When I was a young boy, maybe 10 or 11 years old, I remember very distinctly the following experience from my childhood. I grew up in Seattle. In Seattle, the weather is usually very boring – kind of rainy, occasionally some nice days, a little snow every now and then, and very rarely… a thunderstorm. This day there was a rather large thunderstorm. I was sitting by the window, watching and waiting for every flash of lightning I could see. I remember also wanting to know if God was real. I had learned about Him at home and at church. I had heard the stories of visions and miracles. I wanted my own miracle that day! I remember looking out the window and saying in my own little prayer, “God, if you are real and are out there and really have all power, make another bolt of lightning in the next 10 seconds.” I started counting 1, 2, 3 and so on. Right as I got to 10, nothing happened. I was kind of disappointed.
Figuring God could probably be busy at times, I did a quick prayer and said “OK, I’ll give you another 15 seconds…” I waited and…nothing. Finally, after giving God 3 or 4 tries I gave up and figured maybe he had other things to do. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had joined quite the illustrious crowd of sign-seekers: Pharoah, King Ahab and the priests of Baal from the Bible, Sherem and Korihor from the Book of Mormon and the ever popular “evil and adulterous generation” Christ referenced in Matthew. I guess ten-year old Tommy had some learning to do about receiving revelation and hearing the voice of the Lord.
In the April 2018 General Conference, shortly after being sustained as prophet and president of the Church, President Russell M. Nelson taught the following: “We live in a world that is complex and increasingly contentious… if we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices… we must learn to receive revelation…in the coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
Frequently, in raising a family and in my various church callings, there have been times when people have shared with me that they are trying really hard to receive answers to questions, yet they feel like they are not getting anything. I know there are times in my life when I feel like I am not getting revelation to direct me. President Nelson has given us some insight as to how we can learn to receive revelation and hear the voice of the Lord. He taught “Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and regular time committed to temple and family history work.”
He continued with a prophetic promise to you and to me: “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.”
When a prophet talks about the model that he used to learn to receive revelation, I pay attention! President Nelson shared the pattern he used over his now 96 years here on earth. He said “Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation.” Even for a prophet it was a series of small and simple steps of praying, listening, acting and repeating. Repeating this process day after day, month after month, and year after year. Please note that it is “growing into the principle of revelation,” not just immediately knowing how.
Yesterday morning Elisabeth and I went out for a run – okay, maybe a glorified jog. I put in my earbuds to get ready to run. These happen to be noise-cancelling earbuds. Elisabeth tried to talk with me, but I couldn’t hear her. Others around us could hear her, but I couldn’t. Why was that? I had enveloped myself in the silence of the noise-cancelling earbuds. I took them out so we could have our conversation, then put them back in to start my run.
As I ran, I thought about how the Lord tries to speak to me. There are times when others around me can hear the voice of the Lord, but I seem to struggle. It made me ask myself the following question that maybe we should all ask ourselves as well.
What are the things in our lives that are “noise-cancelling headphones” to the voice of the Lord? Your answers will likely be different than some of mine, but please allow me to share a few of mine as you may find some similarities.
One example is not giving any room for the Lord to speak to us.
We all lead busy lives – sometimes too busy. How often do we actually pray for an answer and then not spend the time to listen? How often during the day do we ponder about the questions we have asked the Lord? Revelation does not usually come to us like a light bulb being turned on. Elder Bednar described revelation like a sunrise. Sometimes it begins as just a very faint glow on the horizon. Maybe it is just a “feeling” that we should do something. Maybe it is a passing thought. Maybe it comes as a suggestion from a friend that just feels right. When we get these thoughts, we should write them down or place a reminder in our phones. In some way we need to acknowledge them, and then act on them. As the Lord sees that we act on the small promptings He sends us He will continue to send more. AND we will get better at starting to understand the ways that revelation comes to us. Just like the sunrise starts faintly on the horizon, the light will gradually increase until it is bright and surrounds us.
Another way is not feeling like the Lord will speak to us because we are not good enough.
A week and half ago our family was hiking in Southern Utah for spring break. We did a 17-mile day hike through a narrow canyon called Coyote Gulch. It was a fantastic hike! To get out of the canyon required a climb up a steep canyon slope for a few hundred yards before it got less steep. Sometimes ropes will be left by previous groups to help make the climb, but this time there was no rope. We fortunately brought our own, but the climb out was still a bit scary. We only encountered one problem on our way out. Without the rope it could have been very bad. Our 17-year-old daughter, Alyssa, was climbing up a steep pitch while secured with the rope. As she climbed, she got to a point where she couldn’t see the route forward. She stopped looking up and forward, and ended up turned around and facing down the steep slope she had just climbed up. Looking back down the steep hill paralyzed her with fear. She started to slip and started to panic. Luckily the rope held her in place, and she was pulled up to safety.
At times in our lives, we may focus so much on our flawed pasts that we fail to see the glorious futures that lie before us and the eternal potential that exists within each of us. When we forget who we really are as children of a loving Father in Heaven, we may also lose hope in His willingness to communicate with us. The Atonement of Jesus Christ makes forgiveness possible and reminds us that our Father wants us to return to our heavenly home with Him. He sends the Holy Ghost to guide us and direct us.
Remember the question posed by President Nelson. How do YOU hear Him? This implies that it will be different for each one of us. Sometimes the answers are so subtle that they may go unnoticed until we learn how WE hear Him! For me, inspiration frequently comes as passing thoughts accompanied with a good feeling that I try to write down quickly to act on later. For my wife, Elisabeth, they come as a confident-knowing feeling. For some it may be described as a “gut” feeling. For others it may just be a calm, peaceful feeling. I love that President Nelson acknowledges that God speaks to us all in different, individualized ways just for us. Revelation is not a destination; it is a journey – one that is different for each one of us. It is a journey that we can “grow” into day after day, month after month and year after year. I suspect President Nelson continues to grow into the principle of revelation even at age 96!
I testify that God is our Father. He knows you; and He knows me. He loves all of us as His children. He wants to communicate with us to help us return to live with Him. It is my prayer that we may learn the personal, individualized way that the Lord speaks to each of us and that as we act on the promptings and feelings we receive that we can all “grow into the principle of revelation”.