To help class members learn to recognize personal revelation through the Holy Ghost and to encourage them to seek this blessing in their lives.
Suggestions for Lesson Development
As appropriate, use the following activity or one of your own to begin the lesson:
Show a radio to the class but do not turn it on. Why can’t we hear what is being broadcast?
Turn on the radio but do not tune it to a station. What must we do before we can hear a radio station clearly? How can listening to the Holy Ghost be compared to finding a radio station? (Making the effort to seek the Holy Ghost’s guidance may be compared to turning on the radio. Doing what is necessary to receive the whisperings of the Holy Ghost may be compared to tuning the radio to a station or repairing the radio if necessary.)
Explain that this lesson is intended to help class members learn how to recognize personal revelation from the Holy Ghost.
Discussion and Application
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.
A. Doctrine and Covenants 8:2–3; 85:6. (He uses a still, small voice to communicate to our minds and hearts.) See also 1 Kings 19:12; 1 Nephi 17:45; Helaman 5:30.
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).
B. Doctrine and Covenants 6:15; 11:13–14. (He enlightens our minds.)
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.
C. Doctrine and Covenants 6:22–23. (He brings peace to our minds.)
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).
What did the Lord reveal to Oliver Cowdery about his desire for a “further witness” of the Prophet’s divine mission? (See D&C 6:22–23.) Invite class members to tell of experiences when the Spirit has spoken peace to their minds. How can we become more trusting of the peace that the Spirit speaks to our minds?
D. Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–8. (He may cause a burning in the bosom.) See also Luke 24:32.
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).
E. Doctrine and Covenants 98:12. (He often reveals things “line upon line, precept upon precept” rather than all at once.)
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.
A. Doctrine and Covenants 109:44. (We should pray that the Lord’s will be done—and be willing to submit our will to His.) See also Matthew 6:10.
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?
B. Doctrine and Covenants 88:68. (We should remember that revelation will come in the Lord’s own time and way.)
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).
C. Doctrine and Covenants 28:2, 6–7; 43:2–4. (We receive revelation according to our stewardship and responsibilities.)
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 person 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).
Why is this principle important for governing the Church? Why is it important to understand in our relationships with other people? (If it is appropriate for your class, you may want to refer to the second additional teaching idea for one suggestion about how to develop this discussion.)
D. Doctrine and Covenants 11:12–14; 50:23–24. (We should discern whether the revelation has come from God.)
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).
3. When revelation is not received or recognized
What should we do when personal revelation does not come when we desire it? (Answers could include those listed below.)
Be patient and continue to wait faithfully on the Lord (D&C 98:2). He will answer in His time. Exercising patience helps us grow spiritually and develop attributes of godliness. You may want to read the second paragraph of the letter that is quoted in Official Declaration 2 (pages 293–94 in the Doctrine and Covenants), pointing out that even prophets must exercise patience as they seek divine guidance.
Increase our efforts to be in tune spiritually so we can receive and recognize the whisperings of the Spirit.
Increase our efforts to study and pray, recognizing that we may not have done this as long, as faithfully, or as honestly as we should.
Be more faithful in obeying the commandments (Isaiah 59:2).
Set the matter aside for a while. Flashes of inspiration often come when we least expect them, while our minds are no longer consumed by the matter.
Recognize that we may be seeking counsel on matters that we should determine for ourselves, using our best judgment based on study and reason. In these cases the Lord may leave us to decide on our own (for examples, see D&C 58:25–28; 60:5; 61:22; 62:5). The Lord often allows us to make our own decisions in righteousness.
Evaluate whether we may have received an answer already but have not accepted it because it was not what we hoped for or expected. If we insist on what we want, we may close off the Spirit’s communication with us.
Elder Boyd K. Packer counseled:
“Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer. What could be wrong? It may be that you are not doing anything wrong. It may be that you have not done the right things long enough. Remember, you cannot force spiritual things. Sometimes we are confused simply because we won’t take no for an answer. …
“Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives. Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them.
“The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (D&C 98:12).
“Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. The promptings will be clear and unmistakable” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 29–30; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 21).
Emphasize that each of us has the privilege and responsibility to become fluent in the language of the Spirit. Encourage class members to make the effort necessary to receive and recognize the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. Testify that as we prepare ourselves and listen carefully, we will receive “revelation upon revelation” through the Holy Ghost (D&C 42:61).
Additional Teaching Ideas
1. Teaching children about personal revelation
If you are teaching adults, you may want to discuss how to teach the principle of personal revelation to children.
2. Caution about revelation for marriage
The following caution from Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy explains an important principle of seeking divine guidance about whom to marry:
“I would … caution you that you cannot receive a one-sided revelation from God in regards to an eternal marriage. Only as both parties feel the same way can you have the assurance that it is from the Lord. Those who try to force another’s free will into their supposed-revelation mold are doing a great disservice to themselves and to their friends” (“What Are You Doing Here?” New Era, Jan. 1987, 37–38).
3. President Joseph F. Smith’s process of receiving his testimony
Share President Joseph F. Smith’s account of how he received his testimony:
“When I as a boy first started out in the ministry, I would frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony. But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until he made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me. He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this, nor did he have to speak with the trump of an archangel. By the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess. And by this principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 7).