Every Latter-day Saint absolutely needs daily personal revelation to stay steadfast on the path of discipleship. Our spiritual survival depends on it. Personal revelation need not be dramatic or life-changing. It simply needs to be consistent. Some of the most helpful revelations are overlooked because of their frequency and simplicity. A college student shared this entry from her personal journal following a class discussion on personal revelation:
As we talked about receiving personal revelation, I was getting upset because I don’t feel that great truths are revealed to me. It was so comforting to hear that “feeling uplifted” after reading the scriptures is a form of personal revelation. This is exactly what I feel after reading the scriptures sincerely—encouragement and a general lift to be happy and continue on with my life in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord. (Alicia)
Recognizing Personal Revelation
Heavenly help and guidance comes through many channels including holy scripture, living prophets, and directly from God through the Holy Ghost. The last source—personal revelation—is primary. The first two are essential, but secondary to personal revelation through the Holy Spirit, for without the personal witness directly from God, we would have no way of knowing the truth spoken by living prophets or canonized in scripture.
Soon-to-be-baptized children, as well as investigators being taught by the missionaries, learn that one of the major blessings of being a member of the Church is receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which often described as the right to the "constant companionship" of the third member of the Godhead. While the literal constancy of that gift can be the labor of a lifetime, it is vital to keep that childlike longing for our Father's presence at the forefront of our daily aspirations.
What does it mean to have the Spirit with us? What does it feel like? During four decades of teaching seminary and institute students, the most frequent questions I received had to do with learning to recognize how the Spirit functioned in their lives. Whenever we have the Spirit with us we are experiencing personal revelation. Personal revelation has been described by the prophets as the most important need of members of the Church (as well as all of humankind). President Lorenzo Snow taught that it is not only the grand privilege, but also the right of every Latter-day Saint to have the manifestations of the Spirit every day of their lives (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 76).
Some of us struggle with our commitment to Christ and His Church. Many have family members or friends who once were actively involved in the Church but who now wonder about the truthfulness of the gospel of Christ, or even the existence of God. The crux of their dilemma often revolves around personal revelation—the lack of sufficient manifestations of the Spirit in their lives. This lack can be the result of apathy or sin, but not always. Many are sincerely seeking God. When no heavenly voice can be discerned, some drift into inactivity or even formally disassociate themselves from the Church.
In a nutshell, there are two challenges facing every member of the Church regarding personal revelation:
- The challenge of learning to recognize when God is speaking and what He is trying to say to us
- The challenge of remembering—even after receiving revelation we may forget what God has said, or fail to act on the inspiration.
The vast majority, if not all, of baptized members, have received some degree of personal revelation. Unfortunately, spiritual phenomena can sometimes have a short shelf life and must be renewed daily through humility and great effort or they can be forgotten in the rough-and-tumble of life. They need to be written down.
What may be missing in the lives of actively involved Latter-day Saints is simple spiritual discipline—a tool that God has revealed to help us in our quest for daily discipleship. I speak of regular writing of these spiritual impressions in a personal journal.
During my doctoral work in education in the 1980's, I was impressed by the body of research equating student writing with improved learning. At that time, I started to search the scriptures and teachings of the living prophets for insights on how writing can bring us closer to God. Write in its various forms appears nearly 1000 times in the standard works. For example, in the beginning, Adam and Eve and their children were given this counsel:
“And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration;
"And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled” (Moses 6:5 – 6, emphasis added).
I have experimented with various forms of classroom journals in my institute classes to give students the same kind of practice putting the inspiration they were receiving into words. I asked them to use their journals for not only recording important events of their lives, but as a repository for personal revelation. Most students grasped the significance of this simple practice, and their journals became a tool for developing greater Christ-like character as they implemented the divine guidance they were receiving. Here is an example:
“I have liked using the 'Thoughts and Impressions' sheet in institute classes. I’ve normally written my own thoughts on this sheet, but lately I have written inspired impressions. I truly believe that these thoughts/impressions are from the Holy Ghost. I believe this because never in my life (including while on my mission) have I received as much consistent revelation throughout the day. It makes life so, so great. I am honestly happier than I’ve ever been in my life” (Blake, Nov 17, 2010).
In 1998, Elder Richard G. Scott spoke to all the religious educators in the Church explaining a three-fold obligation in "Helping Others to Be Spiritually Led" (1998 Church Education System Religious Educator's Symposium).
1. Help others recognize personal revelation or inspiration
2. Help others learn to write the revelation in their journals so they can remember what the Lord has said
3. Help others understand that as they obey and act on the personal revelation given, more would follow.
Inspiration recorded can be read again and again, just like scripture. In fact, inspired journal writing can be personal scripture. We can use our journal to monitor our progress in acting on the revelation we receive. As we do so, more revelation will come, line upon line. Listening intently enough to put inspiration into written words will enable us to avoid the mortal tendency to forget.
Finding the Right Words
If writing thoughts and feelings is new to you, begin by writing simple statements such as, "Today, as I was driving to help mom, I felt very close to my Heavenly Father. I felt His encouragement for what I am trying to do." Or "while we were singing the opening hymn in sacrament meeting I received a strong spiritual witness that God loves my family. I felt peace of mind for the first time in several days."
When we have spiritual experiences, we may speak or write in terms of how it made us feel, such as, “I felt a strong feeling of peace,” or “Following our fasting and prayer we felt we should not take the job offer.” Sometimes we will be able to convey even more precisely the message received, such as, “The Lord seemed to say that if I would begin to cultivate the principle of charity in my relationships at work my dissatisfaction with my job would be alleviated.” A young mother wrote, “I distinctly felt the Lord whisper to me, ‘There is one more spirit I want to send to your family,’ and that He would bless me in the pregnancy.”
The Lord said to Nephi, "For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding" (2 Nephi 31:3). His revelations to His children are personalized and unique to each of us. I remember hearing a story about a man getting a technical foul in a Church basketball game. The man, a priesthood leader, played the rest of the game in much greater control of himself. When his wife asked him if the technical foul produced the change, he said, “No, I was embarrassed and said a little prayer and the Holy Ghost whispered to me.” “Oh, really,” replied his wife. “What did He say to you?” “He said to 'cool it!'”
The impressions or messages should be clear. The difficult part is getting used to translating spiritual impressions into specific words in your journal. With practice, you will grow in your ability and you will get better over time. Elder Richard G. Scott wrote, "Sometimes the direction comes so clearly and so unmistakably that it can be written down word for word, like spiritual dictation" (Finding Peace, Happiness and Joy, 42).
We live far below our privileges when it comes to the great gift of the Holy Ghost. What if each day our primary desire was to sense, notice, and be aware of the promptings of the Spirit, and then identify those promptings by writing a few words in our journals, on 3x5 cards, or on our smart phones. We ought to be growing in light and truth year by year. If we do not notice a positive difference in our lives because of the gifts of the Spirit we are missing out on one of God's greatest blessings.
Having the Holy Ghost with us should clarify our thinking, enliven our appreciation for beauty, bring peace and reassurance, and console us in our dark times. The Holy Ghost will give us uplifting perspectives on life, temper our feelings and emotions, and give us strength to endure that which must be endured. Having the companionship of the Holy Ghost does not mean we will never sin, but when we do we will immediately recognize it and strive to correct it. These experiences with the Spirit can be put into words so that we can reread them, treasure them, and share them with our posterity. The Holy Ghost can make a marvelous difference in our lives. When we are spiritually in tune, we will be growing rather than plateauing, ascending rather than drifting. As the Latter-day Saints receive consistent manifestations of the Spirit in their lives, they will not succumb to apathy, nor be so vulnerable to the distractions of the world.
Writing spiritual impressions in my journal has helped me in my efforts to overcome my sins and weaknesses, endure difficult circumstances, and stay close to Jesus Christ. I invite you to consider the blessings that will flow as you utilize your personal journal to record impressions from the Holy Ghost, so that you can remember these precious communications, and, most importantly, act on them.
With the busy pace of every day life, journal writing seems like one more item on an impossible to-do list. But with warmth and wisdom, inspiration author Larry W. Tippetts reminds readers of the incomparable benefits of putting pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard. Among the greatest impacts discussed is the fact that as we recognize and record spiritual experiences, we can receive increased personal revelation. Receiving Personal Revelation is available at Deseret Book stores and on deseretbook.com.