Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual Experiences’
We had a visit from Elder Perry to our ward in Camarillo today. He told us he was in town on one of the last days of a week-long series of meetings in California. He started in San Jose on Tuesday and had one more half day Monday in San Fernando. He has been meeting each day with the missionaries for a few hours and then with the Priesthood leadership of multiple stakes.
We were expecting a large crowd for the missionary farewell of the youngest sister of our bishop. I’ll bet she’ll always remember that she spoke on the same program as an apostle. When he walked in, nine year-old Whitney Peterson handed him a piece of paper with four questions. He delighted us by answering them candidly and directly. I paid close attention to what he said.
Four Questions for an Apostle
Her first question was “How many churches have you visited?” I think she meant different wards or stakes “You do the math,” he answered. “I’ve been doing this for forty years. We go out three weeks out of every month. We have five weeks off in the summer and two weekends off each year for General Conference.” I did the math. Without duplicates, that would be 1,320 churches.
Next, Whitney asked, “How many temples are there in the world?” He laughed as he replied, “I don’t know. I can’t keep track anymore.” Somebody apparently looked it up as he was talking and told him – 136. He told the story of president Hinckley going to Stake Centers while on visits to Mexico looking for properties large enough to accommodate temples to be built next door.
The next question was “Where do you live?” I expected him to simply say Salt Lake, but he told us he lived a half block north of the conference center and that he walks to work each day. He has a key to a side door so he walks the rest of the way through the tunnels to his office in the church administration building. Now I know how this almost 90 year-old apostle keeps in shape.
An Apostle’s Witness of the Savior
The last question was the best. “Have you ever seen an angel or the Savior?” I listened closely to hear how an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ would answer this question. He told a couple of stories. First, he described one of the weekly meetings with the twelve way back when Elder LeGrand Richards was still alive. The meeting had to do with changes being made in the temple.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Elder Richards said that President Woodruff had been there. When asked why, he said that Elder Richards was the only one of the twelve present who had attended the 1893 dedication of the Salt lake Temple (as a child). President Woodruff was vitally concerned with the temple that he had dedicated. To Elder Perry, this was a visit by an angel.
The 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood
He then told the story of the 1978 revelation that all worthy men could hold the priesthood. He said that there were only three of the twelve still alive who had been there. He described how President Kimball asked to be the voice in the weekly prayer circle and how he poured out his heart in petitioning the Lord for understanding of his will on what should be done on this issue.
He said that the outpouring of the spirit was so great that at the conclusion of the prayer they each went back to their offices without saying a word. They usually go have lunch together. Something sacred had happened. To Elder Perry, this was evidence the Lord had visited them in the temple. The next Thursday, President Kimball submitted the new revelation to the twelve.
The Savior Directs This Church
Elder Perry then answered Whitney’s question directly. He said that the heavens only open on rare occasions. He spoke for a moment about placing our tent door toward the temple. He then closed by bearing testimony. He said, “There is only one man who receives revelation for all. This is not a man-made church. The Savior directs this church from above.”
“This is how he continues to reach out to each of us. There is an order and a system in place. Twelve are given the keys but only one may use them at a time. In the church there is order and uniformity. This provides absolute certain direction that comes from the Lord. I know without any doubt God lives and that the Savior directs this church.”
“Why doesn’t he get out of the way?” I asked from the middle of the front seat.
Dad didn’t respond. He locked up the brakes and laid on the horn. Our late 1960’s American Rambler slid down the hill on screeching tires.
Mother stopped talking mid-sentence in the back seat. She had just changed places with my sister and me a few miles back to talk with grandmother.
I was in the middle of the front seat. My sister was to my right. Seatbelts? I can’t remember. Shoulder belts became law in 1968. I can tell you I wasn’t wearing one.
Our California car probably crested the hill before the intersection doing 65 mph. Best guess from the photos looks like we hit the other car going 35 or 40. The impact pushed him into the ditch twenty to thirty feet past the crossing. Our car ended up on top of the stop sign.
I remember dad throwing his right arm out in an effort to protect me. I don’t remember the impact. Gingerly, I pulled my broken left arm out of the circular air conditioning vent. My sister was already out the right door. She held her left wrist. I followed quick as I could.
Dad came over to see if we were alright. The look in his and my sister’s face told me I wasn’t. I glanced down to see what they were looking at. The blood dripped profusely from the cut over my eye. It was hard to see.
“I’m OK, I’m OK,” I tried to assure them. I hopped about in an effort to deny the pain. The hopping didn’t help. The abnormal angle of my left arm frightened me.
“Son, didn’t you see that stop sign?” my dad asked the driver of the other car. Dad’s calmness amazed me. He then knelt next to the car in an effort to comfort my mother.
A low moan came from the back seat. Mother didn’t get out. She couldn’t. X-rays later revealed a broken pelvis and ruptured spleen. She had been sitting sideways when we hit.
Two ambulances took us to the hospital. Grandmother went with mother in the first. My sister and I went in the second. In spite of broken ribs, dad stayed behind to talk to the trooper.
I wasn’t prepared for surgery. I broke my finger in a skateboarding accident years earlier. The doctor reset the bone then and put a splint on it. My arm was in much worse shape.
“You sure swore a blue streak when you came out of the anesthesia,” the orderly said as he wheeled me to my room. Embarrassed, I made a mental note to clean up my language.
“Are you sure?” the nurse asked again on the third day. She asked the same thing every day. I had no idea what a bowel movement was. Why did she keep asking me that? My sister finally explained what she meant. I was glad we didn’t stay more than a week in the hospital.
The trip home to California was my first airline flight. I don’t remember if mother came with us then or travelled later. I know she had a difficult recovery. She lay on the couch at home for several weeks. As far as I know she started teaching school on time again in September.
It’s funny how everyone’s injuries were on the left side. Dad’s broken left ribs; my sister’s broken left wrist and my broken left arm. To this day I have the scars from the pins in my elbow. Occasionally my arm locks up, a reminder of that painful day.
In a quiet reflective moment with my dad years later, I asked him about the accident. He expressed the concern he felt for us at the time and then shared something sacred.
“You know your mother was hurt pretty bad,” he said.
“We were all messed up. She had surgery like me, didn’t she?”
“She did. I sat by her side all that night and every night for a week.” He struggled to go on. I could tell it was difficult for him to talk about this.
“I didn’t think she was going to make it. I can tell you I never prayed so hard in my life.” He was crying. Dad never cried. “It was a miracle we weren’t hurt worse.”
“I know. I still can’t remember the impact. It’s like I blanked out,” I said.
“We were protected by an angel, especially you.” Dad never talked about angels. I didn’t even know he believed in them. “It was a miracle.”
“What do you mean?”
“That night your mother lay close to death, I pled with the Lord to preserve her life. I didn’t think I could go on without her.” This was my invincible, invulnerable dad.
“I must have dozed off. When I woke, someone was sitting on the other side of the bed, looking at your mother.” Dad was serious in a way I had never seen before.
“Was it a doctor?”
“No. He had on a white robe that sort of glowed. His face shone. He looked up, smiled at me and then disappeared. I knew everything was going to be alright.”
“Who do you think it was?”
He looked at me long and hard before responding.
“I think it was the same person that kept you from going through the windshield of that car. Maybe it was your brother who died just after he was born.”
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.
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.