There are many ways for revelation to come to us. It is possible for the Lord to be very specific, like when President Russell M. Nelson was told in revelation exactly where to make incisions and pleats in a heart valve in order to save a man’s life. But just as often the instructions that come from God don’t involve any specific steps, only the outcome we are to achieve. Ministering to one another is such a revelation. In this case the outcome has been stated by the prophet, but it requires mass revelation by the individual members of the Church in order to figure out how to do what our prophet has told us we need to accomplish.
The nature of revelation
Have you ever wondered why the prophets have never come out and given us a step by step guide for how we are to receive revelation? Wouldn’t life by so much easier if commandments like “be thou perfect” were able to be laid out clearly, like the yellow brick road to the fabled city of Oz? What are we supposed to do when we are told to become holy? How exactly does one “do” holy anyway?
I believe the reason for the ambiguity that comes with most of the revelation and commandments in the gospel is because the exact path to holiness, perfection, temple attendance, faithfulness, or any other gospel principle or directive, is different for each individual. My needs are different from your needs. My weaknesses are different from your weaknesses. We each have to overcome our own set of obstacles, whether they be physical, social, emotional, or spiritual. All of us need to accomplish similar tasks, but in our own way and on our own timetable, because the process of salvation and exaltation is as individual as the individuality of each spirit child of God.
In Abraham 3 we are taught that no two of us are exactly alike. Every time you put two people next to each other, one of them will have a greater overall capacity than the other. So we can’t expect that what I need to do or change to accomplish anything spiritual is going to be exactly what you need to do to accomplish the same thing. What comes easily to you may be monumental for me, or vice versa.
When President Nelson told us the Lord wants each of us to learn a higher and holier form of service to one another, it means that each of us must learn how to do this on our own. He can give us general guidelines, but no one revelation can be given for us to all know how to individually implement such a directive in our own life. We must each go to the Lord and work out how to achieve it on our own.
Feeling our way
When we are given a directive by the Lord, like the one about learning to minister to one another, it requires that we first come to understand what it means to minister. The problem is in the definition. For some people, ministering means to make a phone call or deliver a plate of yummy food. That is about as far as their understanding of ministering goes. For others, they may feel they have cracked the ministering puzzle by learning to give a hug to someone who needs one or by learning how to listen instead of trying to solve someone’s problem. The ultimate question isn’t how we define ministering, but how does God want us to minister? Talk about a moving target!
Even those of us who are still at the very early stages of learning what it means to minister can tell that ultimately, ministering requires an individual solution to an individual situation. And in each situation the solution may be completely different. It can seem overwhelming, like standing at the bottom of a mountain trail and looking up to the peak that is hidden high above us in the clouds. The path is never a straight shot, but instead twists and turns in and out of valleys and crags, often hiding what will be required of us when we get there. At least from where we are currently, the needs of the future are often obscured. So where do we start?
It is important to remember that our purpose in this life is to become better than we currently are. We are to become more like Christ. That goal involves a different set of lessons for each and every one of us, though the ultimate goal is the same for all of us. My experiences will require something of me that your experiences may not require. And even when we are part way to accomplishing our goal of learning how to be something the Lord requires us to become, I will still have different opinions and outlooks than you, because your experiences in arriving at the same place will have been different than mine. This is where learning to take our differences in experience and outlooks, yet still becoming united in our purposes, leads us toward becoming a Zion people.
The act of becoming
Becoming charitable, becoming kind, becoming patient, or anything else you can think of, requires practice. Practice means trying, failing, and trying again. Our attempts at learning to be something that is currently difficult for us teaches us what works in one situation and what doesn’t. Our attempts teach us, hopefully, to be humble, show us our weaknesses, and show us the importance of self-reflection. We must begin to look at our lives as a learning experience. Only when we learn to approach becoming what we are not as a process that must be monitored and thought about each step of the way will we be able to make intelligent progress toward our goal. This is why, for example, we study the scriptures, not just read them. It is only through deliberate and purposeful thinking about what we are reading that we begin to learn the secrets the scriptures contain.
We are not alone in our efforts to learn how to become new creatures in Christ. We have been given a divine tutor who is a member of the Godhead. It should be humbling to think that we each have been given a God to teach us the path to godhood. He is able to tutor each of us in whatever way we each need to be instructed. You may need help with overcoming one habit, while at the same time I need help overcoming something completely different. But the end result of each of us learning that one thing will bring us both closer to the end goal of becoming more like Christ.
Relying on the Spirit
I am the admin for a Facebook group called Latter-day Saint Ministering. I spend multiple hours a day working in the group, and in all my time on social media each day the predominant sentiment I hear is “just follow the Spirit.” I can’t fault that instruction, because we do need to learn to listen to the Holy Ghost and follow the instructions we receive. But remember that revelation is rarely like putting pieces of a puzzle together. Things in life don’t often fall into place in predictable patterns or ways. There is a lot more to following the Spirit than just asking and waiting for a direct and clear answer.
The Lord expects us to be anxiously engaged in doing good. This means we need to take the initiative and decide to do good on our own, with or without specific direction from the Spirit. The good that we do needs to be our idea, our choice, and under our initiative. If we are listening, praying for guidance, and are teachable then if the Spirit needs us to change course or modify our actions for our or someone else’s good, he will step in and tell us. But until then the Lord expects us to be acting of our own accord, on our own steam. This is how we each become better at anything.
In the case of the whole Church learning how to minister, what we are seeing is nothing short of a miracle. As I read people’s conversations in social media about their experience with the changes that are taking place in the Church, amazing patterns are emerging. The change to a two hour block has really rocked many people’s worlds. Those who used to feel connected to others in their ward/branch because of the difference in the meetings being held in the old three hour block, now feel cut off, and cast adrift, because Relief Society/Priesthood is only happening twice a month. And throw in an ill-timed Conference, church cancellation for weather or something else, and you may not see those in your quorum or Relief Society for a whole month. For many that has left them feeling more alienated and alone.
The change to ministering has had the same effect for many. There are a lot of people whose home/visiting teachers simply stopped visiting them when the Prophet said we are retiring home/visiting teaching. It is as though something turned off in their heads, like a switch was flipped, and they no longer felt any obligation to visit those assigned to them. These are just a couple of the changes in the Church that have caused people to feel uneasy and cut off from the Church they thought they knew.
This whole process of learning how to minister requires that personal revelation be received by each and every person who wants to learn how the Lord defines ministering. The Prophet can tell us we need to minister, and we can describe the general principles of what it means to minister, but only the Holy Ghost, and a lot of trial and error can really teach us each what we need to know about how to do it. Church-wide ministering requires mass revelation. And that is what is happening.
The change is happening
I recently saw a post in my Facebook group about someone who was having difficulty with feeling disconnected from her ward because of the change to the two hour block. Comment after comment came pouring in to her post. There was not an unkind word spoken. Each person was contributing their honest experiences to help give her encouragement, trying to help her look at the change in a new way so she could once again feel a part of her ward. I wept as I read page after page of tender suggestions, recounting of experiences in their personal lives about how they were learning through trial and error to overcome their own personal challenges with the changes.
What we are seeing here is revelation on a Church-wide level. Millions are having to struggle with an almost infinite number of personal challenges in order to achieve a new standard, a new Church-wide view of what it means to love and serve one another under new conditions. It is like someone is kicking our crutches out from underneath us one by one and making us learn to stand and walk more on our own than we did in the past.
The Spirit is moving among the members of the Church and teaching each of us, individually, what we need to learn in order to fulfill the commandments of the Lord as given through his prophet. No two are having the exact same experience. Yet all of us are being brought closer to the goal of learning to adjust to the new schedule, with all of its challenges, along with learning how to minister more as Christ would. Revelation is the only thing that can bring about such a thing, and in God’s restored Church it is happening today.
There are always naysayers, but those who are trying to follow the Spirit are learning that revelation comes more often when we are anxiously engaged in doing the Lord’s will to the best of our knowledge. When we are out purposefully doing good, as we understand it, the Holy Ghost will influence us, soften our hearts, and open our minds to new possibilities, new ways of seeing things, and will help us to feel differently about old feelings. This is how revelation often comes. It is line upon line, precept upon precept. Our personal experience in achieving anything spiritual is like climbing that mountain. We have to start by taking those first few tentative steps and trusting we can do it with the Lord’s help.