Hey guys, so in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in what we call modern revelation. Just like in ancient times, we believe that today God can speak not only to prophets but to each of His children individually, through the Holy Spirit. This principle of personal modern revelation is hugely important. But it can also be frustrating if you don’t know how the Spirit communicates with you — if you don’t know what to expect. For example, the scriptures are chock-full of miraculous manifestations of the Spirit. Pillars of fire, angelic appearances, prophetic dreams, etc. These kinds of miracles can happen today just as they did anciently, but if this is what you’re expecting from the Spirit day after day in your personal life, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
I sort of view the scriptures as the prophets Greatest Hits albums. We see the highlights from their lives, but not much of the day-to-day stuff. It’s like how on the radio we’ll hear Sweet Caroline and Forever in Blue Jeans — but the hits are relatively few and far between, and Neil has a ton of other music that you just don’t hear as often, like that classic tune, “You’re so sweet, horseflies keep hangin’ round your face.” This metaphor is getting weird. The goal in today’s episode is to help you understand some of the different ways the Spirit can communicate with you. Specifically, we’re going to be looking at the difference between revelation and inspiration. Let’s do it.
Alright, so to help us understand the difference between revelation and inspiration we’re calling in some help from the late apostle Elder Richard G. Scott. In 2012 he gave a talk aptly titled, “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life.” Latter-day Saints often use the term “revelation” as an umbrella term referring to any kind of communication from the Spirit. And that’s not necessarily wrong, but what Elder Scott does is he breaks things down a bit more. He gets more specific and differentiates between revelation and inspiration. He says,
“The Holy Ghost communicates important information that we need to guide us in our mortal journey. When it is crisp and clear and essential, it warrants the title of revelation. When it is a series of promptings we often have to guide us step by step to a worthy objective, for the purpose of this message, it is inspiration.”
Did you catch all that? He says that when communication from the Holy Ghost is — 3 things — crisp, clear, and essential — it’s revelation. When it’s a series of promptings we often have to guide us step by step to a worthy objective, it’s inspiration.
So to flesh this out some more, can you think of any examples of inspiration in the scriptures? An example of a series of promptings from the Spirit, that guided someone — not all at once — but step by step to a worthy objective? Well, how about Nephi at the beginning of the Book of Mormon as he ventures into the city of Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates from Laban? The brothers had already tried twice, unsuccessfully, to get the plates. Laban reacted by stealing from them and trying to have them killed — not a good situation. So what’s Nephi’s master plan for attempt #3? Well, he doesn’t really know. He says, “I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban. And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless, I went forth…”
Now, Nephi is writing this story down long after it had happened. He may not have even known at the time that he was being “led by the Spirit” through those Jerusalem streets. He didn’t know what he was going to do. But the Spirit is inspiring Nephi along the way towards his objective.
Soon enough, he just so happens to find Laban totally drunk and passed out in the street. And then, revelation comes, crisp and clear, as the Spirit commands Nephi to take Laban’s life. “…the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands … It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” Nephi was a bit shocked by the instruction, but he obeys the Spirit. It’s obviously a bit of a controversial bit of scripture that we’ll probably dedicate an entire episode to in the future, but in the meantime, if you want to dive into that subject more go check out these two sources.
But anyway, so right there in the 4th chapter of First Nephi we get a pretty clear back-to-back example of inspiration and revelation. Inspiration is more subtle, gradual. Revelation is more striking and perhaps more obvious.
Sometimes in our lives, we want and expect only crisp, clear instances of revelation. And we forget that this more subtle process of inspiration is also a way the Spirit of God is actively communicating with us. It may be different for you, but in my life, I feel that I experience inspiration a lot more often than I experience crisp and clear revelation. Oftentimes I don’t even realize or recognize the Spirit’s influence until after the fact. I look back and notice, “Wow, things really just fell into place there. I don’t think that was just a coincidence.”
Of course, there are also moments of revelation of varying degrees of intensity. Moments when the Spirit very clearly prompts you with a warning or a confirmation of spiritual truth. The point is: Be aware of both inspiration and revelation. It could be that right now in your life you’ve got big decisions to make or big questions on your mind. Not receiving a crisp, clear revelation when you feel like you need it can be frustrating, and it can make you wonder why God is taking so long to help you out. But if you haven’t received that crisp, clear revelation yet, you may want to take a moment to look back and see if you can pick up on a series of promptings quietly leading you step by step to a worthy objective. It could be that God has been there all along. Check out the resources in the description for more info on this topic, and have a great day!
- “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” by Richard G. Scott (April 2012): https://bit.ly/37G9ABC
- Check out Apostle David A. Bednar’s short “Patterns of Light” series, which teaches about different ways the Holy Spirit communicates with us: https://bit.ly/3sgIpXy
- “Was Nephi’s Slaying of Laban Legal?” by Book of Mormon Central: https://bit.ly/3CV9QLt
- “Killing Laban: The Birth of Sovereignty in the Nephite Constitutional Order,” by Val Larsen (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3mfjH91