Summary: In a religious sense, revelation is defined as God making us aware of something we didn’t know before. Yet, even though there are many people in all Christian faiths who believe in this principle, at least to some degree, there are many people who hear stories of others telling of how God has spoken to them, but who have never had that kind of an experience themselves and they wonder why God doesn’t speak to them. This article examines how to not only receive revelation from God but to receive it more frequently.
In the beginning of the Book of Mormon we read of vision that Lehi had, which he told to his family. One of his sons, Nephi, went to the Lord and asked to see this vision himself and not only saw it but was told of its meaning. Later, Nephi came across his two older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, who were complaining that they could not understand the vision their father had spoken to them about, so Nephi asked, “Have ye inquired of the Lord? And they said unto [him]: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8,9).
One of the fundamental doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and one which sets them apart from most other Christian faiths, is the belief that God still speaks to man today as he did anciently. They not only believe that God speaks to man through the voice of living prophets but that he speaks just as often to each of us as individuals. We call this form of communication, revelation.
In a human sense, we speak of revelation as being a sudden understanding of something that we didn’t know before. For example, it’s like looking an optical illusion and only being able to see the picture one way, then suddenly being able to see it from a different perspective.
When we speak of revelation in a religious sense, the process is similar, except it is God who reveals something to us that we didn’t know, couldn’t understand, or were unable to see before. In this sense, revelation is more like a teacher explaining something to us that helps us gain a clearer understanding about a particular subject. For example, when a magician performs a trick, it seems as though he has accomplished something impossible, but when he reveals how he did the trick, then the mystery disappears. In the same way, there are many things about God that we don’t understand, that seem like a mystery to us, but becomes completely clear once he explains it to us.
This was the case with Peter and the other apostles who traveled with Jesus. During his three-year ministry, Jesus sought to clearly teach these specially chosen disciples the principles of salvation, but despite his efforts, these men couldn’t fully grasp what Jesus was trying to tell them. This was especially true concerning his resurrection. It wasn’t until after Jesus rose from the grave and revealed himself to his apostles in a locked room that they suddenly and truly understood what he had been trying to tell them about his death and resurrection.
Thus, when we speak about “receiving revelation” what we mean is that God reveals something to us that we didn’t know before that suddenly we now understand. The scriptures often refer to this lack of knowledge as being “a mystery” and revelation as being God revealing to us his mysteries.
There are many things we don’t know, especially concerning God himself, his plan for our salvation, and the importance of keeping his commandment. For some people, they struggle to know if God even exists, if following Jesus will really save us in the kingdom of God, if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s one and only true church, if Joseph Smith truly was a prophet of God, and if the Book of Mormon is God’s word. Yet, there are many other, more earthly and practical things we don’t know. For example, we don’t know what will happen in the future, there are problems we face in life that we don’t know the answer to, and there are often decisions we are faced with that we don’t know which is the right one to make. Since God knows all things, and is all wise, he is willing to reveal the answers to these kinds of mysteries to us individually and personally.
Unfortunately, even though there are many people in all Christian faiths who believe in this principle, at least to some degree, there are those who feel like Laman and Lenuel that “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” There are many who hear stories of others telling of how God has spoken to them, but who have never had that kind of an experience themselves and they wonder why.
President and prophet Russell M. Nelson has said, “In the coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, direction, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” He went on to add: “I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation.” Elder Quinton L. Cook has also counseled us to, “build your capacity to receive revelation.”
The question these remarks raise is, how can we increase our ability to receive revelations beyond that which we already have?
The first thing we have to realize is that all of us are children of God and that he desperately wants to talk with each one of us. He wants to answer our prayers, help us with our problems, and give us the guidance and direction in our life that we need in order to be happy and successful. But the main reason why most people don’t receive revelation very often, or not at all, is because they don’t know how to hear God’s voice when he speaks to them.
To illustrate this problem, we can look at the radio. There are thousands of radio stations all broadcasting their shows at the same time but the only way we can hear them is to tune into the frequency on which they are broadcasting. Worse yet, there are two different types of radio waves – Amplified Modulation (AM) and Frequency Modulation (FM). Therefore, besides deciding which frequency we want to listen to, we also have to choose the right kind of modulation.
In the same way, there are thousands of voices all speaking at the same time who want us to listen to what they have to say, and there are two types of voices we can choose – secular and religious. The secular voices of the world can sound very appealing and sometimes very reasonable because the way God does things are not the same as what the world does, therefore, God’s ways can sometimes appear to be contrary to worldly thinking. As a result, those who listen to the messages of the world often disregard the voice of God when he speaks to them and instead follow the course that seems more reasonable to their way of thinking.
But even among the religious voices we can hear many different messages, so it’s important that we recognize the one that is truly coming from God. For example, there are those who preach that God will give us whatever we want in life and all we have to do is just ask him for it, while others say that there is no such thing as sin or immoral behavior, while still others ask for money so they can offer powerful prayers in the sender’s behalf.
Therefore, the second thing we have to understand in being able to increase our ability to receive revelation is to learn how and when God broadcasts his message to us. There are many times when God speaks to each one of us but instead of listening to his voice we either dismiss it or are oblivious to it. It’s like walking through a beautiful field of flowers on a warm sunny day and being so caught up in our own thoughts that we ignore God’s beauty and handiwork that is all around us. Therefore, one of the things we can do to increase our ability to receive revelation is to increase our awareness of how and when God speaks to us.
Fortunately, because God wants to communicate with us, he uses many different ways to get our attention. The first, and most common, is through the words of his prophets, both modern and ancient. Most people think that whatever problems they are having are unique to themselves, but in reality, people have been experiencing the same kinds of problems for thousands of years. Although the particular circumstances of our problems may be different, the substance of what we face in life are fairly universal.
For example, problems with children or in marriage are the same now as they were six thousand years ago. Enduring sickness, heartaches, disappointments, and the death of loved ones, are things that almost everyone has to deal with at some point in their life. Enduring hard times where we have to struggle with problems that seem overwhelming and perhaps even impossible to overcome or to bear up under have been the lot of man from the very beginning.
Because of these universal problems, the words of the prophets often contain the solution to most, if not all of what life throws at us. Therefore, as we study the scriptures and listen to the words of living prophets, with an ear tuned to the voice of the Spirit we will have thoughts come into our mind that will tell us how to resolve the things that are bothering us. And the more we study and ponder on their words we will find our ability to receive revelation becoming more frequent.
But for that to happen, we need to be willing to listen for the Spirit’s voice. It’s no different than having the radio tuned to our favorite station, but if it is merely playing in the background while we are busy doing something else, we will be inattentive to what is being said on the radio. And the same applies to the scriptures. If we are merely reading them without thinking about the message they are trying to convey, that’s no different than using the radio for background noise.
When listening to our favorite radio show personality, if we have been a fan of theirs for a while, we can easily recognize when someone else is sitting in for them because we can instantly recognize the difference in their voice. And the same is true of God. He has a distinctive voice but the only way we can come to recognize it and be able to distinguish it from all the other voices we hear is by becoming intimately familiar with it, and that can only happen if we’ve become accustomed to hearing it.
The more we study the scriptures the more we will come to recognize the voice of God because the scriptures are the voice of God in written form. As we read the scriptures, we come to understand what is important to God, what he likes and dislikes, what kind of counsel he gives, and what he expects from us. In this way, when God wants to talk to us, we will recognize his voice because we will have become familiar with it through the scriptures.
But that is just one way God speaks to us. Sometimes he will communicate directly with us without the aid of the scriptures or any other external means. This can happen as God puts thoughts in our mind, but the problem with this is that not all thoughts come from God. Some come from our own reasoning, desires, and logic, and some come from other influences in our life. In this situation being able to recognize God’s voice is crucial if we don’t want to be led astray.
With human speech, we can distinguish the differences between people by the way their voice sounds. This includes the pitch of their voice, the inflections in its tone, any accents they may have, and even the way they say certain words. All of this is based exclusively on how our ears hear the voice, but when we read words, there are no sounds that help us to tell one voice from another, and this is the same problem with listening to the voice of the Spirit when it comes to us as a thought.
But this is not as difficult as it may seem. For example, the works of every author are unique to them because they have a distinctive way of writing that includes the phrases they use, the style of their writing, and the way they describe things. A person who has a favorite author and has read a number of their books can easily tell the difference between their author and that of other writers. In the same way, the more familiar we become with God, the easier it becomes for us to recognize his voice, even when it comes as a thought.
However, having said that, and even though we don’t literally “hear” God with our ears when he speaks, there is a distinctive characteristic that belongs to his voice that we can detect, that we refer to as a feeling. The scriptures tell us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22,23). These are the kinds of feelings that are most generally felt when God speaks to us. The Lord has also told us that a burning in the bosom is another feeling that comes with “hearing” the voice of God (D&C9:8).
On the other hand, when we have feelings of hatred, anger, strife, envy, malice, violence or wanting to do anything that is unholy or unrighteous, we can nearly always tell that these feelings do not come from God. For example, there have been incidents where a person has murdered someone and when caught said that they felt God had told them to do such a thing. There have been Christians who feel God has called them to engage in angry and sometimes violent protests against those who they feel are teaching false doctrine or other moral issues they disagree with, but very rarely does God instill these kinds of feelings in someone.
However, when we don’t know God, or don’t know him well enough, we don’t recognize his feelings of love, peace, meekness, and an increase of faith because we don’t want to accept them. If these feelings are not part of our character then we will reject them because there is no place for them in our heart. This is why Nephi told his brothers, “Ye were past feeling that ye could not feel his words” (1 Nephi 17:45).
The secret then to receiving revelation is to draw closer and become more intimately acquainted with God, and the more we do that the more frequently we will receive revelation from him. But how do we do that?
Jesus gave us the answer when he said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He went on to explain that, “If a man love me, he will keep my words and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). The scriptures also tell us, “Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8).
When we love someone, we want to be with them as much as possible and we want to make them happy. The way we show God how much we love him and want to be with him and please him is by doing what he asks of us, and doing it with a cheerful heart. When we do that, not only are we drawing closer to being like God, but he feels more like being with us, and when that happens God talks with us more frequently because we are more willing to listen to him. Thus, the way to increase our ability to receive revelation is to continually strive to draw ever closer to him.
But the opposite is just as true. Jesus asked, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things I say?” (Luke 6:46), and the Lord has condemned those who “draw near me with their mouth and with the lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precept of men” (Isaiah 29:13). If God reveals information to us and we don’t act on it, then there is no point in him continuing to give us more knowledge.
The prophet Isaiah explained this principle when he said, “The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isaiah 50:5). When we don’t rebel against God and turn back away from him by refusing to do as he asks, then our ears will be opened and we will hear the voice of the Lord more easily, more clearly, and more often.
And the same is true when God speaks to us through his prophets. If we are not willing to follow the counsel and instruction they give, then there’s no use in God giving us any further enlightenment and direction. It’s no different than if someone knocks on our door and we don’t answer it. Eventually whoever is at the door will stop knocking and go away.
Sometimes when God asks us to do something we respond with doubt, fear, unbelief, procrastination, lack of faith or other similar feelings, even when we know that what we are feeling is from God. In cases like this, the blessings that could have been ours are not received (D&C 67:3), but the solution to this problem, as always, is to draw even closer to God, and as we do these negative feelings will melt away as frost does when the sun comes up. When fear and doubts arise, we need to humbly move forward in faith, trusting that God’s eyes are upon those who love him and that he is in their midst, even if they cannot see him (D&C 38:7).
Like any skill, the more we practice at doing something the better we become at it. When we are willing to seek for revelation by continually studying God’s word and making a consistent effort to show God how much we love him by keeping his commandment and doing as he asks, then we draw closer to him and he draws nearer to us. The closer that relationship becomes, the more easily revelation will come to us, and it will happen as naturally as the dew from heaven forms on the early morning grass. This is the secret to getting revelation.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of God