Digital Detachment and Personal Revelation

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Elder Scott Whiting
Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

February 5, 2008
Elder Scott D. Whiting

Member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy

I am honored to have been asked to speak at this devotional today. I am grateful for President and Sister Wheelwright and for their service to this great, inspired institution. I would also like to express my deep and abiding love for my wife who just introduced me. It is not modesty that makes me say that you would be better served by hearing her thoughts and testimony today than mine. She is an inspiration to me and I count myself blessed beyond belief to have her as my companion.

I had a wonderful summer job as a high school student. I worked for the Salt Lake City & County Parks and Recreation Department. My job, along with my fellow co-workers, was to drive around to all the parks in the Salt Lake Valley and play games with the children in the surrounding neighborhoods. Our games were very low-tech. We would bring along large parachutes, balls of all sizes, Frisbees and other such basic items. As I worked over the summer I began to notice some interesting patterns. When we would show up at a park located in a lower-income neighborhood, the kids would flock to our activities and a great time would be had by all. However, when we would show up in a high-income neighborhood, we were not very successful in enticing the children out of their homes and those who did show up soon became very bored with our planned activities. These children were very hard to engage, they proved more difficult to manage and were not easily entertained by our simple methods.

I came to learn that those who could afford the latest and greatest amusement devices were less inclined to be amused or drawn into simple play and interaction than those who could not afford such luxuries. This was an important lesson for me to learn as a teenager and something that I have not forgotten as I have raised my own children.

I believe that the patterns I recognized then are even more exaggerated and pronounced today.

Yours is a most unusual generation. You are a generation blessed by great and rapid technological advances--advances that could not have even been dreamed of a few years ago are being introduced almost daily. So quickly do these advances happen upon us that the moment you buy the "latest" technological device it is practically out of date. You are the generation that stands in front of the microwave oven and impatiently taps your foot waiting for your popcorn to pop or your water to boil wondering how two minutes could take so long. You are the generation with seemingly countless options for self-entertainment and self-amusement. You carry wireless telephones that can store hundreds of numbers, are able to take both moving and still pictures, and can act as music players and even access never-ending streams of information from an unseen source, all on a device no larger than half a slice of bread. You have access to thousands of songs you carry on a device no larger than a library card and you have hundreds of channels to choose from at the click of a remote. You can surf the Net from morning through night and quickly move across the intellectual and physical globe in images and information. It is no wonder that a common complaint by this generation is that of boredom with lower-tech activities, much like those children who were not interested in our simple games played in a neighborhood park years ago. Sadly, these feelings of boredom even include that of worshipping God our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Worship is not about entertainment. If we are seeking entertainment from our public and private activities of worship, then we are seeking after vain and foolish things and are truly missing the mark. Perhaps some may wish for remote digital formats for either personal or public worship with interactive, multi-media scripture study applications and games that are playable on all popular game consoles. Well, don't hold your breath. I have found that there is a direct correlation between the interactivity of the media and the inactivity of the young men and women of the Church.

Now, that is not to say that technological advancements are inherently bad or without merit. With all such amazing technological developments there is a positive and a negative. Brigham Young declared:
"Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind, has been given by direct revelation from God. ...We should take advantage of all these great discoveries... and give to our children the benefit of every branch of useful knowledge, to prepare them to step forward and efficiently do their part in the great work."

As recently as a few weeks ago, a modern-day prophet, seer and revelator, Elder M. Russell Ballard, urged the graduates of this great university from this pulpit to use the internet and blogs and other forms of new media to contribute to a national conversation about the Church. Indeed, modern technology with all of its digital advancements, when purely and judiciously used, is a great tool that can allow for the hastening of the work of the Lord and the spread of the gospel.

However, while there is good and evil that can flow from these great discoveries, we must constantly be aware that one of the evils, in addition to countless sources of base and degrading content, is the ease in which we are distracted and lead away from quieter, more significant opportunities and requirements of our mortal probation. This I will call "digital detachment" or a loss of personal connectivity with God. We cannot simply point and click on or download a personal, revelatory relationship with our Heavenly Father. This is a relationship built upon quiet principles of faith, obedience and repentance--in every essence the very acts of worship that some have become bored with. Perhaps the most productive "point and click" application is that of pointing our finger at the power button and clicking these devices off.

It is important to recognize that digital detachment is an impediment to receiving personal revelation. The supposed need to constantly be "plugged in" can drown out the quiet whisperings and subtle impressions of the Holy Spirit.

Now why should you be concerned about digital detachment? Or, in other words, why is being connected to Deity so important? I can personally testify that every major decision I have made in my life, and many more minor decisions, have been as a result of promptings I have felt from the Holy Ghost. For example, the decision to prepare for and serve a full-time mission, the selection of my eternal companion, the decision to pursue additional education even though it wasn't convenient or economical at the time, my career pursuits, moving to this great state, serving and starting a family, and continued service in the Church and progression on my quest toward greater righteousness. I have faith that we all share the understanding that these types of events and decisions are important - and some even vital - in our efforts to return to God. Who among us does not seek for guidance and counsel in important matters? How often do we seek out family, friends or religious leaders to provide us with counsel and direction? While wonderfully helpful, at times, is it not even more important to seek out our Heavenly Father, who loves us and knows us better than all those we are surrounded by, for inspired direction and guidance. Surely, He will never lead us astray.

It is my experience that the first step in receiving personal revelation is in the desiring of it. In few instances revelatory experiences have been given to those not seeking it and in most such circumstances the revelation given has not had any lasting effect. I think of Laman and Lemuel having the miraculous experience of seeing an angel of the Lord and hearing these revelations:
Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him [Nephi] to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.

Can you imagine how the events of the Book of Mormon may have been different if Laman and Lemuel would have accepted the revelation that Nephi was to be ruler over them? Think of the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of souls that were lost both spiritually and physically because this one revelation was not accepted and humbly followed. Nephi later adds his voice of reproach when counseling his elder brothers in a tone of disbelief. He says:

Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.

This state of being "past feeling" is a perilous position to be in. Can you imagine being faced with the eternal-salvation-dependent choices we face in life without being able to feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost? Laman and Lemuel provide a sobering example of the consequences of being in that state.

Now, let's contrast that experience with revelation given to Nephi who had "great desires to know of the mysteries of God." Nephi sought for the blessings of personal revelation and as a result had many great and wonderful truths revealed unto him. Truths that not only blessed his family and his people, but that continue to bless us today. His own vision of all that his father saw relating to the Tree of Life and interpretation of such must have been invaluable to his family as it is to us today. His vision of the coming forth of the Bible and Book of Mormon and other latter-day scripture and the building up of Zion in these latter days provide great insight and show us the love of God manifest in these prophetic revelations. The great personal revelations regarding the atonement and doctrine of Christ are the foundation of the restored gospel. How grateful I am for Nephi's "great desires to know the mysteries of God!"

The desire for personal revelation stems from a sincere recognition of our own inferior status as we move forward on this mortal journey. The understanding of our constant need to, "yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father."

Once the desire has been kindled, we then must ask how personal revelation is received. How can you and I access the opened heavens to our own benefit?

Let's look at the most recent example of recorded, canonized modern-day revelation to see if there are any patterns that might be useful to us in our quest to receive personal revelation. In the section heading of Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants, it is recorded that President Joseph F. Smith declared at the October 1918 General Conference that he had received several divine communications during the previous month, and what we have now as Section 138 was received just the day prior to this declaration. A close look at the scriptures leading into this great revelation regarding the Savior's visit to the spirits of the dead are instructive to those seeking their own divine communications. The first few verses of this modern day revelation reads in part:

I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; and reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world; and the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son in the coming of the Redeemer into the world; that through his atonement, and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, mankind might be saved.

How often have you made the time to sit and ponder on such wonderful and marvelous things? It seems that, modernly, we do our best to avoid such moments of contemplation as we are quick to put in the ear buds or headphones or to seek out other forms of entertainment rather than being alone with our thoughts allowing our minds to dwell upon the sacred. Pondering is best done in an "unplugged" environment that will allow you to hear the acoustic subtleties of the spirit. Perhaps there is no greater council given than what was recorded in Psalms 46:10 which reads, "Be still, and know that I am God."

Now, we also notice that Joseph F. Smith was pondering specifically upon the scriptures. In verses five through nine of Section 138, we learn that he specifically pondered over passages found in the New Testament, in 1 Peter chapters three and four, that spoke incompletely of Christ's ministry to those spirits in prison.

A similar pattern unfolds if you will remember the events leading up to one of the singular most important revelatory moments of all mankind when the young boy Joseph Smith also sat reading New Testament scriptures and came upon James 1:5. The prophet records that

"Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart."

And then later, in that same verse, he writes that he "reflected on it again and again." The young boy Joseph was learning the powerful connection between study of the scriptures and then pondering upon them as essential precursors to the receipt of personal revelation--a pattern that he would perfect to the blessing and edification of us all.

The sons of Mosiah also knew of the power that comes from being students of the scriptures. We are told that "they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God."

In addition to the patterns of scripture study and pondering, we also know that prayer is the third essential component of revelation. Direct, verbal communication with God is essential to receiving revelation and knowledge. The powerful and instructive words of Alma the high priest bear witness as to how he received his own testimony through personal revelation. He writes:

"And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do you suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me."

The scriptures admonish us on numerous occasions to "knock" or to "ask" and it shall be given unto us. Jesus Christ Himself promised those gathered in the land Bountiful that
"...whatsoever things ye shall ask the Father in my name shall be given unto you. Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened."

It should be noted, here, that in order to successfully draw upon the principles surrounding the power of personal revelation, we must be worthy and obedient to the laws and commandments of God. Always remember that:
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated--And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
Personal revelation is predicated upon personal obedience.

We have spoken of prophets, ancient and modern, as we have looked to establish patterns of revelation, but what of us, those not foreordained to such revelation-intense public assignments in the Lord's kingdom. Can we, too, be participants in this revelatory process? Revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith as he was translating John 5:20 of the Bible, and now recorded in Doctrine & Covenants Section 76, gives this powerful instruction:

"For thus saith the Lord--I, the Lord am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth to the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. And to them [you and I] will I reveal all my mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. Yea, even wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will--yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man."

Now as if this were not enough, the Lord also promises that,

"It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am."

Certainly, there can be no greater moment of revelation than to look upon the countenance of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and this is promised to all who qualify, not just those in leadership positions.

One of my first memories of implementing this formula for revelation takes me back to when I was a young missionary. I was having trouble being obedient to a specific mission rule. The mornings were so cold and there was no heat in our little apartment. When the alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. it was difficult for me to answer the bell. The most comfortable place in the apartment was under my electric blanket. I knew that I would not be receiving the full blessings of obedience if I couldn't overcome this weakness. In my mind I felt that if I could only have a greater vision of the work, even an eternal perspective of my efforts as a missionary, that I would then be able to overcome the temporary hardships and inconveniences posed by these conditions. I remember focusing my every thought and desire on gaining that eternal perspective. I read scripture on the matter, I prayed unceasingly for this revelation, I obeyed all mission rules and I exercised my faith. Then, one evening, as I once again knelt in prayer seeking this revelation I received the righteous desires of my heart. I felt knowledge rush into my mind and soul, I recall it feeling like pure light was being poured into me. It was at one time exhilarating and overwhelming. It was then I gained an eternal perspective of this great, restored work and that knowledge, that personal revelation, continues to sustain me in all that I do today.

Now in review, while modern technological advancements can enhance the work of the Lord and be a blessing to you and your families, we must be careful in its use so as to not to fall victim to the dark and destructive side of these developments. We must guard against digital detachment and being overly "connected" to the point of weakening our connection with God and converting the sacred forms of worship we enjoy into "boring" low-tech routines. We must recognize the need for personal revelation; develop the desire for these "divine communications;" seek out revelation through scripture study and pondering upon the mercies and love of God and His word. Lastly, we must recognize that revelation is available to us all, without exception, if we are worthy and ask God in the name of His Son Jesus Christ with faith.

I know that what I have spoken of here today is true. I know it because of my own experiences with personal revelation. I know the whisperings of the Holy Ghost for I have heard them and felt them. President Boyd K. Packer taught that "The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. It is described as a 'still small voice.' And while we speak of 'listening' to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, 'I had a feeling...'"

I have had many such feelings as a husband and father, but perhaps more importantly as a son of God. I know that He loves me and desires to bless me with His word and knowledge if I will but seek it out.

I know that the succession of leadership process which we have recently witnessed in the Church is inspired and I sustain Thomas S. Monson as prophet, seer and revelator. Immediately upon hearing of the passing of our beloved President Hinckley, I dropped to my knees and asked for my own witness that President Monson was to be the president of the Church. I testify to you that I have felt the Holy Ghost confirm this to my soul. I know that if I listen to his words and implement them in my life that I will find peace and happiness. It is my desire to be "quick to observe" the teachings of a prophet of God and his admonitions.

I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that it has come to us through the sacrifice and great efforts of those anciently and modernly. It is my desire to more fully understand the doctrines contained therein that I might be a greater follower of righteousness and more fully access the heavens that we know to be open.

I know that the Prophet Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of the Lord. I know that he saw what he saw, and heard what he heard and suffered at the hands of many because of his testimony. I love him and revere him as he who stands at the head of this, the last dispensation of the Fullness of Times.

Finally, I bear you my especial witness that Jesus is the Christ, that He walked on earth as the Son of God, born of an earthly mother, and that He magnified His Father's will. I testify that He took upon Himself the sins of the world and freely gave of His life at the hands of false accusers. I testify that on the third day He took His body up in perfection and glory and that he rules and stands at the head of this great Church today. This is my witness of the resurrected Lord and Savior, this is the testimony that I leave with you under the power of personal revelation that is within me. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Sources referenced
Deseret News, 22 Oct. 1862, 129
1 Nephi 3:29
1 Nephi 17:45
1 Nephi 2: 16
Mosiah 3: 19
D&C 138: 1-3
Joseph Smith History 1:12
Alma 17: 2
Alma 5: 46
3 Nephi 27: 28, 29
D&C 130: 21, 22
D&C 93: 1
D&C 85:6
Boyd K. Packer, "Personal Revelation: The Gift, the Test and the Promise," Liahona, Jun 1997, 8
Mormon 1:2