton of work before God will answer us, but that doesn’t make any sense given the context. The answer to this question is important to understanding how revelation works.
At the end of the day, don’t trust me on this. Ask God about it. Discover for yourself. Pay the price to know God. Bug him relentlessly until he reveals his mind to you. Show God you are serious, that you mean business.
How Do I Know I’m Not Being Deceived?
The age old question. Who hasn’t thought this after receiving communications from God or potentially another source. Here are some questions to ask yourself when receiving revelation.
- Did a heart confirmation accompany the communication?
- Did the revelation gratify my pride?
- Was there any bias involved in the conversation?
- Was I holding anything back; therefore did that influence the answer or communication that I received?
- Were any fruits of the Spirit present?
Also, does it square with Joseph Smith’s method of explaining 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.”
Then of course there’s the hearsay. This was written by a man 10+ years after the death of Joseph Smith. Was he remembering correctly? Is a 10 year old witness credible? Food for thought.
“If you will listen to the first promptings, you will get it right nine times out of ten.” (Joseph Smith; Charles Lowell Walker, Diary of Charles L. Walker, [1855-1902], pg. 902)
In my experience, it’s important to separate the emotional reaction resulting from the receipt of revelation from the revelation itself as quickly as possible after receiving said revelation lest the two be conflated. If i’m generating significant amounts of fear after receiving something from God, it’s important to recognize that right away so I don’t confuse the fear as coming from God. It’s equally important to recognize good emotions that are invoked by the receipt of revelation.
If God is a God of truth, then why do many of us receive conflicting revelations? Why do some receive revelations that the Church is the only true church on the face of the earth, and some receive contrary revelations. Certain types of truth exist without qualification when contained within a specific time period. E.g. today the LDS Church likely wont both be true and false at the same time (on the same date); however, the LDS Church can be the only true and living church in 1831, and can lose that status in 1832 and be under condemnation. As one of my relatives concluded, some truth has a time component. Just because something is true now, doesn’t mean it will be true later. Given enough time, most things change status. I would call this “temporary truth”.
Therefore, if something is true at a specific time or during a specific time period, I would expect a convergence of revelation. However, it seems like this is something rarely seen in a large group, or even a medium size group, wait, even a small group. Will this ever exist? Even in Zion?
A case can be made for revelatory incongruence as well. Unlike temporary truth (how things really are in the world at any given time), progressive truth can change with each graduation into a higher (or lower) sphere of truth. The most classic example of this is Nephi. He’s ordered to kill Laban. He does something other men (or women) may not have been commanded to do because of their spiritual level, condition of their heart, etc. As souls progress they graduate to different rule sets just like a child is allowed to handle knives in the kitchen as he or she get’s older and learns more. This type of revelation I would fully expect to differ between individuals. Each individual has a living rule book or book of commandments by which he or she needs to live by in order to progress to higher and higher planes of existence. This is why Christ’s rule book is much different than ours. This is why you see prophets doing certain things for which we haven’t received the knowledge. In other words, there are higher and lower laws. To ascend, one must obey the law he or she is currently given.
18 Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
19 And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.
20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
“The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart!” (History of The Church, 3:295)
Walk with God
26 And it came to pass that Enoch journeyed in the land, among the people; and as he journeyed, the Spirit of God descended out of heaven, and abode upon him.
27 And he heard a voice from heaven, saying: Enoch, my son, prophesy unto this people, and say unto them—Repent, for thus saith the Lord: I am angry with this people, and my fierce anger is kindled against them; for their hearts have waxed hard, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes cannot see afar off;
28 And for these many generations, ever since the day that I created them, have they gone astray, and have denied me, and have sought their own counsels in the dark; and in their own abominations have they devised murder, and have not kept the commandments, which I gave unto their father, Adam.
29 Wherefore, they have foresworn themselves, and, by their oaths, they have brought upon themselves death; and a hell I have prepared for them, if they repent not;
30 And this is a decree, which I have sent forth in the beginning of the world, from my own mouth, from the foundation thereof, and by the mouths of my servants, thy fathers, have I decreed it, even as it shall be sent forth in the world, unto the ends thereof.
31 And when Enoch had heard these words, he bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?
32 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.
33 Say unto this people: Choose ye this day, to serve the Lord God who made you.
34 Behold my Spirit is upon you, wherefore all thy words will I justify; and the mountains shall flee before you, and the rivers shall turn from their course; and thou shalt abide in me, and I in you; therefore walk with me.