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Today I’m going to speak on personal revelation. Now, I’m no expert when it comes to personal revelation, but I like to think that it’s a work in progress. Preparing for this talk definitely helped me to see the things I could be doing in my own life to receive personal revelation on a more consistent basis.
First of all, what is personal revelation? In our premortal lives, Heavenly Father communicated with us easily. He was with us, we understood him, and it was probably a lot easier to hear and understand our Heavenly Father then than it is now. But, this is one of the reasons we were sent to earth. We were sent to earth to be tested, but we were not sent without help. Heavenly Father gave us the Holy Ghost to help us along our way. While we’re here on this earth, personal revelation is impossible without the Holy Ghost – it is there to help us make decisions as well as to comfort us. Elder Robert D. Hales said, “Personal revelation is the way Heavenly Father helps us know Him and His Son, learn and live the gospel, endure to the end in righteousness, and qualify for eternal life – to return back into Their presence.”
Now, how do we receive personal revelation? In order to keep this as simple as possible, I’ve categorized personal revelation into three basic steps. The first step is prayer.
Receiving personal revelation is not a passive process. It requires thoughtfulness, willingness, and work on our part. “Seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” If we want to know something – if we want to gain knowledge, understanding, or direction of any kind – we must ask. Heavenly Father is waiting for us to kneel down and ask him questions. We see this take place throughout the scriptures. It begins with Adam and Eve. After Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, they missed that constant connection and communication with Heavenly Father. Moses 5:4 says, “And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.” We can relate to Adam and Eve in this situation. We, too, are shut out from Heavenly Father’s physical presence, but we can still receive counsel from him if we call upon His name. In only the fifth verse of the Book of Mormon, we already see this again being put into practice. In 1 Nephi 1:5, Nephi says, “Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.” It is due to these prayers Lehi so diligently offered that he and his family received revelation of the Savior as well as revelation of the love of God through his vision of the Tree of Life. And perhaps one of the most important prayers that has been offered up in these latter days was the one offered up by a 14-year-old boy who wanted to know which church was the true church. Joseph Smith’s courage to pray is an incredible example to me of humility and faith. One of the common commandments throughout the scriptures is to pray, ask, and seek. It is only through asking that we can receive the knowledge that Heavenly Father so badly wants to give us. Sometimes it’s not easy to pray, but President Harold B. Lee said, “The most important thing you can do is to learn to talk to God. Talk to Him as you would talk to your father, for He is your Father, and He wants you to talk to Him. He wants you to cultivate ears to listen, when He gives you the impressions of the Spirit to tell you what to do.” And so it is by praying that our path to personal revelation begins.
This habit of listening that President Harold B. Lee mentioned is one that we need to develop. It leads us to step two, which is to study it in your mind. We can’t expect Heavenly Father to do all the work for us, as nice as that would be. We need to think about whichever situation we’re in and take note of the feelings we have. How frustrating is it when someone asks you a question but then doesn’t pay attention to the answer? How are they supposed to know the answer to the question they just asked if they don’t listen? Whenever we go to Heavenly Father in prayer and then don’t take the time to study and listen to His promptings, I imagine He gets pretty frustrated with us. Just as speaking is vitally important, listening after we speak is just as important. D&C 9:8-9 say, “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. 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.” So, ask your question, then listen for the answer. If you believe you have received an answer, confirm it with Heavenly Father, again, through prayer.
Step three is to go forward in faith. Faith can be found in all aspects of receiving personal revelation, but it is best seen in what we do with the information we have received from the Lord. Sometimes we don’t get the answers we want. It is in those moments when our faith is truly tested. Do we have enough faith in the Lord to trust the inspiration He has given us even if it may not be what we want? Do we have enough faith in the Lord to trust the inspiration He has given us even when it defies logic? Do we have enough faith to “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded?” Because, as Nephi said, “The Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” Faith is the key to personal revelation. And the more we trust the Lord and his plan for each of us personally, the more willing He is to give us instruction in the future.
Now, it’s important to remember that, even though we may have a desire to know something, we don’t always receive answers right away. Elder Richard G. Scott explained, “When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence. When He answers no, it is to prevent error. When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth.” As hard as it is in the moment, personal revelation comes on the Lord’s timetable, not our own. And we have been promised that eventually we will receive answers to each and every prayer that we offer up to our Heavenly Father.
Now I’d like to share my story of personal revelation. This specific story is the reason I’m speaking here today and it’s the reason I’ll be reporting to the MTC in five and a half weeks and then heading to Italy six weeks after that.
I grew up in a family of missionaries. My oldest sister left on her mission when I was four and there seemed to be a steady stream of siblings leaving on missions from then on. Finally, about eight years ago, my last sibling to go on a mission returned and I’m sure my parents thought they were done with the whole mission thing. It was no secret that I never wanted to serve a mission. Some girls grow up knowing that they’re going to serve and others grow up wanting to serve. I was neither of these. Leaving my family, my home, and my comfort zone for so long, with only two phone calls a year, seemed like the worst idea ever. I honestly had no idea why anyone would ever choose to do this. These feelings didn’t change until about six months ago. About six months ago I was feeling somewhat frustrated. I’m sure this is a common feeling among those who have graduated from college and still aren’t sure what they want to be when they grow up. In December, this feeling became unbearable. I found myself using the word “floundering” a lot in conversations with close friends. “I feel like I’m floundering,” I’d say. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.” I’d been praying about it for a while, but I hadn’t received a solid answer, nor did I really expect to receive a solid answer. But I was hoping for some comfort and at least a hint of some sort. And then, one fateful night, I went to the movies with my mom. The movie of choice was “The Hobbit.” Now, this talk is about to get real nerdy, real quick, so stick with me.
Before I continue on with my story, it’s important for you to know that I’ve always been a big reader. I have memories of my mom coming up to my room on Saturday mornings, and finding me in bed reading, and telling me I wasn’t allowed to read anymore until I did my chores. Because she and I both knew that if she didn’t make me stop, the bathroom would remain dirty and the floors would remain unvacuumed. When it was time for me to choose my major, the decision to major in English came pretty easily. And then I graduated and, naturally, got a job that had nothing to do with English. Anyway, at some point during my teenage years, I read and fell in love with “The Hobbit” and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Who didn’t, right? The “hero’s journey” is a classic tale. We all love it. I didn’t know then that this story would end up convincing me to serve a mission at the practically elderly age of 23. So I saw the movie with my mom and didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until the next day at my best friend’s homecoming that scenes from the movie started replaying in my head. So, just to give you a little recap, at the beginning of the story, Gandalf comes to Bilbo asking him to go on an adventure with him. He tells him it’ll be hard, probably the hardest thing he’s ever done and the hardest thing he’ll ever do, but it’s important. Bilbo is not having it. He doesn’t want to go. It’s that simple. Why should he willingly step out of his comfort zone? I can definitely relate to Bilbo in that respect. Finally, after much attempted coercion by Gandalf, Bilbo stops him and says, “I just need to sit quietly for a moment.” And Gandalf said something that struck me to the core while I was sitting there in sacrament meeting the next day. He said, “You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long.” All of a sudden, I knew that I had been sitting quietly for far too long and that I was supposed to serve a mission.
My heart started beating quickly, my throat got tight, and all of a sudden I was sitting there crying in sacrament meeting. It took me a day or two to even mention this thought to anyone. I felt that the more people I told, the more real it became. And thank goodness for that, because with each new person I told, my resolve to serve a mission became stronger. I started working on my mission papers a week later. This story may be strange and silly but it just goes to show that we can receive personal revelation by any means possible. This experience proved to me that Heavenly Father knows me personally. We’re always told that growing up in the church – you’re Heavenly Father’s child, He knows you personally. But that is an incredibly hard concept to grasp. Heavenly Father does not do things by accident. I believe that He knew exactly what he was doing when we decided not to see Lincoln the night before, but saw The Hobbit instead. (Who knows? Maybe I’d be getting a degree in political science if that had been the case.) He used my love of books to push me in the right direction. And then he waited until I was in one of his houses before he allowed me to make the connection. Not only did he wait until I was in one of his houses, but he had, speaking, right in front of my face, someone I loved who was not only alive and well after returning from her mission, but who was happy she did it and heartbroken that she was no longer there. I’ve always been really good at justifying not serving a mission. But in that moment, there was no justifying. Heavenly Father used the Holy Ghost wisely and the message was definitely received.
In the movie, Bilbo wakes up the next morning and everyone has already left. Something changes. All of a sudden he’s changed his mind. He looks around, grabs his things, and runs as fast as he can to catch up with the others and start his own adventure. When he finally catches up to everyone, Gandalf says to him, “They took wagers on whether or not you’d turn up. Most of them bet that you wouldn’t.” Bilbo then asks Gandalf what he had thought and Gandalf replies, “Well…my dear fellow, I never doubted you for a second.” I like to think that Heavenly Father never doubted that eventually I would make this decision to serve Him and the people of Italy. It took me a bit longer than most to come to the decision, but I believe that there’s even a reason behind that. So now I’m doing my best to follow the third step of personal revelation and exercise faith. I still have moments of pure fear when I think about learning Italian or going up to strangers and talking to them about something that I hold so close to my heart. But that fear dissolves when I think about the fact that this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m so thankful for this gospel, for personal revelation, and for the Lord and the relationship that He wants to have with each of His children. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.