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A call for more personal revelation

While serving as a missionary in Central America in 1976, we taught the people how important it was to receive personal revelation. If there was anything we brought up in every discussion, it was the need for the individuals we were teaching to have private personal experiences with the spirit of the Lord in prayer. Each time we met we would ask, "have you prayed about what you are reading in the Book of Mormon?"

That would immediately get to the point. With one question we could tell if they were reading and if they were praying. Sometimes we would phrase the request as, "tell me how you have felt as you have prayed about the Book of Mormon." Yes, it put the people on the spot but we were bold missionaries and that was our job - to invite people to discover the truth for themselves.

By their response we knew if we were being effective in our efforts. We could usually sense if they had any questions and just how sincere they were in accepting our challenge to read and to pray. We often encountered people who said they read but didn't understand. We would then discuss the importance of prayer. That was sometimes a difficult obstacle to overcome in that predominantly Catholic part of the world. They simply didn't know how to pray.

Gospel study is always better with prayer

When I first started studying Mormon history, I was a young lad with a lot of simple faith. Yes, I had grown up in the church and had been through Primary and Sunday School but was now in a Doctrine and Covenants class in Seminary. I was fascinated with the background behind the revelations and was always wanting to know more than I was being taught from the official curriculum. The teacher didn't always know the answers to my questions.

I have written previously about my early experience in learning about seer stones, and the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, about Joseph's plural wives and what really happened in Carthage jail. I learned the rest of the story of these and many other difficult things not from the seminary teacher but from my mother, or more accurately, from the history books she gave me. Mother always invited me to pray about the material she gave me to read.

I confess that I usually didn't pray about what I read back then. I trusted my mother. If she felt comfortable enough to give me a book to read then it must contain something she believed. It was later in life when I studied the same material as I prepared to teach seminary that I added that depth of specific prayer to my efforts. The prayer was usually something like, "Heavenly Father, how can I teach this material in a faith-promoting way?"

The preparation for the prayer

When I was preparing for my mission, I was blessed with a six-month period of time when I was not working or going to school. I spent every day for six months doing nothing but studying the doctrines and the history of the church and going out with the missionaries to teach it. I even went to zone conferences and had interviews with the mission president. I was totally and completely immersed in studying and teaching the gospel before I was a missionary.

There were so many times I would look up and realize that I would be late to go out with the missionaries unless I put the books down and got ready. There was never enough time to explore all the facets of the topic I had chosen for myself to study that day. I remember reading Cleon Skousen's commentaries of the Old Testament during this time. Although he sure added a lot of personal conjecture, it was easy reading and I consumed it in a few short weeks.

When I got to the Doctrine and Covenants I found a volume that just enthralled me and kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of discovering what marvelous manifestations would come to the prophet next. My copy of the 864-page D&C Commentary from Hyrum M. Smith is marked just as much as my scriptures. I still can't believe that I read it in less than two months. It was from this apostle that I learned the faithful history behind the revelations.

The prayer behind the study

It was during this intense six months of gospel study that I received some of the most profound personal revelation of my young life. I had a testimony. I knew the church was true. I knew that the Lord loved me, but now I wanted to know if what I was studying in church history was being accurately portrayed in the material I was reading. I felt that I had a right to put the Book of Mormon promise to the test on the contents of this book from Hyrum Smith.

On two specific occasions during this six month period of time, I determined in my heart that I was going to fast and pray until I had a revelation and knew for myself how the Lord felt about what I had been studying. I hungered and thirsted for this revelation like nothing I had ever wanted before in my life up to that time. Without revealing personal details, I was also fasting and praying for a manifestation from the Lord concerning my standing before Him.

On the third day of my fast, I that night determined that I would not sleep until I had received what I wanted. I remembered the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord until he gave him a blessing. That was the feeling I had as I prayed. It was an intense struggle. Enos has nothing on me. I raised my voice in prayer with an intensity and passion that I don't think I have felt since. It was an emotional and exhausting experience.

The revelation during the prayer

We are often counseled in the church to not share intimate details of personal revelation. Over the years I have seen the wisdom in this counsel. There is no way I can describe everything that happened to me that night as I fasted and prayed. No, I did not see visions. No, I did not hear voices. But I can tell you that I was immersed in the spirit and received knowledge in a way that I had never experienced before. I cannot explain how it happened. I only know that it did.

I asked the Lord specifically if what I was studying in Church History was true. I asked Him, I pleaded with Him to manifest to me that what I had just read in the 864-page D&C Commentary really happened the way it was written. The answer that I received was surprising. First came the impression, or rather knowledge, that my sacrifice in fasting and prayer was acceptable along with a manifestation of the pure love of the Lord that was just infinite and eternal.

And then came the surprising part. It was this: "No, the book you just read did not contain everything that happened in church history. A lot of it was left out. It was written with the intent to encourage faith. You will discover many more things in the years to come. But know this, whatever you learn, you can always rely on this one thing: Joseph did not tell everything he knew and neither can you. Some things you can only receive in faith-filled prayer."

The effects of the revelation

And just like that it was over. After months of study and preparation that included service as a local missionary, and then three days of fasting and prayer and intense struggle before the Lord, I knew more in a few seconds of direct revelation that I had from all my personal study. I had made notes. I had made outlines. I had prepared talks and lessons. I had it down in my mind as far as an intellectual understanding, but it was nothing compared to that revelation.

Did I receive personal revelation? Yes, I absolutely did. The voice was heard without having to come through my ears. I did not mistake it as being my own voice or my own thoughts. There was just no way it could have been anything but from the Lord. It was unmistakable. I could not doubt it. I never have and I never will. I know that I will be held accountable for it, meaning that when I face the Lord, we will both know that he spoke clearly to me on that night.

Am I wise or foolish in sharing this very personal story? You will have to be the judge of that. Those who have not experienced revelation will mock and ridicule. That is way we are counseled to not share sacred things like this in a public forum. If we were sitting in the same room and I told you this story I could watch your reaction carefully to note the reception. But because so much of what I write is about church history and doctrine, I felt this was important to share.

Summary and conclusion

The kind of knowledge I have written about goes against the methods of man in obtaining understanding of something. With that one experience so many years ago, I can say with confidence that I entered a different aspect of the world of revelation. That was not the first and not the last revelation I have received, but it was one of the most powerful. Because of this one event in my life, I have never doubted the history of the church and never will.

It distresses me to read of so many on the internet who do not understand our history. Because of that lack of understanding, they dismiss the doctrines that were received by revelation of a prophet of God. They also throw out the blessings that come from believing and following a prophet, seer and revelator. Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw. He received revelation and shared it with the world as he was commanded, but he did not share everything.

You can only know of some things that Joseph wanted to teach when you ask the Lord to reveal them to you directly. That is what Bruce R. McConkie tried to teach us. If we want to know what Joseph knew, we must do what he did and live as he did. No I'm not advocating plural marriage or suggesting that you start a church. But I am inviting you to immerse yourself in a faith-filled study of the doctrines and history and then ask the Lord for more.

I promise you that He will provide more as he sees fit - in His own due time and in His own way.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for sharing your experience. I have had experiences such as your own. I agree that we should make prayer and seeking personal revelation a central part of our gospel study. Too often a study of the gospel leaves those important elements out.
Tim Malone said…
Thanks Bryce,

I have been consumed in my blogging lately about those who continue to assert that they have lost their faith in the church because of things that they have discovered in their studies of the early history. As an amateur historian, I have had the exact opposite experience. My studies have strengthened my faith and brought me a greater respect and appreciation for the early leaders of the church. I attribute this to the practice of prayer in connection with my studies.

I love visiting your Temple Study blog. It is filled with faith and the subject matter is delightful. Well worth the visit. I too enjoy the works of Hugh Nibley, especially his writings about the book of Enoch and the Dead Sea scrolls. Fascinating stuff!
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Tim.

I'm with you in everything you've written here.

Tim Malone said…
Thank you Thomas,

I've read several of your comments on group blogs like Times and Seasons, By Common Consent and Mormon Mentality. Do you have a blog?
Anonymous said…
Hi Tim,

I'm grateful that you shared your life changing experience on your blog.

I share your concern for those who are losing their faith because of the challenges they encounter in their studies. I wonder if we're not seeing the fulfillment in this day of Mosiah 23:21 and 1 Nephi 17:41.

It may be that the Lord is testing many in this generation--the intellectuals. The remedy is to ask God, as you did , to show them the truth, but many seem unwilling to pay the price for revelation. In stead, they seem to find their primary strength from FAIR and like organizations to sustain them. I think they do a world of good, but in the end only personal revelation, as you related it in your post, will provide the answers and the healing.
Tim Malone said…
Hi Jared,

I hope I'm not being too harsh on those who struggle with their church history discoveries. It is only recently I have come to appreciate how blessed I was to have been exposed to all this stuff in my youth. I can only imagine what it must be like to learn about it later in life, perhaps when diligently preparing to teach a seminary class.

I am not so sure that those who we might consider the intellectuals in the church really rely on FAIR or FARMS or SHIELDS. I think they tend to rely more on their own reasoning and logic. Some things in our history do not seem very reasonable or logical. Men acted back then on faith that defies logic. Entering into plural marriage was not logical. It went against everything that the moral climate of the era dictated.

But yes, I stand by my testimony in this essay that prayer, leading to revelation is the best answer to dealing with the distressing issues that can come up in deep searches of church history. I'm even shocked by some of the things I have read recently about the activities of some bishops in Southern Utah in the late 19th century. Crazy stuff!

Thanks for your comment.
Anonymous said…
This brings me back to an experience that puzzled me for years. I am find now with it.
The thing that disturbs me still is "why granting this experience to a child so young?"
Anyway I feel bless.
Tim Malone said…

I'm not sure if you're referring to my experience with revelation or with that of the prophet Joseph Smith. He of course was 14 years old when he received the visit from God in the sacred grove. I was in my early teens when I had some of my first experiences with revelation. This particular experience I have described in this essay occurred when I was preparing for my mission so I would have been 18 or 19.

To answer your question as to why the Lord would grant revelatory experiences to someone so young all I can offer is that it impressed me profoundly to be the recipient of such an awesome experience at that age. However, I must point out that my experience is no all that unique, or at least I do not think it is. There are many thousands of young people who can testify to having received revelation from the Lord in answer to their prayers.

That's one of the wonderful things about this church - we can know for ourselves that it is true through personal revelation. It does not take away our agency and it does not make us any different from the rest of the world in that we are still subject to the temptations of mortality, but it does give us a sure witness that we can share with the rest of the world when the Lord needs us to do so.

I was privileged to share that witness for two years in Central America as a missionary back in the late 70's. Today, that witness is just as strong if not stronger than it was when I first received it. It is real and has remained with me all these years, for which I am grateful. So it makes sense that the Lord would give young people revelation if they ask for it and pay the price to receive it. I has blessed my life tremendously over the years.
Tony said…
Thank you for sharing. I, though it may seem strange to some, am glad that even when I first investigated the Church I came across all kinds of claims, and still do as a 17 year old who converted two years ago. It only serves to strengthen my faith and turn back to the revelation I have recieved.
Michael Brinson said…
Awesome post Tim. Thanks so much for sharing. Very inspiring.
Unknown said…
Your experience with revelation, Tim, is quite different from my own. If I can claim such a magnificent gift as my own, I must say it comes to me without my being aware of it. An idea or a notion is suddenly there, seemingly without provication ... ideas that have no particular realtionship to what I'm reading or studying at the moment ... out of nowhere, so to speak. Thus, I must conclude that the experience is different for each of us. Only in hindsight do I see these moments of insight as revelation. And I find that if I don't get them out - put them on paper or express them to others - they are just as liable to vanish as not. They are truly ephemeral. Thanks for prompting me to consider this aspect of my life by presenting yours. As ever, your insights are remarkable.

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