Today’s Lesson tells us of the visit of the angel to Joseph and his admonition to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt for their own safety and his later appearance to Joseph suggesting a safe return, following the death of Herod. These scriptures are those with which we are well familiar and part of our yearly celebration of the many miracles that surround the birth of the Savior and our more modern-day Christmas observances.
This year I was struck by things I hadn’t considered before – maybe we see scripture in accordance with our own personal situation or the events of the world around us, and maybe that is exactly the point of the timeless nature of scriptures and their applicability in modern times. As such, I considered the role of Joseph in Jesus’ life and my own reflections on the important role of a stepparent. Those whose duty or pleasure it is to love and support children who are theirs by affiliations of the heart – not biology. While there is not a great deal written about the early life of Jesus, one can only imagine the feelings Joseph might have had regarding his own role in the childhood of the Savior.
In Matthew, we learn that Joseph was the vehicle for the all-important information that the family should flee for a time in order to protect Jesus’ life. I could probably preach for some time on the loving role and importance of step-parenting – and the Lord’s revelation to Joseph the he should take Mary and Jesus into Egypt is a loving example of parental stewardship and personal revelation.
This led to other thoughts about role of personal revelation and inspiration and the myriad ways God communicates with us. How does personal revelation happen? What should we do to prepare ourselves for the blessings of revelation and for whom do we receive revelation?
It is staggering to think about how many messages compete for our attention each day? Text messages are only the beginning. Add up every billboard, poster, TV commercial, online ad, etc., and soon we are swimming in an ocean of competing voices. With all those messages swirling around, it can be easy to miss the “still small voice” spoken of in Kings. (1 Kings 19:12).
We don’t know if Joseph actively sought guidance from the Lord, but it is easy to imagine that he did. The responsibilities of protecting a family under marginal circumstances in an unsafe environment may have led him to seek guidance as to how to proceed. Whether he sought that guidance or not, we know that when the angel visited him he chose to comply thereby preserving the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Why does the Lord ask us to pray to ask for guidance? Because that is often how revelation and inspiration are received. The Holy Spirit 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 have to guide us step by step to a worthy objective, it is inspiration. When it is for the Lord’s purposes, anything can come to our remembrance.
The scriptures give eloquent confirmation of how truth, consistently lived, opens the door to inspiration to know what to do and, where needed, to have personal capacities enhanced by divine power. The scriptures depict how an individual’s capacity to conquer difficulty, doubt, and seemingly insurmountable challenges is strengthened by the Lord in time of need.
This help is available to each of us, but that does not mean we know how to use all the gifts we’ve been given. For as Jesus said in John 14:26-27, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Notice here that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just give us all the answers, rather, there is a teaching process led by the Holy Spirit.
We may find that the tests and trials in life have a way of maturing us and increase our abilities to recognize promptings from God. When we are confused about the circumstances of our lives, this confusion should cause us to press into God even more than we might in the past.
While it is clear that God desires to teach us and reveal important information to us, it is also clear that God has never promised to tell us everything we want to know when we want to know it. This perceived “delay” may feel difficult as we await answers and understanding and anticipating delay is an exercise in patience that may take years of practice.
The scriptures remind us that divine guidance is often given to us by God. Inspiration often comes by the Spirit in a variety of ways to the mind or heart of a person.
I have seen individuals – and have been an individual—who has encountered challenges, and ultimately knew what to do when it was beyond my own experience, by trusting in the Lord knowing that I would be guided to solutions. As I have gotten older, I have had the blessing of receiving personal revelation and inspiration in my life. Candidly, sometimes the answers were a surprise and unexpected. Many years ago, I found myself suddenly single with two very young children to raise, a part-time job, and no education. I didn’t know what to do and knew I could not manage the situation on my own.
I concluded that if ever there a time to implement the practices around seeking personal revelation, it was certainly then. I sought guidance in the scriptures, I fasted and prayed, and watched for signs as to what the Lord intended for me. And it became clear to me, both in my heart and in my head what the Lord intended. But I wasn’t at all happy with the answer. It was the last possible thing I wanted to do and I concluded that I had misunderstood the will of the Lord and decided to go back to the drawing board. I continued to pray, and wait, and listen and each time the answer came back the same – the thing I absolutely didn’t want to do. Ultimately, I decided to follow the prompting of the spirit and do the thing that seemed so counterintuitive to me. How grateful I am today that, at least for that one time, I listened. My life was exponentially blessed for that one decision.
Communication with God is not a trivial matter. It is a sacred privilege available to each of us and is based upon eternal, unchanging principles. Personal revelation is the way we know for ourselves the most important truths of our existence: the living reality of God, and Jesus Christ; the truthfulness of the gospel; and God’s purpose and direction for us. Each of us has been sent to earth to better understand eternal life – and God is available to help us with that process.
Paul counseled the early Church to rely on the Spirit rather than the wisdom of the world. To obtain that Spirit, we begin with prayer. Prayer provides a firm foundation for personal revelation. But more is required and revelation comes on the Lord’s timetable, which often means we must move forward in faith, even though we haven’t received all the answers we desire. As faithful members of the body of Christ, we may receive personal revelation more frequently than we realize. The more we receive and acknowledge personal revelation, the more our ability to recognize that guidance grows.
For all of us, our personal revelations reflect the pattern of revelation received by prophets, as recounted in the scriptures. Adam and Eve called upon the name of the Lord and received personal revelation. Elijah’s personal revelation came through the still, small voice; Daniel’s came in a dream. Peter’s personal revelation gave him a testimony that Jesus is the Christ. Generally, those miracles will not be physical demonstrations of God’s power—parting of the Red Sea, raising of the dead, breaking down prison walls, or the appearance of heavenly messengers. By design, most are spiritual demonstrations of God’s power—tender mercies gently bestowed through impressions, ideas, feelings of assurance, solutions to problems, strength to meet challenges, and comfort to bear disappointments and sorrow.
Sometimes we endure what the scriptures call a “trial of [our] faith.” And sometimes that trial is the time it takes before an answer is received. Sincere prayer is answered ‘sometime, somewhere.’” The answer may also be “Not now—be patient and wait.”
Finally, sometimes those answers some in the form of other people. I have often prayed for guidance on ways to be more patient with others and more optimistic. The answer for me came in the form of those who model those behaviors. My husband, Bryant, model’s patience in many ways. My friend, Katherine, makes the case for unbridled optimism in the face of adversity. I frequently contemplate that they are both gifts from God sent to inspire me to do better and be better.
We recently spent some time with the family of my daughter in law as we celebrated the birth of our new grandson. During the visit I posed the question to them as to how they heard God’s voice. While it was clear that people hear God’s voice in many different ways, a common theme was remaining open to the Spirit as a predicate to receiving inspiration.
Reflecting back on the lesson today, Joseph serves as an example of someone who remained open to the will of the Lord to the eternal benefit of his family and the world. That each of us may receive that Spirit, obtain the blessings of personal revelation, and know for ourselves that these things are true is my heartfelt prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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