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Heavenly Father communicates uniquely with each of His children, one-by-one and one-on-one. He knows needs and understands hearts. He speaks every language, including love languages and unspoken emotional longings. Your personal connection with Him is yours alone. I believe each of us has a distinct frequency through which we individually communicate with Him via prayer and sacred pondering. When I pray for Sarah, He knows which Sarah I am referring to. His communications come through a secure channel. A revelation for you never comes to me. He connects reciprocally and exclusively on your wavelength to answer your prayers, show His love in tender mercies, supply needed inspiration, and grant miracles—all forms of personal revelation.
This direct link to Heavenly Father comes through the Holy Ghost. Speaking of Joseph Smith, President Henry B. Eyring said: “Not only was he then called of God to establish the true Church of Jesus Christ, but with it was restored the power to invoke the Holy Ghost so that revelation from God could be continuous”. Elder Lionel L. Kendrick of the Seventy said: “The Holy Ghost is involved not only in the process of petitioning Heavenly Father through prayer but also in the process of receiving answers from God by means of personal revelation”.
My granddaughter, Jenna, and I were talking about personal revelation. I mentioned that my revelation comes quietly in still, small impressions. I told her that rarely have there been any bells or whistles, just gently like Carl Sandburg described the fog coming in “on little cat feet.” I told her my promptings, ideas, instructions, comfort, truth, clarity come often like a puzzle—a piece here, a piece there—not as a complete package, sometimes over an extended period of time. She said, “That’s what happens to me too!” Then she made this astute statement: “It’s like… personal revelation some assembly required.”
Personal revelation was President Russell M. Nelson’s Sunday morning message at his first general conference as prophet. His words are as real as a personal interview. Imagine you are sitting across from him in his office.
You ask: “President Nelson, I need to know. Does God really want to speak to me?”
President Nelson: “The privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children…. Imagine the miracle of it!”
You ask: How often should I expect personal revelation?
President Nelson: “It is our right to have the manifestations of the Spirit every day of our lives.”
You ask: What specifically can the Lord help me with?
President Nelson: “Whatever your Church calling, you can pray to your Heavenly Father and receive guidance and direction. [You can] be warned about dangers and distractions…. [The Holy Ghost can] enable you to accomplish things you simply could not do on your own.”
You ask: What can I do to receive more revelation?
President Nelson: “Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort. Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take.”
Sensing you have taken enough of his time, you stand up and thank him. Then a very intense look comes on his face, and he says: “I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation.”
You ask: How do I do that?
President Nelson: “Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and regular time committed to temple and family history work.”
You shake his hand, say goodbye, and walk toward the elevator with the words, “I thank thee, O God, for a prophet,” in your heart. You know the living prophet of God has spoken.
Prophets of the past have desired and obtained revelation for the Church and themselves as recorded in scripture. Three examples come to mind:
In the Book of Ezekiel, the Lord addressed Ezekiel with a unique phrase, “son of man,” as a signal that a revelation was forthcoming. This distinctive way in which Ezekiel’s revelations were prefaced occurs ninety-two times in forty-eight chapters. Ezekiel saw in vision the throne and glory of God, the destruction of Jerusalem, the resurrection, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, a future temple, and much more.
The Brother of Jared experienced in vision of the history of the world. Moroni wrote: “I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared” (Ether 4:4-5).
Nephi, son of Lehi, received revelation to the degree that he could distinguish which member of the Godhead was speaking to him. In 2 Nephi 31:15 Nephi wrote, “I heard a voice from the Father.” In verses 12 and 14 he said, “the voice of the son came unto me.” Nephi was also well acquainted with how the Holy Ghost communicates. In obtaining the plates of brass he said, “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). Nephi emphasized that the Holy Ghost “witnesses of the Father and the Son” (2 Nephi 31:18). He also taught a benefit of receiving the Holy Ghost is that you can then “speak with the tongue of angels” (2 Nephi 31:13).
Two men in scripture experienced an angel speaking to them before they achieved the level of revelation necessary to fulfill their future callings. These examples show that works done in premortal life or prayers of the righteous or other factors known only to God can bring angels to Earth. I’m thinking of the very personal, very dramatic revelations that Alma the Younger and Saul of Tarsus received as very wicked men. Their experiences build faith in believing parents who pray for wayward children, fully expecting that some day they will receive if not an angelic comeuppance, at least incremental personal revelation to help them come to themselves as did the prodigal son. (See Luke 15:11-24.)
The appearance of an angel, however, does not mean instant testimony or complete knowledge of the doctrines of the Church. After Alma received the angel’s visit, he still had to work for a testimony. He said: “I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself” (Alma 5:46). Saul also had a learning curve after his vision to prepare him for his life’s mission. He experienced blindness, being healed by a priesthood blessing, accepting baptism, and being taught the gospel. (See Acts 9:17-20.)
My experiences with personal revelation have blessed me to connect seemingly unrelated bits and pieces of life to see patterns of cause and effect, revealing the fact that my Father in Heaven knows me and cares about my physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual wellbeing.
I know there is no such thing as revelation on demand. I can beg, plead, promise, read scripture, pray, and go to the temple all day and all night without results if it is not according to Heavenly Father’s will and timetable.
I know I must “wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon” me (Psalm 123:2). Sometimes, as I have waited upon the Lord, I have been strengthened in patience and felt the whispered thought, “Be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101:16).
I know revelation can come anytime, anywhere, no matter what I am doing. However, I have discovered some activities invite revelation, while other activities block it. For me, media can be a spirit-blocker. My clearest communications have come as I quietly go about routine tasks. An experience cleaning out the toy closet comes to mind. I could have turned on television, watched a movie, listened to an audio book or podcast, but I worked in silence. Soon thoughts and ideas about ways to resolve a family issue came to mind. Then I realized I was humming a hymn. Words and phrases from scripture floated through my mind. Some toys had memories attached to them. I enjoyed these reflections that seemed to pull back a curtain to long-forgotten, precious moments. I found myself counting blessings. A little later, without conscious decision, I realized I was praying. If I had used media, I would have missed this tranquil interlude in my busy life.
I know to pay special attention to ideas that come in the night. Groggy as I may be, I get up and write them down. President Nelson told of his experience: “Years ago, while immersed in the task of preparing a talk for general conference, I was aroused from a sound sleep with an idea impressed strongly upon my mind. Immediately I reached for pencil and paper near my bed and wrote as rapidly as I could. I went back to sleep, knowing I had captured that great impression. The next morning I looked at that piece of paper and found, much to my dismay, that my writing was totally illegible! I still keep pencil and paper at my bedside, but I write more carefully now”.
I know personal revelation can be a process. Many years ago I heard Naomi Randall talk about her experience in writing the words to “I Am a Child of God.” She said revelation and revision are not mutually exclusive processes, which is another way to say that revelation is a process with some assembly required. For example, her first attempt, at the chorus to her now famous song that has been translated in almost 100 languages, read:
Teach me all that I must know
This is my earnest plea!
I am a child of God
Please show the way to me (byustudies.byu.edu/file/9574/download?token=K9lAeVpO).
What she thought was her final draft was performed:
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must know
To live with him someday.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball upon hearing the words suggested Sister Randall change “Teach me all that I must know” to “Teach me all that I must do,” which is how it is sung today. (www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/articles/i-am-a-child-of-god.html).
I know anxious feelings prevent revelation. A few years ago a dear family friend died in a car accident. During this time of sorrow, family dynamics changed. Anxieties by day and night caused me to feel hopeless. It was only when I could change my frenetic thoughts to thoughts of gratitude that I received communication from the heavens. As the days became years, I became better and better at quieting my anxieties with gratitude. Little by little I felt healing would come, and gradually, gradually, it has. Now I can remember that devastating day and its aftermath without the same paralyzing turmoil resurfacing. Elder Dale G. Renlund said, “God, in His infinite capacity… heals individuals and families despite tragedy, loss, and hardship”.
I know a feeling of righteous expectation sometimes precedes my personal revelation. It is as though my eyesight, hearing, and all my senses become more alert. This precursor prompts me to pay close attention to my environment. The sensation is spiritual, emotional, and physical. This awareness encourages me to pray everyday: “Please bless me with thy Spirit and help me be attuned to subtle nudgings as they come.” Then I go about my day, watching for some guidance, wisdom, hope, or a way to proceed through a project or problem.
I know I receive more revelation when I control my self-talk. Studies that show that about 70% of the constant conversation we have with ourselves, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, is negative. When I can stop that inner conversation with myself and instead have an ongoing conversation with Heavenly Father, I am much more positive about life. On a sub-conscious level, this is where I wish I could keep my thoughts 24/7. It is a private place for my deepest desires—a beautiful, elevating, humbling, one-on-one conversation between Father and child that helps make everything else manageable.
I know revelation can come in familiar words from scripture or hymn. During a trying episode, I had prayed most of the night. About dawn I fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke, I heard in my mind the words: “Oh, know you not that angels attend you.” I spent the following days in joy and gratitude for this heavenly message, but then it occurred to me that I didn’t know in which hymn those words are found. It took a while but I found them on page 117, “Come unto Jesus.” However, in the hymnbook, one significant word is different. The line in the third verse reads: “Oh, know you not that angels are near” But I heard, “Oh, know you not that angels attend you.”
I know that personal revelation is of no benefit unless I act on it. My sister and I share responsibility for our 97-year-old mother who has dementia. As her mental and physical abilities decrease, the level of care must increase. About six months ago, we realized we needed help. We both prayed for someone to come to our attention that could help. We both had the same name come to mind, but we talked ourselves out of asking her when we found out she had moved forty miles away over a mountain. After talking about it more, we recognized the idea as revelation and called her. Her response was positive. She comes once a week and spends several hours with Mother. Sometimes she takes her on a field trip that lasts most of the day.
I know most of my personal revelation comes to help other people. At these moments I stop and thank Heavenly Father for choosing me to accomplish that errand. To be that person, I have to be in the right place at the right time. I could tell you of example after example of situations that unfolded because I was in the right room in our home, the right place in the temple or museum, even in the exact store or on the right street, exactly at the right moment to be able to receive and respond to a prompting.
Recently, my mother, sisters, and I were going to celebrate my sister-in-law’s birthday. She wanted to eat at a particular downtown Salt Lake City restaurant. We were all there waiting for her when my brother texted and said that when they pulled into the underground parking, she suddenly got very sick and they were going back home. The rest of us didn’t want to eat at her choice of a restaurant without her, so we decided to walk over to the Nauvoo Café, which is on Temple Square. It was busy. I was the last of our group to order. I watched as my sisters found a table and took their places. I saw the space they left for me was right next to an older woman and her walker.
I looked at this woman who was probably in her early eighties, dressed up, with a very nice meal in front of her. I kept expecting someone to come sit across from her but no one did. I said to her, “Do you live close by?” “No. I live in an assisted living on thirteenth west by California Avenue.” “How did you get here?” “On the bus and train.” My meal came and I started eating. Suddenly an idea came. I turned to the woman sitting next to me and asked, “Is today your birthday?” “Yesterday,” she said. I asked her if we could celebrate. I bought treats and asked her name and invited those seated around to join in singing “Happy Birthday, dear Lorraine.”
I know there is counterfeit personal revelation that does not come from God. The same person who started the war in heaven is continuing it here on earth, and sometimes I have been a target. About three years ago when I received my second cancer diagnosis, I felt like giving up on life. I couldn’t imagine surviving chemotherapy again. The more I thought about it, the more sure I was that my life would soon be over, that this was God’s plan for me. Images came to mind of ancestors who died before I was born and of sweet reunions as I renewed acquaintanceship with them. Thoughts came of how I could help my loved ones more from the other side of the veil than here.
One day I told one of our daughters how I was feeling. After we hung up, I know she made phone calls to her siblings because soon I had a host of local family bringing meals, gifts, and visiting. The out-of-towners suddenly had plane tickets at orderly intervals. One of the sweetest moments in this campaign “to get mom to want to live” came when one of my daughters-in-law who lives in our ward rang my doorbell. Tears were flowing down her cheeks. She said, “You have to fight it. My children have to have more time with you.” It was then I began to realize that I had been receiving promptings from the adversary. I knew I had to do what Mormon said: “Work while in the mortal body to conquer the enemy of all righteousness” (Moroni 9:6).
And lastly, I know there is more revelation on the horizon for everyone who desires, waits, listens, connects dots, and spiritually stretches, which is in harmony with President Nelson’s prophecy: “Oh, there is so much more that your Father in Heaven wants you to know…. I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation. In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
(The President Nelson quotes if not otherwise indicated come from his conference talk: “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for our Lives”).
To read Marilynne’s book Evidences for the Prophet Joseph Smith as Found in the Pearl of Great Price for free, click here.
To read her book Ministering Sisters attached to the Vine for free, click here.
To read her book on her breast cancer experiences, Breast Cancer Support Group in a Book, for free, click here.