Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Brother Chad Webb teach and facilitate a discussion at the February 2020 Evening with a General Authority event.
Webb: So, we wanted to start by asking you a little bit about personal revelation. President Nelson has taught us about the importance of personal revelation recently, and we wanted to ask you what you might add to that, what you would teach us about what you’ve learned as an apostle and in your personal experience about receiving personal revelation.
Bednar: I think the first thought that comes to my mind is that we often make it hard on ourselves to receive personal revelation. By that I mean the covenant promise is that as we honor our covenants we may always have the Holy Ghost to be our constant companion. But we talk about it and we treat it as if hearing the voice of the Lord through his spirit is the rare event, and that just strikes me as a little curious. It’s like I have to follow these four steps, everywhere we get checklists, we get formulas, do these four things, and the Holy Ghost is going to speak to you, and you’re going to hear it, and I go wait a minute we shouldn’t be trying to recognize it when it comes. We should be recognizing what happens that causes it to leave. It ought to be with us all of the time—not every nanosecond—but if a person is doing his or her best, you don’t have to be perfect, but if you and I are doing our best, and we’re not committing serious transgression, then we can count on the Holy Ghost guiding us. So I think we sometimes start from a disadvantage in believing I have to gear up to recognize it when it ought to be there all the time. Secondly, I think in the culture of the Church, especially in the Western world, we seem to believe that the Holy Ghost is dramatic and big and sudden when it’s still and small and incremental over time, and that you don’t have to recognize that you are receiving revelation in the moment that you are receiving revelation. And so because we think it’s got to be big, and I have to know it we have all of these things that I think are just exactly the opposite of what really happens as we receive revelation. I think Nephi is the perfect example of this model. He went not knowing beforehand the things that he should do, and what is striking to me about that experience is that he’s writing this after it happens, so he has to look back and reflect on his experience. And I don’t mean to use casual language, but in the vernacular of today, I think he’s saying I was absolutely clueless how this was going to work. But he goes, he goes, and as he’s going he’s being guided, but I’m not sure he knows that in every instant that he is pressing forward and going. Now, the reason that’s at the very beginning of the Book of Mormon is so every one of us will read it forty-eight million times in our lives. It’s before the Isaiah chapters, I think that maybe intentional, so you get there and you get stuck and you go back and you read that over and over and over and over. But we never make the connection that what happened to him is probably how it ought to be working for us. I find members of the church who are terrified I’m gonna make a mistake. Did Nephi make a mistake the first time when they drew lots? Didn’t work out, but boy did he learn a lesson and his family. Didn’t work out when they tried the gold and all their possessions, but they learned a lesson. So it doesn’t have to be big dramatic quick all at once, and it works every time—it’s just probably the opposite of that. But somehow we’ve come to the conclusion—I think those assumptions get in our way.
Webb: I think that’s a really great response for us in teaching young people, especially in conversations I’ve heard you also refer to that being true when revelation comes through the leaders of the church for members of the church and the way we see that and respond to revelation from from President Nelson and other leaders of the church. Would you add anything in our understanding about revelation when it when it comes to responding to the revelation of those who lead.
Bednar: I’d be happy to. Again, many members of the church are talking about how much revelation has come just since President Nelson became the President of the Church, and again—I hope none of this sounds sarcastic—but thank goodness because we didn’t have much with President Monson , and we didn’t have very much with President Hinckley. The things that are coming forth now have been worked on for years and decades. I think the perfect illustration for people of our age, may be just old guys like me, president McKay in the 1950s is highlighting the importance of the family. In the 1950s and the 1960s TV programs are called “Father knows best” and “Leave It to Beaver.” They cannot be any more clean than this. So why in that era is President McKay emphasizing the family? Because you needed it for today, and it would be seventy years too late if you were starting today. So this is not new. In many instances the revelation is not what to do, the revelation is when to do. President Hinckley. Small temples. Everyone attributes small temples to President Gordon B Hinckley. He came home from his mission; he worked for the church in the missionary department and in the communication department. David O McKay invites him to his office and says brother Hinckley were going to build a temple in Europe, and we need to present temple ordinances in many different languages even at the same time. They’d never encountered that challenge before Gordon P Hinckley didn’t do this by himself, but that was the beginning of exploring the use of audio-visual means of presenting temple ordinances. In the 1960s, as a member of the twelve, he’s in Asia. I’ve read minutes from the Quorum of the Twelve where Elder Gordon B. Hinckley writes from Asia and says the methods that we use for temple ordinances in the large temples in Utah won’t be appropriate for what we need to do here. This is in the 1960s. In the 1970s he’s a member of the First Presidency with Spencer W. Kimball, the first small temples are built. Then he becomes the president of the church and we tell the story: he’s in northern Mexico he’s concerned about the Saints there who don’t have access to the temple and on the napkin in the back of the car as he’s driving along—this is the revelation. The revelation to President Hinckley was not the idea of a small temple—we’re gonna have a hundred of them by the year 2000. It was the when, not the what.
Webb: Thank you. I think that’s really helpful for us as we teach young people about revelation and responding to revelation and in our own lives as we learn to counsel together and work toward growing into revelation and to the answers that we need. So that’s really helpful.
Bednar: If I could just make a suggestion and that is that in Church Education we work very hard not to teach people that this is formulaic: do these three things. There are principles related to the receiving of Revelation. For example, probably everyone in this setting and everyone listening has read president Packers talk about the snow white birds. There’s a very important teaching about revelation in his introductory comments. I can’t quote it but he said as I was preparing for this message, to deliver this message, I had to do my preparation in very small snippets of time between other obligations. And he said one of the steps of my preparation was to come to this campus and walk around, and I went in to the to the Maser building at BYU and stood there because that was the venue where he was going to deliver the message. And he said Harold B. Lee taught me that revelation is more readily recognized when you’re in the place related to the need for the revelation, and then all he said was presently it was right. Well what he’s telling you is, if I’m delivering this message on this campus there’s value in being in the place pondering and praying and seeking for help. And that has huge implications for today in terms of ministering. Everybody thinks that text is enough. There are occasions where you need to be in the home, and you need to look the people in the eyes because you’re going to receive impressions and inspiration in the home that you’ll never get any other way.
Webb: That’s really great. It causes me to think of another implication, and that would be as teachers as we prepare, and we’re praying for the students were teaching maybe going over a role with their names in our minds, right, so it’s not just preparing a lesson, but we’re seeking inspiration for those that were teaching and ministering to.
Bednar: So without, again, lots of times there will be a sudden stroke of inspiration and you all have a name come to your mind, or you might even see a familiar face. I would suggest that when it comes suddenly that that’s exactly what the prophet Joseph said: sudden strokes of intelligence. And those are quite remarkable.
Webb: thank you
Audience Member: okay I guess I’m trying to understand exactly: it’s not what to do, it’s when to do. Every once in a while we will receive revelation on what to do as well, is that …
Bednar: Don’t make it mutually exclusive: it’s not one or the other, but many times what to do is pretty clear, but it’s the timing and the when to do that we struggle with, so it’s both—not one or the other.