The topic of this post was prompted by several comments from the recent October 2011 General Conference. What does it mean to hear the voice of God, or to hear the voice of His Spirit?
Boyd K. Packer presented this message as part of his address in the Saturday morning session:
What I needed to know about the promptings I found in the Book of Mormon. I read that “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, … feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”
Perhaps the single greatest thing I learned from reading the Book of Mormon is that the voice of the Spirit comes as a feeling rather than a sound. You will learn, as I have learned, to “listen” for that voice that is felt rather than heard.
Nephi scolded his older brothers, saying, “Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.’
Some critics have said that these verses are in error because you hear words; you do not feel them. But if you know anything at all about spiritual communication, you know that the best word to describe what takes place is the word feeling.
The gift of the Holy Ghost, if you consent, will guide and protect you and even correct your actions. It is a spiritual voice that comes into the mind as a thought or a feeling put into your heart. The prophet Enos said, “The voice of the Lord came into my mind.” And the Lord told Oliver Cowdery, “Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you.”
It is not expected that you go through life without making mistakes, but you will not make a major mistake without first being warned by the promptings of the Spirit. This promise applies to all members of the Church.
Elder Packer speaks of his interpretation of how the Spirit communicates with us. In his opinion, ‘the voice of the Spirit comes as a feeling rather than a sound.’ He tells us that we will learn, as he has learned, ‘to listen for that voice that is felt rather than heard.’
Do some promptings come as feelings rather than words? I would have to answer ‘yes.’ There have been many times in my life when I have had a feeling and, sometimes, that feeling was validated by an event in the future. At the same time, I must admit that sometimes these ‘feelings’ that could be attributed to the Spirit do not apparently connect to any complementary event.
But, let’s look a little deeper into Packer’s assertion that the voice of the Spirit is a feeling rather than a sound.
It is interesting to me to note that two other speakers in this General Conference also make reference to this topic. Before Packer spoke in the first session of conference, Barbara Thompson spoke on personal revelation. She had this to say regarding hearing the voice of the Spirit:
As a child I thought personal revelation or answers to prayers would come as an audible voice. Indeed, some revelation does come by hearing an actual voice. However, I have learned that the Spirit speaks in many ways.
Does Packer’s interpretation of hearing the voice of God allow for revelation that comes by ‘hearing an actual voice?’ His statement above is that the voice of the Spirit comes as a feeling rather than a sound and seems at odds with Sister Thompson’s statement.
In the Saturday afternoon session, Elder Neal L. Anderson shared this story:
Years ago, Elder James O. Mason of the Seventy shared this story with me: “The birth of our sixth child was an unforgettable experience. As I gazed on this beautiful, new daughter in the nursery just moments after her birth, I distinctly heard a voice declare, ‘There will yet be another, and it will be a boy.’ Unwisely, I rushed back to the bedside of my absolutely exhausted wife and told her the good news. It was very bad timing on my part.” Year after year the Masons anticipated the arrival of their seventh child. Three, four, five, six, seven years passed. Finally, after eight years, their seventh child was born—a little boy.
According to this story, we have a member of the Seventy distinctly hearing a voice declaring personal revelation. Was the voice that Elder Mason ‘heard’ just a feeling? If so, why didn’t he characterize the event as such? This second message delivered from the pulpit at conference also seems to be at odds with what President Packer ‘learned’ from the Book of Mormon.
My concern here is that we have the president of the quorum of the twelve who seems to acknowledge that he has never received personal revelation through hearing a voice. It has only come to him as a feeling. Should I expect that a man holding this position in the Church would have heard the voice of God? Should he be able to make a similar statement as did Joseph Smith in the following D&C 130?
14 I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:
15 Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter.
Was the ‘voice’ that Joseph Smith heard just a feeling? What are the expectations we should have of those who lead this church regarding the means of revelation? What should we expect relative to personal revelation in our own lives?
Who is teaching correct doctrine from the pulpit regarding the receipt of revelation by the voice of the Spirit? Is it only a feeling as Boyd Packer suggests or are we able to actually hear a voice as would be posited by Barbara Thompson or Neal Anderson?
Boyd Packer supports his assertion by quoting from the seventh chapter of 1 Nephi:
45 Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.
Packer suggests that since Nephi states that his brothers ‘could not feel his words’ that communication from the angel was only a feeling. Is the still small voice just a feeling? I would suggest that there are two components to this type of personal revelation. We would hear the voice AND have our souls touched by the Holy Spirit. In this way, we have a dual witness of the source of this revelation.
This idea is also found in the another scripture reference by Boyd Packer from the Doctrine and Covenants, section 8, when Oliver Cowdery attempted to translate the Book of Mormon:
1 OLIVER Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.
2 Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
3 Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.
Oliver was told in this revelation that the answer would come by the Holy Ghost in his mind AND in his heart. We can receive revelation from the Spirit which speaks to our mind as a voice and confirms that revelation as a feeling such as the burning in the bosom or the peace that the Spirit can bring to our souls. I have come to believe that this dual assurance is necessary to know that the message has come from God.
Another example is found in Jacob, chapter 7:
5 And he had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken.
Jacob heard the voice of the Lord ‘in very word.’ I believe this passage clearly affirms the ability for us to receive the voice of the Lord as words, not just feelings.
Sincere prayer, as in the case of Joseph Smith, was answered by the voice of the Spirit. We find a similar experience recorded in the Book of Mormon from Alma in the 26th chapter of Mosiah:
13 And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God.
14 And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:
15 Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
16 And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them.
17 And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
18 Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.
19 And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed.
20 Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
21 And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.
For Alma the voice of the Lord came to him as a result of earnest prayer. I sincerely believe that the experience demonstrated by Joseph Smith, Alma, Jacob, Elder Mason, and Barbara Thompson is available to all of us. We can indeed have the voice of the spirit speak to our minds and have that message confirmed to us in our hearts. If our hearts are hardened, we may hear the voice of an angel, as did the brothers of Nephi, but it will not be received.
I included the longer quote from Mosiah, chapter 26 because I also feel that the last verse quoted is very important. The Lord tells us here that we must hear His voice if we are to be ‘his sheep’ and be received into His church. If someone has never heard the voice of the Lord, they cannot belong to his church. I am speaking here of the ‘spiritual’ church not the ‘corporate’ church.
This message is the same as found in John, chapter 10:
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
Should we take the charge to hear the voice of God as a literal or figurative commandment? Just as Moroni 6:4 tells us that we must be sanctified before we can be numbered with His church, do we need to literally hear His voice to be numbered with those of His church. You can make your own decision regarding that question, but I believe that it is imperative that we seek the Lord, that we hear and recognize His voice. This is necessary for us to be ‘known by Him’ and be received into his church.
Let me add my personal testimony regarding personal revelation. I have had several occasions where I have heard the voice of God through the Holy Spirit. I recounted one such event when I described my experience of baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost in an earlier post. I would like to share another, not out of boastfulness but out of a sincere desire to open someone’s mind to the idea that personal revelation can come from angels as they speak to our minds AND our hearts ‘by the power of the Holy Ghost.’
A number of years ago, I had interviewed for a job in another state. While the job was very attractive, I did not expect to be offered the position. I had been through many job interviews that all ended with no offer so I was not inclined to expect anything different from this one. The next Sunday after my interview, I had pondered my situation and had engaged the Lord in fervent prayer in the morning and then took my family to church.
I still have this vivid memory of sitting in the pew on the left side of the chapel. The opening hymn was “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go.” I am not a great singer but I do cherish the opportunity to sing the hymns and make a feeble attempt at the bass part. I was fully engaged in singing the first refrain when I heard a voice as clear as any voice I had ever heard speak to my mind saying “I want you to go.” With those words came an deep and lasting peace to my soul. As this sunk into my heart I became aware that I had stopped singing. I had a flood of emotion as I listened to the rest of the song. I couldn’t sing with my mouth but my heart was full of this song and the message I had received from God.
I came away from that experience with an understanding that I would be offered the job and that I should accept it when it came. Several weeks later, events transpired as expected; the job offer came. The move was made with a calm assurance that it was what I should do.
I affirm that we can HEAR the voice of God through His Spirit. It comes to our minds as clear as the voice of someone standing right in front of us. God does speak to our minds AND to our hearts and I attest to our ability as individual to receive personal revelation in this manner.
It may not be on the mountain’s height,
Or over the stormy sea;
It may not be at the battle’s front,
My Lord will have need of me;
But if by a still, small voice He calls,
To paths that I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Thine,
I’ll go where You want me to go.
I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord,
O’er mountain, or plain, or sea;
I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord,
I’ll be what You want me to be.
Perhaps today there are loving words
Which Jesus would have me speak;
There may be now in the paths of sin,
Some wand’rer whom I should seek;
O Savior, if Thou wilt be my guide,
Though dark and rugged the way,
My voice shall echo Thy message sweet,
I’ll say what You want me to say.
There’s surely somewhere a lowly place,
In earth’s harvest fields so white,
Where I may labor through life’s short day,
For Jesus the Crucified;
So trusting my all to Thy tender care,
And knowing Thou lovest me,
I’ll do Thy will with a heart sincere,
I’ll be what You want me to be.
This song will, forever, be a reminder to me that we can hear the still small voice.
What think ye?