Several years ago I had a conversation with a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was in his 60s and had been reasonably active most of his life. He's even been a temple worker for some time.
I don’t remember how the subject came up, but I will never forget when he stated, “I don’t think I’ve ever had my prayers answered.”
I was stunned and saddened.
I was reminded of that discussion this past conference when President Boyd K. Packer spoke eloquently about what distinguishes us as members of Jesus Christ’s church. After discussing the Savior’s death and his ascension into heaven, he described the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost upon the Twelve and others. President Packer succinctly and perfectly clarified that experience, “His apostles were now empowered.”
In what way were they empowered?
In Matthew 16, Jesus Christ asks Peter, “Whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Blessing Peter for gaining a testimony, born not of words or miracles but of the Spirit, the Savior promised, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Some allege the “rock” that Christ’s church would be built upon was Peter. Others, and rightly so, describe Christ as the “rock” upon which his church is built. This conclusion cannot be disputed, but remembering that scriptures are often dualistic — or have multiple meanings — there is another explanation when Christ’s words are put in context.
Christ says to Peter, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven,” and then follows, “and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ indicates that personal revelation given under inspiration of the Holy Ghost is the rock upon which his church is founded.
With the Great Apostasy, Christ’s church was taken from the Earth. It was restored under the direction of Joseph Smith, and in 1829 he and Oliver Cowdery were given the gift of the Holy Ghost and the promise of personal revelation, meaning, as Elder Packer quoted from the Doctrine and Covenants, “that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world.”
President Packer went on, “The work in the church today is performed by ordinary men and women called and sustained to preside, to teach, and to administer. It is by the power of revelation and the gift of the Holy Ghost that those called are guided to know the Lord’s will. Others may not accept such things as prophecy, revelation, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, but if they are to understand us at all, they must understand that we accept those things.”
The centrality of personal revelation was indicated at the time of the Restoration. In April 1829 the Lord told Oliver Cowdery, “If you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.”
When Oliver sought confirmation — personal revelation — that the church was true, the Lord educated and informed him, “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” The Lord instructed Oliver that he had previously been given a witness through the Holy Ghost that the church was true. More importantly, a witness from the Holy Ghost, or personal revelation, is far greater than any other manifestation a person can receive.
Not only those outside the LDS Church, but as indicated from my conversation with a dear friend, church members too need to understand the great privilege that is ours. Some Mormons today do not appreciate and others discount the value of personal revelation.
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Among God’s greatest gifts is the privilege of kneeling, speaking with God, listening for communication from him through the Holy Ghost, and receiving guidance and direction in all facets of our lives. Initial revelation must engender a quest to more clearly discern the language of the Spirit and distinguish it from the myriad false voices in the world today. Then will come additional and more finely tuned personal revelation.
We must be ever conscious of the extraordinary blessings that are ours. We must recognize that guidance and direction are available, that the Spirit will teach proper principles and practices that provide us protection, direction and purpose in life. It is incumbent upon every member of the church to diligently seek personal revelation and thereby be empowered by God.