Sections 6,8, and 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants explain how revelation works. I find it worth noting that in the early days of the history of the church that the Lord outlined for the Saints how this delicate communication works. There are times when young people have expressed to me that they do not think that they have had any interactions with the Holy Ghost. When this happens, I like to point out D&C 11:12 which states:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good- yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed how the Spirit will speak to us when he said:
The Savior said, “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 8:2; italics added). I would explain to the students that an impression to the mind is very specific.
Detailed words can be heard or felt and written as though the instruction were being dictated.
A communication to the heart is a more general impression. The Lord often begins by giving impressions. Where there is a recognition of their importance and they are obeyed, one gains more capacity to receive more detailed instruction to the mind. An impression to the heart, if followed, is fortified by a more specific instruction to the mind. 1
We see these general impressions of the Spirit working with and through Alma and his people in Mosiah 24:9-15 as they were comforted while in bondage. The pattern is repeated again in Alma 17:10 as the sons of Mosiah were to serve missions amongst a hostile people (see Alma 17:14). We gain confidence as we interact with the Spirit (see D&C 121:45) and strength (Isaiah 40:28-29).
More specific instruction from the Holy Ghost is generally given to one’s mind. In Enos 1:10, we learn that the Lord spoke to Enos as his voice “came into (his) mind,” and Nephi learned how to build a ship (something he did not have experience doing) as the Lord “did show (him) from time to time after what manner (he) should work the timbers of the ship (1 Nephi 18:1).
It is good to note along with the experience Nephi had that the Nephi did what he knew to do first- he first built the tools for the construction project (something he knew how to do) after this the Lord gave him specific instruction as Nephi moved into an area where he did not know what to do.
I like the following examples of specific instruction that the Lord has given to individuals. The first example comes from the life of Elder Russell M. Nelson, who was a renowned heart surgeon, and the second comes from the life of an everyday teenager who listened to the Spirit speak specific instructions to his mind.
Personal Experience with Prayer
Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.
Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.
Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: “Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.”
His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, my assistant asked, “What are you going to do for that?”
I said, “I do not know.”
We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. “The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.”
But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, “It’s a miracle.”
I responded, “It’s an answer to prayer.”
The patient’s recovery was rapid and his relief gratifying. Not only was he helped in a marvelous way, but surgical help for other people with similar problems had become a possibility. I take no credit. Praise goes to this faithful patriarch and to God, who answered our prayers. This faithful man lived for many more years and has since gone to his eternal glory. 2
Go To The Football Field
When Ken was twelve or thirteen years old, he once accompanied his father to the local trash dump. His dad was driving their truck, and Ken was sitting on the passenger side, near the door. As he was looking out of the window, he had a feeling that he should move away from the door and sit next to his father. He ignored the feeling; but it came again so strongly that he immediately slid away from the door. A few moments later, when his father made a turn, the door that Ken had been leaning against flew open. He didn’t think much about it at the time; but later, when he came to recognize how the Spirit operates, he realized that he had been saved from serious injury or death by his Father in Heaven.
Ken had another spiritual experience when he was sixteen. His family had moved from Tooele to the small town of Grantsville, about fifteen miles away. However, Ken kept his job at a clothing store in downtown Tooele. Early one summer morning, as he approached the outskirts of Tooele, he had a feeling that he should drive over by the high school. The high school was not on his way to work, and he had no idea why he should go there; but he decided to respond to this feeling, and he drove toward the school. As he drove slowly by the front of the school, he didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary. He felt a little puzzled, but decided to turn left toward town, since it was time for him to get to work.
Before Ken could turn, however, he received a stronger impression that he should turn right, not left, and that he should go behind the school. He followed the direction, but still didn’t see or hear anything that would cause any concern. As he went to pull out from behind the school, Ken heard an actual voice telling him to drive to the far end of the parking lot, next to the football field.
The football field was located on top of a hill. Steps led up to the playing field and to the bleachers. Behind the bleachers the hill sloped down, and the field was surrounded by a chain-link fence. Ken drove past the football field, to the end of the parking lot, and started his return trip. As he rounded the corner of the parking lot, still seeing nothing of any consequence, he saw a body lying by the chain-link fence.
Ken now knew why he was there, but the sight of the body really frightened him. He had no idea who it was. He jumped out of his car and sprinted to the entrance of the football field, up the stairs, and across the field. As soon as he had dashed partway down the hill, he recognized the person lying there as his best friend. His friend’s head, neck, and shoulder were covered with blood, and he was lying motionless.
When Ken saw his friend in this condition, he almost went to pieces. He thought the boy was dead. Then a calm feeling came over him, and he approached the inert body. As Ken turned him over, his friend stirred and looked up to him, and Ken realized he was still alive.
His friend was in a very dazed condition, as if he was just coming out of unconsciousness. Ken picked him up, carried him to his car, and rushed him to the hospital. He was afraid that he might die if he left him alone while he went for help.
Much later, when he had regained consciousness, the friend told Ken what had happened. He had been working with two other men, clearing weeds and debris from along the fence. The two men had left to take a load of junk to the county dump. He was left alone. As he had continued to clear the fence, he had encountered a large rock that he could not budge. He grabbed a pick and took several swings at the rock, but it stubbornly refused to move. He then took an extra large swing with the pick, but the tip struck the chain-link fence and the pick turned sideways in his hand. Instead of hitting rock, the end of the pick hit him in the back of his head and opened a large wound. The doctor said that the wound was severe enough that, if Ken had not come along, his friend might have bled to death before his fellow workers returned.
The gravity of his friend’s situation did not hit Ken until later. He then came to appreciate how the Lord had worked through him, a young Aaronic Priesthood holder, in saving his friend from possible death. He began to better understand the promptings of the Spirit and to cherish the spiritual experiences of his youth. 3
1. Elder Richard G. Scott, Helping others to be spiritually led, CES Symposium, August 11, 1998.
2. Elder Russell M. Nelson, Sweet Power of Prayer, April 2003 General Conference, or May Ensign 2003, p.7.
3. Allan Burgess & Max Molgard, The Gospel in Action, Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1992, p.1-3.