The Lord promises gifts of the spirit to members of his church. These gifts are given for the edifying and uplifting of those who are in need of strengthening and comforting. All members of the Lord’s church are entitled to either the receipt of these gifts or to be blessed by these gifts as they are exercised by others. I hope and pray that what I am about to share will be accompanied by an outpouring of his spirit as we consider the purposes of revelation. You may recognize these teachings from Elder Dallin H. Oaks.
Revelation is communication from God to man. It can occur in many different ways. Some prophets, like Moses and Joseph Smith have talked to God face to face. Some persons have had personal communication with angels. Other revelations have come through the dreams of sleep, as with Lehi, or in waking visions of the mind. The vision of the redemption of the dead given to Joseph F. Smith in 1918 is one example of a waking vision. It usually comes after much pondering and prayer and is meant to instruct.
In their more familiar form, revelation and inspiration come by means of words or thoughts communicated to the mind. This can come as enlightenment, feelings about proposed courses of action or even by inspiring performances. I believe that most members of the church have received revelation in one form or another. It is our grand privilege to have the manifestations of the spirit every day of our lives. Remember, when we were confirmed members of this church we were commanded to receive the Holy Ghost.
1. To testify
There are times when I have sat in General Conference or in a devotional assembly at BYU or in some other setting where I knew that I was receiving revelation. The spirit of the Lord was testifying to me that the words that I was hearing were true and important to my happiness and salvation. The purpose of this revelation was to strengthen my testimony or to prepare me for some future trial or other requirement where I needed to know for certain the truths that I had heard, felt and had been taught.
I have also experienced revelation flowing through me as I have testified to others of the truthfulness of the doctrine I was teaching. This occurred to me before my mission, while on my mission and many times since then. It is in bearing testimony that the spirit has a chance to confirm our words to others. To me, this is one of the most powerful confirmations that this is the Church of Jesus Christ and that He is vitally concerned with what is taught in His Church. He sends his confirming spirit as promised when we teach truth.
In fact, it is when I have taught and testified of the truth that my own testimony has been strengthened the most. It is an act of faith to teach what others have said is the truth. Believing, we teach it ourselves and are blessed with a confirming witness that it is true. Boyd K. Packer said a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it. That’s why honest missionary work is so sanctifying to those who participate with real intent. Revelation is received and both the bearer and the hearer are edified and rejoice together.
The world in general, and non-believing apostates in particular, do not understand a testimony. To them it is illogical nonsense.
2. To prophesy
My patriarchal blessing promises me the gifts of prophecy and revelation. I have often wondered about these gifts, how I could seek and obtain them and how I could use them to bless others. The testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy. We can all have this spirit and use it to bless ourselves and those over whom we have stewardship. Each of us can receive prophetic revelation illuminating future events of our lives and giving us direction.
For example, on the day that I proposed to my wife, I saw in my mind’s eye a vision of us living together in happiness for many years to come. I sensed and felt what we would be like together when we were older and how we would be happy together. Some twenty-six years later, that day has come. Carol and I are living after the manner of happiness in a way that I foresaw and could have prophesied if it had been appropriate, on that day so long ago.
One of the purposes of prophecy is to speak the words of the Lord pertaining to the salvation of his children. When we teach each other the doctrines of the kingdom we are exercising the gift of prophecy. When we teach under the influence of the spirit what others need to hear to help them return to live again with Heavenly Father, we are speaking under the spirit of prophecy and revelation. I suppose that I am exercising that gift right now as I share this.
Revelation is a sacred subject and is not something that is easily explained to those who have not experienced it. Prophecy is not well understood in the church, but is a real gift that enriches our lives as we seek it and exercise it on behalf of those we love.
3. To comfort
I would hope that the most common kind of revelation enjoyed by members of the true church of Jesus Christ is to receive and to feel the revelation that we call the Comforter. Perhaps it is rarer than I think, for if we all experienced it on a regular basis, our actions would be much more in conformity with the desires of the Lord. The comforter usually accompanies the performing of ordinances or the singing of hymns or the consoling of our spirits at times of grief such as the loss of a loved one. Revelation can be comforting.
Joseph Smith received a comforting revelation while in Liberty Jail. After many months in deplorable conditions, he cried out in agony and loneliness, pleading with the Lord to remember 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)
Each of us knows other examples of revelations of comfort. Some have been comforted by visions of departed loved ones or by feeling their presence. A revelation of comfort can also come with a blessing of the priesthood, either from the words spoken or from the feeling communicated in connection with the blessing. Perhaps the greatest of these blessings of comfort can be the assurance received that our sins have been forgiven. This assurance can come as we complete all the steps of repentance and we seek it diligently.
I have felt this comforting assurance on many occasions. I know that the Lord wants to comfort us as we pass through this life.
4. To uplift
At some time in our lives each of us needs to be lifted up from a depression, from a sense of foreboding or inadequacy, or just from a plateau of spiritual mediocrity. I have experienced this feeling of uplift each and every Sunday as I listen closely to the speakers in Sacrament. I also obtain this feeling of uplift when I read the scriptures, especially as I read them out loud either with my wife or alone. We need this uplift of the spirit to empower us to resist evil and to desire to seek after and obtain good things in our lives.
I have found that wholesome music, clean entertainment, beautiful art and literature are ways to uplift my spirit. I enjoy the gifts and accomplishments of others as they seek to share their talents in a way that uplifts and invites reverence and worship of God. It is so easy to get bogged down by the cares of this world. We spend so much time either in work or school that it can become drudgery if we do not have the vision of what we are trying to accomplish. The spirit of uplift from the Lord helps us to recapture that vision.
This uplifting spirit can give us perspective. On a long hike we may experience switchbacks on the trail that seem monotonous. We will also probably encounter places in the trail that appear to be taking us downward or in the opposite direction that we want to go. With this uplifting spirit we can see that the trail leads constantly upward and towards our Heavenly Father. He sees our progress from a distance and calls out to us with words of encouragement and direction. We need this spirit of uplift to see his purposes.
I know that our Heavenly Father is willing to give us this sense of purpose and vision that comes from an uplifting spirit of revelation.
5. To inform
We can receive revelation from God that consists of inspiration. In fact, this is probably the area that most of us have experience in the area of revelation. This may consist of guidance in the choice of words to use on a particular occasion, such as priesthood blessings, and especially in patriarchal blessings. The spirit of revelation may also guide us in words to choose for a sermon or the best way to teach a lesson in a classroom setting. When we are on the Lord’s errand, he promises that he will give us words to speak as needed.
On some sacred occasions, information has been given by face to face conversations with heavenly personages, as in visions related in ancient and modern scriptures. In other circumstances, needed information is communicated by the quiet whisperings of the spirit. When acting in the capacity of a leadership calling, a church leader prays to know whom the Lord would have called to fill a position, and the spirit whispers a name. I have witnessed this revelation on numerous occasions in Bishopric and other priesthood meetings.
The Holy Ghost acts in his office as teacher and revelator as he communicates information from the Lord to man in guiding his church. However, such revelation is not limited to the business of the kingdom or only to priesthood leaders. The Lord can and does reveal information directly to his saints as needed to direct their paths through the journey of life. He can literally give words that will help in performing our duties in church, in school and work.
I have experienced this firsthand as a High Councilor when given assignments to speak on certain topics. I have also felt the hand of the Lord in giving me ideas and words to use in business proposals.
6. To restrain
Elder Oaks teaches that the revelation to restrain is one of the most common forms of revelation. It often comes by surprise, when we have not asked for revelation or guidance on a particular subject. But if we are keeping the commandments of God and living in tune with His Spirit, a restraining force will steer us away from things we should not do. Unfortunately, for many in this world who do not recognize this gift for what it is, it is easily quenched.
Restraint is not popular with the world and is not looked upon as something desirable. This spirit of restraint can warn of us danger and can save us from embarrassment or disappointment. Restraint teaches us exactly how we can better keep our covenants in such a way that we can always feel worthy to call upon the Lord when we are in need of blessings. When we accept the restraints of the Lord, we can have confidence that he will hear and answer our prayers.
In the church we call these restraints standards. In society we call them rules. In government we call them laws. Those who accept the spirit of restraint in their lives will find that their lives are more orderly, more disciplined and more open to enjoyment. They will have a sense of peace that can come in no other way. The spirit of restraint can be recognized by the feeling that something is not appropriate for us or a thought that we had better not do that.
We do not always know why we should heed the spirit of restraint but we can be sure that it comes from a loving Heavenly Father. He would not ask us to avoid certain kinds of behaviors if they were not for our good, our safety, our protection and happiness.
7. To confirm
The Lord explained the confirming type of revelation when Oliver Cowdery failed in his efforts to translate the Book of Mormon: “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. 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 shall cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (D&C 9:7-8)
Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stressed our responsibility to do all that we can before we seek a revelation: “We’re expected to use the gifts and talents and abilities, the sense and judgment and agency with which we are endowed…We’re expected to do everything in our power that we can, and then to seek an answer from the Lord, a confirming seal that we’ve reached the right conclusion.” He then shared a very personal example:
When he set out to choose a companion for eternity, he did not go to the Lord and ask whom he ought to marry. “I went out and found the girl I wanted,” he said. “She suited me;…it just seemed…as though it ought to be…[Then] all I did was pray to the Lord and ask for some guidance and direction in connection with the decision that I’d reached.” I experienced a similar confirming revelation when I asked the Lord about marrying my sweetheart.
The Lord has promised through his servants that we can make every decision in our lives correctly by following this method. Of course some decisions are trivial and do not require this formula. I know that this works from many years of personal experience.
8. To impel
The eighth purpose or type of revelation consists of those instances when the Spirit impels a person to action. This is not a case where a person proposes to take a particular action and the Spirit either restrains or confirms. This is a case where revelation comes when it is not being sought and impels some action not proposed. This type of revelation is obviously less common than other types, but its rarity makes it all the more significant. Elder Oaks has provided us a wonderful example of this kind of revelation:
“As a young girl, my grandmother, Chasty Olsen Harris, had a similar experience. She was tending some children who were playing in a dry riverbed near their home in Castle Dale, Utah. Suddenly she heard a voice that called her by name and directed her to get the children out of the riverbed and up on the bank. It was a clear day, and there was no sign of rain. She saw no reason to heed the voice and continued to play.
“The voice spoke to her again, urgently. This time she heeded the warning. Quickly gathering the children, she made a run for the bank. Just as they reached it, an enormous wall of water, originating with a cloudburst in the mountains many miles away, swept down the canyon and roared across where the children had played. Except for this impelling revelation, she and the children would have been lost.”
The prophet Joseph Smith taught that we may on occasion feel pure intelligence flowing into us. It may give us sudden strokes of ideas, sometimes with great feelings. Acting upon those ideas can bring about great blessings in our lives and in the lives of others.
Summary and conclusion
Elder Oaks taught us of eight purposes of revelation which I have reviewed. Each of these refers to revelations that are received. What about when you don’t receive revelation?
We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it. Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment. We cannot force spiritual things. It must be so. Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and to develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith.
Even in decisions we think very important, we sometimes receive no answer to our prayers. This does not mean that our prayers have not been heard. It means only that we have prayed about a decision that, for one reason or another, we should make without guidance by revelation. Perhaps we have asked for guidance in choosing between alternatives that are equally acceptable or equally unacceptable. Similarly, the Spirit of the Lord is not likely to give us revelation on matters that are trivial.
If a matter appears of little or no consequence, we should proceed on the basis of our own judgment. If the choice is important for reasons unknown to us, the Lord will intervene and give us guidance. Where we are living in tune with the Spirit in seeking its guidance, we can be sure that we will receive guidance we need to attain our goal. The Lord will not leave us unassisted when a choice is important to our eternal welfare.
Revelation by Dallin H. Oaks, BYU devotional 29 Sep 1981
Eight Ways God Can Speak to You, New Era, Sep 2004, p4