Letter to a reader


This is going to be a little difficult to write because it is both a sacred and a sensitive subject.  It is sacred because it involves personal revelation that is intended to be just that – personal.  It is sensitive because I know from many years of experience and dialog with other members of the church that not everyone feels the same way or has had the same experiences I have had with the Holy Ghost and in particular, the feeling of the burning of the bosom that I have experienced.

You asked if I thought if everyone can experience or feel the burning of the bosom.  I like what Elder Oaks had to say about that: “What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.”

Burning of the bosom

Elder S. Dilworth Young said, “It is a feeling which cannot be described, but the nearest word we have is ‘burn’ or ‘burning.’ Accompanying this always is a feeling of peace, a further witness that what one heard is right. Once one recognizes this burning, this feeling, this peace, one need never be drawn astray in his daily life or in the guidance he may receive.”  Elder Romney taught this many times – that we can make life’s decisions correctly using instructions in D&C 9:8-9.

Elder Packer taught, “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.”  Another apostle said, “As I have traveled throughout the Church, I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time.”

Some do feel the burning

So, from both personal experience and from what we have been taught by Apostles and Prophets, yes, we can and many do feel the burning of the bosom at various times in their lives.  But for many faithful members, and perhaps most, the burning of the bosom is either very rare or non-existent.  I guess it all depends on how you describe it or what you expect.  If Elder Oaks can say that he has never felt caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion then I accept that.

I guess I am the exception and can say without a doubt that I do often feel a warm sensation in the area of my chest when I am engaged in something that I know pleases the Lord.  In contrast, I have felt a cold feeling or absence of warmth in that same general region of my chest many times in my life when I have engaged in actions or even thoughts that offended the spirit.  For me it is a very real and discernable sensation that has blessed me throughout my life since I was a youth.

Ricks College

You asked about my experience at Ricks College in regards to receiving an answer to prayer.  This was not my first experience with revelation, nor was it the last, but it was one of the most powerful and tangible up to that point in my life.  It has also been one of the most memorable and influential spiritual experiences to come upon me even though it occurred over 35 years ago.  As I noted, it is sacred, but I do feel it is appropriate to share with you since you have asked.

I was 17 years old at the time.  It was in the Fall of 1974.  My family joined the Church in 1962 when I was five so I feel that I grew up as a member, attending Primary, Sunday School, MIA and Seminary.  However, during my Senior year of High School, there was about a six to eight month period of time that I hung with the wrong kind of friends and did not attend church.  In short, I had some repenting to do and felt a strong desire to know my standing before the Lord.

Apostolic invitation

Early in the Fall of 1974, I attended an assembly at Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, in which I distinctly remember President Eyring introducing Elder LeGrand Richards as our devotional speaker.  I had heard Elder Richards speak in General Conference before but I had never been in the same meeting with him in which I could feel his spirit and sense his enthusiasm for the gospel.  Something in me caused me to sit still and pay careful attention to what he was saying.

As he taught the gospel and bore fervent testimony of the work of the Lord I remember thinking to myself how much I would like to be able to speak with the power, confidence and enthusiasm that he had.  A distinct impression came over me, and I attribute this to the whisperings of the spirit, that I could have that same witness that Elder Richards had and that I could teach like that someday if I would pay the price of study, devotion, obedience and especially of intense prayer.

Led by the Lord

As I left the devotional assembly I pondered the message I had felt from the spirit long and hard.  Like Joseph said, I reflected upon it again and again.  Never had anything penetrated my heart so deeply.  I felt drawn to the possibility that I could know what Elder Richards knew and that I could receive it in the way he testified – through humble prayer and revelation from the Lord.  I wanted to know what the Lord thought of my efforts to repent thus far in leaving my sins behind.

On Friday, I determined that I was going to put the promise to the test.  My roommate was gone for the evening to a dance so I knew I would have a few hours alone to talk to the Lord in prayer.  I felt filled with desire as I began my efforts and was impressed that the words flowed so easily.  It was clear to me that the spirit was directing my thoughts and helping me to express myself.  I am confident that I went on for a solid hour reviewing my life with the Lord as I prayed aloud.

Painful confession

The second hour was not so easy.  In fact, it became very difficult to confess my sins of the year that had passed and to have revealed to me the effects my actions had upon myself and on others.  Tears flowed as I saw how I had hurt myself and others and again, the spirit impressed me how the Lord felt about my sadness and the misery through which I had passed.  I felt no judgment or condemnation, only that the Lord was pained because of my pain and that he wanted to heal me.

Finally, in the third hour, I was in agony as I pled with the Lord to forgive me and to restore to me the innocence and happiness I had once felt before the days of my rebellion.  I asked again and again for relief.  I wanted to know that I had been forgiven and that I would yet be able to make something of my life in spite of the sin and disobedience of earlier days.  I pleaded and begged for a witness or a manifestation of the Lord’s love for me and that I had been forgiven.

Opposition is real

It was towards the end of the third hour that I saw clearly in my mind’s eye the reality of the existence of unclean and evil spirits.  As I recalled moments of my sinful behavior, the Lord showed to me that I was not alone, that there were beings from the unseen world participating with me in my sin.  I was appalled at the scenes I was recalling and abhorred the fact that the adversary had used me during those moments.  My pain was real and I was suffering terribly.

Just as I was about to give up in despair that I would receive no relief from my torment and just as I had about decided that my emotional outpouring of grief and despair were in vain, I realized that something unusual was happening about and within me.  I began to sit very still and to pay close attention to what I was feeling or rather sensing.  A tangible feeling of peace came over me and a feeling of happiness, almost euphoria entered into my heart and mind.  It was powerful!

Revelatory experience

Warmth filled my being almost from head to toe.  I did not see, but I sensed light all around and within me.  Now this is the most difficult and personal part to describe of what I experienced.  I did not see anything with my eyes.  I did not hear anything with my ears.  But I knew that I was not alone at that moment.  I began to hear words, no, full sentences in my mind and saw myself at some future time in my life, participating in sacred and powerful events related to the gospel.

I cannot adequately describe what I saw in my mind’s eye and heard in my heart, but I will tell you that I sat transfixed for what seemed like another hour as scene after potential scene of my life was revealed to me.  I both saw and heard myself speaking and teaching the gospel with the same kind of confidence that I had seen in Elder Richards earlier in that week.  I knew as I was seeing this that it was not guaranteed, but was conditional upon my willingness to prepare for it.

Everything changed

That’s why I say that from then on, everything changed.  I knew that I would soon be going on a mission.  I knew I would marry in the temple.  I knew that I would accept and serve faithfully in many callings over the years.  I knew I would serve in a leadership capacity in my local ward and stake.  I saw myself doing all these things and especially saw myself teaching and speaking from the pulpit, hearing specific things that I would be saying and teaching.  It was amazing to me.

Now, as I said this is personal and sacred.  One who is not familiar with the revelatory process could describe this as the frenzies of a deranged mind, brought on by emotional distress over the imagined need to repent for what I considered sins.  Anyone can say what they like, but it was real to me and nobody will ever be able to take away this experience that I still hold sacred.  The feelings that accompanied this revelatory experience are indescribable but filled me with joy.

Summary and conclusion

Yes, what I experienced that night at Ricks College so long ago was much more than a burning of the bosom.  It was a tangible immersion in the spirit.  I felt like I was baptized by fire and yet I knew at the same time that I had so much more to do to qualify for a real born again experience.  It was the beginning of a long path to realize the dream of being able to teach and speak like I had seen demonstrated to me by an Apostle of the Lord.  I still have a long, long ways to go.

Thanks for asking me to share this with you.  I think I would like to post it on my blog.  I haven’t felt inspired to write much there lately but this experience might do some good for someone else.  I hope I have answered your questions about the burning of the bosom and about the reality of the revelatory process.  I am a personal witness that it is real.  The Lord answers prayer and will give to us what we ask for in faith, if it is something that we need and will be for our good.

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12 Responses

  1. Wow. All I can say is wow.

    To have just come from that very auditorium you pictured and heard from an apostle of the Lord, and then to read such a sacred and inspiring post, is beyond words for me. Thank you, so much, for having the courage to share that with us all.

    I sincerely hope that those who comment after me will be respectful of what you have shared. To do so otherwise would be rather immature and show a lack of respect and civility.

    God Bless You, Tim. Good to hear from you again.

    P.S. I was curious, do you live near BYU-I? I’m currently attending my first semester here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Though not nearly as dramatic an occurrence, I have had similar experiences. I’m not one given to an overly emotional testimony. I don’t cry at the drop of a hat. At times I wondered if I really knew or even felt the gospel was true because I didn’t cry with others as they bore their testimonies in church once a month. I wondered if I might have had a hard heart.

    It wasn’t until I was asked to serve a mission by my bishop that I began on a discovery journey that led me to learn that I indeed had a testimony of the gospel because at every instance when I bore a divine witness that the Prophet Joseph Smith was indeed called of God and did in reality see and speak with God, the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, I felt the igniting of my spirit–that spark that warmed and illuminated me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet.

    I have not often experienced that since my mission only because I have removed myself from God because of sin and lack of participation. Not that I have dropped out of membership in the church, but that I don’t perform my own personal worship rituals as much as I would like. When I do, I know the feelings come back.

    Thanks for sharing.
    C. Malone

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  3. Personal revelation is just that, personal. It’s tough to explain how it works for you to someone else in a manner that makes sense.

    I’m not a “burning in the bosom” person. Instead, I relate to the Prophet’s description or revelation as having pure intelligence flow into your body. I have felt that on numerous occasions during study sessions and at Church. Each time fills me with exhilaration beyond what any temporal high could even give me.

    Nice to hear from you again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tim–

    Good to see you in the bloggernacle. I look forward to a day when it will be in person.

    A testimony is personal and when the Lord helps us share it, it becomes a power that enters into the minds and hearts of those who are able to receive it. I receive it, Tim! Thanks!

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  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by LDS Blogs, Tim Malone. Tim Malone said: When is something too sacred to share? I answer a letter from a reader and share ideas about the burning of the bosom: http://bit.ly/bzimtS [...]

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  6. Tony: As you can imagine, that auditorium has a special significance for me. No, we don’t live in Idaho and I haven’t been back to Rexburg since the spring of 1975. I hope someday to return and to visit the place where I came to know my Savior’s love.

    Another significant thing about Rexburg is the location of the temple. I was amazed when I discovered that the site of the temple was the very spot where I used to go and pray in a vacant little field near my dorm. I poured my heart out there many times.

    Jeremy: You are right on. From page 99 of Preach my Gospel: “Revelation and spiritual experiences are sacred. They should be kept private and discussed only in appropriate situations.

    President Packer counseled: “I have learned that strong, impressive spiritual experiences do not come to us very frequently. And when they do, they are generally for our own edification, instruction, or correction.

    “I have come to believe also that it is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences. They are to be guarded with care and shared only when the Spirit itself prompts you to use them to the blessing of others.”

    I thought long and hard about posting this very sacred and personal spiritual experience to a very public forum like my blog. I have rarely shared this story with anyone beyond my own family. I felt impressed last week that it was appropriate.

    I know I opened myself up to ridicule and criticism for sharing this but as I wrote it in response to a private inquiry, I felt strongly that others could benefit from reading about my experience. I have come to believe that it is actually not so unusual.

    On the few occasions when I have shared this in a private setting like a Bishopric meeting, I have been impressed that many others have experienced something similar. The process of receiving revelation has many commonalities for all of us.

    I agree with your point about having pure intelligence flow into your body. I think we are actually describing the same thing when I wrote about seeing myself teaching and speaking in future gospel-oriented settings. That was pure intelligence to me.

    It just happened to be accompanied by a glorious feeling of warmth, peace, comfort, love and acceptance from at least one member of the Godhead that answered my prayer that evening. The revelation that flowed was more than I was expecting.

    Jared: Thanks for receiving my testimony. It is my hope and prayer that by sharing this experience, others will have some evidence from at least this witness that the Lord can and does comfort his children through the burning of the bosom.

    I know I am not alone in my assertion that the burning of the bosom is real. I have heard similar testimonies to mine shared on many occasions throughout my life. It has brought great comfort to my soul and reminds me that I am not alone in my journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tim,

    Thank you for sharing this special experience. Your experience inspires and strengthens my own testimony. I feel blessed to have been able to hear you recount this experience.

    I hope that by sharing this, you also strengthened your own testimony and were revisited by a portion of the Spirit that you felt on that day.

    Thanks again for sharing this very special and personal experience with us!

    Like this

  8. Tim,

    Thanks for sharing that experience. I too have had those same feelings while on my mission, and during other times at church during meetings, while paying during Bishopric meetings, etc. But the problem is I have also felt those same feelings during very non-religious experiences.

    Growing up, I was always taught that when I felt that “burning in my bosom” it was God and/or the Holy Ghost speaking to me. For me it is an intense welling up of feelings, usually culminating by the shedding of some tears. Like you it is very tangible. I felt this while teaching people on my mission. I’ve felt this while praying. But I’ve also felt this while watching a “chick flick” with my wife. When the girl gets her guy in the end, I feel the “exact” same feelings that I feel while praying. Is this God telling me that “The Notebook” is the one true movie? Of course not.

    This happens all the time to me watching TV programs. It also happens while watching a church movie in the visitors center at the temple. After the movies in the temple visitors center, the missionaries will tell the audience that what they felt was the Holy Ghost testifying of the truthfulness of what they saw. Really? Hollywood is able to do the same thing with their movies, yet nobody believes Avatar is real. Why is the feeling I feel in church from God, and the same feeling I feel on TV not?

    I don’t have an answer for why this happens, but I’ve come to question all my previous “revelations”. I also can make more sense of people who think they have revelations confirmed by God, only to be very wrong. I once had Primary President come to me with a name she wanted to call as a teacher. She said she had prayed about this name, and had a “Confirmation of the Spirit” that this person should be called to teach. I had knowledge that this person could in fact not hold a calling due to personal problems at the time. So what did this Primary President feel, and from where did those feeling come?

    Closet Doubter

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  9. Hi Closet Doubter,

    Thanks for responding to my essay. I like that D&C 9:8-9 points out that revelation is much more than a feel good experience. It is clear that revelation is a heart and mind experience. I feel that same emotional, warm comforting feeling many times in my life when I am not praying or seeking guidance. To me, it is evidence of God’s love for me and that he knows I’m here.

    I can relate to your chick flick experience. Carol and I have many favorites that make us feel good and can bring the tears. I’m so glad that we have emotions. It’s part of what makes life enjoyable. It would be awful to not be able to feel and express those feelings with passion or with sentiment. It’s what makes us mortal and human – the chemical reactions in our bodies.

    I’ve always separated feelings from emotions. I consider feelings to be inward sensations. In my simple mind, I like to think that I can sense or feel what others are experiencing in certain situations. For example, I can sense when my wife is moved by a piece of music. I can tell when she is feeling a certain way because I begin to feel it to. I think its spirit speaking to spirit.

    Emotions for me are the outward expression of those feelings through our bodies. Flowing tears is one example of that outward expression. Unfortunately, many people within the church have confused emotion with spiritual feeling. We have all seen this in the bearing of testimonies. I’m not against some tears in testimony meetings, but the tears and the emotion are not revelation.

    Revelation comes to both our heart and mind. What I was trying to describe in the experience I related in this essay was the receipt of revelation. I both felt the warm, comforting and peaceful feeling, but I was also seeing things in my mind’s eye and hearing myself saying things at some future time. So for me that qualified as revelation – it came both to my heart and to my mind.

    I can understand your conundrum about the Primary President. I have experienced something similar. I was the Bishopric counselor over the Primary. The Primary President came to me with a name of an individual that she felt strongly impressed should serve as a Primary Teacher. In this case, the Relief Society presented her name to the Bishop at the same time to teach there.

    The wise bishop turned to these two sisters in ward council where it came up and said, “Isn’t it wonderful that the Lord inspired both of you that this sister needs something to help her right now? I see that as evidence that the Lord is aware of each of us and inspires others to reach out to us in our needs. Will you both continue to be her friend and involve her however you can?”

    And then, acting in capacity as the presiding High Priest and exercising the keys that the Lord bestowed upon him, he informed these two good ward leaders that this sister was not quite yet ready for a calling. The confirmation of the spirit belonged to the one who held the keys – in this case the bishop. Serving as an auxiliary president brings inspiration but no keys to issue callings.

    That’s why the Lord placed Bishops and Stake Presidents in our local units – to understand what is best for those saints in his flock. Let me be clear and direct – a Primary President and a Relief Society President can receive inspiration for what might be a good calling for someone but they cannot receive revelation as to what is best for that individual. That belongs to the Shepherd.

    Don’t throw out the memories and good feelings of your previous revelatory experiences. I have no doubt that you have experienced them. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. You cannot have one without the other. I can count the powerful revelatory experiences like the one I described above on one hand. However, I receive revelation for my own life almost every day.

    It is not always accompanied by that strong warm burning feeling, but then I often feel that warm feeling at various times in my day without revelation as well. It is when the two of them come together that I am more certain that what I am thinking or feeling is pleasing to the Lord. It’s taken me over fifty years to fine tune this ability to understand when I am in tune with the Lord.

    Your thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. [...] Latter-day Commentary In which news, politics and religion are mixed – a potentially volatile combination « Letter to a reader [...]

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  11. [...] have shared a couple of examples of personal revelation from my own life in previous essays.

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  12. [...] your profile to Mormon.org 27. The attitude of mocking 28. Objections to the Book of Abraham 29. A letter to a reader – burning of the bosom 30. The ambush – a fictional background story 31. Spiritual experiences as a foundation for [...]

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