PROVO, Utah — BYU President Kevin J Worthen remembers when he was the age of many college students, listening to some of his acquaintances sharing stories about how the Spirit had given them specific directions in dramatic ways. But he couldn't readily recall any such personal experience of his own.
"Admonitions about the need to receive revelation intimidated and, quite frankly, worried me more than a little bit,” he said.
“I started wondering whether I was missing something,” he told students during a campus devotional at Brigham Young University on Tuesday, Sept. 11. “I began to imagine that I would get up to the judgment bar, and God would say to me, ‘I tried to tell you what you needed to do in life on such and such a date and again on another such a date, and you just missed it.’”
That feeling was only compounded during his mission, when he was paired with a companion who “genuinely had a gift for knowing where to go to find people who were ready to accept the gospel.”
While Worthen took a logical, street-by-street and door-by-door approach, his companion would feel impressed to skip houses or entire streets.
“And more often than not, he was right,” Worthen said. “But I rarely, if ever, felt such promptings. Thus, for much of my youth and young adulthood, I wondered if I had been born spiritually tone deaf.”
To those who may be experiencing similar feelings, President Worthen said, “none of us is spiritually tone deaf.”
Because every person is a literal spirit child of perfect Heavenly Parents, he or she has the innate potential to receive and recognize revelation, Worthen taught.
“But there is more good news for those who question their ability to receive and recognize revelation despite their sincere — but often seemingly ineffective — efforts to do so,” he said. “It is that you are likely doing better than you think. The scriptures make it clear that it is possible to be influenced by the Holy Ghost and not fully recognize it.”
Recognizing there are different types of revelation — some more dramatic, clear and distinct impressions verses the more common, subtle revelation that comes “line-upon-line” — Worthen encouraged listeners to not “unnecessarily question” his or her ability to receive revelation because they experience the latter.
The “line-upon-line” revelation, although less obvious, is equally powerful, he said.
And yet, even though a person may be doing better than what they initially think, there is still room for improvement, Worthen said.
He shared three points of how a person can increase his or her ability to receive and recognize revelation.
1. Revelation includes both heart and mind
“We can improve our ability to receive revelation if we better prepare both our spirits and bodies for such experiences,” he said. “Spiritual preparation includes daily scripture study, daily prayer, keeping the commandments, sacrament meeting attendance, Sabbath-day observance and regular temple worship.”
Recognizing those are all familiar tasks that Church members are regularly counseled to do, Worthen said he hopes “that repetition does not cause us to undervalue the significance of these actions. … Spiritual preparation facilitates revelation.”
2. Physical preparation to receive revelation
“In addition to adhering to the principles of physical health outlined in the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, we can increase our capacity to receive and recognize revelation by following the admonition the Lord provided in the immediately preceding section,” he said.
Recognizing the scriptures say to “retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated,” Worthen encouraged students to follow that counsel.
“Candor requires that I admit that when I was in college I did not consider myself a ‘morning person,’” he said. “I never took a class earlier than 9 a.m. … But over time I have come to find that early morning time is sacred, a time when few people interrupt, and my mind is more open and invigorated — or alive — to new ideas and spiritual impressions.”
Sharing that he keeps a notepad by his bedside to write down thoughts and ideas that come to him early in the morning, Worthen encouraged students to make scripture study and prayer their “first order of morning business.”
3. Time and space to listen
“Set aside time and space when you can focus on being open to those thoughts and feelings,” he said. “Turn off the music; pause Netflix; take out your ear-buds. Find time to listen to your feelings.”
To those who wonder if it is a prompting from the Spirit or his or her own thought, Worthen said if a person is impressed to do something good for someone else, there is little need to deliberate about its source.
“There are other things that we can do to enhance our ability to receive revelation including expanding our understanding of the truth that revelation comes in the manner and timing that God determines,” he said. “We need to recognize that His goal is not just to give us instruction but to help us become like Him.”
At times, the perfecting process requires hard work, study and sometimes even action when a person is not 100 percent sure that it is right.
“We will often need to stretch our souls beyond what we think is possible before revelation comes. … Answers may be slow in coming not because we are doing something wrong, but because Heavenly Father is leaving it up to our agency or because He has already given us the answer and wants us to learn how that prior answer came, or because we need to learn something more before the answer makes sense to us. But please know that even in those times when the heavens seem silent, there are explanations that will become clear over time if we will but trust God. …
“In the end, the one thing we can do to increase our ability to receive revelation is to trust God more, to increase our faith in Him.”