The following, taken from a book by John Pontius, is a beautiful example of how revelation works in a group setting. This is something you saw in the early days of the Church. I also saw it in the early days of the little church we organized. I believe that in Zion this principle will be fully operative in the councils that govern Zion. Note how the two counselors teach and support the bishop and how they teach him the principle of revelation, while still allowing him his agency. Not how the bishop prayed and asked the Lord to teach him how to receive revelation. But that wasn’t his problem. His problem was how to recognize the revelation he was already receiving.
Not quite ten years ago I was called as a counselor in a bishopric. Prior to that time I had served in many capacities but never in a bishopric. The stake had just created the ward and called our new bishop and his new counselors. I will remember our first bishopric meeting for a long time. We didn’t have a single teacher or Young Men or Young Women leader. We didn’t have Primary people, piano players, quorums, or anything else. We just sat there waiting for our poor new bishop to give us a direction. His opening statement was something like, “Don’t look at me!”
We laughed and talked about many things. Finally, a thought came into my mind. “Call Brother Stevens as the Young Men president.”
I opened my mouth to propose this calling when the bishop said, “What about Brother Stevens as the Young Men’s President?”
I wondered at this, and said, “I feel the rightness of that calling, Bishop.”
Our other counselor agreed, and the bishop assigned himself to make the calling. While he was writing, I had another thought. “Call Sister Wilson as the Young Women president.”
I was just about to propose this name, when the additional thought came to me to keep quiet for a moment. After the bishop was done writing he tapped his pen on the desktop for a moment. “What do you brethren think about Sister Wilson as the Young Women president?”
I nodded and tried to say, “I was just going to propose her name,” but the Spirit put on my lips, “I agree. I think she would be wonderful.”
This process went on in our meetings for about a month, until the ward was fully functioning. It really didn’t seem to matter how big or small the calling was or what the challenge was; I almost always heard the same prompting the bishop heard. Maybe the angels were just talking loudly in the room and I was allowed to eavesdrop.
Not long after the initial organization of the ward, we were talking about a potential calling for a ward member. I had not felt a prompting as before and for that reason doubted it was the right thing to do. My mind suddenly went back to a dozen years prior, when I had sat on a disciplinary council as a high councilor. I said, “I don’t think Brother Black is ready for this calling. A dozen years ago I sat on a disciplinary council for him . . .” and the Spirit told me to shut up. It was an interesting prompting. “Stop! Be quiet!”
I closed my mouth mid-sentence. The bishop looked at me funny. I said, “I shouldn’t have said that. It has no bearing on the present.”
The Bishop frowned. “You know, as you said the word ‘disciplinary council’ I had the thought, ‘He shouldn’t have said that. It has no bearing on the present.’ They were the same words you just used. I think the Holy Ghost just talked to me!” He seemed amazed.
I looked at him with different eyes. I realized that recognizing promptings was not what this brand new bishop had been doing these last few weeks. He had been receiving promptings and attributing them to his own intellect. He thought he was just a good organizer. The whole idea that the Holy Ghost would talk directly to him was astounding to him.
A new, fully developed thought came into my mind. I suddenly knew that teaching our humble new bishop to identify the revelation he already had was one of the reasons I was called to this bishopric. I waited a moment while the Holy Spirit warmed my soul. I said, “These last few weeks, as we organized the ward, just a few seconds before you would propose each new name, I would have the same name pop into my head. I knew it was from the Holy Spirit, and when you came up with the same name, it just confirmed that I had heard it correctly. This has happened consistently.”
The Bishop laid down his pen. “Why didn’t you say something? It would have helped me feel more certain about the callings to have known that.”
I replied, “It wasn’t necessary. The Spirit told me in each case to just concur with my bishop. I was never told to say why.”
The bishop let his chair lean back as he considered this. “I think Heavenly Father has been trying to teach me how to hear the Holy Ghost. I have been having these names come into my head. Is this what the Holy Ghost sounds like, just a thought? I mean, can you trust these ideas that just pop into your head to be from the Holy Ghost?”
Our other counselor said at that moment, “I’ve been having some of the names come into my mind, too, but not all of them. I was wondering what was going on. I thought we were just brainstorming or something. Is that really what revelation feels like?”
They were both looking at me, and I was waiting for the Holy Spirit to put words into my mouth. After a long moment I said, “Revelation almost always feels like our own ideas. The difference is that the ideas are usually sudden, probably something or someone you wouldn’t have thought of yourself, and they are accompanied by a feeling of rightness, or truth. Once you learn to recognize this revelatory process, you can identify it every time—and you can trust it every time. It is never wrong.”
Our newly minted bishop wiped tears from his eyes. “I have been praying all my life to receive revelation and never felt that I could, even though I have had sudden ideas like this my whole life. Ever since I was called as the bishop I have been praying with all my heart, with great urgency, that the Lord would teach me how to receive revelation so I could truly be a good bishop and not just someone sitting in this chair.”
I felt a surge of joy. I wiped tears from my eyes, too. “We have had constant revelation in this bishopric ever since the first meeting we held almost a month ago. Almost every decision we have made, I felt the approval of Heavenly Father.” I looked at the bishop intently. “Whether you knew it or not, you are one of the most inspired bishops I have ever known.”
I continued to receive confirmations as the bishop administered to his ward, but he didn’t need me anymore. I would often just nod, and he would smile because he valued my accord, but he didn’t need it. The Lord’s priesthood mantle had settled upon him, and he was “the bishop.” And in a humble, yet powerful way, he knew it.
Pontius, John; Pontius, Terri. Journey to the Veil II (pp. 170-173). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition. (emphasis mine)
3 thoughts on “Revelation in a Group Setting”
Does this ever so silent voice get stronger so I can recognize it as being different from my own? Take fasting, for example. Many times I’ll get thoughts, “I’m gonna fast tomorrow.” And then the fast fails because maybe there’s a treat my wife left behind and I can’t resist it. Maybe I chalk it up as my own voice, so the failure can be justified. I sincerely desire to be like the grain of sand, that listeth to every command of the Lord. In this way I prove to the Lord He can trust me, whatever He asks. I don’t know. It seems this post and the last one about grace are related and I need to find some balance. Thanks for these 2 posts. I remember a video by Philip Stevenson about how he wrecked his car, and he realized the voice he heard to ‘slow down’ wasn’t his. I’ll re-listen to that to see if I missed or forgot something.
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I was reading in one of John Pontius’ books and recorded some notes in my journal. I don’t recall which book it was. It was probably “Following the Light of Christ”. He says there are three voices, and he describes how to tell the difference. These are my rough notes. There are a lot of incomplete sentences, but you should get the idea. I am also inserting some of my own thoughts, as I write this.
Our own voice: tentative, questioning
Satan and his minions: Appeal to carnal and sensual, try to smother Holy Spirit, stated as an absolute. You, not only voices but images, memories of sins even after you’ve repented of them. Holy Spirit prompts us only once. Evil ones have many promptings. He provides many reasons and many rationalizations for why you should do something.
Holy Spirit: Quiet urging to do right, Grows in content and quality as we pay heed. Often prompts contrary to where you are headed. If headed to Super Bowl, it tells you to go to church. If already headed to church, gives calm and peaceful reassurance. Only one of the three that prompts to do good. Also come as absolute statements. You mind would say “Perhaps I should fast.” Holy Spirit says: “Fast today.” I have found that very often it comes in response to a question you ask.
We are constantly enticed by one or the other. The Holy Spirit points toward greater freedom and choices. You won’t become a mindless robot, because it is you who consciously chooses. Goal: become flawlessly obedient to the voice of the Spirit. This means you listen and obey. You are going to mess up sometimes, but you get better and discerning between the voices and following the voice of the Lord.
I don’t know if the voice gets louder, or you just get better at hearing it. What I have noticed and what I think John P. is trying to point out is the difference in quality of the voice. You may also notice you hear the voice of the Spirit with increasing frequency and on an increasing number of subjects. There are no boundaries on what the Spirit can tell you. It may tell you something profound that you never thought of before, or something mundane, like somebody is going to call you today. One time, the Lord told me this: “The more you trust me, the more I can reveal to you.”
Difference between command of Lord and prompting of Spirit. The command requires obedience with little room for anything else. The prompting entices and guides, making the exercise of thought, logic, and intellect of great importance to arriving at the appropriate solution. Often the solution is to wait patiently while apparently nothing happens. The Spirit may only tell you once.
If a prompting seems confusing, ask for a confirmation or ask for a repeat. Your heart must be pure and you must have a desire to obey. This gets easier, too because after the Lord helps you out a few times, you are more prone to trust Him. Study it out in your mind, make a decision, then pray about the decision. If you receive a firm prompting, don’t second-guess by making a decision based on logic, then asking the Lord to confirm that decision. If it is true today. It will be true next week.
If a person has abandoned the path of light, and now in a moment of crisis and pain begs Him for guidance, the heavens may well remain silent. The silence is not a heavenly shrug of indifference, but divine disapproval and an indication of a need for repentance. But, what was once true, remains true. Doubt today cannot change what was true and precious yesterday.
“No” isn’t always a sign of divine disapproval. Sometimes the answer is “No”, and this is best expressed through silence. Not necessarily unrighteousness on our part. What was true many yesterdays ago is still true today.
I hope this helps.
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Oh, I thought I checked the “notify me” box. So glad I checked. Yes, it does help, and also confirms things I thought I knew to be true. You have given me some things to think about. Much obliged!
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