Eight Ways God Can Speak to You


Dallin H. Oaks
From a devotional address given at Brigham Young University on 29 September 1981.

Eight Ways God Can Speak to You

As a young girl, my grandmother Chasty Olsen Harris was tending some children who were playing in a dry riverbed near their home in Castle Dale, Utah. Suddenly she heard a voice that called her by name and directed her to get the children out of the riverbed and up on the bank. It was a clear day, and there was no sign of rain. She saw no reason to heed the voice and continued to play. The voice spoke to her again, urgently. This time she heeded the warning. Quickly gathering the children, she made a run for the bank. Just as they reached the bank, an enormous wall of water, originating with a cloudburst in the mountains many miles away, swept down the canyon and roared across where the children had played.

Revelation is communication from God to man. It can occur in many different ways. Some prophets, like Moses and Joseph Smith, have talked with God face to face. Some persons have had personal communication with angels. Other revelations have come, as Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles described it, “through the dreams of sleep or in waking visions of the mind.” 1

In its more familiar forms, revelation or inspiration comes by means of words or thoughts communicated to the mind (see Enos 1:10; D&C 8:2–3), by sudden enlightenment (see D&C 6:14–15), by positive or negative feelings about proposed courses of action, or even by inspiring performances, as in the performing arts. As President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has stated, “Inspiration comes more as a feeling than as a sound.” 2

Purposes for Revelation

Search your own experience. You have already received revelations, and you can receive more revelations because communication from God to men and women is a reality. President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) declared that it is “the grand privilege of every Latter-day Saint … to have the manifestations of the spirit every day of our lives.” 3

As I review the following eight purposes of revelation, I hope you will recognize the extent to which you have already received revelation or inspiration and resolve to cultivate this spiritual gift for more frequent use in the future.

1. The testimony or witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ and that the gospel is true is a revelation from God.

When the Apostle Peter affirmed that Jesus Christ was the Son of the living God, the Savior called him blessed, “for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17).

2. Prophecy is another purpose or function of revelation.

Speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost and within the limits of his or her responsibility, a person may be inspired to predict what will come to pass in the future. The one who holds the office of the prophet, seer, and revelator prophesies for the Church, as when Joseph Smith prophesied concerning the American Civil War (see D&C 87) and foretold that the Saints would become a mighty people in the Rocky Mountains. 4 Prophecy is part of the calling of a patriarch. Each of us is also privileged occasionally to receive prophetic revelation illuminating future events in our lives, like a Church calling we are to receive.

3. A third purpose of revelation is to give comfort.

Such a revelation came to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. After many months in deplorable conditions, he cried out in agony and loneliness, pleading for the Lord to remember him and the persecuted Saints. The comforting answer came:

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:7–8).

In that same revelation the Lord declared that no matter what tragedies or injustices should befall the Prophet, “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).

A revelation of comfort can also come in connection with a blessing of the priesthood, either from the words spoken or simply from the feeling communicated in connection with the blessing.

Another type of comforting revelation is the assurance received that a sin has been forgiven. This revelation, which comes when a person has completed all the steps of repentance, gives assurance that the price has been paid, that God has heard the repentant sinner, and that his or her sins are forgiven.

4. Closely related to the feeling of comfort is the fourth purpose or function of revelation, to uplift.

At some time in our lives each of us needs to be lifted up from a depression, from a sense of foreboding or inadequacy, or just from a plateau of spiritual mediocrity. Because it raises our spirits and helps us resist evil and seek good, I believe that the feeling of uplift that is communicated by reading the scriptures or by enjoying wholesome music, art, or literature is a distinct purpose of revelation.

5. The fifth purpose of revelation is to inform.

This may consist of inspiration giving a person the words to speak on a particular occasion, such as in the blessings pronounced by a patriarch or in sermons or other words spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost. The Lord commanded Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to lift up their voices and speak the thoughts that would be put into their hearts, “for it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say” (D&C 100:6; see also D&C 84:85; D&C 124:97).

In other circumstances, needed information is communicated by the quiet whisperings of the Spirit. A child loses a treasured possession, prays for help, and is inspired to find it; an adult has a problem at work, at home, or in family history research, prays, and is led to the information necessary to resolve it; a Church leader prays to know whom the Lord would have him call to fill a position, and the Spirit whispers a name. In all of these examples, familiar to each of us, the Holy Ghost acts in His office as a teacher and revelator, communicating information and truths for the edification and guidance of the recipient.

6. The sixth type or purpose of revelation is to restrain us from doing something.

The revelation that restrains is one of the most common forms of revelation. It often comes by surprise, when we have not asked for revelation or guidance on a particular subject. But if we are keeping the commandments of God and living in tune with His Spirit, a restraining force will steer us away from things we should not do.

7. A common way to seek revelation is to propose a particular course of action and then to pray for inspiration to confirm it.

The Lord explained the confirming type of revelation when Oliver Cowdery failed in his efforts to translate the Book of Mormon:

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:7–8).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stressed our responsibility to do all that we can before we seek a revelation: “We’re expected to use the gifts and talents and abilities, the sense and judgment and agency with which we are endowed. … We’re expected to do everything in our power that we can, and then to seek an answer from the Lord, a confirming seal that we’ve reached the right conclusion.” 5

8. The eighth purpose or type of revelation consists of those instances where the Spirit impels a person to action.

This is not a case where a person proposes to take a particular action and the Spirit either confirms or restrains. This is a case where revelation comes when it is not being sought and impels some action not proposed. This type of revelation is obviously less common than other types, but its rarity makes it all the more significant.

Except for this type of impelling revelation, my grandmother and the children she was tending would have been lost in the river.

When You Don’t Receive Revelation

Before concluding, I will suggest a few ideas about revelations that are not received.

First, we should understand what can be called the principle of “responsibility in revelation.”

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.

We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it. Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment. We cannot force spiritual things. It must be so. Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and to develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith.

Even in decisions we think very important, we sometimes receive no answer to our prayers. This does not mean that our prayers have not been heard. It means only that we have prayed about a decision that, for one reason or another, we should make without guidance by revelation. Perhaps we have asked for guidance in choosing between alternatives that are equally acceptable or equally unacceptable.

Similarly, the Spirit of the Lord is not likely to give us revelations on matters that are trivial.

If a matter appears of little or no consequence, we should proceed on the basis of our own judgment. If the choice is important for reasons unknown to us, the Lord will intervene and give us guidance. Where we are living in tune with the Spirit and seeking its guidance, we can be sure that we will receive the guidance we need to attain our goal. The Lord will not leave us unassisted when a choice is important to our eternal welfare.

I know that God lives and that revelation to His children is a reality. I pray that we will be worthy and willing and that He will bless us to grow in this principle of revelation.

[illustration] Illustrated by Justin Kunz

[illustration] Joseph in Liberty Jail, by Liz Lemon Swindle, may not be copied.

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    The Articles of Faith, 12th ed. (1924), 229.

  2.   2.

    “Prayers and Answers,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 20.

  3.   3.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1899, 52.

  4.   4.

    See History of the Church, 5:85.

  5.   5.

    “Agency or Inspiration—Which?” in Speeches of the Year, 1972–73 (1973), 108, 113.