In his first talk as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson pleaded with us to “increase [our] spiritual capacity to receive revelation” (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for our Lives,” General Conference, April 2018). Two years later, he said, “I renew my plea for you to do whatever it takes to increase your spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation” (“Hear Him,” General Conference, April 2020).
How can we hear the voice of the Lord? How do His messages come to us, and how can we recognize them?
While Oliver Cowdery was helping Joseph Smith with the translation of the Book of Mormon in April 1829, Joseph received several revelations in which the Lord taught Oliver how to hear His voice. All of those principles also appear in the Book of Mormon. Here are the principles that have been helpful to me in my efforts to receive and recognize revelation from God:
1. The voice of the Lord brings peace.
Shortly after beginning to serve as a scribe for Joseph, Oliver wanted an assurance that they were really doing the work of the Lord. In response, the Lord said, “If you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:23, italics added).
The voice of the Lord has a calming influence. It helps us feel more confident, more grounded, and less fearful.
In about the year 63 B.C., as Helaman’s army faced a precarious situation, they “did pour out [their] souls in prayer to God.” As Helaman explained in a letter to Captain Moroni, “The Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him” (Alma 58:11, italics added).
Because the Lord speaks peace, His words have the effect of increasing our faith and our hope.
2. The Lord speaks directly to our mind and to our heart.
Messages from God often come in the form of thoughts and feelings.
Although there have been times when people heard the voice of the Lord with their physical ears, He usually speaks directly to our mind and our heart, without the need for our physical senses.
When Oliver Cowdery requested the ability to translate, God gave him the following instruction: “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2).
When Enos prayed on behalf of his people, he said, “the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10). As Samuel the Lamanite stood on the wall of Zarahemla, he said, “I…do speak the words of the Lord which he doth put into my heart” (Helaman 13:3, 5).
Elder Richard G. Scott explained his experience with receiving revelation in his mind and heart: “For me, response to the mind is very specific, like dictated words, while response to the heart is generalized, like a feeling to pray more” (“Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” General Conference, April 2007).
3. Personal revelation helps us to see more clearly.
To Oliver Cowdery, the Lord said, “Thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:15).
Alma taught the Zoramites that, if they would accept the possibility that God’s word is true, and not cast it out by their unbelief, they would soon begin to experience positive outcomes. Here is one of those outcomes: “Your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand” (Alma 32:34).
Shortly after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had a remarkable spiritual experience, Joseph reported:
Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of.Joseph Smith—History 1:74
The Spirit of the Lord not only provides information; it also increase our perceptiveness and helps us learn more deeply from our experiences.
4. The voice of the Lord inspires us.
After the Savior’s resurrection, two of His disciples walked with Him for about seven and a half miles on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. When He was gone, they lamented their failure to recognize Him: “Did not our heart burn within us,” they asked, “while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
The Savior used a similar phrase to teach Oliver about the feelings that accompany personal revelation. “I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you,” He said; “therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8).
What is this burning feeling? I associate it with a desire to act. When Alma “could not rest” after preaching to the Zoramites, but felt compelled to continue his efforts to preach the gospel (Alma 43:1), or when Nephi, after receiving a message from God, “did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes” (Helaman 10:12), I think they were feeling that burning, that desire to do something. When Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me” (2 Nephi 16:8, Isaiah 6:8), I think he was feeling it too.
The Spirit of the Lord moves us to action; it motivates us to serve.
Today, I will strive to hear the voice of the Lord more often and more accurately. I will pay attention to thoughts and feelings which bring peace, which help me see clearly, and which motivate me to do good.