Revelation and the Temple of God

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President Eric B. ShumwayDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

May 4, 2006
Eric B. Shumway
President of Brigham Young University-Hawaii

Aloha. I am deeply grateful to be here with you, especially with our new students. I love this university beyond words. I admire the faculty and staff. I feel deep regard for each and every student. That is because I have a profound testimony of who you are and your worth to Heavenly Father who has created this university to prepare you for uncommon service in his kingdom.

I would like to draw attention today to two mighty components of the Restoration and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first is personal revelation; the second, the temple of the Lord.

In our graduation services last December, President Boyd K. Packer of the Twelve Apostles spoke about something that has resonated in my soul ever since. It applies to all of us here today. I would like to read a portion of that talk:

You are going out into a world that is different from the world I faced when I was your age....The curtains are falling....you are old enough as college students to see what is going on....Now, you won't survive spiritually unless you know how to receive revelation....I don't know whether you know how to receive revelation, but you won't survive without it....

It's a noisy world, and you're going to have to learn personally, and privately, and individually that revelation will come when the Lord can speak to your feelings. You have wonderful opportunities ahead. It is a marvelous time to be alive, to be young [to be in school]...., but learn to receive revelation.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with apostles, I've learned this: the pattern of our receiving revelation is no different from the pattern I had when I was a father, teaching seminary, a pattern that is available to you.

Learn that in the still, small hours of the morning the Lord will speak to you. He will never fail to answer your prayers. Sometimes he may say [what] you will not like, [but] you will learn that he is answering your prayers. You have conferred upon you the gift of the Holy Ghost to be a companion and revelator to you. (Graduation Address December 2005)

As I have pondered President Packer's talk, I have realized that as a learning institution, an institution of higher learning in the Church, if you students learn everything else and not learn this, how to receive personal revelation, then we have failed in a significant way. Without this ability, a person will leave crippled and vulnerable in a world of many strident, often mocking voices; a world of moral confusion, a world consumed by forces that destroy the soul, pride, violence, lust, greed, ambition for power, celebrity, ease, and competing demands for your time, your energy, and commitments.

For my purposes today, I would like to define revelation simply as divine communication from a personal, loving, and literal Heavenly Father to the individual by a power of the Holy Ghost. Through this communication Heavenly Father bestows understanding, knowledge, understanding, courage, and a deep sense of his love and caring. Sometimes this communication will come as a grace, a pure gift or a tender mercy, but generally it is something we must seek for earnestly. In fact the key scriptural operatives are that we seek, we knock, and we ask. We study it out. Revelation is in response to seeking, knocking, and asking. Revelation speaks to our feelings, bringing thoughts and ideas to our minds and words to our lips.

President Hinckley offered this insight, "The trouble with most of our prayers is that we [offer] them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries, we place our order and then hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for, and then speak to the Lord as one [person] speaketh to another." (PMG, 95)

"As one person speaketh to another." That requires a fairly intense involvement of the imagination to visualize Heavenly Father actually present in the room with us and our speaking to him, and interacting with him, and listening as we would in any reverent conversation with another person.

President Hunter taught: "If prayer is only a spasmodic cry in the time of crisis, then it is utterly selfish, and we come to think of God as a repairman or a service agency to help us only in our emergencies. We should remember the Most High day and night, always, not only in times when all other assistance has failed and we desperately need help." (PMG, 95).

Sometimes the voice of the Lord will come in the form of deep throbbing of the heart, a warm and abiding sensation of love and gratitude. It may come in the middle of a meeting while you are pondering, during the sacrament; it may come in the form of a testimony of someone in Relief Society, or in an answer to a question in the Sunday School class. As President Packer points out, it may frequently come in the middle of the night. It may be words in your mind, an idea, a picture, sometimes it's just a sensation of comfort and peace.

In this month's Ensign, there is a moving account of Ann Roquemore, whose father passed away while she was serving her mission. When she heard the news, her "sobs came in painful gasps," her seeking consolation in prayer resulted in a revelation of great power. She said:

After a day of confusing stupor, after a heart breaking conversation with my mother, amid all the agony I was suffering, the moment I spoke the words "Dear Heavenly Father," peace enveloped me, my pounding heart stilled, my breathing calmed. In that instant, I knew that Father in Heaven loved me. On a lonely planet in a vast galaxy among countless other galaxies, a tiny, suffering voice was heard and solace was given."

There are so many scriptural passages dealing with Heavenly Father's eagerness and willingness to answer our prayers, to give revelation and guidance. What is it in our lives that inhibit revelation? What are the barriers? What is it that would cause someone to say, "I prayed and prayed and never felt a thing." I will mention only a few.

First there is the noise barrier. As President Packer points out, we live noisy lives, the pounding of rock music, the blare of the TV, preoccupation with entertainment of all kinds. It is a kind of brain clutter. Even Christ left the company of his disciples and the multitudes to seek quiet and reverence in the hills of Judea or in quiet gardens.

Sometimes there is a "sin barrier," often secret sin that gnaws at us and nags us into feeling that we can't pray. Sexual sins especially will distance us immediately. Pornography will drive the spirit from one's life instantaneously. It is more than a barrier, it's a black hole.

Other barriers are anger, smoldering resentment, refusing to reconcile or make right with a person who has offended you or whom you have offended. I have seen individuals consumed by this kind of resentment that, if not corrected, will lead to loathing and hatred and apostasy. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee. Leave there thy gift . . . and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother and then come and offer thy gift. (Mathew 5:23-24)

Sometimes we wait to pray until we are too tired. We don't feel like it. Nephi, in his last sermon, warned that "the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray."

Sometimes, intense sorrow will paralyze one's feelings against prayer. We're too sad to pray. "My heart's not in it," one person was heard to say. What an irony, rejecting the very way and the very person who can bring healing and comfort.

Sometimes pride is a barrier to revelation and prayer. "I can handle this, I have brains, I'll figure it out, I don't need a blessing," we say. Sometimes it's worry. We start praying about our problems then our problems take over our minds and we forget who we're talking to. Sometimes, it is cliches and generalities that we can rattle off to cover everybody and everything. I have found it very useful to target specifically special needs, exact issues and specific persons by name. Something wonderful happens when we mention someone's name before Heavenly Father. You feel better about that person. Especially if that person is less than perfect. Prayer and revelation sometimes changes our perspective and attitude toward even an enemy.

Sometimes it is a lack of faith in Christ or confidence in our selves that becomes the barrier. When we were mission president in Tonga, one of our young missionary couples had twins in the little island of Lofanga. One of the babies got a terrible infection that caused her whole body to swell. Her little face was so swollen you could hardly discern her features. We had fasted and prayed as an entire mission for little Kalolaine. The parents were desperate. The father called to ask if he could take the baby back to their home island to be buried if she died. Death seemed inevitable. He asked me if he should bless her to pass on from this world. She was suffering so much. It was pitiful. All I could think of to say was, "Lisala, give your baby one more blessing and whatever you say the Lord will do."

I went back into the bedroom feeling some alarm at what I had promised. I fell on my knees and begged Heavenly Father to please bless this little baby and her desperate father but that His will be done. At that moment I distinctly heard the words in my mind, Vakai, na`a `oku si`isi`i ho`o tui `a `au. (Watch out, lest your own faith is insufficient.)

The father's faith was vindicated. The baby recovered miraculously and last time we saw the Lisalas, Kalolaine was an exuberant teenager.

Sometimes we don't dwell enough on the thankful side of things in our prayers. I remember one speaker at this podium bear testimony to the power of offering thank you prayers in which you just say thank you and don't ask for anything, where you simply count your blessings before the Lord, naming them "one by one." The revelation that comes here is an increased awareness of just how blessed we are.

Again, another barrier to private prayer and revelation is our quickness to ask for help, then not listening for the answer. We forget that prayer is a two way conversation. One of the biggest barriers is that things seem to be moving along nicely in our lives so why do we need to pray. Again, as President Hunter suggests, we treat Heavenly Father as some service agency to call on when we need help.

One of the greatest truths about the formula for sincere prayer and personal revelation, that is, to seek with all of our heart, to ask, to knock, is that it is similar to the formula we use in the pursuit of our education and truth in general. Perhaps that is why President Packer suggested that the act of learning in the pursuit of truth is akin to worship; the library is akin to a chapel or a temple. I hope no one is offended by this comparison. Your being here to study is a call to worship, to use your heart and brain, to learn truth, and to live truth.

As many of you are able to do, I stand before you as a witness that Heavenly Father speaks to his children when they truly seek him. "If with all of your heart ye truly seek me, ye shall ever surely find me." ( ) He has spoken to my heart. I have witnessed revelation in dramatic ways like the rescue of a child from a potentially disastrous marriage; a married friend in the supreme moment of temptation being able to walk away from the very doorstep of a woman for whom he had an infatuation. I've seen revelation in the quiet but humble prayer of a tender wife seeking to know how to manage a family of energetic children and a busy husband. I've witnessed revelation in the calling of stake presidents, in the blessings of babies, in the administration of the sick. I know that God will speak to any person in this room who seeks Him humbly. Many times, in just the fervent and yearning utterance of his name, Heavenly Father, we sense an immediate warm reassurance of His love and His eagerness to bless.

Sometimes the answer or revelation comes before we even ask. Years ago some students queried me if I had prayed and received confirmation about whether I should marry Carolyn or not. They seemed surprised when I said no I had never prayed about it, because the answer was so obvious. I did pray and still do pray for help to be worthy of her.

We are blessed in La`ie with the inimitable gift of the holy temple which by definition is a house of prayer, and therefore a house of revelation. One of my biggest heartaches is the number of endowed people on this campus, and in this community, including returned missionaries, who do not regularly attend the temple. They fill their lives and their calendars with study and entertainment, but neglect this opportunity to encounter Heavenly Father in a special way in his house dedicated for the salvation of the living and the dead. By the same token, one of my greatest joys is to meet students in the temple, sometimes as temple workers, sometimes sitting quietly with bowed head in the celestial room. I bear solemn testimony that you are in the presence of God there.

Prayer and revelation are at the core of temple worship. The one thing that was most profoundly impressed upon me in my first temple experience was how easy and natural and gratifying it was to pray. Feelings and words flowed out of me spontaneously with language I had never used before and joyful emotions that I had never felt were immediately present with me. I knew I was being taught by the spirit how to pray and what I should pray for. No doubt countless revelations are received sweetly and quietly by those who have come to the temple to pour out their hearts to Heavenly Father.

Of course, we don't need a temple to pray. Wherever we are, prayer hallows the spot like unto a temple. But the temple does provide a priesthood dedicated place of reverence. It is a house of learning, a house of order, a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of glory, a house of God. (D&C 88:119)

Elder John A. Widstoe praised what he called "the wonderful pedagogy of the temple," which "engages actively the candidates for blessings." (59) That is, you participate in what President Hinckley describes as the "odyssey of man's eternal journey from pre-mortal existence, through life, to life beyond, and hear fundamental truths taught with clarity and simplicity with the understanding of all to hear." (Hinckley, 635)

Elder Widstoe declares that "the endowment is so richly symbolic...it is packed full of revelation... [it] is given by revelation [and] can best be understood by revelation and to those who seek most vigorously with pure hearts, will the revelation be the greatest." (63)

The revealed doctrines of the restoration manifested in the temple are joyous and redeeming principles which offer a powerful correction to some of the gloomy doctrines of traditional Christianity. For example, many Christian denominations have taught that a vast hell will consume most of mankind. Mass misery and endless punishment to heathens, heretics, unbaptized children no matter what their circumstances or opportunities might have been in the world. The revealed doctrines embedded within the ordinances of the temple provide illuminating answers to the darkest questions of our existence: the horrors of war and the seeming triumphs of injustice and despotism, the ghastly suffering of much of humanity, "accidents" of birth in time and place; and the stark unevenness in the world of privilege and opportunity to learn of God, His Son, and his plan of happiness, and most of the Savior's atonement which makes it all possible.

The temple is the beacon of ultimate truth and justice. It is the means by which the "radical" doctrine spoken by Abinadi is implemented. "And these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord."(Mosiah 15:24) The temple is the embodiment of the truth that we are immortal beings and "that the plan of salvation for eternal beings involves the principle that God's work with respect to this earth will not be complete until every soul has been taught the gospel and has been offered the privilege of accepting salvation and the accompanying great blessings which the Lord has in store for His children. Until that is done, the work is unfinished." (John A. Widstoe, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, April 1921, 54)

That means that a poor farmer living in Northern China or Southern India or Western Africa or anywhere else or during any time period will have every opportunity to hear the gospel and to accept it and have his or her work done in the temple of God.

So instead of oblivion and automatic punishment for having lived on earth and never having the opportunity to hear of Christ or His Gospel, they will all have equal opportunity to accept or reject just as those who hear the gospel in the flesh. They too can be heirs of eternal life.

One of our important personal prayers in the temple should be for the person for whom we are officiating. It is inappropriate for us to think in terms of how many names we do in the temple. These are not just names, but real persons, who have lived, breathed, labored, loved, suffered, and died. They are precious to God. Like Christ's vicarious death for us that we might live, we too, as Saviors, vicariously represent, this person, one on one before God in the temple.

We become, "saviors on Mount Zion." In the process, we acquire what President Hinckley calls a "deep sense of alliance with God and we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves." (Hinckley, 236) We become a partner with Heavenly Father in performing his work and achieving his glory "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)

In his book The Promise of Discipleship Elder Neal A. Maxwell suggests: Often church members suffer from a lack of perspective....as to the vastness and the intensity of the Lord's work in the spirit world. The scope is enormous!.... Not only does the word vastness characterize the work there but so does intensity....[There is total] inclusiveness by sharing the gospel with all....[and] orderliness with which the Lord carries out His work of mercy and justice. (110)

Elder Maxwell makes the clarion point that being proxy for someone in the temple not only can emancipate that person, but also prepares him or her to join the vast authorized army of God in preaching the gospel to the billions in the spirit world. Said in another way, the man for whom I officiated in the temple last Saturday, if he has fully repented and accepted the gospel and the ordinances of the temple, is not only free to progress, but he is baptized, has the gift of the Holy Ghost, is ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood, and endowed. Thus like our own earthly missionaries in the field he is now ready to preach the gospel to his fellows. Billions of them.

The temple is a place of cleansing and forgiveness. Each covenant, each promise, each blessing, each step along this symbolic journey upward allows us to achieve a holiness away from the world. We learn how to pray, united and free from unkind feelings. As Christ admonished His disciples: "And when ye stand praying, forgive if you have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." (Mark 11:25-26)

As a house of prayer, the temple is where we commune freely and openly with Heavenly Father without guile and without hypocrisy. Just as the temple is a refuge from the noise and distraction of the world, so it is a place of cleansing of one's own soul.

In conclusion, I would like to make reference to the garment of the Holy Priesthood which becomes a grand part of what we take home with us and is the symbol of the full armor of God. Elder Carlos Assay pointed out [the garment of the Holy Priesthood] is a reminder of sacred covenants made with the Lord in his Holy house, a protective covering for the body and a symbol of the modesty of dress that characterizes a humble disciple of Christ." ("The Temple Garment," Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 37)

Brothers and Sisters, you who had been endowed but have not been back to the temple, my plea is for you to prepare yourself to become worthy to return to the temple. Let your prayers generate the revelation that you need to put your life in order. Don't wait. Don't risk the heartache and the remorse that comes from violating temple covenants. Go back to the temple, but go back worthily. Let the temple help you to see the big picture the eternal perspective, the real purposes of life. If truth is things as they really are, the temple will help us to see truth better than any other earthly form of inquiry.

Let the temple and what it represents be your standard, your goal, the grand symbol of your life, the focus of your worship and your worthiness. We often sing the hymn, "More Holiness Give Me." This hymn is one of the great prayers in any human language. "More holiness give me, more strivings within, more patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin, more faith, more joy, more purpose in prayer; more gratitude give me, more trust, more meekness, more praise, more purity give me, more strength to o'er come, more Savior like thee."

Brothers and sisters, the temple is a grand enabler that helps us achieve these qualities. The temple is where earth and heaven meet, where the great plan of redemption and the journey of mankind from eternity to eternity is manifest. It is a house of learning, a house of prayer, and a house of revelation. Everything the human soul longs for in time and eternity is embodied in the temple. Sister Shumway and I are living witnesses of the power and beauty that the temple can be in your life; the power of keeping temple covenants and wearing faithfully the temple garment of the priesthood. The power in resisting evil and overcoming temptation. If you are true and faithful to the temple and the covenants that you make there, neither man nor the world nor devils nor Satan himself can successfully tempt you. Lines from the temple ceremony will come into your mind like scripture to deflect or drive out temptation.

Sister Shumway and I have felt heavenly presences in the temple, so much so that tears of joy burst from your eyes uncontrollably. There we have received answers to prayers; the temple has brought order and tranquility to the clutter and confusion that the world thrust into our lives. One young student said to me once, "Oh President, I am dating a wonderful returned missionary. The only thing is he doesn't wear his temple garments. Should I be worried? Is that a problem? Does that say anything about him that should cause me concern?" My answer to her was, yes, yes, and yes.

Again brothers and sisters, if you have been endowed and have not gone back or are not going to the temple, could this devotional today be your pivotal moment to get worthy, to get back to the temple and get the temple inside view. I know students are busy, but they are also victims of the vast "play culture" which consumes their extra time and energy: TV, sports, surfing, video games, town movies, etc, and etc. I can only say, calendar in the temple. Put the temple over entertainment. I promise if you attend the temple regularly you will have more enjoyment everywhere else for, because of the temple, you will enjoy only the right kind of fun, the right kind of dress standard, and you reject the others.

Whatever it takes, whatever it takes to get back to the temple, I plead with you to take the first steps today. Because of your age and circumstances you may not be able to attend immediately, or you may participate on a limited basis, such as in baptisms for the dead. But get ready, live worthy, be conscientious. I ask Heavenly Father sincerely to bless us all with the ability and the meekness and the persistence to get revelation. To be tender and patient with one another. For none of us knows the burdens each of us carries. I pray the temple will become and continue to be the focus of our worship. And that our ability to receive revelation will continue throughout our lives. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.