Baptized members of the Church are given the gift of the Holy Ghost when they are confirmed and so are entitled to personal revelation. Having access to the gift of revelation does not guarantee that we will receive it. President Brigham Young observed:
“There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God’s people, he may have the Spirit of the Lord to signify to him his will, and to guide and to direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied, however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges” (Discourses of Brigham Young, 32; see also 2 Nephi 32:5; Moroni 10:5; D&C 88:33).
Doctrine and Covenants 6 teaches that if we ask the Lord, He will give us answers. Sections 8 and 9 explain how to ask and how answers are given. These sections are cornerstone scriptures regarding the Holy Ghost. They are revelations about revelation.
Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For
Receiving and understanding revelation from God requires study, righteous living, a conscientious decision, and patience (see D&C 9:1–11).
Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341–43, p. 54.
Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual: Religion 324–325, pp. 18–21.
Suggestions for Teaching
Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Video presentation 6, “This Is the Spirit of Revelation” (9:32), can be used in teaching Doctrine and Covenants 6; 8–9 (see Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Video Guide for teaching suggestions).
Doctrine and Covenants 8:2–3 (Scripture Mastery). Revelation comes to our hearts and minds by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Show the picture The Crossing of the Red Sea from the student study guide (see the “Understanding the Scriptures” section for D&C 8, or use item no. 62100). Ask students: How do you think God revealed to Moses that he should part the Red Sea? Have them read Doctrine and Covenants 8:1–3 to find the answer. Ask: How does this compare to the way revelation comes to us?
Many young people may think that revelation is something that only bishops or General Authorities receive. Be sure students understand that revelation is available to all who are worthy. Share the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve:
“The Lord’s house is a house of order. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that ‘it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one [else], to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.’ [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 21.]
“You may receive revelation individually, as a parent for your family, or for those for whom you are responsible as a leader or teacher, having been properly called and set apart” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 79; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 61).
To help students understand the nature of most personal revelation, share the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball, who was then President of the Quorum of the Twelve:
“The burning bushes, the smoking mountains, the sheets of four-footed beasts, the Cumorahs, and the Kirtlands were realities; but they were the exceptions. The great volume of revelation came to Moses and to Joseph and comes to today’s prophet in the less spectacular way—that of deep impressions, without spectacle or glamour or dramatic events.
“Always expecting the spectacular, many will miss entirely the constant flow of revealed communication” (in Conference Report, Munich Germany Area Conference 1973, 77).
Share also this statement by Elder Boyd K. Packer:
Doctrine and Covenants 8–9. We can learn to recognize and respond to the Spirit.
Ask students who have developed a talent (for example, in art, music, or a foreign language) to share with the class how long they have been developing their talent. Ask how many years they have worked at it and the number of hours per week they practice or train. Or have a few students interview talented members of their wards, branches, or communities and report to the class how long it took these people to learn and practice their skills. Discuss the following questions:
How many of you have been baptized and confirmed?
What do you think a person must do to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost? (Make sure students understand that, while we receive the right to the gift of the Holy Ghost at confirmation, we must live worthily to actually receive this gift.)
How is recognizing and following the promptings of the Holy Ghost similar to learning a talent? How is it different?
Read the following statement by Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve:
“Learning to respond to the promptings of the Spirit did not all of a sudden happen in my life, but it has grown ‘line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little’ (2 Nephi 28:30)” (Respond to the Prompting of the Spirit [address to religious educators, Jan. 8, 1988], 2).
President Brigham Young recounted a dream or vision in which the Prophet Joseph Smith told him:
“Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God. Tell the brethren if they will follow the spirit of the Lord they will go right. Be sure to tell the people to keep the Spirit of the Lord” (Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1846–1847, ed. Elden J. Watson , 529–30).
Explain that we can learn much about revelation by studying revelation. The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of revelation that provides great insight on this important principle. One example came as a result of Oliver Cowdery’s desire to help translate the Book of Mormon. Review with students the first two paragraphs of the historical background for section 9 in Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual: Religion 324–325 (p. 20). Ask: Why would Oliver Cowdery need to understand revelation in order to translate the gold plates?
Write the accompanying chart on the board, or give it to students as a handout. Do not include the suggested answers in the right-hand column. Have students read the verses and fill in what each teaches about revelation. You could divide the class in half and have each group take one of the questions, or have all the students do both questions. Discuss their findings. (Note: Be sure students understand that this is not the only way revelation comes. The scriptures describe many ways.)
Share the following statement by Elder S. Dilworth Young, who was a member of the Seventy:
“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” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 34; or Ensign, May 1976, 23).
Doctrine and Covenants 9:1–11. Receiving and understanding revelation from God often requires study, righteous preparation, a conscientious decision, and patience to wait for the Lord’s time.
Write the following statement on the board and have students discuss whether it is true or false: When Oliver Cowdery attempted to translate the Book of Mormon, he failed.
Have students search Doctrine and Covenants 9:3–11 and find at least four reasons Oliver failed in his translation attempt, and write these on the board. (These might include that he lacked patience [see vv. 3, 5], the Lord now had other tasks for him [see vv. 2, 4], he hadn’t made enough effort to “study it out” [see vv. 7–9], the time was now past [see vv. 10–11], he feared [see v. 11].)
Discuss the following principles as you feel impressed. You may wish to use the accompanying statements and quotations and to add other references to those listed here.
Revelation requires patience and enduring with faith.
President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, wrote:
“The explanation was made that Oliver’s failure came because he did not continue as he commenced, and the task being a difficult one, his faith deserted him. The lesson he learned was very necessary, for he was shown that his place was to act as scribe for Joseph Smith and that it was the latter who was called and appointed by command of the Lord to do the translating. There must have been some desire on the part of Oliver Cowdery to be equal with the Prophet and some impatience in having to sit and act as scribe, but when he failed to master the gift of translating, he was then willing to accept the will of the Lord” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:51).
Revelation requires effort.
Bishop Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the Presiding Bishopric, told of an assignment he had received years before from the General Authorities:
“After months of what seemed to me futile effort, I felt some desperation, much as you do when heaven seems to withhold its help in a task you know matters and is beyond you.
“I somehow managed to arrange [an interview] with President Harold B. Lee. He received me in a kindly way. In my anxiety, I soon blurted out my question: ‘President Lee, how do I get revelation?’
“He smiled. I am glad he didn’t laugh, since it was an odd question to ask. But he answered my question with a story. It was essentially this. He said that during World War II he had been part of a group studying the question ‘What should the Church be doing for its members in the military service?’ He said they conducted interviews at bases up and down the country. They had data gathered. They had the data analyzed. They went back for more interviews. But still, no plan emerged.
“Then he gave me the lesson, which I now give to you, in about these words: ‘Hal, when we had done all we knew how to do, when we had our backs to the wall, then God gave us the revelation. Hal, if you want to get revelation, do your homework.’” (“Waiting upon the Lord,” in Brigham Young University 1990–91 Devotional and Fireside Speeches , 16–17).
The Lord’s timing influences the answers we receive.
Sometimes the Lord is willing to provide for us according to our righteous desires. However, because of His wisdom and desire to teach us, the answer He gives may be “Yes, but not now.” Joseph Smith experienced such a revelation while in Liberty Jail. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, explained:
“Prayer is petitioning, but it also involves tutoring. Imprisoned Joseph pleaded with God, ‘Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies’ (D&C 121:5). But God counseled patience and said, in effect, ‘not yet’” (But for a Small Moment , 43–44).
Sometimes the Lord leaves us to make our own decisions. President Brigham Young taught:
“If I ask him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, he is bound to own and honor that transaction, and he will do so to all intents and purposes” (Discourses of Brigham Young, 43).
Fear can keep us from having enough faith to receive revelation.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, taught:
“Who among us can say that he or she has not felt fear? … We suffer from the fear of ridicule, the fear of failure, the fear of loneliness, the fear of ignorance. Some fear the present, some the future. Some carry the burden of sin and would give almost anything to unshackle themselves from those burdens but fear to change their lives. Let us recognize that fear comes not of God, but rather that this gnawing, destructive element comes from the adversary of truth and righteousness. Fear is the antithesis of faith. It is corrosive in its effects, even deadly” (“God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct. 1984, 2).