Here was my dilemma: Doctrine and Covenants 9: 8-9 describes a process whereby we must study something out in our minds before we ask for the Lord to grant us an answer. We further read the phrases, "Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you" to tell us that the Lord wants us to use our own minds, work out what we want from him and then ask. It goes well together with the excellent counsel to not be a slothful servant and not having to be commanded in all things (Doctrine and Covenants 58:26).
However, there is given in other scriptures and in talks by our modern prophets and apostles a different understanding of revelation. Let's look at the Savior's example in the first instance when he cried in anguish at the very moment of despair in the garden of Gethsemane, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26: 39). He stated this many times that he had come to do the will of the Father and not his own and he submitted himself completely to his mission as given by the Father. In relating that to us, the scriptures tell us in 1 John 5:14:
"And this is the confidence that I have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will he heareth thee"
There is some further illustration of this in the Book of Mormon when Nephi is granted a wonderful blessing:
"....And now because thou has done this with such unwearingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will."
So how do we both exercise our ability to make decisions at the same time as submit our will completely to the Lord? I looked for answers to this in the story of the brother of Jared which has become a signature scripture for my life. When we think of the story of the brother of Jared our minds tend to go to the section where the Lord told him to find a solution to having light in the barges before heading off for the Promised Land. In doing this we tend to take the teachings out of context and lose the whole message. I have heard it used many times to illustrate that we need to think for ourselves before we go to the Lord, that revelation comes as a result of our instigation. My study tells me that the Lord has a number of ways of answering prayers and of giving personal revelation.
Let's begin with Ether 1: 34-35. In these verses the brother of Jared pleads with the Lord not to confound their language at the time of the tower of Babel. It reads in verse 35:
".... and the Lord did have compassion upon Jared; therefore he did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded."
In this example, the Lord answered his prayer, his request, directly and immediately. The conversation was instigated by the family of the brother of Jared. However, in this second example it is the Lord who instigated the conversation and had a request or a direction to give to his people. We read in Ether 2:5
"And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel."
and again similarly in Ether 2:16
And the Lord said, Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord."
In these instances the Lord expressed his will to the brother of Jared and gave specific directions on where they were going to go and what they were to do. He gave very specific directions on the kind of barge they were to build, much like he gave Noah exact instructions on how to build the ark.
Are you still with me? Let's go onto a different way again that the Lord provides personal revelation, also illustrated in the story of the brother of Jared. In the course of building the barges to cross the ocean, the brother of Jared expresses two problems: having neither light nor air to breathe if the barges were airtight. (Ether 2:18-19). The Lord does not say, "Go and figure it all out yourself." Interestingly, the Lord provides the solution very directly to the air problem. By contrast, the Lord asks the brother of Jared to come up with the solution to address the light issue giving rise to one of the greatest occurrences in the Book of Mormon. Even here he does not go straight into the "find your own answer" speech but informs the brother of Jared about what would not work. He says that neither windows nor fire will work so another solution is needed.
Did the Lord not know how to fix the problem of the light inside the barges? I am very sure he could have solved this easily himself but by letting the brother of Jared work this one out He was able to trigger off an incredible event of faith. The solution proposed by the brother of Jared was for the Lord to touch a series of stones with his finger so that they gave light. As the Lord affirmed his agreement to this suggestion, the brother of Jared's faith was so great that he was able to see the finger of the Lord and then ultimately for the Lord to completely show himself. This was a learning exercise whereby man was instructed on the importance of both using his own intelligence but also to remember to call on the Lord for assistance.
While we may think that we are somehow different from the people of ancient times, I like to believe that the Lord remains the same yesterday, today and forever and that principles remain the same. If we believe there is only one way that the Lord provides us with revelation then we may be limiting ourselves. For example, if all we ever do in our prayers is to ask for what we want or to ask the Lord to confirm whether the path WE have chosen is the right one then we may just miss out on some precious communication from the Lord because we are not open enough to the possibilities of something completely illogical and yet marvellous to happen to us. We may not hear what the Lord has to say because we have a fixed way we believe that the Lord works and we may miss out on our being led to our particular "promised land."