Monday, March 14, 2022

Elder Dallin H. Oaks on the timing of spiritual promptings

President 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. He became President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and also 1st Counselor in the First Presidency in January 2018.
"Revelations from God—the teachings and directions of the Spirit—are not constant. We believe in continuing revelation, not continuous revelation. We are often left to work out problems without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality. Fortunately, we are never out of our Savior's sight, and if our judgment leads us to actions beyond the limits of what is permissible and if we are listening to the still, small voice, the Lord will restrain us by the promptings of his Spirit....
"The Lord will speak to us in his own time and in his own way. This is usually by what the scriptures call the 'still small voice' of enlightenment. We are often obliged to act upon our best judgment, subject to the Spirit's restraining impressions if we have strayed beyond permissible limits. Revelation is a reality. It comes in the Lord's way and according to the Lord's timetable."
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Teaching and Learning by the Spirit," Ensign, March 1997, p. 14
Click here to read the full talk

The difference between "continuing" (or "continual") and "continuous" is a subtle but significant one. The words are often not used correctly. Something that is "continuous" does not stop and start; it is always ongoing, uninterrupted, never ceasing (the river flows continuously to the sea). But things that are "continuing" occur frequently or regularly, in an ongoing manner, but are sometimes interrupted (the continuing rainstorms in the springtime).

Elder Oaks describes revelation as being continuing, not continuous. This is an important distinction. Though direction from the Spirit and other forms of personal revelation do come at important times, we are not given constant direction on what to do. As a part of the mortal experience, the Lord often wants us to learn "to work out problems" on our own, without the "specific direction of the Spirit."

Elder Oaks also states that for a person who is prayerful and humble, even if no specific direction is given, the Spirit will warn if we are taking a wrong direction. Those "restraining impressions" are as valuable as the positive ones that give specific direction, and should never be neglected.

One of the great tasks of mortality is becoming familiar with the language of the Spirit. With humility and persistence, this becomes a joyful gift that we claim from the Lord.

(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2022)
May 17, 2016

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