How can we prepare ourselves to receive revelation? How can we recognize it when we receive it? What is the relationship between personal revelation and the words of prophets?
Oliver Cowdery was wrestling with these kinds of questions in April of 1829, as he assisted Joseph Smith with the translation of the Book of Mormon. During that month, Joseph received four revelations on Oliver’s behalf. Those revelations, found today in Doctrine and Covenants 6-9, contain important principles which helped Oliver fulfill his important role in bringing forth the Book of Mormon.
Here are some of the principles taught in those sections, together with some relevant blog posts:
Doctrine and Covenants 6: “Did I not speak peace to your mind?”
Oliver had previously received personal revelation from God in answer to his prayers. He may have doubted the veracity of those experiences. In this revelation, the Lord reassures him that those experiences were real. “Thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind” (v. 15). “Did I not speak peace to your mind…? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (v. 23). Like all of us at times, Oliver needed to be reminded of what he already knew, and he needed reassurance that he could personally hear the voice of God.
- God’s words will inspire us to action and help us make wise decisions (6:2): “Quick and Powerful” – Helaman 3:29.
- We should accept and use the gifts we receive from God (6:10-11): “Every Good Gift” – Moroni 10:18.
- God is willing to speak to us frequently (6:14-15): Having Many Revelations Daily – Helaman 11:23
- Our minds are enlightened as we receive the Holy Ghost (6:15): The Light and the Life of the World – Mosiah 16:9
Doctrine and Covenants 7: “Ye shall both have according to your desires.”
Joseph and Oliver wanted to know what happened to John the Beloved. There is a passage in the Bible which suggests, but does not state, that John would remain on the earth until the Savior’s Second Coming. (See John 21:20-21.) The Lord revealed to Joseph and Oliver that John requested that blessing, and that it had, in fact, been granted. But the Lord also emphasized that Peter’s desire to return speedily to His presence was also good. Different followers of Christ can have different missions, all of which are good.
- God can empower us to do whatever is needed to accomplish our purposes (7:1-3): Was Alma Translated?
- We can each contribute to God’s work in ways that are unique to us (7:1-3): What Is It That Ye Desire? – 3 Nephi 28:1-7.
Doctrine and Covenants 8: “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart.”
Oliver wanted to translate, not merely to serve as the scribe. In this revelation, the Lord granted him permission to translate and taught him how to recognize revelation. But He also emphasized that Oliver’s gift to be an effective scribe was important and meaningful.
- Our ability to feel enables us to hear the voice of the Lord (8:2): What Does It Mean to Be “Past Feeling?”
- The Book of Mormon provides guidance about how to distinguish our own thoughts and feelings from the Holy Ghost (8:2): What Does the Book of Mormon Teach About the Holy Ghost?
- It is possible to receive the Holy Ghost and not to be aware of it (8:1-2): And They Knew It Not – 3 Nephi 9:20.
- Just as the Holy Ghost speaks to our mind and heart, the temptations of the devil attempt to disrupt that process (8:2): 1 Nephi 12:17 …Which Blindeth the Eyes and Hardeneth the Hearts.
- We generally experience spiritual things directly in our minds and hearts. That empirical evidence is more reliable than logic. (8:2-3): He Was Learned – Jacob 7:4-5.
Doctrine and Covenants 9: “You must study it out in your mind.”
After Oliver tried, and failed, to translate, the Lord explained to him what had happened. “You took no thought save it was to ask me,” He said. “But, behold,…you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right” (v. 8). Oliver had misunderstood his own role in receiving revelation; it does not come without effort on our part.
- As we seek revelation, in addition to praying, we may need to take a walk, ponder, talk with others, and then pray and study again (9:8): “The Voice of the Lord Came unto Him” – 3 Nephi 1:12
- Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. But it didn’t come easily. “It required Joseph’s intense, personal efforts” (9:5, 7): How Did Joseph Smith Translate the Book of Mormon?
- God wants us to think things through, propose solutions as appropriate, and learn from our experiences. The learning process is more than simply asking questions and waiting for answers (9:7-8): What Will Ye That I Should Do? – Ether 2:23-25.