Thoughts on Lesson 5

Jerry Perkins
Brigham Young University

God Tailors Revelation to the Individual

Our Eternal Father knows us as individuals, and he tailors his revelation to us as individuals. In the October 1978 general conference of the Church, Elder John H. Groberg, of the Seventy, shared a story that dramatically emphasizes those two important concepts. A young Tongan child, Felila, had been diagnosed as having hydrocephalus. Without help, she would die. Felila's parents, who were Latter-day Saints, went to the district president, who contacted Elder Groberg, the mission president in Tonga at the time. Elder Groberg said that the plight of this child united men and women, member and non- member, American and Tongan in seeking a way for her to be treated at Primary Children's Hospital in Utah. Many sacrifices were made, and all arrangements were settled, but at the very time the goal was to be realized, the little girl died. The faith of many was tried, including the faith of Elder Groberg. He said: "I was left alone, or so it seemed. I moved slowly and heavily down that dusty trail. Why? Why? After all that work and that strong faith of so many and those impressions [of the Spirit], why?"

This mission president honestly asked the God of the universe what the purpose was of this little girl's death. And our Father in Heaven tailored a revelation to this individual situation of sorrow being experienced by one of his sons. Elder Groberg continued:

"I was overcome by the Spirit...And I heard a voice... [It said,]

"'Come home Felila, my daughter. Come home to the care your loved ones have sought for you...You have finished your mission in life. Hearts have been softened; souls have been stretched; faith has been increased. Come home now, Felila.'"

The Lord touched the individual life of this son. Brother Groberg exclaimed:

"He knew her! He knew her name. He knew all about her and about all those others. How perfect our Father's love!...In some marvelous way, which is beyond our mortal comprehension, he knows and understands all things."

In addition to knowing Felila, the Lord also knew John H. Groberg. An experience that could have perhaps crushed the faith of many was tailored for Elder Groberg to increase his faith, his love for his Savior, and his awe of this God who so gently cared for a little child.

God Will Reveal to the Individual

God knows each of his children individually. He is seeking to help each of us perfect our life as individuals, and he will reveal specific truths, direction, guidance, and love to each of us. He has promised it. It is true. Revelation and spiritual gifts await the child who will earnestly ask and seek.

Great leaders pleadingly strive to motivate us to seek "for the power of God," receive "the precious promises," and "avail ourselves of the privileges which God has placed within our reach." Our leaders keep emphasizing that revelation is a means for a loving Father to communicate with each of his children.

Prophet after prophet has made declarations to drive home the concept that the Lord wants to talk with his children. He wants to reveal truth to them. He wants to guide and direct them as they make decisions, as they fall in love, as they face heartrending problems, as they seek to bless the lives of their family, their friends, their associates, and even the entire world. And, the Lord wants to do it individually, with each son and each daughter. Great leaders of the latter day have emphasized this idea of individual revelation.

Brigham Young declared: "Every member has the right of receiving revelations for themselves, both male and female. It is the very life of the Church of the living God... It is the right of an individual to get revelation to guide himself. It is the right of the head of a family to get revelations to guide... his family."

Elder Bruce R. McConkie told us: "Revelation is something that should be received by every individual... I think our concern to get personal revelation, to know for ourselves, independent of any other individual or set of individuals, what the mind and the will of the Lord is... as pertaining to us in our individual concerns... The fact is that every person should be a prophet for himself and in his own concerns and in his own affairs."

The Lord Seeks to Reveal to Us as Individuals

The Lord is willing, waiting, and wanting to reveal his will to each of his children, but in order for that to occur, we must be individually prepared. Church leaders from Joseph Smith's era to the present have expressed great concern about the Latter-day Saint who is not prepared to receive the revelations of God.

The Prophet Joseph Smith cautioned: "Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the still small voice.

President Joseph Fielding Smith said, "The Lord withholds much that he would otherwise reveal if the members of the Church were prepared to receive it."

President Spencer W. Kimball explained why the Lord withholds revelations: "The Lord will not force himself upon people, and if they do not believe, they will receive no revelation. If they are content to depend upon their own... calculations and interpretations, then, of course, the Lord will leave them to their chosen fate."

And finally, President Ezra Taft Benson put this entire issue into perspective: "The Spirit is the most important matter in this glorious work. "

Understand the Workings of the Spirit

President Kimball reminded us that "the burning bushes, the smoking mountains,... the Cumorahs... were realities; but they were the exceptions." He taught us that the great volume of revelation comes in less spectacular ways. Finally, this prophet helped explain why many of us miss the revelations of God: "Always expecting the spectacular, many will miss entirely the constant flow of revealed communication. "

Elijah was reminded that the Lord was in the still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-12 ). We are reminded in Alma that "miracles [are] worked by small means" (Alma 37:41). The Doctrine and Covenants testifies that "a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men" (4:1), yet this work was so small at the outset that the Lord referred to the participants in it as his "little flock" (6:34).

Elder Graham Doxey of the Seventy addressed the issue of how personal revelation is missed by many: "On religious matters, too many of us are saying, 'What did you say? Speak up; I can't hear you.' And when he doesn't shout back, or cause the bush to burn, or write us a message in stone with his finger, we are inclined to think he doesn't listen, doesn't care about us. Some even conclude there is no God...

"The questions are not 'Does God live? Does God love me? Does God speak to me?' The critical question is 'Are you listening to him?'... It is the same for you as it was for Elijah, as it is with the modern-day prophets: The still, small voice is still small."

Jay Jensen offered a similar explanation of why so many of us are unaware of how the Spirit of the Lord works. He felt that perhaps it was because there were so many references to "spectacular" revelation in Church talks, magazines, lesson manuals, testimony meetings. He said, "Frequent exposure to such experiences may lead some to believe that if they haven't experienced some similar kind of outpouring or manifestation, they haven't had a spiritual experience."

Modern day prophets and apostles, including Richard G. Scott, Bruce R. McConkie, Spencer W. Kimball, Boyd K. Packer, Ezra Taft Benson, Thomas S. Monson, and Gordon B. Hinckley have stressed that the revelations from the Lord usually come in simple, quiet ways. The passages of the Doctrine and Covenants that seem to be quoted most often by the Brethren as they seek to explain revelation are "enlighten thy mind" (6:15); "peace to your mind" (6:23); "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart" (8:2); "study it out in your mind" and "cause that your bosom shall burn" (9:8); and "enlighten your mind" and "fill your soul with joy" (11:13).

Though visions and audible voices are ways the Lord reveals his truth, more commonly he whispers to the mind and the heart. One key to recognizing the Spirit is to realize that it influences the mind and the feelings at the same time. The Spirit gives us ideas in our minds that we feel good about in our hearts, or feelings in our hearts that are reasonable to our minds.

The Brethren also emphasize this interaction in their writings. Elder Boyd K. Packer emphasized feelings: "I have come to know that inspiration comes more as a feeling than as a sound."

Elder Richard G. Scott emphasized the interrelationship of mind and emotions in revelation: "When we receive an impression in our heart, we can use our mind either to rationalize it away or to accomplish it. Be careful what you do with an impression from the Lord." President Benson stressed the role of emotions in receiving revelation: "We hear the words of the Lord most often by a feeling. If we are humble and sensitive, the Lord will prompt us through our feelings. That is why spiritual promptings move us on occasion to great joy, sometimes to tears... The Holy Ghost causes our feelings to be more tender... We have a greater capacity to love. People want to be around us because our very countenances radiate the influence of the Spirit."

Elder Dallin Oaks stressed the role of the mind when he emphasized the sequential relationship of reason and revelation: "In the acquisition of knowledge about the things of God, reason is not an alternative to revelation. Study and reason can find the truth on many of these subjects, but only revelation can confirm it. Study and reason are a means to an end, and the end is revelation from God."

The Lord Knows His Children's Names

The evidences of how our Father specifically helps his children are abundant in scripture, Church history, in testimony meetings, and in the lives of God's children. In the story of the little Tongan girl who needed help, Elder Groberg realized that the Lord knew Felila's name and loved her individually.

Joseph Smith was another son whom the Father knew by name. In April of 1830, Joseph was in Colesville, New York, at the home of Joseph Knight, Sr. Newel Knight, Joseph Knight's son, had been plagued by evil spirits, and Joseph Smith cast out the spirits. The result of this miracle divided the people of Colesville. Many were converted, but opposition to the Church also increased. Baptisms were interfered with, and the Prophet was involved in troublesome lawsuits that delayed the work the Lord had for him. Joseph had much to do. He was behind in the great work of the Restoration. He had to counsel and guide and direct this infant Church. Yet he also had the responsibility of caring for his family and tending to the farm--chores that would not wait. Into this scene of conflicting responsibilities and overwhelming duties entered a loving Lord, who reduced tension by reminding Joseph that God was with him.

"Behold, thou wast called and chosen to write the Book of Mormon, and to my ministry; and I have lifted thee up out of thine afflictions, and have counseled thee, that thou hast been delivered from all thine enemies, and thou hast been delivered from the powers of Satan and from darkness!" (D&C 24:1).

In the next verse, the Lord told Joseph to avoid sin. Then He told Joseph to "magnify thine office." One could imagine the pangs of guilt this admonition could cause the Prophet; so much to do, so many responsibilities left unattended. But the Lord understood, and so he got very specific. He relieved Joseph of immediate responsibility by giving him some priorities: "After thou hast sowed thy fields and secured them" (D&C 24:3), then go forth and serve the Lord. The Savior's individual counsel to Joseph shows how much our Lord is concerned with the problems of our day to day life. The tender, all- knowing Father realized the turmoil in Joseph's heart caused by being caught between dedication to family and dedication to the Lord's service. In kindness and love, the Lord resolved the conflict by saying, in effect, "Joseph, my son, take care of your fields and your family first; then, go 'speedily' back to my work."

The Lord knows our names. He knows our needs and concerns and the challenges of our daily lives. He wants to help us, and so he has promised to reveal his will to those who earnestly seek and ask.

The Lord Tailors Revelation to the Individual

Personal revelation cannot be vicarious. Joseph Smith emphasized the importance of the personal experience of revelation: "Reading the experience of others, or the revelation given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God. Knowledge of these things can only be obtained by experience through the ordinances of God set forth for that purpose [i.e., personal revelation]."

Joseph Smith taught: "By learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation." That is an interesting phrase, "grow into the principle of revelation." It indicates that our capacity for revelation changes. As that capacity changes, God will tailor revelation to that new capacity, both as to the message and to the mode of delivery.

During a Doctrine and Covenants class at Brigham Young University, I asked the students to explain how the Lord gave revelation. With rare exception, the explanation focused on Doctrine and Covenants 9, with special emphasis upon the phrase "and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you" (D&C 9:8). I then asked if someone could explain this burning, and it was very difficult for any of us to do so.

A concern and some questions came to me after this experience. Are we defining revelation in terms that are too narrow? Does the acceptance of this narrow definition of spiritual matters cause us not to fully understand revelation? If we do not understand revelation and the workings of the Spirit, can we understand when we have received revelation?

Robert Millet, dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, cautioned:

"It would be a mistake for the Latter-day Saints to suppose that answers and confirmations come only in one way--as a burning of the bosom, for example. The Lord desires to communicate with his children and will choose the means which will most clearly and persuasively convey his holy words and his perfect will to those who seek him diligently."

A teacher who only lectures runs the risk of diminishing communication. That teacher does not take into account the individual learning styles of the students, nor the specific nature of the subject matter being taught, nor the special circumstances of the day, the season, the mood of the class, or the situation in which the teacher and the students find themselves.

The Lord, however, is a Master Teacher. He is not solely a lecturer. He fully understands his students, and therefore he uses a vast array of ways to communicate with them. Most of the time, revelation comes in very simple ways, touching our feelings, enhancing our thoughts; however, the specific manner by which revelation is given is as varied as our Father's children.

A great seminary teacher I know, Brother Ted Gibbons, has wrestled often with the question, How does the Lord reveal his will to his children? Though the Spirit of revelation is stressed in the phrase "tell you in your mind and heart" and that is the Lord's main emphasis when he seeks to help us understand how he communicates with us, Brother Gibbons's findings indicate how many different ways the Lord can tell us in our minds and hearts:
Audible voice. See 1 Samuel 3:4, 5, 10
Still small voice. See 1 Kings 19:12
God gives understanding. See Job 32:8
Heart burns when you open the scriptures. See Luke 24:32
Feel love, joy, gentleness, peace. See Galatians 5:22
Led by Spirit, not knowing. See 1 Nephi 4:6
Spirit constraineth. See Alma 14:11
Lord's voice in the mind. See Enos 1:10
Peace to your mind. See Doctrine and Covenants 6:23
Burning in the bosom. See Doctrine and Covenants 9:6-9
Spirit leads to do good, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously. See Doctrine and Covenants 11:12
Spirit enlightens mind and fills soul with joy. See Doctrine and Covenants 11:13
Spirit occupies mind with an issue, concept, idea, etc. See Doctrine and Covenants 128:1
Write by the Spirit of inspiration. See Moses 6:5

After considering the ways revelation is granted unto mankind, this statement of Robert L. Millet becomes quite appropriate: "The nature of the occasion, as well as the readiness and need of the recipient, dictates how a message from God may be communicated. Certain situations require a message which pierces to the very soul, others where that voice, although still and small, makes 'the bones to quake' while it makes manifest the mind of the Lord (D&C 85:6; see also Helaman 5:30; 3 Nephi 11:3).

"...The Lord desires to communicate with his children and will choose the means which will most clearly and persuasively convey his holy words and his perfect will to those who seek him diligently."

The teachings of Elder Neal A. Maxwell indicate the deepening changes to Joseph's spirit that were occurring. Many of the revelations the Lord had prepared for Joseph could not be given until after the Prophet had endured what the Lord termed adversity and afflictions, which would be "but a small moment" (D&C 121:7). Elder Maxwell stated:

"The whole experience in Liberty Jail, as Joseph indicated, was such that without it he could not possibly have understood certain dimensions of suffering. It was just as promised in an 1834 blessing given him by his father: 'Thy heart shall meditate great wisdom and comprehend the deep things of God.'...

"Thus at the very time he was suffering telestial abuse and oppression from secular authorities... Joseph was instructed on the completely opposite manner, the celestial way, in which the Lord's priesthood leaders are to lead!

"'No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the Priesthood, only by... gentleness and meekness' [D&C 121:41]...

"In the timing and wisdom of the Lord, the schooling revelations of March 1839 [D&C 121-23] were given when the Prophet was fully ready to receive them. They were not given just after the First Vision, or... during Joseph's remarkable translation of the Book of Mormon. Schooling has its seasons, even for prophets."

The Prophet had changed within the walls of this prison, never to be the same. He understood, to a greater degree than almost any other man, what the Savior had done for him as an individual. When the Lord said, "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (D&C 122:8), a powerful union had been forged. To be mentioned in the same verse with the Christ in the context of suffering indicates the depths of suffering Joseph had experienced. How pensive Joseph must have felt as the Lord expressed: "Thy days are known and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever" (D&C 122:9).

The individuality of the message indicates God's knowledge of Joseph. The Lord knew Joseph Smith. The Lord loved him. The Lord revealed life and the eternities to his son. The Prophet had spiritually matured and had "grown into the principle of revelation." Though excruciatingly hard on Joseph at times, the Lord had consistently tailored revelation to the individuality of his son, the Prophet.


Revelation is between the Father and his children. For Elder Richard G. Scott, son of God, revelation is real, it is powerful, it is individual. When he was on a Church assignment in Mexico City, he attended a priesthood meeting taught by a humble, unschooled priesthood leader. This teacher struggled in his efforts to teach principles that had obviously changed his life. Elder Scott noted how desperately this humble teacher wanted to teach the gospel of the Savior. The love the teacher expressed for the Savior and his teachings was obvious, and the teacher's spirit "permitted a spiritual strength to envelop the room." Elder Scott was so touched by this spirit, he began to receive strong impressions or revelation "as an extension of those principles taught by the humble instructor." Elder Scott testified, "These impressions were intended for me and were related to my assignments in the area." The overall message the Lord was communicating to his son was, "You are to continue to build the Church on the foundation of true principles, but with an increased expression of love and appreciation . . . for the great Lamanite people." Elder Scott knew this message was tailored specifically for him, and it was uniquely designed to help him serve the Mexican people. He said, "Specific directions followed, instructions and conditioned promises that have altered the course of my life."

The Lord reveals messages designed for the situation at hand.

Revelation, however, does not belong only to the realm of leaders wrestling with important issues... It is accessible to all of God's sons and daughters. A young man, returning home at Christmas to give an engagement ring to his sweetheart, heard the Spirit whisper, "Pull over into the far right lane and slow down." His life was saved because he followed these instructions of personal revelation.

A doctor, who wept because of the suffering of a dying patient, asked God if there was anything else that the medical profession could do to help the family. He said, "At that moment, a thought came forcefully into my mind. The only way [she] could be restored to her full capacity was to leave her disabled, diseased body behind and move on to the next life... My grief was gone. I felt only joy--the unmistakable joy and peace that only the Holy Ghost can bring. I remembered the Lord's words, 'I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy' [D&C 11:13]. I left the doctors' lounge with peace in my heart. A few hours later [she] died quietly and peacefully."

A woman swept out to sea on an outrigger canoe near the Philippines heard a voice that told her, "Don't leave the boat." Obedience to that voice saved her life.

A schoolteacher in 1970 read the tragic tale of a black officer in the United States cavalry who had been improperly court-martialed in 1881. The teacher was so deeply moved by the injustice that he spent the next eight years clearing the lieutenant's name. When the teacher's spirits drooped or his efforts lagged, he would dream of the officer, who came to him in his dreams and said, "What have you done for me today?"

Truly, God tailors revelation to the individual needs and capacities of his children. He waits to bless all of his children who will simply seek his counsel. He waits to instruct his "friends," his "little flock," his "sons and daughters."

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