At first glance you might be thinking that I am discounting the Holy Spirit’s ability to generate physical “feelings.” Not quite what I am saying. However, I am suggesting that there is a false tradition that does exist. It occurs when we put our complete or excessive dependence upon the physical sensations as “the” indicator of truth or not. The keywords here are “complete” and “excessive.”
Feelings are Not Absolute
Absolute in this case means, “a value or principle that is regarded as universally valid or that may be viewed without relation to other things” (Merriam-Webster). The point here is that “feelings” are not independent or always conclusive.
Complete or excessive dependence upon light for an absolute answer is as equally wrong as complete or excessive dependence upon feelings of darkness for an absolute answer. Take the experience of young Joseph Smith, for example. He ponders deeply on the things of God, studies the local religious sects of his time, studies the scriptures, and after being personally struck by the scripture James 1:5, he comes to the personal conclusion that he must seek for truth from God and none else.
When he retires to a grove of trees, kneels and begins to pray, he relates:
“…immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence [provoking feelings] over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak [likely provoking feelings]. Thick darkness gathered around me [likely provoking feelings], and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction [likely provoking feelings]. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me [likely provoking feelings], and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair [feelings] and abandon myself to destruction [likely provoking feelings]—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power [likely provoking feelings] as I had never before felt [feelings] in any being…”
I think we can all agree that none of that experience of being overcome by that dark power seems positive or good at all–in fact it seems quite scary and it certainly would be for a boy of 14 years of age. So here in lies an important question:
“Feeling” the darkness that Joseph did, are we to conclude that what Joseph Smith was doing is a bad thing? Are we to conclude he should not be praying? Should we conclude that praying is a bad thing? Should we just conclude that asking God directly for knowledge or truth is a bad thing?
The answer to all those questions is, “no.” As you can see, relying completely or excessively upon “feelings” alone is not a safe method for determining truth or not. As we know, young Joseph was simply experiencing opposition and was meant for Joseph to experience on his personal journey.
Let’s take this thinking a little further. As a devout Christian or devout member of the LDS church, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do you “feel” about Abraham being commanded to take his son to a remote place and offer him as a sacrifice (kill him) on an altar?
- How do you think Abraham “felt” immediately upon the commandment?
- How do you “feel” about Moses being commanded to go to Pharaoh on behalf of the Lord?
- How do you think Moses “felt” immediately upon the commandment?
- How do you “feel” about Nephi being commanded to behead (kill) Laban?
- How do you think Nephi “felt” immediately upon the commandment?
This same train of thought could extend to other everyday experiences. For example, have you ever taken medicine that was “prescribed” or deemed “medically necessary,” but made you “feel” foggy, dull, dreary, dark or just want to throw up? Was taking those medicines wrong or inappropriate? If taking methamphetamines helps you “feel” more awake, more productive and or even more confident, are these therefore good and should you take more? Recreational marijuana helps a person “feel” physically calm and good and may even help them deal with stress. Should that same person consume it often or even as often as desired? Depending on your own experience you might have a different answer to those questions. Also, imagine relying on your “feelings” to make all your decisions in the midst of experiencing pain, sickness, hormone fluctuations, traumatic life events and more. As you can see, depending completely or excessively upon “feelings” as “the” indicator of truth or not is just not safe.
If you have completed The 3 Voices of Personal Revelation Study Guide you will know and understand by now that “feelings” can come from 3 different sources but even the “feelings” alone don’t tell a complete story of truth or not.
“Hmmm, That’s New”
Building on the previous point, it is really important to also point out that just because something is new, foreign to your own personal experience, unfamiliar or even uncomfortable does not mean it is untrue.
Think about the number of times you have heard a new perspective, an alternative religious perspective, an alternative ideology or maybe been introduced to a new doctrine only to find yourself quickly dismissing it because it doesn’t currently fit in your box. Why did you dismiss it? If something is new, foreign or unfamiliar it will likely trigger an uncomfortable “feeling”, doesn’t it? How many times have you interpreted “uncomfortable” as “untrue?”
It is important to remember the words of the Lord to Nephi:
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have” (2 Nephi 28:30)
And a “line” or “precept” “here a little and there a little” can definitely be uncomfortable. As a point of emphasis, I don’t know how a person can ever expect to learn something new without “feeling” uncomfortable to some degree.
This is absolutely true for me. When Lord teaches me, He is constantly building context. This context is like a platform for something new to be able to rest on. Context is usually principles (or “precepts “as the scripture states) and even related doctrines. So when something new is presented to me, I immediately refer to the context that it is sitting on. My own spirit/mind/voice really stretches. I will evaluate the context, question it, test it, qualify it and discern its substance. Then and only can I take my conclusions and questions to the Lord for learning and confirmation (or “lend an ear unto his counsel” as the scripture states). When I do receive (or “hearken” as the scripture states) this new found truth turns out to be just new context for the next truth that He will surely place in front of me at some point in the future. And this learning cycle repeats itself over and over–each time changing me and I am “strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).
Just a personal suggestion: Never think you have it all figured it out…never. Never think that everything has been revealed through prophets…never. And never think your box is complete…never.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The point here is just because it is new, unfamiliar, or even triggers uncomfortable “feelings” does not mean it is untrue. Ponder on the things of God. Be discerning. Remember to seek the mind and will of God–and when you do, according to Isaiah, even thoughts from God will be unfamiliar.
Since the first vision, the life of Joseph Smith was filled with new, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. But after pondering on the things of God and much experience receiving the things of God, these words became sweet and joyous.
“This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know that you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know that it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more.” (The King Follett Sermon, Joseph Smith, Jr.)
Joseph Smith spent a great deal of time teaching and sharing what had been personally revealed to him. Like Moses, some of what he revealed was received, but also some of what he revealed was so new, unfamiliar and uncomfortable that it was rejected. If Joseph Smith were here now preaching in the LDS Church, it is very likely that he and his teachings would not be fully accepted or he might even be labeled as an “apostate.”
“And the communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritually minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints.” (History of the Church, 5:1–2; spelling and grammar modernized; paragraph divisions altered; from “History of the Church” (manuscript), book C-1, pp. 1328–29, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.)
Two or More Witnesses: The Mind & The Heart
There is a law of witnesses (Matthew 18:16) associated with receiving personal revelation through the Holy Spirit. One witness is good. Two witnesses can make something sure. Thus, through the Holy Spirit, you can receive God’s words of truth in your mind and also receive a confirmation in your heart (bosom).
The historical record of Oliver Cowdery seeking for the gift of translation is often used as an indicator that revelation from God is “a feeling.” Feelings can be part of the equation but feelings alone are not pure revelation. Note a few very plain and yet important points you need to wrap your head around:
Revelation (words) in the mind are information thoughts in the form of Yes/No, Words, Phrases, Sentences, Dialogues, etc. Revelation in one’s mind can come from any of the 3 voices. This is why it is so important to discern the source of thoughts in the mind. Revelation from voices of light is pure revelation and pure truth (information) from the source of all truth–God! What a beautiful thing!
The scriptures are full of examples of either the Lord or one of His servants admonishing all people to hearken, hear or obey the words of the Lord. A few examples include (search the scriptures for more):
- (2 Nephi 5:25) “And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to astir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.”
- (3 Nephi 23:5) “And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things.”
- (3 Nephi 21:22) “But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance;”
Revelation (light) in the heart (feeling) is a confirmation resource like an on/off switch. If the feeling sheds forth fruits of light (peace, love, humility, etc) then the the voice in one’s mind is coming from a source of light. It is as if the Lord is saying, “Good news, your mind is tuned to my channel and the words in your mind are coming from me.” One must also practice comprehending or interpreting even the feeling in one’s heart and soul.
Notice the relationship between the words of the Lord and the feelings in one’s heart as Alma delivers the powerful sermon on “the word” of the Lord being a seed (Alma 32):
- 26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words [personal revelation]. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
- 27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties [your mind], even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
- 28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
Do not fear getting this wrong as it could cripple you from making decisions. So long as you are making the habit of taking time to learn from your interactions even misinterpreting the voices in our mind or misinterpreting the feelings in your heart can be teaching experiences from the Lord and learning and refining experiences for you. Remember you are developing a relationship and there is much to learn in relationships.
Also, the historical record of Oliver Cowdery seeking for the gift of translation can give us more insight into how the mind and heart work together. The following is taken directly from Revelations in Context at lds.org [with personal notes included].
“…Translation continued for several days, and then Joseph received a revelation for his new scribe. Oliver’s lingering doubts about Joseph Smith’s prophetic gift were addressed as the words of the revelation related experiences Oliver had not shared with anyone.”
(6:15,22–23,36) “Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth [Holy Ghost]…Cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things,” the Lord reminded him. “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?—What greater witness can you have than from God?…Look unto me in every thought. Doubt not, fear not.”
[Note: Clearly the Lord is communicating words of peace to Oliver’s mind. “What greater witness can you have” in the mind is a powerful blessing. The Lord referring to the general idea of “doubt not, fear not” might be one of the reasons for the need of a confirming witness to overcome doubt or make God’s words sure.]
“…As Joseph and Oliver continued their work, Oliver grew anxious to play a greater part in the translation. The Lord had promised him the opportunity to translate, and he wanted to claim it. Joseph dictated another revelation. In it, the Lord assured Oliver he could have the gift he desired. The requirements were faith and an honest heart.”
“The revelation continued, informing the would-be translator how the process was to work. The Lord declared”:
(D&C 8:2–3) “I will tell you in your mind & in your heart by the Holy Ghost which shall come upon you [mind] & which shall dwell in your heart.” Revelation had always come in this manner. The revelation declared this was the means or “spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the red Sea on dry ground.”
[Note: The combination of the mind and the heart has always been the means by which God communicates and confirms truth to mankind.]
“If Oliver desired, the revelation went on to say, the Lord would add the gift of translation to the revelatory gifts Oliver already possessed.”
“Though we know very few details about Oliver Cowdery’s attempt to translate, it apparently did not go well. His efforts quickly came to naught. In the wake of Oliver’s failure, Joseph Smith received another revelation, counseling Oliver”:
(D&C 9:3,7–8) “Be patient my son, for it is wisdom in me, and it is not expedient that you should translate at this present time.” Oliver was also told he had not understood the process. He was told, “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.”
[Note: It is unclear whether “the process” is referring to general revelation or specifically to translation. However, to “study it out in your mind” is the process of your own spirit/mind receiving, analyzing or sorting through God’s words of truth, while God causing “that your bosom shall burn within you” is the confirming, sure witness making God’s words of truth undeniable because neither your own voice or voices of darkness can reproduce that specific powerful sensation of light in your physical body. Thus, the importance to discern the physical sensations of light versus the physical sensations of your own body (like hunger, thirst) versus the physical sensations caused by darkness (think of Joseph Smith’s first vision experience in the grove).]
Getting to Pure Truth
Hopefully you see now that the mind is where you will receive the words of the Lord while the heart/bosom/chest filling up with goodness/light is the a sign that God is in fact just trying to communicate with you. Think of the feeling in your heart as the Lord knocking on your door telling you that He is ready to communicate with you. It’s at that point you should pay close attention to the words in your mind–discerning the Lord’s words from your own spirit and from the voices of darkness.
A few personal recommendations on your way to discerning absolute truth in your personal revelation. This is not meant to be a checklist of sorts but rather discern what is relevant for you.
- Do everything you can to receive the Lord’s light into your bosom, chest or other key physical signifier that is personally relevant to you. Repent. Petition the Lord to sanctify you through a small baptism of fire. Cry unto the Lord. Meditate. Spend time praising the Lord. Pray for others. Spend time visualizing light entering your body or receiving light from the Lord. Simply do whatever it takes for you to receive and recognize the Lord’s light entering into you.
- Converse with the Lord focusing on the words in your mind. This is where pure and divine truth will be revealed to you. Come prepared with questions for the Lord. Be specific and articulate your questions so they are equal to the answers you expect to receive (there is an entire section in the 3 voices study guide about asking the right questions the right way). Be prepared to listen and sense the words in your mind. If it helps, work out a special means (between you and the Lord) of receiving the Lord’s words by telling the Lord you would like to visualize words appearing in a certain way like on a screen, on a whiteboard, on paper or on some other medium that is comfortable for you and then do accordingly. The Lord loves creativity and for you to exercise your young creative powers. Develop your gifts of revelation and discernment to grow from yes/no to other words to phrases to complete sentences to comfortable dialogues between you and the Lord. Remember, this is exactly how Joseph Smith developed his gifts of revelation, discernment and eventually translation of ancient writings.
- Be believing. Learn the voice of the Lord. Become familiar with the voice of the Lord and the voices of light. If you have not practiced discerning between the 3 eternal voices (Voices of light, Your own voice, Voices of darkness) commit right now to begin your personal study of The 3 Voices of Personal Revelation Study Guide. It is a huge help to develop your own baseline for truth (there is an entire section on developing your own baseline in the 3 voices study guide). Do not over-think it. Remember the plainness and simplicity in the words of Moroni:
“For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night” (Moroni 7:15).
4. Confirm everything. When you receive an answer that you perceive as words from the Lord or a voice of light, restate it back to the Lord and ask for the Lord to confirm it with a “yes” or “no” answer or however you would like the Lord to confirm it to you through words in your mind. Ask yourself if you are still “feeling” the Lord’s light physically within you.
5. Never Fear–Act in Faith. When you receive an answer and you believe it has been confirmed simply act on it. If it turns out to be a negative experience take it back to the Lord and discuss it with Him. Figure out where you think you may have gone wrong in your discernment. Don’t take it personal that you got it wrong–even getting it wrong is teaching you how to get it right in the future. This is what it means to develop your Gift of Discernment. Like anything else, it requires practice and faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.
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