Thursday, January 11, 2018

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on understanding prayer and revelation

Elder Dallin H. Oaks (born August 12, 1932) served as president of BYU from 1971-1980.  He was then appointed as a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and resigned when he was called to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in 1984.
"What about those times when we seek revelation and do not receive it? We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it. Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment. We cannot force spiritual things. It must be so. Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and to develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith.
"Even in decisions we think very important, we sometimes receive no answers to our prayers. This does not mean that our prayers have not been heard. It only means that we have prayed about a decision which, for one reason or another, we should make without guidance by revelation. Perhaps we have asked for guidance in choosing between alternatives that are equally acceptable or equally unacceptable. I suggest that there is not a right and wrong to every question....
"Similarly, the Spirit of the Lord is not likely to give us revelations on matters that are trivial. I once heard a young woman in testimony meeting praise the spirituality of her husband, indicating that he submitted every question to the Lord. She told how he accompanied her shopping and would not even choose between different brands of canned vegetables without making his selection a matter of prayer. That strikes me as improper. I believe the Lord expects us to use the intelligence and experience he has given us to make these kinds of choices. When a member asked the Prophet Joseph Smith for advice on a particular matter, the Prophet stated:
"'It is a great thing to inquire at the hands of God, or to come into His presence: and we feel fearful to approach Him on subjects that are of little or no consequence.' [Teachings, p. 22]
"Of course we are not always able to judge what is trivial. If a matter appears of little or no consequence, we can proceed on the basis of our own judgment. If the choice is important for reasons unknown to us, such as the speaking invitation I mentioned earlier or even a choice between two cans of vegetables when one contains a hidden poison, the Lord will intervene and give us guidance. When a choice will make a real difference in our lives—obvious or not—and when we are living in tune with the Spirit and seeking his guidance, we can be sure we will receive the guidance we need to attain our goal. The Lord will not leave us unassisted when a choice is important to our eternal welfare."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Revelation," BYU Devotional, September 29, 1981
Click here to read or listen to the full talk

This was an important and insightful talk by Elder Oaks. The first part of the message included descriptions of eight different ways in which revelation comes from God to us; he did this "to persuade each of you to search your own experience and to conclude that you have already received revelations and that you can receive more revelations because communication from God to men and women is a reality."

But the concluding section of the talk, excerpted here, is just as important: what about when revelation doesn't come, and it seems our prayers go unanswered? What are we to learn or conclude from this?

In other words, God will not show us everything we are to do in this life. Sometimes the timing of answers is not up to us; and sometimes He wants us to choose and learn on our own, without divine guidance. We learn valuable lessons from our choices, even the wrong ones; and the self-reliance that results is an important part of our mortal schooling.

Elder Oaks goes on to further explain that sometimes we pray about a decision where it really doesn't matter; either direction or decision could provide learning and lessons; We just need to choose and move ahead. Or sometimes, we pray about things that are trivial and relatively unimportant, and need to learn how to prioritize what we take to the Lord.

Regardless, we have this important conditional assurance: "When we are living in tune with the Spirit and seeking his guidance, we can be sure we will receive the guidance we need to attain our goal. The Lord will not leave us unassisted when a choice is important to our eternal welfare."

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2018)

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