Posts Tagged ‘Personal Revelation’
Paul said, “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” I’ve thought often about this statement and wondered why Paul suggested it. Perhaps it’s because he knew we all need to be encouraged from time to time.
Do you ever get discouraged? I do. I’m older than some of you and younger than others but I’ve had enough experience in life to discover there’s not always someone there to cheer you up or help you on your way when things get tough.
Or is there? I’ll address that in a little bit.
Sources of Help
I learned very early in life that my parents didn’t have all the answers when it came to dealing with difficulties. I saw them struggle sometimes just like I did. I watched them make mistakes, lose their patience or give bad advice to others.
It was a little disconcerting at first, especially since I loved them so much and wanted them to be perfect. I’m grateful that over time, the Lord helped me to see my parents as good people trying to do their best but occasionally, no, often, failing. This realization only increased my love for them.
There comes a time in most of our lives, especially when we are young, when we turn to friends for guidance and direction. Maybe we don’t specifically ask them in words like “Hey, can you help me figure this out?” but we nonetheless look to them for help in dealing with things that concern us.
Unfortunately, friends can disappoint. Even though they may be well-meaning, they can sometimes be less than encouraging, mainly because they have no clue themselves what to do in our situation. It’s good to have friends, especially those who are patient and kind, but friends with good answers are rare.
We’re all Sinners
So what do you do when you get discouraged? You’re a good person, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But you make mistakes. We all do. I do. The scripture usually cited to back this up is 1 John 1:8 – “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Don’t be upset if this is the first time you’ve been called a sinner. We’re all sinners. If I were to pause right now and ask everyone here to think about some sin or weakness that is bothering you, everyone here would be able to bring something to mind, even if it’s the mistaken thought that you have no sins.
In fact, I think I will. I’m going to pause for just a few seconds. I promise you the Holy Ghost will help you think of something that bothers you, something you can improve or something that you know is displeasing to the Lord.
OK, that’s long enough. The thought or image that came to your mind was probably not very pleasant, was it? The memory of my weakness causes me to feel like a failure. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life. I’m not going to tell you what it is and I don’t want to know what your weakness is.
Hope and Gratitude
Now I want to talk about hope. For me, hope is tied closely to gratitude. I’m grateful I’ve been taught all my life that we can overcome our weaknesses. It gives me hope to remember the reason I’m here on earth is to learn from my mistakes. That means I will make mistakes when I try to accomplish good things in life.
Just remembering that thought is very comforting to me. One of the biggest results of discouragement is that we stop trying to do new things or stop trying to do better in ways we know we should. For example, I know I should study the gospel more and read the scriptures every day. I don’t do as well as I should.
Every time I come to church and hear someone share something they discovered in their gospel study, I am encouraged and filled with hope. I then feel I can and will do better myself in my efforts to study the gospel during the week. I am especially encouraged by good teachers who are prepared to lead our classes.
God Gives Us Weaknesses
I just finished reading the Book of Mormon again. As I came to the twelfth chapter of Ether, I once again read these words with joy, “… if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble … if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
I have decided I will confess my weakness unto you after all. In James 5:16, we read, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” I ask for your prayers in my behalf. Even though I’ve already been talking about it, to be very specific, my fault, my weakness is discouragement.
Now you may say, “Discouragement is no sin. We all experience it.” Yes, I know, but it can be debilitating, especially when it’s used by the adversary. When I get discouraged, I have a hard time remembering all the good things the Lord has done for me. I forget promises I have made about doing better each day.
I have made every effort to come unto the Lord as he has asked us to do in the scriptures. The Lord has not only shown me my weaknesses, he has also shown me how the adversary uses them as stumbling blocks to keep me from reaching my full potential in this life. Discouragement causes me to feel overwhelmed.
When I get overwhelmed, I tend to shut down. I refuse to take on new tasks or try new things. Do you ever get that way? When I get overwhelmed, I have a hard time deciding what among all the good things before me I should do with the limited amount of time I have been given. So I do nothing. That’s not good. Or worse, I waste my time with things that are not worthy of me.
Turn Weaknesses Into Strengths
I want that promise in Ether to be fulfilled. I want my weak things to be made strong. I also remember that the Lord gave me my weaknesses. Since my weakness is discouragement, can I accept that the Lord gave me that weakness? I can, especially because I know he wants to help me turn that into a strength.
Gratefully, this scripture teaches the secret to have our weak things turned into strengths. It is to humble ourselves before the Lord and to have faith in Him. In other words, we need to believe His promises and act upon them. He promises to help us become strong. I believe Him. That gives me hope.
I don’t know exactly how he does it. At this point in my progression, it’s still a miracle to me, something I don’t fully understand. I accept it on faith. I know that the Lord loves me and I know that he wants to help me. He has proven that to me many times in the past. I’m encouraged by the hope this scripture brings.
Working a Plan
So I pray unto the Lord, and even though I know He already knows, I tell Him I’m discouraged. I tell Him I’m overwhelmed. I tell Him I don’t know which of all the demands on my time I should address first. I tell him I’m tempted to do nothing for fear of masking a mistake or wasting my time.
Because He loves me, He doesn’t always tell me what to do. In fact, He is rarely specific. But He does remind me I have agency, encourages me to make a decision on a course of action and then present it to Him for confirmation. So I make a list, order the tasks in the way I think they should be done and then return to him in prayer with my list and a few ideas on how to accomplish them.
Invariably, the Lord says, “OK, sounds good. Go ahead. Looks like you’ve thought it out. Let’s see where that takes you.” Never have I heard, “No, that’s not a good idea. That would be a waste of your time.” The Lord always honors my agency and encourages me to try things to see what results I get. Occasionally, He even shows me the results in my mind’s eye in advance so I can plan better.
Doing the Work
Sometimes I discover after starting on my task that it did not produce the results for which I was hoping. That’s OK. At least I tried it. I then go on to the next item on my list and the next until I can return to the Lord and report I have tried everything I could think of to fix the problem. I know that pleases Him.
In the process I discover I have accomplished a lot of good things I might not have done had I not been trying to solve this problem, to fix this weakness, to overcome this sin or this temptation. People compliment me on how organized and efficient I am or that I get a lot done. Trust me, it’s only because I’m trying to do everything in my power to eliminate stress from my life.
In the end I know I can’t fix myself anyway, only the Lord can do that. I keep asking and keep pleading to be healed, but know that it will be on his timetable after I have learned whatever it is I am supposed to learn from the process of overcoming. Perhaps what I am learning most is patience with myself.
Thorn in the Side
I feel like Paul when he said that he had asked the Lord three times to remove a thorn in his side. We may never know in this life what he was talking about. Many scholars have assumed it was some sort of physical weakness or frailty. I don’t view it that way. Paul called it a messenger of Satan. I think it was temptation of some sort. He said it kept him from being overly exalted.
He also said he received an abundance of revelations. I’m not going to make a claim like Paul’s, but I will say I have felt the Lord give me answers to prayers and guide me in my thoughts as I turn to him for help in solving my problems. I have no doubt the Lord knows me and is willing to help me through this life. I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost that seems to grow stronger each day.
As a people, I think we tend to be overly hard on ourselves. We’re prone to expect perfection sooner than we are ready for it. The word perfect has interesting connotations. In one sense, it means complete. We remind ourselves that in this life we cannot be perfect, but in the same breath, we say we must be perfect because we are commanded to be so. I think the Lord was simply telling us to finish the race, to endure to the end and to pass though all we are supposed to before we die.
Finish the Race
In other words, don’t quit, don’t give up before our days are through. I think most of know someone who has fought cancer or some other illness that, in the end, took the life of our friend or family member. I am constantly amazed by the faith of those passing through such illnesses. They believe they are going to get better. Their courage is a source of inspiration to all those around them.
But then they die. All of us must die. We don’t like to think about it. Sometimes we act like mortality will go on forever, especially when we’re young. “I have time to finish that self-improvement project,” we say to ourselves. When I graduate from college, once I get married, when the kids are grown, when I retire. The list goes on and on. But today is the day to do the work we are here to do.
Alma 34:34 – “Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.”
In other words, our eternity is what we make of it here. How can we become something we are not? The purpose of this life is to prepare for eternity, to be the person we want to be in the life to come. If we are happy when we depart this life, we will be happy when we enter the spirit world and when we’re resurrected.
I’m not teaching anything new here. This is all standard doctrine found in the scriptures. What I am trying to do is to help us step back and take another look at the big picture just for a moment. In the context of encouraging us to do those things that we know are hard to do, remember that this life is short and the whole purpose is to do those hard things, not to relax, take it easy or be entertained.
At the beginning of this talk I said that there’s not always someone there to cheer you up with you get discouraged. But then I questioned that statement. I’d like to clarify. If there’s one thing of which I am a witness, meaning I know from personal, first-hand experience, it’s that we are not alone. We are never alone. We have been given the promise of the Holy Ghost as our constant companion.
I read a lot about this idea, even from General Authorities, who teach that there are times when we will be left alone to work things out on our own. While I agree with them in principle, I still feel that we have the right to ask the Lord to send his spirit to help us through our trials and difficulties. When we are in agony, we can do as the Savior did and pray even more earnestly.
We are taught that in the end, the Savior was left on his own while on the cross to be able to claim the full power of the atonement as His. I can understand and do support that teaching. Like I’m sure you have, I have passed through some terrible moments when I fell entirely alone. I knew I was being tested to see how I would respond. I have prayed with great earnestness that perhaps my cup, my trial could be taken from me. I also prayed that the will of the Father be done.
Help from Angels
Even when I have felt that nobody could take the pain or sorrow from me, I have always felt that the Lord has constantly been there and very much aware of what and how I’m doing. When I have felt anger at having to suffer, or despair at the loss I knew I was about to experience, still, I knew the Lord or His Angels were watching me. Even when I did not have the comfort of the Holy Ghost, I felt the presence of someone watching over me. Always. All my life. Every day.
I don’t think I’m special or any different from any of you. I am tempted and tried. I make mistakes. I fail. I commit sins. I often do less than my best. But as far as I know, I have not had to pass through the feeling of being left totally alone that the Savior suffered in those last few moments on the cross. I am so grateful for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Light of Christ and the presence of angels to watch over me and bear me up. Because of this, I know my Father in Heaven loves me.
He wants me to do better. He wants me to succeed. He wants me to be happy. He wants me to overcome and master the flesh. He understands that I am weak but continues to encourage me to be strong, get up and try again. If there’s anything I can say to help anyone here today who is discouraged, it would be just that. Get up, try again. God knows your struggle. He is cheering you on. I am too.
About a thousand other people and I enjoyed an evening with Richard Bushman last night. He spoke about Joseph and Emma for about 40 minutes and then entertained questions from the audience for another 40 minutes. While his insights on Joseph and Emma were interesting, I found the questions more fascinating, because they reflected a lot of the issues I blog about.
For those who don’t know, Richard Bushman is the author of Rough Stone Rolling, the 2005 biography of Joseph Smith that has become the definitive account of the prophet’s life as told from the viewpoint of a faithful historian. I took advantage of the opportunity to have him autograph my copy and was not the only one in the audience who waited in line to do so.
Open and honest discussion
It was wonderful to see so many people interested in learning more about this great man and the beginnings of the Mormon Church. Every time he finished answering a question a dozen more hands shot up. We could have been there for several more hours. I think that goes to show you how much we as a people appreciate someone who has studied the prophet’s life in such detail.
There were many questions that focused on the process of translating, the Urim and Thummim, the seer stone in the hat, polygamy, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, the martyrdom, succession, Book of Abraham translation, Mountain Meadows massacre and folk magic. He welcomed every question and encouraged us to ask even the most difficult ones.
A well-qualified historian
One of the most refreshing comments I heard was his expression of appreciation to the church, specifically to the church historian’s office, Marlin K. Jensen and Richard E. Turley for the recent publication of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. He then said that he hoped that the church would do the same with the issue of polygamy, treating it openly and with historical accuracy.
Burt what impressed me most about the evening was the obvious fact that Richard Bushman is a highly respected historian who probably understands the beginnings of Mormonism as well as or better than anyone else. Besides being the co-general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, he chairs the board of directors of the Mormon Scholars Foundation. He knows early church history.
Serving faithfully in the church
And yet, Richard Bushman has served as a bishop, a stake president, a patriarch and is currently a sealer in the Los Angeles temple. I would say that he is a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint, in spite of everything he knows about early church history. I bring this up specifically to make a point about a common response to my essays and how I can still believe when I know this stuff.
I recently had someone ask me how I was able to do what I do – serve faithfully in the church – in spite of all that I know about, as he called it, “the more disturbing facts of the origins of Mormonism.” I think maybe he might want to redirect that question to someone like Richard Bushman who knows so much more than I do and yet has been a faithful believer all his life.
Believing in spite of knowing
This individual asked, “How do you reconcile your belief and what the church teaches, with the history of things like the origins of the temple ceremony, polygamy, first vision contradictions, development of the story of the restoration of the priesthood, and other issues?” I answered him privately in an email but have been pondering this whole idea of believing in spite of knowing.
Frankly, it perplexes me. I think I have expressed this same sentiment several times in previous essays every time it comes up. What is so hard about studying and understanding our very early church history, warts and all, and then continuing to believe that Joseph Smith was an instrument in the hands of God to bring about the restoration of the gospel and his church in the latter days?
Shocked by our history
Are we supposed to be shocked, dismayed and overwhelmed with doubt every time we discover some new fact about the early days of the church? For example, last night we were reminded that beer and wine were used by the early saints, and sometimes even whiskey. Today, we would be shocked if we learned that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles drank a glass of wine.
Yet in volume IV, page 120 of the History of the Church on the date of April 17 1840 we read, “This day the Twelve blessed and drank a bottle of wine at Penworthan, made by Mother Moon forty years before.” Things were different back then, weren’t they? The Word of Wisdom had been received in 1833 but was not binding upon the saints as a commandment like it is today.
History not being hidden
When Fanny Alger was brought up by Brother Bushman last night as an example of an early failed attempt by Joseph to obey the law of plural marriage, I’ll bet there were a few people in the audience who did not know that Joseph had married this sixteen year old girl in 1833. The revelation on celestial marriage had been received in 1831 but Joseph was hesitant to obey.
For some reason, the idea that Joseph participated in plural marriage is supposed to be shocking to us. This continues to be one of the most common tactics of our critics – to try to shock us with facts that are supposedly being hidden from us by our modern church leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are always being encouraged to study our history and learn the facts.
Selling the Book of Mormon Copyright
Another example that our critics like to throw at us is the failed attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada. Until recently, the only source for this event was the memory of David Whitmer who was not present when Joseph sent the brethren on their mission. Joseph never said that it must have been a false revelation as Whitmer claimed he said upon their return.
We’re then supposed to conclude that if we can’t trust a revelation from Joseph then how are we supposed to know what is revelation from God. I’m not an apologist but I’m grateful that there are people who dig into these things to get the facts and present them for our review. Of course, the same facts can be presented in favorable or unfavorable light, depending on where you go.
Consider carefully the source
For example, you can read the story of the copyright mission to Canada on MormonThink as supposed evidence that even Joseph Smith didn’t know when revelations were from God and when they were from the devil. Yet you can read the same account in greater clarity and detail from a more trustworthy and reliable source like FAIR and come away strengthened in faith.
We could go on and on with hundreds of things that are supposed to be shocking to us modern believers of the faith because they seem so out of character with what we’ve been taught about Joseph or other leaders of the early LDS church. If we are bothered by something, then we need to do our homework and get all the facts as part of the process of confirming truth for ourselves.
Get the facts straight
If I were concerned upon reading that Joseph Smith was supposed to have said that even he didn’t know when a prophecy came from the Lord or that he is supposed to have said that a revelation he received must have come from the devil, as David Whitmer said he did, then I would want to read more about this and would be very careful about the source that I study.
Because if I believed that Joseph really said this, then that might lead me to conclude that if even prophets have a hard time understanding revelation, how can I really be expected to understand or know the truth of revelations that come to me, especially revelation that I think is telling me that the church itself is true? Do you see how important it is to get the facts of certain matters?
The Joseph Smith Papers
Of course Joseph never said that he must have received a false revelation. In fact, according to more recent information discovered, the brethren who went on the mission to Canada in an attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon felt that they were successful on their mission and that the Lord was pleased with their efforts. The promised sale was conditional.
I’m grateful for brethren like Richard Bushman, who are helping to bring us the Joseph Smith papers. In volume 1 of the Manuscript Revelation Books, we have the full copy of the mission to Canada revelation. It can be read there. The criticism that Joseph later claimed that the revelation had not come from God is in all likelihood the product of a false memory by David Whitmer.
We can believe the prophet
As I wrote in a previous essay, I believe it is our lifelong pursuit to understand revelation and to come to know how the Lord communicates with each of us. We can rely on the promises of the Lord to lead us, guide us and walk beside us because we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I hope we cherish this gift and live worthy of the constant companionship of this promised revelator.
Joseph Smith knew when the Lord was inspiring him and so did most of the brethren who were with him at the time when he received revelation. We can trust that the Lord will help us to have the assurances we need to believe in the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith. Someday, we will meet Brother Joseph and if we still have questions about his life we can ask them to him directly.
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.
On this Pioneer day, I decided to answer all the personal questions that you are asked when you fill out the profile on Mormon.org. There are a whole lot more under the FAQ section (about 80) but that will have to wait for another day when I have more time. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of answering these questions and felt like I was being interviewed, thus the title of this blog post.
01. Please explain the part prayer plays in your life?
Having grown up with daily prayer, I can’t imagine a day go by in which I don’t communicate with my Heavenly Father in prayer. We start the day in prayer as a family asking for the Lord’s blessing upon us as we work. We end the day in prayer the same way, usually kneeling by the bed, reporting our activities to God and thanking him for his help. We give thanks for the food we eat at mealtimes and participate in public prayers in our weekly worship service. It is through prayer and reading scriptures that I feel close to God and directed in my life.
02. Which of the Savior’s teachings have influenced you in your life?
The most powerful admonition of the Lord that has helped me find happiness in this life is his commandment that we love one another. I remember this whenever I feel that I have been misunderstood or hurt by someone else, either intentionally or not. It is so easy to take offense in this world but the end result is that we only hurt ourselves when we do that. To love others is to trust in the Lord that he will help make everything all right, even if it doesn’t appear that way at first. He also requires us to forgive others since we all make mistakes and errors in judgment. We show our love by forgiving.
03. Please share your feelings/testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel.
Even though I grew up hearing the Joseph Smith story I am still amazed as an adult to realize just how powerful his history really is. Think about it! Angels, gold plates, visits from God, Jesus Christ and ancient apostles and prophets – these are all miraculous events that we just don’t hear about everyday. It is truly a marvelous thing to learn all that the Lord did through Joseph Smith, the Prophet of God. I am especially grateful for revealed doctrines that clarified and corrected the errors of man in the many religions of the world.
04. Please share your feelings/testimony of Joseph Smith.
I have read at least a dozen biographies of the life of Joseph Smith, and continue to be amazed that the Lord was able to accomplish so much through this one man. He was a prophet in every sense of the word in that the Lord revealed his will for us through him and continues to do so through the prophets that have followed. But it was Joseph who paid so dearly with his life even though he did what the Lord told him to do in bringing forth the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I hold Joseph Smith in high regard and look forward to meeting him in the world to come. I want to thank him for his faithfulness in translating the Book of Mormon.
05. Why do Mormons go on missions?
I went on a mission because I watched a video of the prophet asking all worthy young men to serve the Lord as missionaries. As he shared his vision of how the gospel would go to all the world, I deeply felt a desire stirring within my soul to be a part of that great army of missionaries. It was a major sacrifice for me to leave my studies and spend two years in Central America seeking out those who would respond to the Lord’s invitation to come unto him through baptism. I loved my mission experience and found joy in testifying to the world that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. We go on missions because we are commanded to share the gospel and feel the desire to seek out and bring the message of the truth to all who will receive it.
06. Why do Mormons do family history or genealogy work?
Besides being a commandment to seek out our ancestors, we do family history research because we feel a desire to know and appreciate the story of those to whom we are indebted for our very lives. I am a product of all those who came before me. My parents were influenced by their parents and they were who they were because of their parents and so on back as far as we can discover. Once we have the basic facts of their lives such as names and dates, we are privileged to go to the temple and perform proxy ordinances for them so that they too may meet the commandments of the Lord to be baptized and enter into covenants of exaltation. We do family history work so we can be saviors on Mt Zion (Obadiah 1:21).
07. How has attending Church services helped you?
One of the highlights of my week is to attend church services each Sunday. I serve in a leadership capacity in my church, and attend a few more meetings besides the regular three-hour block of Sacrament, Sunday school and Priesthood meetings. I love the interaction with others who believe as I do and feel as I do about trying to follow the teachings of the Savior. I say try because nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes each week. That’s another reason why I love to go to church each Sunday – I get to renew my baptism covenants by taking the Sacrament each week. I learn more of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these church services and feel a unity with God and with my fellow saints as we worship God and Jesus Christ together.
08. What has helped develop greater harmony in your home?
Like everyone else, I have experienced moments of argument and disharmony in my home which leave me feeling frustrated, resentful, hurt or angry. I do not like such feelings, especially in my home where I want to relax and feel happy, safe and secure. So over the years, I have made a greater effort each day to promote harmony and unity by not arguing and not finding fault with my family members. I was not very good at this as a youth and so I appreciate the blessings that have come to me as an adult as I try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ to love others, especially members of my own family, who need and deserve my love the most. We can have a harmonious home by practicing kindness and forgiveness.
09. What have you done successfully to shield your family from unwanted influences?
Of all the teachings of the church about family, this idea of keeping out the world has been the most difficult but the most rewarding. Television and the Internet are two of the most challenging types of media to monitor and control. We believe in freedom so we encourage each other to seek after virtuous and uplifting material. So the shield we put into place is not anything controlling such as “thou shalt not!” It is more of making sure that we understand the differences that certain material, music or entertainment can produce, compared to the results of worthy content. We seek out and support worthy entertainment and uplifting media content and pray constantly that we will each desire such material over the worldly offerings.
10. Could you talk about your baptism?
I was eight years old when I was baptized and for me, that is a long time ago. My father, who was a recent convert, had to work the evening of my baptism, so he was unable to perform the ordinance. I was baptized by a young man who was preparing to serve a mission. My father was able to confirm me a member of the church the next day and I remember the special feelings that came to me as he conferred upon me the gift of the Holy Ghost. I remember my primary teacher was there and gave me a picture of the Savior mounted on a small piece of wood. I still treasure that memento and the words of encouragement that she penned on the back. I’m sure I did not understand all the implications of the covenants I was making at eight years old, but I have come to appreciate the blessings of this ordinance more and more each Sunday as I take the Sacrament and remember what the Savior miraculously did for me in taking upon himself the effects of my sins upon conditions of repentance. It is baptism that makes my repentance possible.
11. Why/How do you share the gospel with your friends?
I am not a very outgoing person so I believe that the best way I can share the gospel with others is through providing a good example of following the teachings of the Savior. I have been amazed over the years as I see the influence that my behavior has on others. I feel it brings respect and a kind of trust that can come in no other way. I am sometimes surprised that people, including co-workers, will unsolicited confide in me details of problems they are working out and seek my advice and opinion. I am then able to share my beliefs that following the teachings of Jesus Christ can and does help me deal with problems and that it can help them too. Because I am shy, I find great comfort in sharing my feelings about the gospel online and am an active LDS blogger. I also use modern technology like Facebook and Twitter to share my life. The gospel comes up in the natural course of sharing things online and results in online dialogs in non-threatening and informative way.
12. How does making right choices help us make more right choices?
When we choose the right even when it is hard to do, we strengthen our character and develop integrity. Deciding to do the right thing one time makes it easier to do the right thing the next time. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the added advantage of the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift helps us understand what the right thing to do is in difficult situations. When we decide to follow the impressions of the Holy Ghost in making life’s choices, we show God that we value and appreciate this gift. The impressions of the spirit will then become stronger or easier to recognize and we can grow in always making right choices. Of course, being mortal, we will all make mistakes. The Holy Ghost can also help us repent and make better choices in the future.
13. In what ways have your prayers been answered?
There are so many countless examples over the years that it is hard to share just one or two. Perhaps the most dramatic for me was on the day that I proposed to my wife. After I returned home from my mission, I had been praying for quite some time to find a woman who believed as I did and with whom I could be happy. I was dating my wife’s best friend but the chemistry was just not there. One day my wife invited me to a ball game and I told her about my troubles getting her friend to like me. I could see that her feelings were hurt. The next day I visited her in her home and had a long conversation about life and marriage and family. I had some very powerful spiritual feelings as I was talking to her that I knew were an answer to my prayers. I proposed on the spot and we were married a few months later. The Lord helped me with one of the most important decisions of my life.
14. What are you doing to help strengthen your family and make it successful?
My role in the family is to provide security and stability – both financial and spiritual. I enjoy my responsibility to work and earn the money that we need to have a home, food, clothing and other necessities of life. But more importantly, I enjoy my responsibility to provide spiritual direction for my family. We are strengthened by attending church together, by praying and reading the scriptures together and by pursuing worthwhile family goals. For example, my wife and I take classes at the local community college in the evenings in an effort to improve ourselves and keep our minds active. We are strengthened as we work together as a family to accomplish good things with our lives and to provide service in our church and our community. The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us in this endeavor.
15. How has your knowledge of the Plan of Happiness changed/benefited your life?
Sometimes this life can be a drag on the spirit because of all the disappointments and setbacks that come as a natural part of living in this world. Understanding the Plan of Happiness helps me to realize that such setbacks are temporary. I remain convinced that the Lord is very involved in my life and wants to help me through my journey until I am ready to return to his presence in the life to come. Knowing that I lived before I came to this world to experience mortality helps me to have a bigger picture of things. Knowing that I will live in the world to come and that I will someday be resurrected with a glorious and eternal body give me hope that goes beyond the drudgery and dullness that this life can sometimes be. The Plan of Happiness is just that – a plan for me to find and achieve happiness through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and enduring to the end of mortality true to what I know.
16. What is hope and what do you hope for?
Hope is the belief and conviction that there is purpose and meaning to this life. Hope is the understanding that even though we pass through trials and troubles, we can have the assurance that our experiences are for our good and will cause us to grow. I hope for a glorious resurrection. I know that this is dependant upon my personal righteousness and my works of faith in this life. Yes, the resurrection is a free gift to all men, but we believe that the quality of our lives in the hereafter is very much dependant on our actions here. This life is a time of testing and proving and we can hope that our efforts in struggling against opposition in this world will be rewarded by a just and merciful God who wants to bless and help us through it.
17. How has the Book of Mormon helped you understand the purpose of life?
In the Book of Mormon we read that “men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). I can’t think of any more concise and explicit scriptural reference that helps us understand the purpose of life. Of course, the Book of Mormon provides a lot more insight into how we go about finding that joy and even helps us to understand what true joy is. One of my favorite stories in the Book of Mormon is the prophet Lehi’s dream about the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8). In his dream he partakes of the fruit of the tree which is desirable to make one happy and is sweet above all that he had ever before tasted. Eating of the fruit fills our soul with exceedingly great joy. The fruit of course is the love of God and we obtain it by holding fast to the Word of God that is represented by the Rod of Iron in Lehi’s dream. What a great story!
18. How has the Holy Ghost helped you?
I consider the Gift of the Holy Ghost one of the greatest blessings in my life. There have been so many instances in which I have been helped by the Holy Ghost that it is hard to imagine getting through this life without this wonderful gift. The Holy Ghost inspires me and encourages me to do things that are hard to do but that result in happiness for me and for others in my life. The Holy Ghost has warned me of danger many times, prompting me to stay away from certain things and places. The Holy Ghost has helped me by prompting me to a certain course of action that I otherwise might not have considered. The Holy Ghost has been my constant companion in my work, helping me to remember things that, if forgotten, could have been the cause of much distress or pain. The Holy Ghost has comforted me in times of sorrow and distress, helping me to feel the love of my Heavenly Father and my Savior even when I do not feel worthy of their love.
19. What blessings have come through your faith in Jesus Christ?
It is because of my faith in Jesus Christ that I am able to get through some of the more difficult aspects of my life. For example, it is hard for me to do things in a public setting. But I have been taught and believe that it will be for my good. The Lord has promised me through the scriptures that he will help me through these difficult circumstances as I exercise faith in him. And like everyone in this world, I am no stranger to making mistakes and poor choices, even when I know better. It is through my faith in Jesus Christ that I put into practice one of my favorite little sayings that helps me keep going: “Success is not in never falling, but in getting up each and every time we fall.” I know that I can be a better person than my fallen human nature would dictate, and it is through faith in Jesus Christ that I am willing to make greater effort each day to be the man that I know he would have me be.
20. How can we develop greater harmony in our homes?
One of the best ways I know of to live in harmony as a family is to do all within our power to avoid criticism, cutting remarks or any attempt to make another family member feel less than loved. We do this by sharing the same ideals and goals – to seek happiness in living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Where some family members may not have fully accepted the vision of the gospel, we can provide an example of tolerance and patience with them, just as our Heavenly Father and our Savior do with us. Fighting, arguing, bickering and contemptuous behavior toward any family member is not the way to have peace and harmony in our homes. Thus, we pray each day that such undesirable activities are mitigated by expressing love and kindness in all that we do. We are each at differing levels of maturity in our understanding of this concept, so it is up to those who do, to live it better each day.
21. Can you think of a specific challenge in your family that Gospel Principles helped overcome?
Like most families, we have experienced our share of challenges that have tested our faith and caused us to lean deeply on our understanding of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ to overcome. For example, my wife and I have both lost parents to death, have had our share of serious health problems, including cancer, and have suffered through multiple seasons of financial stress due to unexpected unemployment. In addition, we have been pained as not all family members have accepted our faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. But it is because of the teachings of Christ that we are encouraged to be patient, that we are comforted when discouraged, that we are inspired when distressed and that we are given strength when we feel weak. We go on and we press forward, believing that it will all work out for our good, either in this life or in the life to come. We meet those challenges with strength knowing that we are not alone and that God has promised to help us through them if we will but exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and remain true and faithful to him.
22. How can your talents and gifts bless others?
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that God gives gifts to each member for the purpose of blessing and supporting each other in this life. Some of those gifts and talents are more obvious, such as singing, musical ability, acting, performing or even a talent to be able to speak with confidence in front of the congregation (trust me, not all members have this talent). But the scriptures teach that God gives some gift or talent to every member. Perhaps one is blessed with the ability to be a good listener, another to share heart-felt testimony of how they know the church to be true, others with the gift of teaching children or even just the talent of being able to live peacefully among their neighbors. When we share our talents and gifts with others, God blesses us and we are “magnified” or made more effective so that others can receive the same benefits that we enjoy.
23. Think about your everyday activities. What are things you act upon each day where you cannot see the end results? How does faith move you to action?
A very simple everyday activity for me that is an act of faith is prayer. I have never seen an angel or heard a voice in response to my prayers, but I continue to pray each day, believing that God does hear and answer my prayers. And indeed he has – by sending the comforting feelings of the Holy Ghost to bless and confirm to me that he loves me and wants me to know the truth for myself. My faith in God and my trust in the words of his prophets as found in the scriptures causes me to continue to pray both as an individual, with my family, in my congregation and in the homes of other members of the church that I visit. The end results of my prayers are not always evident right way but are just as certain as if I had seen the effects at the time of the prayer. I am confident; yes I can say that I know, that God hears and answers our prayers that are offered in faith and with real intent.
24. How has the Book of Mormon brought you closer to God?
I first read the Book of Mormon when I was very young – probably 5 or 6 years old. I read it out loud with my mother, who was a schoolteacher. Our family had recently joined the Mormon Church so this was also my mother’s first time reading the Book of Mormon. I remember the special feelings I had as we read it together. I felt a warm and comforting spirit as I read. I have read the Book of Mormon many times in the many years since I first read it. In fact, there is not a year that goes by in which we do not read from it either individually or as a family. No matter how many times we read the same passages, we always seem to learn something new or have our faith in the truthfulness of the book reaffirmed. The same warm feelings always return. But it is by following the principles of the gospel that are written in the Book of Mormon that we draw closer to God. It is in the pages of the Book of Mormon that we learn more about the purpose of life and God’s plan of happiness for us. The Book of Mormon teaches us to study things out and to pray about them that we may know of their truthfulness for ourselves.
25. Can you talk about the missions of the Church and your participation in them?
Up until recently, we as members of church recited the mission of the church as follows: to preach the gospel, redeem the dead and to perfect the saints. Within the past year, a fourth mission has been added: to care for the poor and the needy. We now call these four areas of focus simply the purposes of the church. In my life, I have participated in each of these areas by serving a mission and continuing to share the gospel, by doing family history or genealogy work and by magnifying my callings to serve in the church as a teacher, leader or whatever I’m asked to do. I’m grateful to be able to assist in caring for the poor and the needy by contributing money to the fast offering funds of the church and by volunteering to serve food at the local homeless shelter on a regular basis. These missions or purposes of the church help me as an individual member focus on what is really important to our Heavenly Father – to save his children, both temporally and spiritually.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.