In April 1829, Oliver Cowdery began assisting the Prophet Joseph Smith with the translation of the gold plates by acting as scribe. Because the Lord had offered Oliver the gift to translate if he so desired (see D&C 6:25), Oliver “became exceedingly anxious to have the power to translate bestowed upon him” (Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 1:36). In response, the Lord said that He would give Oliver the ability to translate, according to Oliver’s faith.
Suggestions for Teaching
The Lord promises Oliver Cowdery the gift of revelation
Before class, write the following questions on the board. Leave room under each question to write principles that students will identify during the lesson.
What can we do to make our prayers more meaningful?
How can we know when God is speaking to us?
Refer students to the questions on the board.
Why do you think it is important to understand the answers to these questions?
Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 8 contains a revelation the Lord gave to Oliver Cowdery through Joseph Smith. In this revelation we can find instructions from the Lord that help answer the questions on the board.
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 8:1 silently, looking for how the Lord instructed Oliver to pray.
What instruction did the Lord give to Oliver about how to pray?
What do you think it means to “ask in faith, with an honest heart”?
Under the first question on the board, write the following: If we pray _____________________________________________, we can receive _____________________________________________.
Based on Doctrine and Covenants 8:1, how would you complete this sentence? (Although students may express it differently, their answers should reflect the principle that if we pray with faith and an honest heart, we can receive knowledge from God. Using their words, complete the sentence on the board.)
Why do you think our faith and sincerity affect our ability to receive knowledge from God?
Invite students to ponder a time when they experienced blessings as they prayed with faith and a sincere heart.
To help students gain insights into the second question on the board, invite a student to briefly recount the story of Moses leading the children of Israel out of slavery with the Egyptian army in pursuit (see Exodus 14).
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 8:2–3 aloud. Encourage the class to look for how God revealed to Moses that he should bring the children of Israel through the Red Sea.
How did God inspire Moses to part the Red Sea? (By the spirit of revelation.)
What truth do we learn from these verses about how the Lord may speak to us? (Students should express that the Lord speaks to our minds and hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. Write this truth under the second question on the board.)
Draw the accompanying diagram on the board. Add arrows pointing to the mind and the heart.
In what ways does the Lord speak to our minds? In what ways does He speak to our hearts?
To help students better understand how to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“You can learn now, in your youth, to be led by the Holy Ghost.
“As an Apostle I listen now to the same inspiration, coming from the same source, in the same way, that I listened to as a boy. The signal is much clearer now” (“Prayers and Answers,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 21).
Then ask another student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“An impression to the mind is very specific.
“Detailed words can be heard or felt and written as though the instruction were being dictated.
“A communication to the heart is a more general impression. The Lord often begins by giving impressions. Where there is a recognition of their importance and they are obeyed, one gains more capacity to receive more detailed instruction to the mind. An impression to the heart, if followed, is fortified by a more specific instruction to the mind” (“Helping Others to Be Spiritually Led” [address to CES religious educators, Aug. 11, 1998], 3–4, LDS.org).
You may want to explain that, for some, impressions to the heart can be just as specific as impressions to the mind.
Why is it important to understand and recognize how the Lord communicates with us individually?
Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals about (1) a time when Heavenly Father spoke to their minds and hearts through the Holy Ghost or (2) a time when they felt the influence of the Holy Ghost. You might consider asking a few students to share what they have written if they feel comfortable doing so. You also might want to share an experience in which you recognized that the Lord was speaking to you.
Explain that the ability to seek and receive personal revelation is available to all of God’s children.
Draw students’ attention to Doctrine and Covenants 8:4. Read the following portion of the verse aloud to the class: “Therefore this is thy gift; apply unto it, and blessed art thou.” Explain that in this verse, the word gift refers to Oliver’s ability to receive revelation.
What do you think it means to “apply unto” the spirit of revelation? (To seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.)
Ask students to ponder how they can better apply unto the spirit of revelation in their lives. Write the following on the board: If we apply unto the spirit of revelation, __________________________________________________.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 8:4–5 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord promised Oliver if he would “apply unto” the gift of revelation. After students respond, suggest that one way to complete the sentence might be: If we apply unto the spirit of revelation, we can be delivered from evil and harm. Complete the statement on the board.
How has the Lord used the power of revelation to protect you or someone you know from evil or harm?
Invite students to list on the board some ways that we might better “apply unto” the gift of revelation in order to receive protection from evil. Ask them how their suggestions can increase our ability to receive and recognize revelation. Encourage them to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals a goal to follow one of these suggestions.
You might want to share your testimony of the importance of striving for the spirit of revelation and tell students how doing so has blessed your life.
Oliver Cowdery has the “gift of Aaron”
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 8:6–9 by telling students that the Lord blessed Oliver Cowdery with gifts that would help him fulfill his role in the Restoration of the gospel. Among these gifts was the “gift of Aaron,” with which, the Lord told Oliver, he would do “marvelous works.” We do not know exactly what the “gift of Aaron” entails. Remind students that Aaron was the brother of Moses in the Old Testament and that he helped Moses fulfill his prophetic responsibilities.
Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 8:7–8 silently, looking for the power behind all spiritual gifts. Explain that whenever the Lord calls or commands us to do a certain work, He will bless us with the gifts and abilities to accomplish it.
The Lord promises Oliver Cowdery the gift to translate if he exercises faith
Direct students’ attention to the principle written on the board: “If we pray with faith and an honest heart, we can receive knowledge from God.” Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 8:10–12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for additional insights about prayer. After students report what they have discovered, ask the following question. Suggest that students ponder the question for a moment before they answer:
If you were in Oliver’s situation, how do you think this counsel would help you?
Invite students to write in their class notebooks or scripture study journals a few questions for which they are earnestly seeking answers. They may also want to write some specific changes they want to make in the way they pray for those answers.
Testify of God’s love for the students and His eagerness to answer their prayers and give them revelation. Encourage them to ask Heavenly Father their questions with faith and an honest intention to act on the answers they receive.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 8:1. “Ask in faith”
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“Prayer is most effective when we strive to be clean and obedient, with worthy motives, and are willing to do what He asks. Humble, trusting prayer brings direction and peace” (“Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 8).
Doctrine and Covenants 8:2. “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost”
“A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas … ; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 132).
Doctrine and Covenants 8:2. Revelation comes gradually over time
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that messages from God often come in small, incremental ways. He counseled us not to get discouraged when we don’t have frequent, dramatic experiences in answer to prayer:
“A light turned on in a dark room is like receiving a message from God quickly, completely, and all at once. Many of us have experienced this pattern of revelation as we have been given answers to sincere prayers or been provided with needed direction or protection, according to God’s will and timing. Descriptions of such immediate and intense manifestations are found in the scriptures, recounted in Church history, and evidenced in our own lives. Indeed, these mighty miracles do occur. However, this pattern of revelation tends to be more rare than common.
“The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (2 Nephi 28:30). Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently ‘distil upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven’ (D&C 121:45). This pattern of revelation tends to be more common than rare and is evident in the experiences of Nephi as he tried several different approaches before successfully obtaining the plates of brass from Laban (see 1 Nephi 3–4). Ultimately, he was led by the Spirit to Jerusalem, ‘not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do’ (1 Nephi 4:6). And he did not learn how to build a ship of curious workmanship all at one time; rather, Nephi was shown by the Lord ‘from time to time after what manner [he] should work the timbers of the ship’ (1 Nephi 18:1). …
“We as members of the Church tend to emphasize marvelous and dramatic spiritual manifestations so much that we may fail to appreciate and may even overlook the customary pattern by which the Holy Ghost accomplishes His work. The very ‘simpleness of the way’ (1 Nephi 17:41) of receiving small and incremental spiritual impressions that over time and in totality constitute a desired answer or the direction we need may cause us to look ‘beyond the mark’ (Jacob 4:14).
“I have talked with many individuals who question the strength of their personal testimony and underestimate their spiritual capacity because they do not receive frequent, miraculous, or strong impressions. Perhaps as we consider the experiences of Joseph in the Sacred Grove, of Saul on the road to Damascus, and of Alma the Younger, we come to believe something is wrong with or lacking in us if we fall short in our lives of these well-known and spiritually striking examples. If you have had similar thoughts or doubts, please know that you are quite normal. Just keep pressing forward obediently and with faith in the Savior. As you do so, you ‘cannot go amiss’ (D&C 80:3)” (“The Spirit of Revelation,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 88–89).
Doctrine and Covenants 8:1–4. Being led by the Spirit
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“Have patience as you are perfecting your ability to be led by the Spirit. By careful practice, through the application of correct principles, and by being sensitive to the feelings that come, you will gain spiritual guidance. I bear witness that the Lord, through the Holy Ghost, can speak to your mind and heart. Sometimes the impressions are just general feelings. Sometimes the direction comes so clearly and so unmistakably that it can be written down like spiritual dictation.
“I bear solemn witness that as you pray with all the fervor of your soul with humility and gratitude, you can learn to be consistently guided by the Holy Spirit in all aspects of your life. I have confirmed the truthfulness of that principle in the crucible of my own life. I testify that you can personally learn to master the principles of being guided by the Spirit. That way, the Savior can guide you to resolve challenges of life and enjoy great peace and happiness” (“To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 9).
Doctrine and Covenants 8:3. Moses was led by the spirit of revelation
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained why the Lord may have used the example of crossing the Red Sea as an example of the spirit of revelation:
“Question: Why would the Lord use the example of crossing the Red Sea as the classic example of ‘the spirit of revelation’? Why didn’t He use the First Vision? … Or the vision of the brother of Jared? Well, He could have used any of these, but He didn’t. Here He had another purpose in mind.
“First of all, revelation almost always comes in response to a question, usually an urgent question—not always, but usually. Moses’ challenge was how to get himself and the children of Israel out of this horrible predicament they were in. There were chariots behind them, sand dunes on every side, and a lot of water immediately ahead. He needed information all right—what to do—but it wasn’t a casual thing he was asking. In this case it was literally a matter of life and death.
“You will need information, too, but in matters of great consequence it is not likely to come unless you want it urgently, faithfully, humbly. Moroni calls it seeking ‘with real intent’ (Moroni 10:4). If you can seek that way, and stay in that mode, not much that the adversary can counter with will dissuade you from a righteous path.
“The Red Sea will open to the honest seeker of revelation. The adversary does have power to hedge up the way, to marshal Pharaoh’s forces and dog our escape right to the water’s edge, but he cannot conquer if we will it otherwise. That is lesson number one about crossing the Red Sea, your Red Seas, by the spirit of revelation” (“Remember How You Felt,” New Era, Aug. 2004, 7).
Supplemental Teaching Ideas
Doctrine and Covenants 8:1–12. Joseph Smith received revelations
For a brief overview of the way in which Joseph Smith received revelations, see Gerrit Dirkmaat, “Great and Marvelous Are the Revelations of God,” Ensign, Jan. 2013, 44–49.
Doctrine and Covenants 8:2. Video presentation—“Patterns of Light”
You may want to show the video “Patterns of Light: Spirit of Revelation,” which is available on LDS.org. In this video, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explains various ways in which the Lord communicates with us through the spirit of revelation.
Doctrine and Covenants 8:4. “Apply unto” the spirit of revelation
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 8:4. You may want to suggest that students mark the phrase “apply unto it” in their scriptures.
If possible, provide students with a copy of the following statement by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Invite students to read it silently, looking for phrases that help them understand how the Lord may want them to better “apply unto” the spirit of revelation.
“The spirit of revelation … is not restricted to the presiding authorities of the Church; rather, it belongs to and should be operative in the life of every man, woman, and child who reaches the age of accountability and enters into sacred covenants. Sincere desire and worthiness invite the spirit of revelation into our lives. …
“… Because the Spirit whispers to us gently and delicately, it is easy to understand why we should shun inappropriate media, pornography, and harmful, addictive substances and behaviors. These tools of the adversary can impair and eventually destroy our capacity to recognize and respond to the subtle messages from God delivered by the power of His Spirit. Each of us should consider seriously and ponder prayerfully how we can reject the devil’s enticements and righteously ‘apply unto it,’ even the spirit of revelation, in our personal lives and families” (“The Spirit of Revelation,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 87–88).
What are some ways we can “invite the spirit of revelation into our lives”?