I’m teaching lesson 28 covering stories about Elijah in 1 Kings 17-19 this Sunday and since we have a shortened block (2.5 hours) here in Arizona I’m going to focus mostly on the things we learn about personal revelation in chapter 19. You are familiar with the famous verses:
Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19: 11-12)
I think that there is no question that all people have equal access to God when it comes to sending communications to him. I like to compare that to “upload speeds”, using an internet analogy. We can all sincerely pray after all. But it seems obvious to me that not everyone has the same download speeds, or abilities to receive and understand messages from God. Many (perhaps most) people seem to be downloading information from God at 14.4 modem speeds (or slower) while other like the prophets seems to be downloading multimedia extravaganzas from God at T3 bandwidth. I believe our doctrines that say that the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a MAJOR boost to our download speeds if we keep the promises we made a baptism and renew weekly with the sacrament. (If we break those promises then the Gift of the Holy Ghost is largely wasted on us.)
This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. My personal revelation category has more than 25 posts already. (See here, here, and here for particularly relevant posts.) RT mentioned that he liked the bandwidth analogy but wondered about the “signal to noise ratio” when it comes to personal revelation. I think his concern is that it is usually very difficult to tell what part of our impressions are coming from God and which parts are not. I have covered this question in the past in my Ears post but I think the experience of Elijah also speaks directly to this signal to noise issue.
Now I’m not sure how much poetic license the authors of 1 Kings 19 took with the actual experience that Elijah had but I don’t think it matters much. The point seems to be that noise is always an issue when we are seeking to hear God’s voice. Not necessarily audio noise but “mind noise”. (I just made that term up.) I think the issue is that we need a way to quiet our minds enough to discern the Spirit’s still small voice. That is not an easy task for most of us. There are some things we can do to find quiet in our minds though. For me quieting my mind in order to communicate with God is usually through a process pondering/meditation/prayer. But in order to properly ponder/meditate/pray it is useful to find a quiet place. There aren’t too many quiet places in the modern world so this requires some real work sometimes. The temple is a quiet place. (I actually hate going to the temple with people I know because it is not a quiet place where I can properly meditate/ponder for me when friends or ward members are there – but that is another subject.) The scriptures refer to our “closet” which I think mostly means somewhere (at some time) in our homes where we can quietly ponder and pray. (When you have a house full of little kids like we do this usually has to happen early or late – I prefer late personally.) And another quiet place can be outside, in nature if possible. I sometimes go on walks around our neighborhood after the kids go to bed (and after temps drop below 100) and that gives me some pondering time. Anyway, once we can find a a quiet place we need quiet in our minds if we are to get good at hearing and understanding the “still small voice” of God. Of course a major part of properly quieting our minds is repenting I think. Sins seem to cause mind noise and the more serious the sin the more mind noise it seems to cause. If we want a quiet mind we ought to at least be keeping our basic covenants with God or we will have possibly too much mind noise to deal with to properly hear the still small voice. Further, the Gift of the Holy Ghost seems to amplify the still small voice for us but it doesn’t work unless we “always remember [Christ] and keep his commandments“.
The Lawnmower Analogy
Even when we have repented of any obvious sins and quiet our minds, it still takes takes a lot practice to learn to glean more and more info from the “signal” God is sending us . This post is getting long but I have to share this story that is a variation on the Ears thing to finish up. A guy in my ward told the best story a while back. He said his dad repaired lawnmowers for a living. The man said that when he was a boy he watched with wonder and awe as people would bring in lawnmowers and his dad would pull the crank a few times and immediately know what was wrong with the mower. It always sounded like the same noise to him as a boy but there were nuances in the sound that his father had learned to discern over years of practice. This man then said that as a teenager his ears got more and more attuned to those nuances too and he got almost as good as his dad. Of course even the masterful dad couldn’t do his trick if the radio was blasting or another mower was running or something. But if he had sufficient quiet he could use his trained ears to discern exactly the information the mower was telling him.
This is how personal revelation works. The information from God is there but we must train our ears to discern it. It arrives via a still small voice most of the time. But even the best trained spiritual ears won’t be able to properly hear if there is a lot of background noise (like sin or being caught up too much in the daily noise of life) jamming the signals.
May we all learn to find our quiet places where we can quiet our minds and get better and better at discerning the things God wants to directly tell us.