Guesswork has never been a very effective way to make decisions, especially when the outcome isn’t at all obvious. While it might be fine for the little choices (what should I fix for dinner?), it is a terrible way to make the really important decisions (what church should I join?). There has to be a better way—and there is. God has given us the Holy Spirit, also known as the Holy Ghost, to help us make life’s hardest decisions.
Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) believe that revelation is available to everyone for any area of responsibility the person has. That means that the prophet, like the prophets of the Bible, are the only people who can receive revelation for the entire church. Imagine how confusing it would get if everyone could receive revelation for the church—we’d never know who to listen to if people disagreed. God is a God of order and so only one person is authorized to set doctrine.
What Kind of Personal Revelation Can I Receive?
A Mormon bishop (a lay pastor) can receive revelation for his own congregation, but not the congregation in the next town. Only his own congregation falls under his field of responsibility. A Relief Society president (the leader of the women’s auxiliary) can receive revelation about an interesting program for her own Relief Society, but can’t decide how things ought to run for all the women of the church worldwide.
Each of us has multiple spheres of responsibility. I can receive revelation for my role as a homemaker, for my business, for the way to teach next week’s lesson to the children I teach at church, and for my own life. Those are the things I’m in charge of—not my neighbor’s life or the entire church, but the things I am responsible for.
The revelation we receive through the Holy Ghost is exactly tailored to our own needs. While some answers are standard because they involve revealed truths or patterns, most are personalized to take into consideration many different factors: our personalities, our needs, God’s plan for us, how the decision will impact others, and so forth. It’s a complex problem too great for even the smartest computer, but God knows everything about us and is able to put all that knowledge together into a perfect answer.
What if I Don’t Like the Way God Answers My Prayers?
Sometimes the answer isn’t what we wanted to hear. God’s job isn’t to give us what we want, but what is best for us. There have been occasions in the scriptures where people demanded something that wasn’t in their best interests. When they ignored God and He told them to try it their own way, it always led to disaster. This is true in our own lives as well. God will tell us what we need to do, but we are free to accept or reject the answer. However, we are not promised a consequence-free life and so rejecting God’s answers inevitably leads to problems.
There is a story in the Book of Mormon, a companion book to the Bible, that tells of a man named Abinidi, who was sent to preach the gospel to the wicked king and his priests. When I teach this lesson to children, they always love Abinidi and are afraid because Abinidi is told by God that no one can harm him until his message has been delivered. As he preaches, no one is able to touch him. One man, Alma, is converted and is forced to escape when the king wants him killed as well.
The children are always upset that after Alma is gone and safe, Abinidi is killed. They feel Alma should have stayed behind to rescue Abinidi. At their young age, and not having heard the rest of the story yet, they don’t realize why God commanded Alma to escape but allowed Abinidi to be killed. With the conversion of Alma, Abinidi’s final purpose had been fulfilled and so he could die—and he says he is not afraid because he knows he is saved. However, Alma’s mission is only beginning. He goes into hiding and begins to record what he learned from Abinidi. He then starts to teach those things secretly to anyone who will listen. Many are converted and by the time they are discovered, they are able to flee and to build their own kingdom based on gospel principles.
God can look ahead and so he saw that Abinidi’s work was done, but Alma’s had much left to be accomplished. It was more important for Alma to escape than to try to rescue Abinidi, something that likely would have gotten him killed.
When we look at our lives, we are often like the children in my classes, seeing only what is revealed so far. We often have no idea what lies ahead—but God does and this is why we need to listen and obey when the Holy Ghost gives us personal revelation.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.