Recently, I had an experience that threw my testimony for a bit of a loop. Not enough to stop believing altogether, but enough to make me struggle with the concept of personal revelation. I had received what I believed to be clear and specific revelation for an important aspect of my life, and yet, things did not turn out the way I expected. I was left feeling confused, frustrated, and honestly, a little hurt. Why can’t God just make it easy for us so there’s never any question when something is revelation and when it isn’t? And why did I get mixed up when I had tried so very hard to be worthy of and open to receiving the revelation that I sought?
And then a few weeks ago, our stake president issued a promise: if we would read the Book of Mormon every day, and if we would fast and pray about a specific question or need, we would be blessed with answers during Stake Conference. I knew right away what I was going to ask: Why did this happen, and what can I learn from it that will improve my understanding of how personal revelation works in my life?
As I have studied, pondered, prayed, and fasted for answers to these questions, I have indeed been blessed with divine guidance. Here are some of the things I have learned.
A few months ago, I started noticing a pattern in the scriptures I was studying, both on my own and with my husband. Over and over again, the phrase “Ask and ye shall receive” would show up, and every time, it practically jumped off the page at me. I didn’t have any burning questions at the time, and even after praying for clarification, I couldn’t pin point exactly why this phrase felt so significant. I started tagging every reference I noticed that taught this principle, but other than that, I mostly forgot about it.
But as I started my journey of understanding, I felt drawn back to those tagged verses. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. God wants us to ask Him questions. In fact, the brother of Jared even went so far as to call it a commandment (Ether 3:2).
Mormon teaches us to “hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing… strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God” (Mormon 9:27-28).
The only conditions he gives for our ability to ask questions are related to our own personal worthiness and the intent behind our questions. But if we are living worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost and are asking for selfless and not selfish reasons, we are told to ask God for “what things soever ye shall stand in need.” There isn’t an honest question out there that the Lord isn’t willing and happy to answer.
The scriptures are rife with examples of questions. Doctrinal scholars estimate that there are 3,300 questions in the Bible alone. While the wording in scripture is a little different than the language we use today, I put together a list of just some of those questions. How many of these relate to you and the situation you find yourself in right now?
- Which church should I join?
- Where can I go to find ore to make the tools I need to build this ship?
- Who should we chose to be our political leader?
- Will I recover from this disease?
- What does this book mean?
- Where can I go to find food to feed my family?
- What should I teach?
- Why are my unborn children so wiggly?
- How should I judge these people and attend to my leadership duties?
- Should I serve a mission? Should my children serve a mission?
- Is the church true?
- Where can we find missionary opportunities?
- Should we move? And if so, where?
- Will we be resurrected? How does resurrection work?
- How will we breath or see in the barges?
- How long do I have to wait?
- Should I take this job?
- When will the Second Coming be?
- Lord, is it I?
- How do I stay morally clean?
- How many times do I have to forgive someone?
- What must I do to be saved?
- Why have you forsaken me?
- Does God really care for me?
Elder Richard G. Scott said, “One of the greatest lessons that each of us needs to learn is to ask.”[2, emphasis added]
… And Ye Shall Receive
Most of us know that scripture in James 1:5 well enough that if this were Sunday School, I would ask you to recite it with me. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
In my study for understanding, I kept coming back to this verse, and I felt the need to dig a little deeper. Despite the fact that I thought I knew what the world “liberally” meant, I felt prompted to look up the definition. And there it was, the standard version that I’m sure you’re familiar with: “Liberally. Adverb. In large or generous amounts.”
Sure. Got it. If I ask, God will give me generous answers. Perfect.
But what about the times when I feel like He doesn’t? What about those prayers that appear to go unanswered, or the plea for understanding that isn’t granted right away? What about the times when I pour my soul out to God and feel… completely and utterly alone? What am I missing?
Apparently, I’m missing another definition: “Liberally: in a way that involves broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience.”
When I was in high school, I had a science teacher who looked like a literal, real-life mad scientist. He had poofy hair, the biggest mustache I’ve ever seen in my life, and he was flamboyant and crazy and fun. He was my favorite teacher.
But he only ever assigned the odd numbered questions for homework. The ones that had the answers in the back of the book. And if I was struggling to figure something out and I’d go to him for help, he’d just point me to the last page and say, “The answer’s right there.” And when it came time to take the test, where the questions had the same structure but different conditions, I was at a complete loss for how to solve them.
Contrast that with my trigonometry teacher. She was a soft-spoken and kind young woman, the sort that comes out of college full of excitement for teaching. She was also well-loved, and part of what made me love her class so much—despite the fact that I hate math—was that she would give us assignments that involved real-world uses of the mathematical concepts she was teaching. She would set up the story of a car accident, for example, and we’d have to play the role of the investigator taxed with proving who was at fault. Or she’d ask us to find examples of asymptotes in pop culture. If I asked her for help figuring out the numbers, she wouldn’t just give me the answer. She would give me just enough information to get me thinking about things in a different way, and usually that was enough to get me to the right answer.
If you were to ask me a question about chemistry or physics today, I’d have to pull out my phone and look up the answer because I still don’t know how to figure it out. But if you ask me what an asymptote is, you better believe I can explain it—and give you real-life examples to boot.
Even as a high schooler, I could recognize which of my teachers was more effective. I appreciated my math teacher’s style a lot more, because I learned a lot more.
I think we can look at revelation in a similar light. God rarely points to the back of the book and says, “The answer is right there.” Rather, he gives you experiences that teach you what you need to know. He points you toward scriptures and conference talks and even books and movies that hold inspiration for you. He broadens our knowledge and experience and gets us thinking about things in a different way. He allows us to figure things out.
In the Doctrine and Covenants, God promises us that if we “search diligently, pray always, and be believing, all things shall work together for [our] good” (D&C 90:24).
We are told again and again throughout the scriptures that God keeps His promises.
Alma 37:17 – “For he will fulfill all his promises which he shall make unto you…”
1 Kings 8:56 – “There hath not failed one word of all his good promise.”
D&C 1:38 – “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled.”
Despite the repeated assurance that God does keep His promises, it can still be difficult to fully trust Him.
One of my favorite scripture stories is found in Acts chapter 12. Peter is in jail, and the saints have gathered together to pray for his release. During the night, an angel comes to set Peter free. Once Peter realizes that this isn’t just a dream, he heads straight to where the saints have gathered. When he knocks on the door, the woman of the house, Rhoda, is so excited to see him on the other side that she forgets to open the door and leaves him waiting outside while she goes to tell the others the good news. And you know what they say to her? “You’re crazy, Rhoda. Peter is not here.” When she insists, they say, “Then he’s dead, and it’s his ghost.”
Meanwhile, Peter keeps knocking, and when they finally open the door and see him, they are astonished.
Think about that for a moment. These people were actively praying for Peter’s release, and yet, they’re completely baffled when their prayers are answered. Why is it that we mortals find it so hard to believe that God will actually answer our prayers?
Maybe we don’t feel worthy. Maybe we don’t feel important enough, or think that what we’re praying about actually matters to God. Maybe we feel like He talks to other people, but He doesn’t talk to us.
There are any number of reasons why we might struggle to believe that God does hear and answer our prayers. But remember, Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet yet when he asked his question and saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He was a 14-year-old boy. Moses was a shepherd when he found the burning bush. Nephi was a middle child. Samuel was a Lamanite. Peter, James, and John were poor fishermen. Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah were degenerates. Paul helped stone a church leader. There isn’t a single one of us who cannot receive revelation from the Lord. Satan wants to convince you that you’re not “good enough” or “special enough” to receive revelation, but that simply isn’t true. The revelation you receive may not change the world, but it might. And it certainly will change your world.
As we learn to stop resisting the fact that God can and does talk to us, we can have the confidence of Enos, who said, “I knew that God could not lie… And I… knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest” (Enos 1:6, 17).
Stop Worrying. Start Working.
In D&C 130, Joseph Smith shares an experience in which he went to the Lord with a question and didn’t get a complete answer. He said, “I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following: Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter. I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face.”
If that had been me in this situation, I likely would have turned back to the Lord and said, “But wait…” I would have wanted more clarity. A “better” answer.
But that’s not what Joseph did. He said, “I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.” He settled on the best conclusion he could with the information he’d been given, and then he moved on with his life and his work.
We are told that, “it is not meet that [the Lord] should command in all things… Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will…” (D&C 58:26-27).
God wants us to learn to act for ourselves, and sometimes, he puts us in situations that require us to take a few steps on our own. How else will we learn to become like Him? If we just sit there and wait for Him to carry us, we’ll never get very far in life. But if we learn to act for ourselves, there is no limit to where we can go and what we can accomplish.
Sister Christine Beck wrote, “[God] needs us to learn how to think for ourselves if we are to truly counsel with Him in all our doings. God therefore won’t punish us or take away promised opportunities if we are sincerely trying to do what’s right, just as a father will not punish a child who is sincerely trying to understand his counsel.”
She also shared this insight, which I thought was very profound: “When the brother of Jared asked for help to light the ships, rather than answering, the Lord stepped back and said, ‘What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?’ (Ether 2:23). The brother of Jared probably could have come back with almost any solution (other than fire) and the Lord would have accepted it. The point of the experience was not for the brother of Jared to learn how to make clear stones—the point was for him to make a decision. Only then had the brother of Jared exercised the kind of faith that enabled him to see the Lord… God sometimes sits back and stays quiet, even on the big decisions, because He knows we are ready for the growth.”
In conclusion, let me share what President Nelson said about revelation in the most recent General Conference. He said, “To be sure, there may be times when you feel as though the heavens are closed. But I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you—even miracles—will follow. That is what personal revelation will do for you.”
I know that as we ask in faith, believing that God will answer our prayers, He will bless us with revelation in the time and the manner that he knows is truly best for our eternal progress.
 How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life, Elder Richard G. Scott, April 2012 General Conference
 “Using Agency and Revelation to Make Life Decisions,” LDS.org blog, August 10, 2018.
 “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” President Russell M. Nelson, April 2018 General Conference.
Photos courtesy of PicJumbo