Prayerfully select the lesson material that will best meet class members’ needs. Discuss how the selected scriptures apply to daily life. Encourage class members to share experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.
Remind class members that this is the second of two lessons about personal revelation. Lesson 5 discussed how to prepare to receive personal revelation. This lesson discusses how to recognize personal revelation.
1. Understanding how the Holy Ghost communicates with us
Explain that revelation can come in many ways. Some of these include appearances by the Lord or His messengers, voices from the Lord or His messengers, visions, and dreams. Usually, however, revelation comes as the Holy Ghost communicates thoughts to our minds and feelings in our hearts. The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead. He is a revelator who teaches, comforts, warns, strengthens, and guides us.
Explain that the Holy Ghost communicates with us in a variety of ways. Have class members read the following italicized scripture references. Then have them identify what those scriptures teach about how the Holy Ghost communicates with us (suggested answers are in parentheses). Summarize responses on the chalkboard. Then discuss the responses.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve taught: “Visions do happen. Voices are heard from beyond the veil. I know this. But these experiences are exceptional. … Most of the revelation that comes to leaders and members of the Church comes by the still, small voice or by a feeling rather than by a vision or a voice that speaks specific words we can hear. I testify to the reality of that kind of revelation, which I have come to know as a familiar, even daily, experience to guide me in the work of the Lord” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 14).
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve taught: “These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears” (That All May Be Edified , 335).
Why is it important to understand this principle of how the Holy Ghost communicates? What are the dangers of expecting divine communication to come in more dramatic or spectacular ways?
Elder Dallin H. Oaks cautioned:
“Some [people] have looked exclusively for the great manifestations that are recorded in the scriptures and have failed to recognize the still, small voice that is given to them. … We need to know that the Lord rarely speaks loudly. His messages almost always come in a whisper. …
“Not understanding these principles of revelation, some people postpone acknowledging their testimony until they have experienced a miraculous event. They fail to realize that with most people … gaining a testimony is not an event but a process” (Ensign, Mar. 1997, 11–12, 14).
In what ways does the Spirit enlighten our minds?
Answers could include that the Spirit can enlighten our minds with new ideas or insights, flashes of inspiration, and strong feelings or impressions (see, for example, D&C 128:1). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that revelation may come as “sudden strokes of ideas” that flow into our minds as “pure intelligence” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 151).
Invite class members to tell of experiences when the Holy Ghost has enlightened their minds with new ideas or insights, flashes of inspiration, or strong feelings or impressions.
Explain that Oliver Cowdery stayed in the home of Joseph Smith’s parents for a time before meeting the Prophet. During this time, Oliver had prayed and received a peaceful assurance that Joseph’s calling and work were divine. Oliver then traveled to Harmony, Pennsylvania, and began his labors as scribe for Joseph in the translation of the Book of Mormon. Soon thereafter, Oliver desired a “further witness” of the assurance he had received earlier (D&C 6:22).
Point out that although the context of D&C 9 has to do with Oliver Cowdery’s attempt to translate the Book of Mormon, the principles also apply to personal revelation. Emphasize that a burning in the bosom is only one way the Holy Ghost can communicate with us. You may want to use the following quotations to help class members understand this way in which the Spirit communicates.
President Boyd K. Packer explained: “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 77; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 60).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said: “I have met persons who told me they have never had a witness from the Holy Ghost because they have never felt their bosom ‘burn within’ them. 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” (Ensign,Mar. 1997, 13).
Explain that we usually receive revelation in accordance with our preparation to receive it. As we become more prepared, more is revealed to us. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve taught:
“When we seek inspiration to help make decisions, the Lord gives gentle promptings. These require us to think, to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act. Seldom does the whole answer to a decisively important matter or complex problem come all at once. More often, it comes a piece at a time, without the end in sight” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1989, 40; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 32).
Invite class members to share experiences of how they have received divine guidance line upon line, or step by step.
2. Cautions about personal revelation
Have class members read the following italicized scripture references. Then have them identify the caution those scriptures give about personal revelation (suggested answers are in parentheses). Summarize responses on the chalkboard.
Why is it important to submit our will to God’s will when we seek personal revelation?
How can we recognize when God answers “no”? (Answers could include that we will have negative feelings, confusion, feelings of unrest and uneasiness, or a “stupor of thought” [D&C 9:9]. Invite class members to share experiences with receiving such feelings.)
How should we respond when a sincere prayer about something we desire very much is not answered the way we want? How can such experiences help us?
Explain that we do not always receive revelation at the time or in the way we expect. If we try to force revelation to come when and how we want it, we may be deceived. Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:
“The Lord will speak to us through the Spirit in his own time and in his own way. Many people do not understand this principle. They believe that when they are ready and when it suits their convenience, they can call upon the Lord and he will immediately respond, even in the precise way they have prescribed. Revelation does not come that way. …
“The principle stated in [D&C 88:68] applies to every communication from our Heavenly Father: ‘It shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.’ We cannot force spiritual things” (Ensign, Mar. 1997, 10–11).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 21).
Shortly before his call as an Apostle, Dallin H. Oaks explained: “Our Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order. … Only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. … The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. … Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another per-son outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord” (“Revelation,” New Era, Sept. 1982, 45–46).
Explain that it is important for us to discern whether a revelation is truly from God. Sometimes what we think is a revelation may be a projection of our own desires. And sometimes false revelations may come from Satan.
How can we discern whether a revelation has come from God? (See D&C 11:12–14; 50:23–24. Answers could include that revelations from God will be in accordance with scripture and the counsel of the living prophets. They will be edifying. They will not lead us to do something that is contrary to the principles of righteousness.)
The First Presidency said: “When … inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. … Anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [1965–75], 4:285).