While serving as a missionary in Central America in 1976, we taught the people how important it was to receive personal revelation. If there was anything we brought up in every discussion, it was the need for the individuals we were teaching to have private personal experiences with the spirit of the Lord in prayer. Each time we met we would ask, “have you prayed about what you are reading in the Book of Mormon?”
That would immediately get to the point. With one question we could tell if they were reading and if they were praying. Sometimes we would phrase the request as, “tell me how you have felt as you have prayed about the Book of Mormon.” Yes, it put the people on the spot but we were bold missionaries and that was our job – to invite people to discover the truth for themselves.
By their response we knew if we were being effective in our efforts. We could usually sense if they had any questions and just how sincere they were in accepting our challenge to read and to pray. We often encountered people who said they read but didn’t understand. We would then discuss the importance of prayer. That was sometimes a difficult obstacle to overcome in that predominantly Catholic part of the world. They simply didn’t know how to pray.
Gospel study is always better with prayer
When I first started studying Mormon history, I was a young lad with a lot of simple faith. Yes, I had grown up in the church and had been through Primary and Sunday School but was now in a Doctrine and Covenants class in Seminary. I was fascinated with the background behind the revelations and was always wanting to know more than I was being taught from the official curriculum. The teacher didn’t always know the answers to my questions.
I have written previously about my early experience in learning about seer stones, and the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, about Joseph’s plural wives and what really happened in Carthage jail. I learned the rest of the story of these and many other difficult things not from the seminary teacher but from my mother, or more accurately, from the history books she gave me. Mother always invited me to pray about the material she gave me to read.
I confess that I usually didn’t pray about what I read back then. I trusted my mother. If she felt comfortable enough to give me a book to read then it must contain something she believed. It was later in life when I studied the same material as I prepared to teach seminary that I added that depth of specific prayer to my efforts. The prayer was usually something like, “Heavenly Father, how can I teach this material in a faith-promoting way?”
The preparation for the prayer
When I was preparing for my mission, I was blessed with a six-month period of time when I was not working or going to school. I spent every day for six months doing nothing but studying the doctrines and the history of the church and going out with the missionaries to teach it. I even went to zone conferences and had interviews with the mission president. I was totally and completely immersed in studying and teaching the gospel before I was a missionary.
There were so many times I would look up and realize that I would be late to go out with the missionaries unless I put the books down and got ready. There was never enough time to explore all the facets of the topic I had chosen for myself to study that day. I remember reading Cleon Skousen‘s commentaries of the Old Testament during this time. Although he sure added a lot of personal conjecture, it was easy reading and I consumed it in a few short weeks.
When I got to the Doctrine and Covenants I found a volume that just enthralled me and kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of discovering what marvelous manifestations would come to the prophet next. My copy of the 864-page D&C Commentary from Hyrum M. Smith is marked just as much as my scriptures. I still can’t believe that I read it in less than two months. It was from this apostle that I learned the faithful history behind the revelations.
The prayer behind the study
It was during this intense six months of gospel study that I received some of the most profound personal revelation of my young life. I had a testimony. I knew the church was true. I knew that the Lord loved me, but now I wanted to know if what I was studying in church history was being accurately portrayed in the material I was reading. I felt that I had a right to put the Book of Mormon promise to the test on the contents of this book from Hyrum Smith.
On two specific occasions during this six month period of time, I determined in my heart that I was going to fast and pray until I had a revelation and knew for myself how the Lord felt about what I had been studying. I hungered and thirsted for this revelation like nothing I had ever wanted before in my life up to that time. Without revealing personal details, I was also fasting and praying for a manifestation from the Lord concerning my standing before Him.
On the third day of my fast, I that night determined that I would not sleep until I had received what I wanted. I remembered the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord until he gave him a blessing. That was the feeling I had as I prayed. It was an intense struggle. Enos has nothing on me. I raised my voice in prayer with an intensity and passion that I don’t think I have felt since. It was an emotional and exhausting experience.
The revelation during the prayer
We are often counseled in the church to not share intimate details of personal revelation. Over the years I have seen the wisdom in this counsel. There is no way I can describe everything that happened to me that night as I fasted and prayed. No, I did not see visions. No, I did not hear voices. But I can tell you that I was immersed in the spirit and received knowledge in a way that I had never experienced before. I cannot explain how it happened. I only know that it did.
I asked the Lord specifically if what I was studying in Church History was true. I asked Him, I pleaded with Him to manifest to me that what I had just read in the 864-page D&C Commentary really happened the way it was written. The answer that I received was surprising. First came the impression, or rather knowledge, that my sacrifice in fasting and prayer was acceptable along with a manifestation of the pure love of the Lord that was just infinite and eternal.
And then came the surprising part. It was this: “No, the book you just read did not contain everything that happened in church history. A lot of it was left out. It was written with the intent to encourage faith. You will discover many more things in the years to come. But know this, whatever you learn, you can always rely on this one thing: Joseph did not tell everything he knew and neither can you. Some things you can only receive in faith-filled prayer.”
The effects of the revelation
And just like that it was over. After months of study and preparation that included service as a local missionary, and then three days of fasting and prayer and intense struggle before the Lord, I knew more in a few seconds of direct revelation that I had from all my personal study. I had made notes. I had made outlines. I had prepared talks and lessons. I had it down in my mind as far as an intellectual understanding, but it was nothing compared to that revelation.
Did I receive personal revelation? Yes, I absolutely did. The voice was heard without having to come through my ears. I did not mistake it as being my own voice or my own thoughts. There was just no way it could have been anything but from the Lord. It was unmistakable. I could not doubt it. I never have and I never will. I know that I will be held accountable for it, meaning that when I face the Lord, we will both know that he spoke clearly to me on that night.
Am I wise or foolish in sharing this very personal story? You will have to be the judge of that. Those who have not experienced revelation will mock and ridicule. That is way we are counseled to not share sacred things like this in a public forum. If we were sitting in the same room and I told you this story I could watch your reaction carefully to note the reception. But because so much of what I write is about church history and doctrine, I felt this was important to share.
Summary and conclusion
The kind of knowledge I have written about goes against the methods of man in obtaining understanding of something. With that one experience so many years ago, I can say with confidence that I entered a different aspect of the world of revelation. That was not the first and not the last revelation I have received, but it was one of the most powerful. Because of this one event in my life, I have never doubted the history of the church and never will.
It distresses me to read of so many on the internet who do not understand our history. Because of that lack of understanding, they dismiss the doctrines that were received by revelation of a prophet of God. They also throw out the blessings that come from believing and following a prophet, seer and revelator. Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw. He received revelation and shared it with the world as he was commanded, but he did not share everything.
You can only know of some things that Joseph wanted to teach when you ask the Lord to reveal them to you directly. That is what Bruce R. McConkie tried to teach us. If we want to know what Joseph knew, we must do what he did and live as he did. No I’m not advocating plural marriage or suggesting that you start a church. But I am inviting you to immerse yourself in a faith-filled study of the doctrines and history and then ask the Lord for more.
I promise you that He will provide more as he sees fit – in His own due time and in His own way.