Author's Note: I wrote this essay for a religion class at Brigham Young University. It's really really really long. But I felt like it was worth sharing, so here 'tis.
At some point in our lives, I think each of us have felt lost or bewildered by the decisions we face. Confusion, uncertainty, and fear creep in and make us wonder if we are heading in the right direction. Everyday we make decisions, some big, some small. Often we do not even realize how the decisions we make that may seem small can greatly affect us. When facing all these choices, how can we gain guidance and direction from our Lord?
This question has often been on my mind during the past few months. I have recently realized that as a junior at Brigham Young University, I am facing many big “grown-up” decisions. Between deciding if I should apply for an internship, go on a study abroad, spend my summer in India working for a non-profit organization, I have had a lot of questions to face. Ending a happy relationship, trying to get back into the dating game, and starting to think about putting in my mission papers have only added to my feelings of uncertainty and my need for the Lord’s guidance. We have been promised that if we keep our covenants, we “have every right to a positive outlook on this life and on the next.”1
In the Doctrine and Covenants, we find many examples of the Lord explicitly and purposefully guiding the prophet Joseph Smith and the many others who were vital in building the foundation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As these great men and women faced new challenges and questions, the Lord blessed them with guidance. The founders of the Church truly were taught “line upon line, and precept upon precept…” (D&C 98:12). As they moved forward, reestablished the Church, and delved deeper into doctrine, they were taught and guided by Heavenly Father and our Savior. By searching the Doctrine and Covenants and the teachings of prophets, apostles, and other wise scholars, we can better understand the ways in which Joseph and his companions received the direction that they needed and emulate their example.
In D&C 112:10 we are instructed, “Be thou humble and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand and give thee answers to thy prayers.” I believe that this instruction to be humble requires two steps. First, we must humbly acknowledge that we need the Lord’s guidance and direction in our lives. We must seek his counsel through studying the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets as well as offering prayers in faith. Second, we must display the humility to accept the direction that we have received. This second part is something that I have greatly struggled with as I have received answers that I am not ready to accept. I now recognize that I was lacking in faith like Martin Harris and, to some extent, “set[ting] as naught the counsels of God” (D&C 3:13). When we repeatedly disregard the guidance the Lord has given us and return to him with the same question, He allows us to make our own decision. “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’ ” 2
We must remember that the Lord will not make our decision for us. We must first “study it out in [our] mind[s], then [we] must ask if it be right” (D&C 9:8). Once we have carefully considered the matter and come to a conclusion, we should ask our Father in Heaven to confirm our decision. “Revelation is an active, not a passive, process requiring a combination of spiritual sensitivity and intellectual exertion.”3 Bruce R. McConkie further states, “It is not, never has been, and never will be the design and purpose of the Lord—however much we seek him in prayer—to answer all our problems and concerns without struggle and effort on our part.” 4
At times, it seems difficult to separate our thoughts and feelings from the impressions and directions given to us by the Lord. Fortunately, we can learn much from the experience of Oliver Cowdery as he sought guidance from the Lord, who said, “Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart…” (D&C 8:2). Robinson and Garrett give further illumination:
The Lord works with both systems—the mind—our intellect—and the heart, our feelings… Revelation is neither emotion devoid of sense nor intellect without feeling, but a combination of both faculties working together in harmony. Because the Holy Ghost is a revelator, his presence will enlighten the mind; no truly spiritual exercise can ever be “mindless.” The Holy Ghost, however, dwells not in our mind, but in our heart—we will feel his influence rather than deduce it. While the Holy Ghost speaks to our minds, he speaks from our hearts. 5
Personal Revelation does not come separately to the heart or mind but to both simultaneously. We receive intellectual enlightenment and guidance and feel a sense of peace. Again, we can learn from the words of the Lord to Oliver in Section 6, “Cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart…Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?” (D&C 6:22-23) Furthermore, “There is no surer testimony than that of the Spirit of God.” 6
Conversely, our prayers are not always answered by a confirmation. When discussing personal revelation, we often hear the term “stupor of thought.” But what does that mean? The Oxford American Dictionary defines a stupor as “a state of near-unconsciousness…” But a spiritual stupor is “a sense of anxiety and being uncomfortable, not being able to relax with the decision.”7 The Lord does not always give a negative answer by a stupor of thought.8 Sometimes we may not receive any answer immediately. We must cultivate patience and faith, as instructed by Elder Scott.
Have patience as you [perfect] your ability to be led by the Spirit…Sometimes the impressions are just general feelings. Sometimes the direction comes so clearly and so unmistakably that it can be written down…I bear solemn witness that as you pray with all the fervor of your soul with humility and gratitude, you can learn to be consistently guided by the Holy Spirit in all aspects of your life…the Savior can guide you to resolve challenges of life and enjoy great peace and happiness. 9
When we feel like our prayers have gone unanswered, we must keep our faith strong and believe that the Lord will guide us. “Doubt not, Fear not” (D&C 6:36).
At times I have found myself on my knees begging for an answer that did not come. In those moments, it is easy to feel discouraged, alone, or even forsaken. But I know that even when the answers do not come in the way we expect or the way we would like, our Father in Heaven never forsakes us. “Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.”10 Our Heavenly Father loves us. He wants us to find happiness. When we have made a decision and turn to Him in faith and humility, He will guide us as he guided the young prophet Joseph and the first leaders of the Church.
1- Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine & Covenants. 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000) 2: 245
2- C.S. Lewis. http://thinkexist.com/quotations/will. 2.
3-Steven C. Harper. Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company. 2008. 45.
4- Bruce R. McConkie. “Why the Lord Ordained Prayer,” Ensign January 1976. 7.
5- Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine & Covenants. 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000) 1: 62-63.
6- Hyrum M. Smith, The Doctrine and Covenants, Revised Edition. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1950). 37.
7- David Walch. “Joseph Smith Lecture” Devotional address at BYU-Hawaii. 21 March, 2002.
8- Stephen E. Robinson and H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine & Covenants. 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000) 1: 67.
9- Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Ensign November 2009. 9.
10- Deiter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Ensign November 2009. 21-24.