Interpreting Impressions of the Spirit


One of the greatest blessings of membership in the LDS Church is the gift of the Holy Ghost.  Of course we are not the only people in the world with whom the Lord works through his spirit.  But we are the only people who have claim upon the Holy Ghost as a constant companion.  That is a very unique and special claim.

When asked by a President of the United States, “How is your religion different from all the other religions of the day?” The Prophet Joseph Smith answered, “We are different from all other religions in the mode of baptism (immersion) and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (by those who have authority).”

God inspires all

In section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants we read, “A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.” All honest seekers of the truth can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, leading them to Jesus Christ and His gospel.  People everywhere can be inspired by the Holy Ghost.

However, the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is available only to those who receive the gift through the laying on of hands by one who is authorized and then remain worthy of that gift.  This basic doctrine is taught and emphasized often from the pulpit and in the classrooms of our church each week.

One of the most important duties we have in this life is to learn how to interpret the impressions of the Holy Ghost that we receive though this gift.  Sometimes they come unbidden but most of the time we need to prepare for and ask for spiritual guidance.  With this sacred gift, we can be confident that the Lord will respond.

God will guide us

This gift contains an inherent covenant promise that the Lord will respond to our requests for guidance. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”  As long as we do our part in striving to keep his commandments, repent and seek his spirit, we can rely on his promise.

However, the gift needs to be exercised and developed until we can go before the Lord with confidence and ask in faith for what we want.  We need to learn what specific things we need to do to achieve the results we desire. “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

We know we must study things out and come to an understanding or a decision on a subject before we approach the Lord for a confirmation of our decision or course of action.  Sometimes it can take years to fully consider and achieve a mastery of a subject before we can approach the Lord and ask to guide us to further knowledge.

Much already revealed

That’s why the Lord and his prophets counsel us to study the scriptures and the words of the living prophets and apostles.  When we ask the Lord for help in some area of our lives, we can expect him to answer through both the promptings of the spirit and very often by directing us to what he has already revealed on the subject.

It is amazing to me the number of times I feel impressed to look to the scriptures or a recent conference talk for the answer I am seeking.  “Surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”  It is while I am reading the scriptures or conference talks that I feel the impressions of the spirit.

I think it is in the process of reading revealed words that we become most familiar with the mind and will of the Lord for us.  We begin to think like the Lord and develop a greater understanding of how he speaks.  The mind of the natural man is not attuned to God’s way of thinking so it takes effort to understand revelation.

Revelation requires humility

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”  Even our natural reasoning processes, if they are not directed by the spirit of the Lord, can lead us to false conclusions.  “For the natural man is an enemy to God … and will be forever … unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.”

The rest of the verse (Mosiah 3:19) emphasizes being submissive.  I guess if there is nothing else I have learned about receiving revelation, it is the idea that in order to receive it, I must be in a submissive state of mind and willing to do whatever it is that the Lord reveals to me.  Indeed, I must strive to become like a little child.

Of course, I know that the Lord will not tell me to do something that is contrary to what he has already revealed.  For example, if I ask the Lord for help in knowing the best way to get out of debt, I am confident that he will not direct me to play the lottery, nor respond to email invitations to send money to Nigerian scammers.

Revelation is real

That is why I am confident that the Lord is sincere in his promise to reveal the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  The key phrase there is “with real intent.”  Like you, I have witnessed this promise fulfilled over and over again throughout my life.  I have seen it happen for young and old when they ask with real intent.

I do not doubt the revelatory process.  It is real.  I have witnessed it in action throughout my life in Bishopric meetings, High Council meetings, in disciplinary councils and in preparing and presenting talks and lessons over the years.  It seems to flow easiest for me when the revelation being requested is meant to help others.

But the Lord never reveals things that are outside the stewardship of my family, my own life or my specific callings in the church.  While I may feel a desire to help another, if I do not have a direct responsibility for them, then I need to be very careful about what I feel impressed to tell them the Lord would have them do.

Revelation for others

I had a recent experience with this that confirmed to me how easy it is to step over the line into imposing my will on another.  The Lord will never direct us to do that.  In counseling with a fellow church member about a difficult situation in their life I shared some personal observations about what I thought got them into trouble.

Since I was not this individual’s priesthood leader, I was not entitled to know the whole story and made a judgment based only on what I saw.  My counsel to this individual was flawed and was offensive because it was lacking in understanding.  Gratefully, they were forgiving when I apologized after the error became apparent.

My point is that the Lord will never reveal something to me that another person should do unless I am responsible for that person as a husband, father or priesthood leader.  That can even be applied to prospective marriage partners.  The Lord will not tell us that another person should marry us. It should not be phrased that way.

Revelation to marry

When I asked my wife to marry me, I felt the Lord whisper to me that we could be happy together.  Of course Carol had her agency and could have said no.  It was an act of faith on her part to accept my marriage proposal.  The Lord knew I needed that revelation to prompt me to propose, but it was intended for me and not Carol.

I knew the Lord wanted me to marry.  I had been praying about it for some time and was actively seeking a marriage partner.  I knew that the Lord had revealed through his prophet that “soul mates are fiction and an illusion.”  So I wasn’t looking for that one special person, just someone with whom I could be happy.

I know that’s not very romantic but what made it special for me was the intensely strong and powerful impression that flowed into my heart and mind as I pondered asking Carol to marry me.  In my mind’s eye, I saw us many years down the road, even in these years today, enjoying each other’s company, growing old together.

What I have learned

In conclusion, I guess there are two things I have learned about revelation.  First, we must be humble and submissive to receive it and second, we can never receive revelation for anyone else’s life outside our own immediate family.  It just doesn’t work that way unless the Lord puts us in a priesthood position that requires it.

Impressions of the spirit are very private and should be kept so.  They are personal and unless you are the prophet of the Lord or have a direct priesthood stewardship for someone else, are meant specifically for one individual – you.  They are not to be shared with others unless you feel prompted to do so and then only carefully.

I have been blessed throughout my life with impressions from the Holy Ghost.  It is specifically because of the Gift of the Holy Ghost that they seem so abundant.  Receiving revelation can be almost a daily occurrence, but usually it comes in the form of very quiet, subtle impressions that are sometimes almost imperceptible.

Come Unto Christ


What a wonderful day it is to consider together our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  I’m grateful to partake of the sacrament with you and to renew my covenant to remember him and to follow him.  I’m not sure that I really understood the significance of that covenant when I first took it upon myself at age eight.

I’m still trying to understand what it means to really keep that covenant each day.  Some days I do better than others.  Sundays are a joy to me because I spend them in activities that are centered on the mission of the church – to invite all to come unto Christ.  It’s during the week that I sometimes struggle to remember Him.

I suppose it’s a life-long pursuit, isn’t it? – To figure out how to really come unto Christ as we have been commanded to do. As Moroni taught, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness … love God with all your might, mind and strength …” – Moroni 10:32

Another Book of Mormon prophet taught, “And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him …” – That’s found in Omni 1:26.

I think I understand Moroni’s instruction to deny ourselves of all ungodliness.  I get that.  It means to resist temptation and to do all within our power to control ourselves.  The Holy Ghost helps us with that task, by making it clear what is offensive to the Lord.  To me, knowing what is displeasing to the Lord is half the battle.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost

Like me, I’ll bet you’ve experienced that feeling when the spirit impresses you with an understanding that something you just said or did was not an especially good idea.  I’ve even caught myself saying, “Well, I’ll never do that again!” I then store those feelings somewhere where I’ll remember them in a similar situation.

I’ve always felt the Holy Ghost helping me with this growth process in my life.  I can testify that he is real and that he really does help us.  The Gift of the Holy Ghost is a treasure, one that I deeply appreciate and try to use each day.  In fact, I like to think that the Holy Ghost and I are good friends since we talk so much.

We have running conversations at work.  I tell God what I’m trying to accomplish and how I plan to go about doing it.  Then when I get stuck on some part of my task, I exclaim, sometimes out loud, “Now that didn’t work right, did it?  What should I do?”  And you know, impressions come to me to try a different method.

I have no doubts about the revelatory process.  It has become a very comfortable part of my daily life.  After years of practice, it has become second nature to talk with the Lord and to listen for his answers.  I don’t know if God has assigned a computer-savvy angel to work with me but I do know that someone is helping me.

I hope that you feel the same way and from conversations over the years I know many of you do.  Isn’t that a wonderful gift – to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost?  And it is because of the Sacrament that we are able to have that gift always.  How I love the Sacrament and the promised blessings to be found therein.

Offer your whole soul

It’s that second scripture in Omni that I’ve been pondering lately and trying to understand.  What does it mean to offer your whole soul as an offering unto the Lord?  I’d like to consider that with you today as part of my assigned topic to come unto Christ.  I’ll call upon Elder Bednar and President Eyring to help us along.

But first I’d like to share a story from Sister Nadauld who served as the Young Women General President a few years back.  You may remember this.  It touched me deeply at the time she related it and it still does each time I share it.  Although it is simple, it is a powerful story that introduces our subject in a touching manner.

Sister Nadauld is the mother of seven sons. Two of them, Adam and Aaron are twins.  When they were about five years old they were just learning to ride their bicycles.  Can you think back to those days in your own life?  I can, even though it was a very long time ago.  Of course having home movies helps my memory now.

As their mother glanced out the window to watch her boys, she saw the twins speeding down the street on their bikes going very fast.  “Perhaps they were going too fast for their level of ability because all of a sudden Adam had a terrible crash!  She saw him tangled up in a wreck of handlebars and tires and arms and legs.

“His little twin brother, Aaron saw the whole thing happen and he immediately skidded to a stop and jumped off his bike.  He threw it down and ran to the aid of his brother, whom he loved very much.  These little twins truly were of one heart.  If one hurt, so did the other.  If one got tickled, they both laughed.

“If one started a sentence, the other could complete it. What one felt, the other did also. So it was painful for Aaron to see Adam crash! Adam was a mess. He had skinned knees, he was bleeding from a head wound, his pride was damaged, and he was crying.

“In a fairly gentle, five-year-old way, Aaron helped his brother get untangled from the crash, he checked out the wounds, and then,” related Sister Nadauld, “he did the dearest thing. He picked his brother up and carried him home. Or tried to. This wasn’t very easy because they were the same size, but he tried.

“And as he struggled and lifted and half-dragged, half-carried his brother along, they finally reached the front porch. By this time, Adam, the injured one, was no longer crying, but Aaron, the rescuer, was. When asked, “Why are you crying, Aaron?” he said simply, “Because Adam hurts.”

“And so he had brought him home to help, home to someone who knew what to do, to someone who could cleanse the wounds, bind them up, and make it better—home to love.  Just as one twin helped his brother in need, so might we all be lifted, helped, even carried at times by our beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He feels what we feel

Sis Nadauld concluded her touching story by pointing our hearts toward the Savior.  “He feels what we feel; He knows our heart. It was His mission to wipe away our tears, cleanse our wounds, and bless us with His healing power. He can carry us home to our Heavenly Father with the strength of His matchless love.”

From this story I have come to understand better one purpose of the Lord’s mission, which is to heal us.  I have felt that healing power many times in my life, and again, it is activated most by my weekly participation in the ordinance of the Sacrament.  I still suffer the pains of life, but feel strengthened by his love for me.

Through a lifetime of experience, I have also come to understand very clearly another important part of the Savior’s mission.  He has cleansed me from the effects of my sins.  Although repentance is an ongoing process that I will use the rest of my life, I have felt the cleansing power of the Savior free me from the devil’s grasp.

There is no doubt that the effects of sin are real.  They have a very debilitating influence upon our spirits.  Sin keeps us from feeling good about ourselves and keeps us from feeling the Lord’s love for us.  He is also unable to bless us with the help that we need in this life when we participate in sin and do not completely repent.

I have long loved this statement from President Harold B. Lee that I first heard in my youth: “If the time comes when you have done all that you can to repent of your sins … then you will want that confirming answer as to whether or not the Lord has accepted of you.”  I have felt this desire to know my standing before the Lord.

I can’t tell you how many times I sought an answer from the Lord to know if I had done enough to repent of my youthful rebellions.  President Lee continued, “In your soul-searching, if you seek for and you find that peace of conscience, by that token you may know that the Lord has accepted of your repentance.”  I love that!

I testify that we can have that promised peace of conscience that comes after doing all we can do to repent.  It is a real experience.

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

But it is from a powerful Fall 2007 General Conference address by Elder Bednar I learned something that opened my eyes to the need to do more than be cleansed from sin.  He took my understanding of the repentance process to a different level.  He introduced the idea by quoting one of my favorite scriptures from Psalm 24:

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  Or who shall stand in his holy place?  He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity nor sworn deceitfully.”  He then said, “Brothers and Sisters, it is possible for us to have clean hands but not have a pure heart.”  I had never considered that.

Elder Bednar then taught us so clearly, “Let me suggest that hands are made clean through the process of putting off the natural man and by overcoming sin and the evil influences in our lives through the Savior’s Atonement. Hearts are purified as we receive His strengthening power to do good and become better.”

“All of our worthy desires and good works, as necessary as they are, can never produce clean hands and a pure heart. It is the Atonement of Jesus Christ that provides both a cleansing and redeeming power that helps us to overcome sin and a sanctifying and strengthening power that helps us to become better than we ever could by relying only upon our own strength. The infinite Atonement is for both the sinner and for the saint in each of us.”

Did you catch that last line?  It was an “ah-ha” moment for me when I heard it.  I knew the Lord could heal me and could cleanse me but I had not understood how the atonement makes me a saint.

I know that I am a child of God.  I know that he loves me.  I know that I can be and am happy when I repent and make efforts to put off the natural man.  I feel at peace with God when I fully accept the love Jesus offers me in bridging the gap between my efforts to repent and what is required to be fully cleansed from my mistakes.

But it is the purifying of my heart that has long eluded me.  I know I have a good heart because I am pained by sin and always want to do better, but the strength of the natural man is sometimes so great that it almost overcomes me.  I cry out in my prayers that I just don’t see how I can be the man that I know God wants me to be.

That our Hearts May be Purified

Do you remember what the people in King Benjamin’s day said after they had heard the words of the angel that he shared with them?  “… they all cried aloud with one voice saying: “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified.”

I think most of us get it when we talk about receiving forgiveness.  We know it comes through the atonement of Christ.  But that’s not all that we can receive each week as we partake of the sacrament.  We can also have our nature transformed and our hearts purified.  Our desires to do good and to become a saint can be strengthened.

Do you ever find yourself full of the spirit on Sunday and saying, “I feel great!  I feel so close to my Heavenly Father and my Savior.  I know that they love me.  I’ve been spiritually fed and uplifted at church today.  I can do all those hard things that I know I should.  I’m going to be so much better this week.”  I have.

And then sometime during the week, after an exhausting day at work or an especially trying day with the kids or with the demands of others upon your time, you find yourself saying, “I just can’t do it anymore.  I’ve had it.  I just don’t want to do all the hard things that are asked of me.  It’s too much.  I can’t put up with all these difficult demands.”  What happened to that Sunday determination?

Well, that’s what Elder Bednar was trying to teach us – how to have our very nature changed so that our desires to do good are strengthened.  It is through the ordinance of the Sacrament that we come unto Christ, put off the natural man, and become a saint.  We can have our hearts changed so that we no longer desire evil.

But, and this is my concluding thought, we must offer to the Lord our whole soul in exchange for the purifying of our hearts.  For me, that means determining in my heart and mind before I partake of the sacrament that I am going to do whatever the Lord asks of me that week.  Wow!  That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?  Can I do it?

Must I do everything that I feel prompted of the Lord to do?  Yes, for me, that is what it means to offer my whole soul as an offering to him.  The Tabernacle choir sings a hymn that illustrates this so beautifully for me.  It’s called, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  The line that describes this process goes like this:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.

May God take our offering and purify our hearts is my prayer.

The endowment is more than the ordinances


The endowment that we receive in the Lord’s temples today is not the complete endowment that the Savior intends us to have.  The ordinances introduce us but the endowment is not complete until we have come into the heavenly presence and have been instructed in the things of eternity.

You may ask, “If there is more to the endowment than what I have been taught in the temple, then why hasn’t someone explained it to me?”  A careful reading of scripture revealed in these last days contains all we need to know to fully understand that there is more, much more to it.

The redemptive mission of the Savior

In his role as our Redeemer, a primary mission of the Savior is to baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire.  He did not complete that mission with his disciples in Jerusalem while he was among them, explaining that he had to go away first in order for them to receive this sacred gift.

He also said that his apostles would do greater works than he did. In other words, they would give the gift of the Holy Ghost, which he had not yet done. It wasn’t until after he was resurrected that he gave them the gift of the Holy Ghost and the authority to give this gift unto others.

Receive the Holy Ghost

This is a major part of the ministry of Jesus that continues to this day as we are confirmed members of the Savior’s church. Interestingly, the wording of the ordinance is in the form of a command, “Receive the Holy Ghost.”  This honors agency and requires us to make an effort.

I think we can safely say that there are millions of people who have been baptized, and have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, but have not yet received it.  Even the apostles were with the Savior forty days after he gave the gift before they finally received it.

Promise of the Father

One can be given a powerful gift, or the right to receive it, but unless it is actually received, it has no real effective power.  The Savior taught that we will receive power after the Holy Ghost has come upon us.  So until we receive this power, the Lord’s mission is not complete for us.

The Savior made it clear several times that the gift of the Holy Ghost is a promise from our Heavenly Father.  Along with the promise of a Savior, this gift was promised before this world was created.  It is the Savior that baptizes us with fire and the Holy Ghost.  This fills us with great power.

We must seek this gift

I wonder how much our missionaries truly understand and teach their investigators that there is another step to their baptism that they must complete on their own after the ordinance is performed.  I sense that too many new converts do not continue on the path to be baptized by fire.

We must ask for it in humble and earnest prayer.  We must hunger and thirst after this gift.  As Paul said, we must covet this gift.  It is a pearl of great price that is worth all that we pay for it and more.  Even if years of effort and sacrifice are required to obtain it, we are commanded to do so.

Temple ordinances part of the process

We strive to ensure that converts receive the ordinances of the temple a year after they are baptized and confirmed.  The temple ordinances serve two purposes.  They give us the promised blessings of the family sealing ordinance and prepare us further to receive baptism with the Holy Ghost.

Being baptized with fire is a requirement of the Lord to enter into his kingdom.  I believe it is analogous to being born again.  It completes the process of baptism when we are immersed in the fire of the Holy Ghost.  The temple endowment helps us to understand and complete that step.

Endowed with power

The translators of the New Testament used the word endue to describe the process of fulfilling the Father’s promise to all those who believe in Jesus Christ as Redeemer and are baptized in his name.  Endue could also have been rendered to clothe, invest or to endow, as in give power.

The Lord used the word endow to Joseph Smith when he commanded him to build a temple in Kirtland so that he could endow the Saints with power from on high.  It was in the Kirtland temple that so many rich and powerful outpourings of the Holy Ghost were received by the faithful.

More than the ordinances

The endowment consists of so much more than the ordinances of the temple.  The ordinances are just the starting point for what the Savior has in mind for us when he promises to endow us with power.  There is great power in the ordinances but there is additional power beyond that.

The additional power is found when we are consumed with the burning of the Holy Spirit within us, strengthening our desire and commitment to submit our will to God’s.  It is found as we strive to be born again and to be visited by fire and the Holy Ghost as were the Lamanites in Hel 5:45.

Pattern found in Third Nephi

In the book of Third Nephi we read the account of the righteous that were spared and visited by the Lord after his resurrection and ascension in Jerusalem.  Towards the end of the year in which great destructions accompanied the Savior’s crucifixion, the saints gathered at the temple.

Some 2,500 people were to become witnesses that day that Jesus Christ is the Savior to the entire world.  They went forth and felt the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and thrust their hands into the wound in his side.  They then knew with personal first-hand knowledge that he lives.

Witnesses know for themselves

Because of this personal knowledge, they were witnesses in a way that nobody could ever dispute.  They had seen him and they had touched him.  No matter what anybody else said, they knew that Jesus lives and is a real being with a resurrected body of flesh and bones like man.

And yet they lacked something.  When the Savior had announced in the darkness of the destruction earlier that year that he would visit them, he promised that he would baptize them with fire and with the Holy Ghost, thus fulfilling his mission as he tried to do among the Jews in Jerusalem.

The endowment begins

It was the end of the first day and the Savior announced that he would leave and come back the next day.  Yet, their faith kept him there and began the events of something extraordinary that he had wanted to do in Jerusalem but which he could not do there because of the lack of faith.

Because of his love for them, the Savior first attended to their physical infirmities and brought their children to the center of attention.  He then led them in mighty prayer, blessed the children and directed the attention of the multitude to the angels that were descending to minister to them.

In the midst of fire

The angels appeared “as it were, in the midst of fire.”  I contend that this is the baptism of fire of which the Lord has tried to teach us many times.  This immersion in the heavenly element constitutes the fullness of the endowment that he promised to them and still promises even to us today.

This is the same experience that the Lamanites enjoyed in Helaman 5:45 when they were encircled about by a pillar of fire.  The Lord said that they were baptized with fire and knew it not.  This is also the process of transfiguration that completes the promises found in the endowment.

To be continued…

Revelation and Emotional Response


If you have read a few of my past essays, you may have noted that one of my favorite subjects is revelation, and specifically personal revelation.  It is only within the last few years since I started blogging that I have come to realize revelation is a controversial subject even among members of the church.  To me, it is a foundational doctrine, much like faith, and the basis for a testimony.

Sharing sacred experiences

I have shared a couple of examples of personal revelation from my own life in previous essays.  I know we have been counseled to keep sacred experiences private, but I felt impressed to share them as evidence that the Lord does give revelation to common members of the church like me.  I like to think that my experiences are typical, or at least I thought so until I started sharing them.

Elder Oaks said, “Although we are generally counseled not to speak of sacred things … there are times when the Spirit prompts us to share these experiences, sometimes even in a setting where our account will be published.”  Brigham Young said he would rather hear the people tell of their own powerful sacred experiences with the Holy Ghost than to hear any other kind of preaching.

Leaving a Record for Others

So I’d like to add another one of those experiences to my online record.  A fellow blogger shared with me that one of his primary motivations for writing and posting essays was so that his sons would have a record of his faith, experiences and testimony.  I feel the same way and hope that someday what I disclose here will help to strengthen the testimonies of others who may read this.

In the Young Single Adult ward where I serve as ward clerk, Carol and I recently shared the story of how we met and married.  My part of the story involves a sacred revelatory experience.  In order to get the full story, you might want to review Carol’s side of the tale as found on her blog.  She provides much more of the background leading up to the experience I address here.

No Date before Proposal

Carol and I did not date before I proposed marriage to her.  I had been off my mission for a few years and had graduated with a degree as a professional computer nerd. I had started my career in tech support and was working in Hollywood when she came home from her mission.  I happened to be dating her best friend who invited Carol along on our date to Mormon Night at Disneyland.

It was a fun date – for Carol and me.  We hit it off immediately.  Carol was happy to be home and was talkative.  Of course, what she talked about was her mission and the young lady I was dating just couldn’t relate.  I could.  I loved Carol’s enthusiasm and found myself commiserating with her sadness at having to leave and go back to the real world.  We talked almost all night.

Doing my Homework

For the next three months I continued to pursue Carol’s friend through dating and other social activities such as church firesides.  Occasionally Carol would be part of a group of young adults going to the movies, to the San Diego Zoo or some other activity.  It was Carol that came over to keep me company several nights while I was recovering from having a wisdom tooth pulled.

Yet I was infatuated with this other girl and kept petitioning the Lord in prayer to soften her heart towards me.  I fasted often, went to the temple and did all I could to show the Lord that I was serious about getting married.  I sent this young lady a dozen red roses with a note confessing my love for her.  I simply could not understand why she didn’t seem to respond with enthusiasm.

The Dodger Game

One day Carol invited me to meet her at Dodger Stadium, which I did after work.  So I told her about sending flowers to our mutual friend and asked her advice how I could get her to like me.  I noticed that Carol got real quiet.  I looked over to see her drawing a picture of a little broken heart on her Dodger program.  She then quietly excused herself, left the game and drove home.

I thought about that all that evening and the next morning.  I decided that it was inappropriate to have shared with her my efforts to win her best friend’s heart.  So I stopped by Carol’s house after softball practice to apologize for hurting her feelings.  She brushed off my apology but I dug deeper and asked her about how she felt about important things like family and marriage.

Revelation to Heart and Mind

It was then that the most amazing thing happened to me.  The Spirit of the Lord came over me in a way I have rarely felt.  While Carol was talking, the Lord communicated to my heart and my mind a vision of us living together many years down the road.  It was pure intelligence flowing into my being.  It was an answer to prayer more powerful than anything I had ever expected.

I can count on one hand these kinds of powerful revelatory experiences up to that point in my life.  In addition to what I saw in my mind’s eye, I heard a voice, just as distinctly and clearly as if someone had spoken, say to me that Carol and I could be very happy together.  It was not an audible voice but it registered in the same manner as if I heard it and that was astonishing to me.

Feelings and Revelation

But along with what I saw and heard, I began to feel a most powerful feeling. The scripture says that the Lord will tell us in our mind and in our heart when something is correct.  He also tells us that we must study it out first.  I had done my homework.  I had done my part.  I had asked for revelation and had studied it out.  I knew what I wanted and was living worthily of that answer.

We have been promised by apostles and prophets that the Lord will not leave us alone to make the most important decisions of our life.  Who we decide to marry has eternal consequences.  Acting on behalf of the Lord, these prophets have promised us that we can receive revelation to know for a certainty that the path we are pursuing is the right one and will lead to happiness.

Revelation is Personal

This is no idle promise.  It is real.  I am a living witness of the reality of such assurances.  A prophet had promised me that if I went on a mission, got an education and then sought earnestly for a companion with whom I could be happy, that the Lord would provide one.  That answer came in a powerful way to me on that day.  It was unmistakable revelation to me from the Lord.

Note carefully that when the revelation came to me, it was not intended for Carol.  The voice did not say, “Carol needs to marry you” or even that Carol would marry me.  It simply said that we could be very happy together.  It was an answer to my prayer and was intended for me.  It was what I needed to cause me to take action with confidence and to then ask Carol to marry me.

The Marriage Proposal

I wasted no time.  I told her what I was feeling.  She could see that something was affecting me.  I also told her that I felt impressed to ask her to marry me.  She was shocked.  I said, “I’d like to be sure so I’m going to fast and pray about it today and tomorrow.  Will you do the same?”  She said yes and invited me to come for Sunday dinner after church.  We then parted for the day.

After fasting and praying, I still felt the same way, so I formally proposed to Carol over roast beef dinner at her mom’s house.  She said yes.  Carol’s journal says that I didn’t even sit with her in church that morning.  We were both stake missionaries and had an investigator at church and so I sat with him instead.  I had not yet gotten used to the idea of thinking for two instead of one.

We can Receive Revelation

This sacred revelatory experience ranks high on my list of incidents that have influenced me in a powerful and enduring way in my life.  I had been taught by church leaders growing up that I could receive revelation.  I believed it.  I expected it.  So I was not surprised when it came.  But I was not expecting it to be so intense and dramatic.  Perhaps that was because it was so important.

Along with what I saw in my mind’s eye and heard in my thoughts, the Lord impressed upon me a feeling in my heart so comforting and unmistakable that I simply could not doubt that what I had received came from God.  It felt as familiar then as it has felt every time I have experienced it since that time.  I am confident that I knew and understood this feeling from before this life.

The Burning of the Bosom

I don’t always trust my feelings but I have learned to trust this one.  I know from many years of experience that some feelings are temporary and fleeting.  The feeling I get when the Spirit is trying to communicate to me is one that has an underlying sense of eternity.  It’s hard to explain to one who hasn’t experienced it.  I have come to learn it can be interpreted many different ways.

For me, the burning of the bosom that accompanies personal revelation has become very real.  It is a strong, powerful and very comforting feeling.  I can feel it when I am listening to particularly inspiring and motivational speakers in General Conference or any church meeting.  I have felt it in prayer.  I have felt it in giving priesthood blessings.  I always feel it when I speak in church.

Revelation and emotional response

But the personal revelation I receive is not in the comforting feeling by itself.  That is just the spirit of the Lord bearing witness to me that what I am learning or participating in is important.  The feeling also comes in warning me away from danger or in preparing me for bad news.  It is an amazing thing to have the gift of the Holy Ghost but it can take a lifetime to understand it.

Receiving revelation is not the same as experiencing the burning of the bosom.  However, some, including me, almost always feel this comforting sensation when receiving revelation.  It is up to each of us to learn how to distinguish between the comforting influence of the Holy Ghost that often or usually accompanies the receipt of revelation and an emotional response to something.

For a great discussion of this see Gerald N Lund. “Our Own Emotions as a Form of Counterfeit Revelation.”  Hearing the Voice of the Lord. Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 2007: 243.

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.

What they don’t tell you about Bishopric meetings


Except for a year off for good behavior to teach Primary, I have been participating in ward leadership meetings every Sunday morning for the past twenty-five years.  Sixteen of those years included Bishopric meetings, either as an Executive Secretary, a Ward Clerk, or a Bishop’s Counselor.  I don’t know why I’ve been so blessed but this experience has been a major part of my adult life.

Since Carol and I have lived in multiple wards and stakes over the years, I have sat in council with at least ten different bishops, sometimes as a High Council advisor.  Two of the wards have been young single adult wards.  I’ve got to tell you that there is something special about Bishops of YSA wards.  In one YSA ward, the Bishop and one counselor had both been Stake Presidents.

Love of the people

Not one of these bishops ran things exactly the same as others with whom I served.  Some were good administrators and some weren’t.  Some knew how to delegate and others had a tendency to do most of the work themselves.  Some were sticklers for following the handbook and some weren’t.  But all were focused on the people over the programs.  Without exception.  Every one.

If there is one thing that stands out among bishops with whom I have worked, and one thing that to me represents the mantle of a bishop, it is a love for the people whom they serve, especially the youth.  That love is the same thing that impressed me about the bishops of my youth.  I knew they all cared deeply about me and wanted to help me grow into a successful and faithful adult.

Desire to do God’s will

Now I know that not everybody has this experience with their bishops.  Yes, I have read some of the horror stories.  I am acquainted with the claims of spiritual abuse, but have not seen it with any of the bishops in my experience.  Some of the bishops would sometimes complain about the dumb things that members of the ward would do, but I never saw any unrighteous dominion.

I have sat in literally dozens of disciplinary councils over the years, both on the ward and stake level.  Even when the result was excommunication, I have never felt anything but profound love and concern for the individual and an intense desire to do the will of the Lord in the matter being considered.  That has always been the common desire of these bishops, who are imperfect men.

A tech savvy bishop

In today’s Internet age, I am grateful to serve with a Bishop today who understands and uses texting to keep in touch with his flock, in this case, all young single adults.  He is also savvy about the Internet and knows exactly what goes on out there.  He is aware of the LDS forums, both those that are uplifting and those that aren’t.  And yes, he has read Rough Stone Rolling.

I bring that up because it is indicative of a Bishop who is aware of what the young people are reading.  I am a church news junkie and am constantly amazed by how well informed this bishop is in comparison to some previous bishops.  Maybe it’s just that we are living in the day of the Internet, but it’s a delight to have conversations about items being discussed in the Bloggernacle.

Great Bishopric meetings

Because most bishops are usually counseling members during Sunday school, we take the first part of our Bishopric meeting for gospel study.  Sometimes we will spend a half hour discussing a scripture or a quote from the Brethren and how it applies to us and to the ward members.  Some of the bishops I served with preferred shorter meetings so we did not have lengthy gospel study.

I have long felt that a ward leadership meeting should never be more than an hour.  If you’re going to make it longer, that time should be well spent in understanding the will of the Lord as revealed in the scriptures in these latter days.  The majority of a Bishopric meeting is consumed with staffing the ward, which of course involves discussing the right calling for ward members.

Callings through inspiration

If you have never sat in a Bishopric meeting you may wonder how callings are determined.  Of course we always open our meetings with prayer, and usually sing a hymn first and then have a spiritual thought.  We review the list of recent converts to determine if they are progressing in the gospel.  As we are a transient ward, we are also constantly reviewing the new move-in list.

The Bishop usually ponders for a long time who the Lord would have fulfill a major calling like the head of an organization.  Those do not come up very often.  When they do, the Bishop will usually inform his counselors of who he has in mind, after which a discussion ensues of how that individual will fulfill that particular calling and how the needs of the ward members will be met.

Gift of discernment

The Bishop is very concerned that callings issued to ward members are ones that will bless them, that will help them to grow and that are the will of the Lord.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Bishops pray for the gift of discernment to know where the Lord would have certain individuals serve.  Serving in the church is a big deal and it helps us to grow and to love others.

Although it doesn’t always happen, I have been amazed at the number of times as a counselor I have issued a call to an individual to hear them say that they were praying for an opportunity to serve and that they knew that this particular call was coming.  It is rewarding to see that when we pray for inspiration to place people in callings that the inspiration is real and is from the Lord.

Accepting callings

I don’t know if my experience has been unique in issuing calls but I can only remember a couple of occasions on which I did not extend the call after we had agreed upon it in Bishopric meeting.  It became apparent after an interview in the home of the individual that the calling would not be in their best interest at that time.  It is usually because I learned of extenuating circumstances.

You may wonder why we weren’t inspired that the call wasn’t right before we went to extend it.  Remember, we had prayed for inspiration and felt united as a Bishopric that it was the right thing to do at that time.  All I can tell you is that this has rarely happened and that it just may be a part of the inspiration process to visit the home before the spirit can confirm that it is OK to proceed.

Confirmation of the spirit

Perhaps a description of the process we go through when we deliberate in a disciplinary council will help explain the process of inspiration a little better.  After hearing the facts of the matter, we excuse the individual and discuss the options outlined in the church handbook.  The primary concern is always how the action we take will affect the individual and help them to repent.

We make a decision an then present it to the Lord in prayer.  We each kneel and the Bishop asks one of those present to offer the prayer.  We tell the Lord what we have decided and ask that we may know through a confirming witness of the spirit that the decision is right.  We then conclude the prayer and the Bishop usually asks each member of the council if they are still in agreement.

Knowledge revealed from God

Sometimes the will of the Lord is obvious to all present.  There is an unspoken communication that takes place between us.  We each just know that the decision is correct.  We know by the same process that individual members receive a testimony – by knowledge from the Holy Ghost.  That is one of the blessings of serving in a Bishopric.  You come to know how revelation works.

That’s what most people don’t know about Bishopric meetings – the amazing experience that we have each week with revelation.  It is one of the best training grounds for understanding how the Lord communicates his will to the mind of man.  I can tell you from many years of rich and deep experience that this process of revelation has always been present and it is a sacred experience.

Summary and conclusion

You may know former bishops or bishopric counselors who have said that there is a lot of small administrative detail that goes on in priesthood leadership meetings.  You may even be a former bishop yourself.  Yes, I agree that it can be tedious week after week to address some of the same issues over and over as callings need to be filled.  It takes effort to ensure that God is involved.

Bishopric meetings can be a most amazing and rewarding experience as humble yet imperfect men unite in prayer to seek the mind and will of the Lord on behalf of the people that they serve.  But to me, the most gratifying part of serving in a Bishopric is to be tutored by the Holy Ghost in how revelation works.  It is a real thing and it is used constantly to further the work of the Lord.

A different kind of knowledge


I could have sworn that I already wrote this essay but realized after some digging that the main points were developed as part of a long dialog with my Evangelical friend in the comments section of several of my early articles.  I also thought about entitling this, “Why we say ‘I know’ and not ‘I believe’,” but I’m not sure that it fully describes what I want to cover in this post.

The main thesis for my essay can be taken from a story about tasting salt and this statement from Boyd K. Packer: “My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like.”  You would have to read “The Candle of the Lord” again to get the background if you don’t recall it.

The bearing of testimonies

A huge bone of contention and point of offense with some within the church is the fact that we get up each Fast Sunday and say to each other, “I know the church is true.  I know the Book of Mormon is the word of God.  I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet.  I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today” and various other statements that start with the phrase “I know…”

They especially cite the practice of little children at the podium with a parent or sibling standing behind the child whispering the above phrases in their ear for the child to repeat out loud.  If you have been to an LDS Sacrament service on the first Sunday of the month you know what I am talking about.  Having grown up in the church this little ritual does not seem at all strange to me.

Direction from the Brethren

However, apparently enough people thought it wrong that the Brethren issued a letter to be read in all wards advising that little children practice their testimonies at home or in Primary classes instead of at the pulpit in fast and testimony meeting.  Even though this was issued more then five years ago, the practice continues and so it bears re-reading by bishoprics on a regular basis.

To quote: “It may be best to have younger children learn to share their testimonies in settings such as family home evening or when giving talks in Primary until they are old enough to do so unassisted in a fast and testimony meeting.”  Yes, little children can and do feel the spirit of the Lord bearing witness to their souls of the truth but learning to express it may take some time.

Brainwashing or groupthink

But it’s not just the children’s testimoniesthat bother some within the church.  It is the idea of saying, “I know” that such and such a thing is true when logically, they cannot possibly know of the veracity of historical events because they weren’t there.  To these people, a thanktimony or a travelogue is preferable to hear rather than to have someone say that “they know” something.

Let’s investigate that.  The claim is brainwashing or group thinking without any real thought as to what is actually being said.  Is there any validity to this claim?  Of course there is.  You and I have both seen people get up to the pulpit and just repeat what they have heard other people say without sensing any depth of meaning behind what they are saying.  What do they really know?

Discovering a testimony

And yet, consider that President Packer taught us that “a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it.”  Isn’t it possible that when our children and youth get up there and say what comes into their hearts that they are entitled to receive revelation that what they are saying is good and true?  It is my personal experience, shared in a previous essay that knowledge can be obtained like this.

Growing up in the church, we are taught in Primary and Sunday school all the basics we need to know to form a foundational testimony of the goodness and truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am a product of this system of indoctrination and training.  I can tell you from my own experience that it works, or at least that it worked for me to a certain point in my young life.

A testimony must grow

I believe that most people who grow up in the church come to a point in their lives where they must advance beyond the basic testimony of their youth.  I also believe that the many natural circumstances of life will require us to make decisions about our testimonies that can be hard and perhaps even painful.  In my opinion, it is the same process through which a convert must pass.

In other words, the testimony of the youth obtained from repeating what was heard from others, is going to be tested and tried.  Was that childish testimony invalid?  No, a testimony obtained as a child is sweet and innocent and pure.  It is valid and real but does not have the depth to sustain us as we move through our lives into a world that challenges such innocent testimonies as naïve.

The influence of leaders

Unfortunately, it is about this point that some of our young people in the church struggle with the transition to the kind of testimony that can weather the storm of adversity and opposition.  That’s where a good seminary or institute teacher can make a real difference in the lives of our youth.  For me, it was a scout advisor and counselor in a bishopric who helped me make that transition.

I knew that Jim Mortensen cared about me because of his sacrifice of time in going with us on scout trips and other activities.  Although I had heard him share his testimony before, I took an occasion to ask him point blank in a private setting to tell me how he knew the church was true.  I know I surprised him, but I will never forget the depth of his sincerity or the spirit that I felt.

A powerful example

Even though Jim came to church alone because his wife didn’t feel comfortable there, he was always cheerful and friendly.  I knew that his testimony gave him strength but wanted to know how he knew that it was true.  He answered by asking if he could bear his testimony first.  “Of course”, I said and he did.  I was not prepared for the power of what I felt as he spoke slowly.

When he finished we both had tears in our eyes.  “You see, Tim,” he said, “every time I bear my testimony it is strengthened.  Every time I tell someone else that I know it is true, I feel it deep in my heart.  It is not simply an emotional response, but a deep conviction.  Now do you understand how I know?”  I did understand and made it my goal to follow his example throughout my life.

Strengthened by sharing

As I have served in the church over the years as a missionary and as a leader in wards and stakes I have always cherished the opportunities to teach the gospeland to share my testimony.  My friend Jim Mortensen instilled in me a desire to do so because I knew that as I bore my testimony to others that it would be strengthened and I would be blessed.  I am so grateful for his example.

I hope this story from my youth illustrates a concept that is hard for many people to understand.  Here is the idea: There are more ways to receive knowledge than exclusively through the five senses of the human body.  We can receive knowledge directly from God, through the spirit of the Lord speaking directly to our spirit.  This kind of knowledge is real and very powerful.

Revelation is the source

A valid testimony will always claim revelation as its source.  The things of God are known by revelation and in no other way.  It is one thing to be able to say, “I believe, I think, I hope that the gospel is true,” but it requires personal revelation from the spirit of the Lord to declare, “I know that the Church is true.”  There is simply no other way.  We must experience revelation.

We can say that we know the church is true by the power of the Holy Ghost and in no other way. It is not through reason, logic, or the philosophies of men or the theories of the world, although these can help to explain it after the receipt.  A testimony of the gospel is received when the Holy Spirit speaks to the spirit within us.  It comes with calm, unwavering certainty into our hearts.

Summary and conclusion

We should have the courage to say “I know.” Some may think this is a trite expression, but “I know” remains a powerful and moving phrase when spoken with sincere conviction. We should say “I believe” if, in fact, we only believe and do not yet know for sure.  We should strive for the day when we can say that we know, having received that knowledge from the spirit of the Lord.

Telling stories, expressing gratitude, admitting that we have testimonies, or saying that we only believe are not the same as saying that we know.  We can know for ourselves and we should know, but that knowledge comes only on the Lord’s terms.  It is received by revelation and not by reasoning or logic.  Once received, we can then say, “I know,” with conviction and mean it.

For more information:

1. Testimony, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign May 2008
2. Topical guide reference to Testimony with scriptures
3. I had questions, Elder John U. Teh of the Seventy
4. Testimony as a process, Elder Carlos A. Godoy
5. Testimony, in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Spiritual experiences as a foundation for faith


I have been intrigued by Blake Ostler’s 2007 FAIR conference presentation entitled, “Spiritual Experiences as the Basis for Belief and Commitment.”  I have read it several times and have decided that Blake is on to something that I would like to develop further.  As you can see I have modified his title a little bit for use in my essay.  I highly recommend you read his essay first.

I’m going to focus on two points he made as he was answering questions towards the end of the presentation.  The first is this: “Memory, and what we do, is changed every time we think about it and remember it.”  The second is this: “All logic is ex post facto to prove what we already feel is true.”  Keep those points in mind as I advance some ideas on my experience with revelation.

Youthful revelatory experiences

Like Blake, I had some remarkable revelatory experiences when I was young that impressed me at the time but have impressed me even more as I have pondered and remembered them over the years.  I have written about them previously, but will list them here to provide some background.  Don’t think that these sacred events were easily obtained or casually absorbed.  They weren’t.

I was taught and believe that we cannot live on borrowed light.  Throughout my Seminary and Institute experience, I must have heard dozens of lessons on how vitally important it is to obtain our own witness of the spirit in order to remain committed to the church and the gospel in later years.  My teachers taught me and the spirit confirmed that I could receive personal revelation.

Foundational spiritual events

The first revelatory experience to which I’ll refer was obtained while I was a student at BYU Idaho.  I was seventeen years old and very immature but very impressed with a testimony I had heard that week from an Apostle of the Lord.  That weekend in my room I prayed fervently for many hours to know for myself that what he had said was true and important for me in my life.

The next impressive spiritual event in the development of my testimony was the next year when I was eighteen years old and preparing myself to serve a mission.  I have also shared this one in a previous essay.  The experience was equally as impressive as the first one though it was perhaps deeper in meaning and implication.  These are part of my early foundational spiritual memories.

Deep impact on my faith

These were not my only youthful revelatory experiences.  I have recorded several others in my journals that came almost unbidden during the years before my mission.  Although I received them as a result of prayer, the effort was not as intense.  In other words, I did not pray for many hours or fast for days to obtain the other experiences.  Nevertheless, they were just as powerful.

Because of these events, I was able to go through the difficult and rigorous experience of serving as a missionary without looking back and wondering why I decided to sacrifice like that for two years.  I had these sacred memories burning in my heart and being added unto with additional everyday assurances from the Lord that I was engaged in his work and that he was appreciative.

Working with imperfect people

Life marches on.  An education is obtained, a marriage is solemnized in the temple, a family is raised and increasing responsibilities in a career and in the church are rewarding and fulfilling.  As sometimes happens, I begin to learn things about my faith, and especially about the people in it that are at first disturbing and then disappointing.  I experience some logical inconsistencies.

Cognitive dissonance can be a painful experience when it includes people from our world who are in authoritative positions.  For example, a beloved bishop from my youth became inactive after he was released.  How could this happen?  He represented the Lord to me in interviews that I held sacred.  He helped me resolve several youthful problems and encouraged me to be faithful.

Imperfections even at high levels

Another bishop from my youth is disciplined after fiscal improprieties in his business dealings are revealed.  I learn of divorces of people whom I admired, some of whom were influential in my youth.  I then begin to learn of difficulties in higher levels of the church – stake presidents who lose their testimonies and announce to their congregations that they are leaving the faith.

A promising general authority is excommunicated for breaking the law of chastity.  I discover that an apostle was excommunicated for this very same reason less than forty years earlier.  How is this possible – a modern apostle excommunicated?  I can understand it happening in the early days of the church but not in our day and age.  These are men of God.  Tell me this wasn’t so!

Sacred things exposed and mocked

I discovered that a former ordinance worker in the temple had recorded the temple ceremony and then published it.  How could he do that?  I hold the temple sacred and have enjoyed so many wonderful experiences there over the years.  What could cause him to lose his faith and reveal something that means so much to me?  Did he never have any spiritual experiences of his own?

From the earliest days of the church there have been those who have not been impressed with the sacred nature of the temple and have exposed things that they have covenanted to keep sacred.  In our day there are those who claim to have received the second anointing and then describe it on the message boards of those who hate the church.  Something’s not right with this picture.

Not all members receive revelation

I used to think that everybody in the church had spiritual experiences similar to those I enjoyed in my youth.  Over the years, I have come to realize that this is not the case.  Can that be true even for those who have served as bishops, stake presidents or even general authorities?  In my opinion, yes – personal experience has shown this to be so.  Not all members receive revelation.

That has been an amazing thing for me to contemplate.  Was I just extremely lucky or blessed to believe that I could receive revelation when I was so young?  Several visitors to my blog over the years have tried to convince me that I did not receive revelation.  They have suggested that what I experienced was a form of self-hypnosis, or simply the effect of a frenzied, emotional state.

Memories can be enlarged

Back to Blake’s two points, memory first.  I have come to realize that although my early spiritual experiences occurred nearly thirty-five years ago, they are clearer in my mind now then when I first experienced them.  The combination of pondering them and writing about them has helped me to understand that there was much more detail in the experiences than what I first thought.

As Blake pointed out in his essay, this helps me to understand why Joseph Smith could recount the same First Vision experience differently in each of the accounts he relates over the years.  I was so focused on determining my own standing before God in my first youthful manifestation that I had overlooked how deeply and powerfully the Lord spoke to me about missionary labors.

How to explain all this

Blake’s second point was that all logic is created to prove what we already feel is true.  I have had prima facia experiences that overrule any logical inconsistencies I have encountered in what I have learned about the history and people of this church as I have studied it in more depth.  In effect, I have not really experienced cognitive dissonance at all because the spiritual trumps logical.

Let me restate that.  My spiritual revelatory experiences with the Holy Ghost early in my life have proven to be so powerful that it seems that no matter what kind of troubling things I may learn about the men who run or have run this church, I feel inoculated and immune to their effect.  My evangelical friends call this “living in the protective Mormon bubble of a testimony.”

Summary and conclusion

My experiences with the Holy Ghost are not going to be the same as yours.  They may be similar or they may be completely different.  For me, these revelatory events in my youth have provided a foundation for my experiences in this church thus far.  I have encountered much imperfection and weakness in the men who run it, but the spiritual witnesses of my life have protected me.

The bottom line is that I continue to believe that the LDS Church is what it claims to be when it was setup through the prophet Joseph Smith in 1830.  The simple fact is that we can know this for ourselves through revelatory encounters with the Holy Ghost.  No matter what negative things I discover, nothing can overcome the strength of that personal witness if I remain worthy.

——————————————————

Note about the illustration: This artist’s conception of Joseph translating the Book of Mormon is one that is highly criticized by some members of the church.  They feel it is disingenuous because it does not show Joseph using the seer stones in the hat.  It also shows the plates in plain view of Oliver which was not the case.  Joseph was not to show them to anyone unless commanded of the Lord.

Elder Packer was right about bearing testimony


I was first introduced to this scripture in seminary as we studied church history.  I was impressed with the basic promise of the Lord to Joseph and Sidney that he would inspire them and back up what they said when they spoke.  “That’s wonderful for them,” I thought at the time.  I’m glad the Lord gave them this promise because it must be hard to always know the right thing to say.

A powerful mission president

One of the joys of my mission was being taught by a man whom I already greatly admired for his devotion to religious education.  I had attended several Know Your Religion lectures presented by Joseph C. Muren in the year before I left for Central America.  Halfway through my mission I was delighted to learn that he had been called to preside over the mission in which I was serving.

Zone conferences with President Muren were simply amazing.  I don’t know how or why I was so blessed, but I will never forget the excitement I felt as President Muren taught us the principles of the lacing together effect.  He helped us to understand how natural it is for new converts to want to share their newfound faith with beloved family members and friends close to them.

A unique interpretation of scripture

During one particularly spiritual Zone Conference, President Muren taught us the importance of being teaching and testifying missionaries.  We weren’t having too much success getting the investigator to pray in the first discussion.  He powerfully demonstrated how he would like us to conclude the first discussion by kneeling in prayer and inviting the family to join us as we did so.

He then shared section 100:5-8 and testified that the Lord would put words into our mouths to know what to say that would bless the family the most with what they needed at that exact time we were there.  I remember thinking to myself at the time that this was going to be a leap of faith for me to go from something the Lord gave to Joseph to something I should use in my labors.

Applying the scripture in our work

So out we went to be a bit bolder in our teaching, testifying and challenging.  I vividly remember the first time we went to our knees at the end of a first discussion.  The family looked more than a little surprised but followed our lead.  After explaining what we were about to do, I opened my mouth to pray.  Something special and sacred happened at that moment that is hard to explain.

After thanking Heavenly Father for the blessing of being able to teach that particular family about Joseph Smith’s first vision, I began to bless the family.  I found that I was not asking Heavenly Father to bless them, but that I was pronouncing blessings upon them that I knew they needed.  I was astonished, as was my companion, but not nearly as much as that special family.

Powerful results of faith

At the conclusion of the prayer, I opened my eyes and witnessed a grown man sobbing as he was overcome with the spirit.  His wife and three children, who were teen-agers, still on their knees, moved closer to him and we quietly watched as they shared a sacred family hug.  Slowly, we stood and silently waited.  When the man stood, he extended his hand and thanked us profusely.

“How did you know?” he asked.  “What do you mean?” I replied.  “How did you know to say those things you did?  You blessed us that we would have family unity and good communication between us.  You blessed us that our love for one another would be strong and that we would be able to overcome any financial difficulties that we might be experiencing at this time.”

The Lord stands by his promises

“I didn’t know,” I responded, “but your Heavenly Father did and he inspired me with what to say that you needed to hear.”  We made an appointment to return in a few days and quietly excused ourselves as it was evident that the family had some things that they wanted to discuss among themselves at that time.  The spirit was strong with all of us and we fairly floated out of there.

As my companion and I talked about this sacred experience I found myself saying, “You know, President Muren was right.  The Lord sends His spirit to bear witness to whatever we feel inspired to say when we do it in the spirit of solemn meekness and love.”  Now, not all of our discussions went like that but we sure had a lot more of them after that with similar results.

Service over the years

Fast forward seventeen years.  By this time I had a family and had served in several teaching and priesthood leadership positions in the church.  Our little inner-city ward was dwindling and I was juggling multiple callings because of lack of people to share the load.  I was beginning to feel a little burned out when we were privileged to attend a multi-stake conference with Elder Holland.

This was 1994, just before the death of President Benson and before he was called as an apostle.  I greatly admired the man, having read many of his BYU talks over the years.  I was impressed that Elder Holland was concerned about the one, even though his assignments brought him into teaching environments where there were hundreds, if not thousands who gathered to hear him.

Taught by a General Authority

As we gathered in our conference priesthood leadership session, Elder Holland began to teach us the importance of speaking and teaching under the influence of the spirit when we are standing in front of a congregation or a class.  He then quoted D&C 100:5-8 and promised us that as we exercised faith in teaching the gospel, we would know what to say at the moment it was needed.

Even though I had witnessed this scripture fulfilled in my mission, I had not been as successful in my teaching assignments over the years since then.  I tended to over-prepare and always had more material than I could possibly present.  As a result, I found myself rushing through the lesson in an effort to fit as much in as possible.  I always felt exhausted after these experiences.

Pause while bearing testimony

Elder Holland then did something that I have rarely seen anyone do with such effect either before or since.  He told us that it is important that we pause after we teach a principle of the gospel so that the spirit can work on the people.  He then dramatically demonstrated this by slowly bearing his testimony and pausing to let the spirit sink it.  It was profound.  Silence can be so powerful!

This was an answer to prayer.  I was going so fast when I taught that the spirit didn’t have time to settle in people’s hearts when I bore my testimony.  I felt extremely grateful and wanted to get back to my ward to try this out.  I didn’t have to wait that long because Elder Holland asked for a volunteer to demonstrate this principle in action.  I soon found myself at the front of the chapel.

Practice is part of preparation

He asked my name and said, “Brother Malone, I want you to simply bear your testimony, but I want you to pause after each sentence as you look your brethren in the eye. Now, go ahead.”  I turned and faced hundreds of priesthood leaders including Bishops, Stake presidents, Elder’s Quorum Presidents and lowly ward executive secretaries and quorum instructors like me.

Maybe it was because I had a man who was about to be called as an apostle standing next to me but something sacred and special happened on that occasion that has rarely happened quite so powerfully since.  I did as Elder Holland taught and watched in amazement as men quietly began to wipe tears from their eyes as I bore witness to the truths of the restored gospel that I love.

Give the spirit a chance to work

When I was finished, Elder Holland invited me to sit down and then said very slowly and very quietly, “You see brethren, the Lord stands by his promises.  When we teach and bear testimony in solemnity of heart and in the spirit of meekness, the Holy Ghost is shed forth in bearing record to whatsoever we say because it is what the Lord inspired us to say at that moment.”

It was another one of those sacred moments for me.  I was immersed in the spirit while I was bearing testimony.  The Lord was strengthening me and bearing witness to me at the same time that I was bearing my witness to others.  I love that special and sacred experience and wish that it occurred more often in my life.  It took an apostle to teach me how to bear testimony with power.

Summary and conclusion

President Packer has said, “A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it.”  Because this is such a powerful principle, it has been attacked by the adversary through enemies of the church, many of them former members who never quite got it.  They like to call it lying for the Lord and claim that the bearing of testimonies to one another is simply a form of brainwashing in an evil cult.

President Packer is right.  There is nothing that can equal the experience of testifying of the truths of the gospel while under the influence of the spirit of the Holy GhostD&C 100:5-8 can be one of the most difficult scriptures to internalize.  It takes a great deal of faith to trust that the Lord will inspire us but I know from experience that he does send his spirit to bear record to our words.

The Lord is pouring out his spirit


In the LDS church we often think of a spiritual experience as a dream or a vision or a distinct impression to take some action or a warning to avoid some course of action. These are the kinds of experiences that many church leaders have shared over the years as evidence of God’s interest in us and our welfare. A classic example is the Vision of the Redemption of the Dead as found in section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

However, the spiritual experiences I am most familiar with are those that come with the exercise of the gifts of the spirit. For example, when I am asked to teach or to speak in church I make it a matter of prayer and sometimes fasting. I ask the Lord for inspiration in knowing what to prepare and what he would have me say. I then practice my remarks and ask the Lord specifically for the gift of teaching or the gift of speaking under the influence of the spirit.

The spirit gives utterance

The Lord answers my prayer, sends his spirit and I feel that what I have prepared is acceptable and pleasing to Him. When I deliver the prepared remarks, I feel his spirit working through me giving me confidence and helping me to emphasize certain points and to appropriately pause in other places. Speaking in Sacrament meeting is absolutely my favorite thing in life to do. I look forward to it more than anything else. Seriously! It is a spiritual feast.

I have had similar experiences in speaking extemporaneously and in teaching from an outline with some prepared quotes. I feel the same inspiration in offering a prayer or when asked to share a spiritual thought in a meeting or when I give a priesthood blessing or when I lead my family in prayer. There is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit of the Lord is influencing me and helping me to perform righteous endeavors.

The spirit bears witness in testimony

I have never seen any visions or heard any voices from the spirit world, but I have heard the voice of the Lord in my mind and the whisperings of the spirit on occasion are very strong and recognizable. I have also seen the spirit of the Lord work powerfully on the youth of the church as they stand to bear their testimonies in front of their peers in our local singles ward. I have witnessed revelation in action as these young people speak from their hearts.

I have also had experiences with feeling that I have been led in my genealogical searches, finding specific individuals. My mother was blessed with this gift as well. I always feel the spirit of the Lord in the temple as I participate in the ordinances there for those living on the other side of the veil. I have been blessed with the spirit of discernment where the Lord has revealed to me when someone is lying or withholding something.

The spirit causes us to rejoice

I have felt the presence of the Lord when I sing in the ward choir. I have been blessed with the ability to discern the presence of evil spirits. The Lord has helped me through his spirit to control myself when faced with difficult, annoying and emotionally charged situations. I know some people claim to be able to see evil spirits. I don’t. But I have no doubt that they are real. I have been attacked by them on many occasions, both directly and through others.

I could go on and on. I don’t think I am any different from most members of the church who have been blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost. It truly is a gift that helps us in just about every endeavor of our life where we ask for help. The gifts of the spirit come through faith. “It is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased…it is because of unbelief…” (Moroni 7:37)

The spirit comes to us in prayer

I have also specifically been blessed with what I consider to be rich and powerful spiritual manifestations in prayer that are too sacred to share, mainly because I do not have the words to describe what happened. I suppose it could be best described as the presence of the comforter revealing the love of the Lord to my heart and mind in a manner that is sure and undeniable. In an earlier essay, I wrote about one specific experience like this from my youth.

My patriarchal blessing promises me the gift of faith. I am convinced that I have had this gift from the earliest days of my youth. I have never doubted the truthfulness of what I have been taught. Even when I discovered what some would consider shocking things in our early church history, I have felt the Spirit of the Lord whisper peace to my soul. The Lord has poured out his spirit upon me so many times when I needed it because of this gift of faith.

The spirit is manifest in the leaders

But, when I think of spiritual experiences that church leaders have shared, I think of visions and dreams that seemed to be much more common in the early days of the church, especially with Joseph and Brigham and others of the early leaders. I have no doubt that such manifestations are received in our day as well, but they certainly are not talked about openly as much as they were back then. I don’t know why. Perhaps they have been ridiculed even by the members.

An exception would be the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, the receipt and confirmation of which were described so well by several members of the quorum of the twelve, especially Bruce R. McConkie. I also specifically recall President Kimball’s vision of taking the gospel to all the world. It was a powerful motivating factor in my life. I could see the spirit of the Lord resting upon President Kimball as he described his vision. I caught that vision by the same spirit.

Summary and conclusion

Every day can be a spiritual experience, especially as it begins and end in prayer. I know we can have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in our lives. The promise is real and the Lord is willing to fulfill it according to our diligence and heed in listening to and following the constant promptings of the Holy Ghost. As long as we do not drive the spirit away by disobedience or by not doing as we are prompted, the Holy Ghost will continue to work with us.

I know the Lord wants us to use the gift of the Holy Ghost to bless our lives and the lives of others and to prepare us for a glorious entry into the spirit world when our work in this world is completed. I also know that the Lord is preparing his people for the Second Coming. I have no doubt that it draws closer and closer each day. May we be blessed to live by the spirit and to walk in the light as God walks in the light. By doing so we can and will be happy.

Source: Expanded from comments I left on Jared’s blog: LDS Alive in Christ

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,142 other followers