Among the distinct doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the belief in ongoing revelation. The Church’s existence hinges upon the revelation that a 14-year-old boy received from his honest inquiry about which church he should join. For the bicentennial celebration of the restoration, the Church released a declaration affirming their belief in the restoration of the Gospel and “that the promised Restoration goes forward through continuing revelation.” Latter-day Saints celebrate a modern, living prophet who they believe has been given prophetic authority. They also believe that each individual can receive their own personal revelation.
They believe not just in a heaven that opened again but in a heaven that has burst open.
But how does this reality impact the individual personal lives of Latter-day Saints? The Church’s existence hinges upon the revelation.
The Church’s existence hinges upon the revelation.
Different Kinds of Revelation
For many, personal revelation is a key component of making important personal decisions, such as when to start a family, what college major or career we should pursue, or how to navigate complicated family dynamics. For questions like these, answers from the Lord are subject to the particular circumstances and contexts of our lives, and thus, the answers individuals receive reflect that individual context. For example, I personally received a revelation to start my family soon after my marriage, while my brother, in seeking an answer to the same question, was prompted to start his family a few years after his marriage. Neither answer is necessarily “right” or “wrong,” in the broader context, but each was the right answer for us that we received because we were both open to the Lord’s answer to our prayers.
Latter-day Saints couple this expansive view of the Lord’s interest in their lives with a more regimented view of which questions are appropriate for personal revelation and parameters on the kinds of answers we can receive.
For example, if a person prays to God about proceeding forward with an extramarital affair and feels ‘good’ about it, we can know that their answer was not from God. There is a clear doctrine on marital fidelity that reflects the marriage covenants made within the faith. These issues are guided by already-defined doctrine or prophetic guidance. Answers from the Lord are subject to the particular circumstances and contexts of our lives.
Answers from the Lord are subject to the particular circumstances and contexts of our lives.
Patrick Kearon, the most recently called apostle in the Church, said in his first address after his call, “If we strive to be led purely by the hand of God, and not by any other influence, we will be empowered to face the unknowns of our future with sustaining faith and abiding trust.”
Reflecting on Our Own Influence
The ‘other influences’ that Kearon mentions can include our own influence. Increasingly, there is dialogue among members that justifies decisions that put them contrary to the prophet in the name of personal revelation. I have even heard people cite President Nelson’s admonishment to understand our own relationship with Christ as justification for acting against his own prophetic counsel.
This logic is spiritually counterproductive and requires serious mental and moral gymnastics. A scripture often referenced in these cases is Doctrine and Covenants 9:8, which states: “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.” Taken as it is, without any context, it may seem like the Lord is telling us to simply come up with a solution and listen to our feelings. However, it is important that we distinguish between feelings of relief and peace when searching for answers to difficult questions. (While an in-depth analysis of these concepts goes beyond the scope of this article, you can find a good resource here.) For our purposes now, it can simply mean that while our emotional experiences are part of receiving revelation, they are not an all-knowing standard for seeking out truth. Moroni 10:4 states, “If ye shall ask with sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Moroni provides meaningful parameters for measuring our own intentions in seeking out revelation. If we want revelation that represents truth and is of God, we need sincere hearts, true intent, and faith in Jesus Christ. Great and wonderful are the blessings that come into our lives as we listen to the word of the Lord.
Great and wonderful are the blessings that come into our lives as we listen to the word of the Lord.
Following the Prophet and embracing the truthfulness of the restored church involves more than adhering to counsel when it suits us. If we use the process of “personal revelation” as little more than deciding if what has been taught is convenient or aligns with our existing beliefs, we are largely losing out on its benefits. Adherents should anticipate that guidance from the prophet will challenge them at times. Engaging with personal difficulties, even when inspired by divine counsel, is a natural part of growth and eternal progression. It is said in modern scripture, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
We are privileged to live in an era marked by ongoing, modern revelation. Through this, Latter-day Saints bear witness to the unfolding of God’s plan. We can maintain our spiritual anchors in the gospel of Jesus Christ as we rely on personal revelation grounded in truth in addition to careful attention to the words of the prophet. The late apostle M. Russell Ballard said, “It is no small thing, my brothers and sisters, to have a prophet of God in our midst. In my experience, great and wonderful are the blessings that come into our lives as we listen to the word of the Lord given to us through him. … When we hear the counsel of the Lord expressed through the words of the President of the Church, our response should be positive and prompt. History has shown that there is safety, peace, prosperity, and happiness in responding to prophetic counsel…” Latter-day Saints who do so enhance their capacity for personal revelation and their spiritual alignment with divine will.