Bill Pringle - Bill@BillPringle
Good morning, brothers and sisters. I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak about personal revelation today. Personal revelation is one of the things that most impressed me when I first joined the church. While many religions teach that we should pray to God, very few teach that we can listen for answers. We can ask God questions and then receive answers to our questions.
Sister Pringle talked about the blessing she received when she was being set apart. At around the same time, I had asked for a priesthood blessing. In that blessing, I was told that someone was being prepared for me to go to the temple. As you might know, a person has to be a member at least one year before they can go to the temple for their endowments. A year after I had joined the church I met Linda and her daughter, Denise. Our ward had a group going up to the Palmyra pageant. I was driving a car and they were in the back seat. This was the end of August. We announced our engagement at the ward Labor Day picnic, and were married in November. What is interesting is that neither of us were planning on getting married, but Heavenly Father convinced both of us that this was what we should do. Fortunately, we were willing to accept a personal revelation even though it wasn't what we were looking for.
While personal revelation is very important, and can be a great blessing to us, we must also be careful how we use it. History is littered with atrocities performed by people who thought they were doing God's will. Some of the worst tragedies have come about because people thought they were doing what God had told them to do. I certainly don't think anyone here could become so misguided, but it illustrates why we should be careful when we deal with personal revelation.
Even within our own church, some have been led astray by following the wrong promptings. In D&C 28, we read that Hyrum Page, an early church leader, was deceived by Satan. He had obtained a stone which he thought allowed him to receive revelations from God. This caused confusion and led several people astray, including Oliver Cowdery. Joseph Smith went to the Lord and received section 28 of the Doctrine & Covenants. We now understand that the Lord will only give us revelation according to our responsibilities. I can receive revelation about how I should perform my callings, but I can't receive revelation telling you how to perform your callings. I might be prompted to suggest something to you, but you are the person responsible for determining what the Lord wants you to do.
For example, I was the Executive Secretary for a number of Bishops in my home ward of Broomall, and for a number of years here in South Philly for President Boik. There were many times that I was prompted to make suggestions during meetings, but I always knew that it was only the Bishop or Branch President who could determine if my suggestions should be followed. In many of the headings in the D&C we read that the revelation came about because somebody asked Joseph Smith a question, and he went to the Lord. In like manner, somebody might suggest that you do something, but it is up to you to go to the Lord and determine if you should take that advice. In some cases, while you are praying about the suggestion, a different idea may come to you. The Lord often answers our prayers through somebody else, but some times not in the way that we think.
One of the reasons we should stay in tune with the Lord is so that we can recognize the promptings of the Holy Ghost. This is essential in identifying the origin of any prompting we might receive. Even Joseph Smith had trouble with this at times. In section 111, we read where he had been led to believe that a large amount of money would be available to him if he went to Salem, Mass. Once he got there, he realized that this was not true. In fact, there were several times when the prophet tried to raise money for the church and failed. Each time, he was told that the Lord would take care of the church finances, and that Joseph should concentrate on preaching the gospel.
So, what can we receive revelation about? It depends on our calling within the Church. President Mounelasy can receive revelation about pretty much anything to do with South Philly. That is because he is the Branch President. President Boik used to receive those revelations, but as soon as he was released, he lost that right, and the responsibility fell upon President Mounelasy. The Primary President can receive revelation about the Primary. A Primary teacher can receive revelation about their class. Each of us can receive revelations about our callings.
One of the callings that adults have is a home or visiting teacher. I can receive a revelation telling me what I can do to help the families that I home teach. And, like when I was Executive Secretary, I can make suggestions to the head of the family, but it is up to that person to determine how that suggestion might be applied to their family, if at all. That is because the head of the family is the only person who is entitled to receive revelation about their family.
Another calling that all of us have, including youth and children, is a member of our family. Each of us are entitled to receive revelation about how we should relate to other family members. However, we are not entitled to receive revelation about how other family members should behave, unless we are a parent. Likewise, we can receive revelation about how to relate to other church members, but we are not entitled to receive revelation about how other members should behave. We can teach principles, and determine how those principles are applied to our daily lives, but we can't apply those principles to the lives of others. As we read in Matt 7:1-2:
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
So, one way we can determine if a revelation is from God is: “is it about me or my callings?” If the answer is no, then it isn't from the Lord. Again, you might be prompted to make a suggestion to somebody, but that is different than receiving a personal revelation.
If the revelation is about you or your calling, the next question you should ask is “does it conform to the scriptures?” If you receive a revelation that tells you to ignore a commandment, you can be pretty sure that revelation isn't from the Lord. And remember, Satan won't start by telling you to break a commandment; he will start by telling you to bend it a little. The example I often use is that Satan won't tell you that black is white, but he will try to convince you that black is really dark gray. And then, when he gets you thinking that way, he will tell you it isn't really dark gray, but just gray. And he will keep that up until he finally convinces you that black is really white. Don't let Satan start you down that path. As soon as he starts suggesting loopholes for the commandments, you should start to worry.
O.K., if a revelation is about your or your calling, and it conforms to the scriptures, the next question you should ask is “is this really what the Lord wants?” Sometimes we get a prompting that starts us thinking about something. As we ponder these things, other things come to mind. Basically, some revelations are hints that tell us where to look for the actual answer. Just like others asked questions of Joseph Smith, which caused him to receive a revelation, sometimes we are led through a series of steps to discover what the Lord wishes us to understand.
This brings up another important aspect about personal revelation – most revelation comes about in answer to our prayers. It is important that we pray for the right things. We are often limited by what we think we want, or what we think the Lord will give us. Be careful in how you phrase your requests to the Lord – you don't want to hamper him in blessing you. Since it is usually easier to recognize the answers to other people's problems than to our own, let me give you an example.
The Branch Presidency is responsible for calling the branch leaders. Let's say that they are trying to decide who to call as a new Relief Society president. Now this is just an example – I don't want any rumors going around that they are calling a new Relief Society President, I just remember discussing this issue with President Boik once when we were calling a new Relief Society President for the Branch.
The general procedure is that each member of the Branch Presidency is asked to prayerfully consider the position of Relief Society President and come up with a list of possible candidates. Each person then presents their list, along with explanations of why they think those people should be considered. Everyone discusses the lists, and attempts to arrive at a consensus. It might take several meetings before everyone has settled on a single person. Once a consensus has been reached, the entire presidency prays for confirmation. If it is received, then the person is called.
How do they come up with a list of candidates? They pray for the list. What names they receive, however, depends on the question they ask. For example, they could ask:
Now here is an important principle: the names you get will depend on the questions you ask. For example, one person might clearly be the best Relief Society President, but another sister might have great potential, and eventually become a better Relief Society President than the first. The Branch Presidency might have specific goals for the position, such as reactivation, self sufficiency, missionary activities, etc. All these factors can affect what names are considered for the calling.
The same is true of our own lives. What we should do depends a lot on what we want out of life. We might want to improve the quality of our life, but what we should do depends on many things, including what we want. For example, if we want to be more secure, we might want to get a better job, but in order to do that, we might need more education, change careers, or perhaps learn English better. If all we do is ask Heavenly Father for more money, we are missing the point of what we really need.
When I was a kid, I remember a story called “The Monkey's Paw”. A farmer who was barely making a living was given an old paw and told that he could have three wishes. His first wish was for more money. Shortly afterwards, his son was killed in a tragic accident, and the insurance company sent him a check for a large amount of money. He was devastated. His second wish was that he wanted his son back. Outside, he hears footsteps, but they sounded strange. He would hear a step, and then a dragging sound, followed by another step, and more dragging. He then realizes that his son's mangled body is attempting to walk toward the house. He takes the paw, and his final wish is to send his son back to peace. That story helped me realize that how we phrase questions (and wishes) is very important.
So, how can we come up with better requests for our prayers? I'm guessing it varies from person to person, but I can give you some examples of how I do it.
To begin with, I seldom pray for something specific to happen (or not happen). For example, I wouldn't pray to get a new job or a raise, but I would pray that I get the new job or raise if that is what would be best for me. I would also pray that I would understand and accept whatever happened. Now, many of you know that my favorite scriptures is the Hebrew Bible, which is often called Tanakh or the Old Testament. Many of the early prophets asked for some kind of sign or indication of God's will. For example, Gideon placed a fleece of wool outside his tent, and asked the Lord to make the fleece wet and the ground dry the next morning if he were to do what he was asked. When I interviewed for a job that required us to move here to Philadelphia, we prayed that, if we were to take the job, that we would get an offer above a certain dollar amount. We got the offer, I took the job, and we have been blessed in many ways since then. Interestingly, I stayed at that job only 5 years, and a conversation with a co-worker led to me getting a second job that I have had for over 20 years.
By the way, this process is different than the Pharisees and Scribes asking for a sign in the New Testament, because they were looking for proof that Jesus was the Christ. The fact that they asked for a sign indicated that they didn't have the faith to recognize the many signs that Jesus had already given, by fulfilling various prophecies.
Now how does this fit in with personal revelation? Well, if you think about it, answers to prayers is a form of personal revelation. If we want to receive a personal revelation about something, we can pray about it and ask for an answer. As you might expect, it isn't quite that easy.
In Section 9 of the Doctrine & Covenants, we read that Oliver Cowdery had asked to translate part of the Book of Mormon. When he sat down to translate, nothing happened, and so Joseph Smith received an explanation in D&C 9:7-9:
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
Now, the exact way that the Holy Ghost communicates with us varies from person to person. For Oliver Cowdery (and many others) it is a burning in the bosom; for others it is a swelling, a feeling of excitement, or a calm and peaceful feeling. But in all cases, it is a very subtle feeling that is easy to miss if you aren't paying attention. That is why it is important that we constantly maintain our spirituality so that we can detect when those promptings occur.
So we are to study it out, and then ask if it is right. That means that most, if not all, of our questions should require a yes or no answer. We shouldn't just ask “what should I do next?” We should give it a lot of thought, think about the options, and then try to determine what would be best for you and your family.. When we think we finally understand what we should do, we can then go to Heavenly Father, present our thoughts and our conclusion, and ask if it is right.
I find that, for me, scripture study is often how I receive personal revelation. Many times when I am reading, a certain passage will stand out, and I get an excited feeling as I read it. That is usually a sign that the verse has something that the Lord wants me to think about. Other times, while I'm reading scriptures, something will pop into my mind. After prayerfully pondering these thoughts, I will often determine something that the Lord wants me to do.
I suspect that just as everyone has their own way that the Holy Ghost communicates with them, each of us can have a different way to receive personal revelation. For me, it is reading scriptures; for you, it might be sitting and thinking, going to the temple, listening to classical music, or even soaking in the tub. Each of us should pay attention to when we receive these promptings so that we can do that more often when we are looking for personal revelation.
So personal revelation happens in several steps. First, we receive a revelation telling us what we should be thinking about. Sometimes this comes from talking to people, and other times is comes when we are receptive to promptings from the Holy Ghost. Once we have this first revelation, we ponder it and try to come up with a solution on our own. When we think we know the answer, we present our solution to Heavenly Father and hopefully get a confirmation it is right.
You might go through this cycle several times to resolve a single issue. For example, suppose you decide that you want to improve your current financial situation. You might use personal revelation to determine if you should ask for a raise, change jobs, get an education, or improve your current skills. Suppose the answer you get is to change your job situation. You can use personal revelation to determine if you should get a second job, get a better job in your current field, get job in a different field, etc. In many ways, personal revelation is a continuing process, and the more you do it, the closer you come to Heavenly Father.
So, to recap:
It is my prayer that each of us concentrate on personal revelation over the coming months. One of the things we can ask the Lord about is how we can help our Branch grow into a Ward. The Branch Presidency has received a personal revelation that we can become a ward within the next two years. That is something that they will not be able to do on their own. They will need all of us to work together towards that goal. Personal revelation is the tool we can use to understand what each of us can do to help make that goal a reality. It is my prayer that each of you will set a goal to receive a personal revelation about how you can help transform the Branch into a Ward.
This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.