The Stupor of Thought

scripturesAbout twenty years ago I served in a unique position in the church. My calling was “Melchizedek Priesthood Leader.” Because our little ward was so small, the Stake President had placed all priesthood holders in the ward into one group. In effect, he combined the Elder’s Quorum and the High Priests Group and put me in charge.

I also served as the de facto ward mission leader because we had none. As you can imagine I felt a little overwhelmed. I often prayed for inspiration to know what to do to help our little ward grow, but it was to no avail. We lived in an older part of town with many transients. Older members kept retiring and moving away to Utah.

On one occasion I attended a stake meeting where I had decided to speak up about the problems we were experiencing in our little ward. I thought about and prayed about what I wanted to say. But for some reason I didn’t pay attention to the fact that this particular stake meeting was not the right place to bring up my concerns.

Preparation for Prayer

Now in order to understand what I’m about to share, I’ve got to tell you a little bit about how I receive revelation. When I pray and ask the Lord to help me with a problem or to guide me through a difficult situation, I know I’ve got to do two things first. I’ve got to study it out and make a decision about a course of action.

Then I present my decision to the Lord in prayer. I tell Him about the problem. I tell Him what I’ve studied. Then I tell Him what I’ve decided. Finally, I ask for a confirming witness of the spirit to know if what I’ve decided to do is good or best. It’s a time-tested formula that has worked for me as long as I have been praying.

After praying, I then wait and listen carefully. Sometimes I know immediately one way or the other about what I have discussed with the Lord. But often, my prayer is not answered right away. This was one of those occasions where I did not feel that confirming witness of the spirit that what I wanted to do was the right thing.

The Mind’s Eye

A little more detail might be helpful to understand how revelation works for me. When I ask the Lord for help to know if a certain course of action is the correct one, He will often answer my prayer by allowing me to see myself engaged in that particular activity. In fact, I can often hear as well as see some things in advance.

When I was young I wondered if I should go on a mission. I followed the formula. I studied it out. I made a decision and I asked the Lord for a confirming witness. I was then overwhelmed with what the Lord revealed to me about my mission. I saw myself helping people understand the truth. I heard myself preaching the gospel.

Over the years, this gift of seeing myself perform specific actions in advance of actually doing them has been repeated. There are times when I can hear the words I say as I am performing the task, such as teaching or speaking. There are also times where the Lord inspires me with specific words or phrases so I will write them out.

Revelation is Rehearsal

For me, revelation is kind of like a rehearsal. It gives me confidence and makes it easier to do the difficult tasks of life because I have already seen myself complete them successfully. I greatly appreciate this gift and have come to rely on it more and more as I go through my life. It’s like the spiritual creation before the physical.

Now back to my story. I had studied the problem out. I had made a decision. I had prayed about it. But I did not receive that confirming witness. I did not see myself sharing my thoughts in the meeting. I knew I had done my homework. I had done my part. The problem was clear in my mind. I felt confident I could explain it.

And indeed I could, but it wasn’t what the Lord wanted expressed at that time in that meeting. The problem was real, my proposed solution was good, although not best as I later found out. In another setting, the discussion I wanted to have would have been appropriate. This meeting was not the time or place for my comments.

The Moment of Truth

I went to that meeting prepared, or so I thought. The meeting progressed to the point where the problems were being discussed. The Stake President solicited discussion. A sister shared her concerns. I raised my hand, was called on and began to speak. No sooner had I opened my mouth then I knew I had made a mistake.

A feeling came over me that I knew I was wrong in what I was trying to share. I should have stopped right then and graciously said something like, “What I’m sharing right now doesn’t feel right. Although I thought it was earlier, it doesn’t seem so now. Forgive me.” The discussion could have continued from there.

Instead, I foolishly continued to speak, reaching into my mind for the things I had studied out and thought about as I prepared to present my solution to the Lord. To my amazement and eventual embarrassment, what was once clear and concise was now a jumbled mess in my mind. I could not recall my points to make any sense.

The Stupor of Thought

And that, my friends, is how I learned that the stupor of thought is a real thing. I could not explain myself. My words weren’t making sense. My fellow brothers and sisters in the meeting were looking at me funny. Finally, the Stake President had to interrupt me to keep me from blathering on. My face burned with embarrassment.

The Lord had answered my prayer. I just hadn’t understood. There was nothing really wrong with my proposed solution, given a different set of circumstances. I didn’t have all the information the Stake President had. I didn’t have the whole picture. My ideas were fine, just not relevant or pertinent in the current situation.

I sat quiet the remainder of the meeting and reflected on what had just happened. I was chagrined and a little confused. It was then I realized I had not been careful in listening to the Lord as I prayed. I had not seen or heard myself sharing what I had studied out so carefully. There was no rehearsal, no advance spiritual creation.

Summary and Conclusion

I learned that the stupor of thought can last as long as it needs to in order to work. I had been given a stupor of thought and should have kept it to myself in my prayer. Instead, I took it with me to a public meeting where it was made evident to all. The stupor of thought God gave me caused me to forget my erroneous conclusions.

I have since learned to be more careful in my prayer rehearsals. If I am unable to see myself sharing my conclusions or performing my intended course of action with success first in my mind’s eye, then I know it would be better to seek another solution. I have come to greatly appreciate this wonderful gift of prayer.

I now know how to use the stupor of thought to refine my path through life without making embarrassing mistakes like I experienced in that stake meeting so long ago. In essence, I have learned to keep quiet unless the Lord distinctly inspires me to say something at the right time and in the right place. This has taught me patience.

Reference: D&C 9:7-9

6 thoughts on “The Stupor of Thought”

  1. Our gospel doctrine teacher this week asked me to share something about the stupor of thought for tomorrow’s lesson. I thought about it and remembered this little episode from long ago. Don’t know if I’ll use these exact words as I share it tomorrow but at least I now feel more prepared. Hope it’s helpful to someone.

    By the way, if you want to know why my solution was not the best to be shared at that time, I’ll tell you. Within six months our ward was dissolved and I was called to serve as a counselor in the Bishopric of a new ward. Many of the problems I had been concerned about went away with the added strength of our combined wards.

  2. For me the burning bosom is often a key component (sometimes accompanied by clarity of mind, etc.). I was perplexed recently in Gospel Doctrine when this aspect of communication from the Holy Ghost was minimized. I’ve even heard (years ago) a teacher (in the teacher improvement course) suggest that it only relates to translating scriptures and that we shouldn’t teach it as a way to obtain a testimony. My personal experience is different in that in my life it is the most common (and practically tangible) way that I know that I’m in harmony with the Spirit.

    If I am keeping my commitments with God, I feel it daily (usually in solitude during prayer and study, but other times just at the end of the day when I unwind). I don’t always have concrete revelations that I could put into words, but I least feel God’s love and know that I am on the correct path. If I persist in prayer, sometimes it is accompanied by very specific thoughts that are answers to questions (i.e. revelation).

    The burning bosom, though, becomes significantly less frequent when I drift into prideful, carnal, or contentious habits.

    1. Elder Jay E Jense of the Seventy shared this (Have I Received an Answer from the Spirit? April 1989 Ensign):

      A number of years ago, in a meeting of returned mission presidents, we reviewed different ways to improve missionaries’ spirituality. One person said, “We need to help all missionaries experience and recognize the ‘burning of the bosom’ taught in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9.” [D&C 9:7-9] A member of the First Quorum of the Seventy then shared the following experience:
      One of the Quorum of the Twelve came to tour the mission over which the Seventy was presiding. As they drove to the next zone conference, the Apostle turned to him and said, “I wonder if you might have left an impression in the missionaries’ minds that has created more problems than you can resolve. As I have traveled throughout the Church, I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time.”
      He explained that Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 was given in response to the process of translating sacred records. [D&C 9:7-9] There the burning of the bosom was appropriate. The principle can apply to personal revelation, he said, but more precisely it related to the translation of the Book of Mormon. He counseled the mission president to refer missionaries to other scriptural references about the Holy Ghost. For example, he cited the verse “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23.)

  3. Thanks, vwy for sharing the story to which Matthew was referring. I believe I’ve read elsewhere that apostle was Boyd K. Packer. It’s a great article. I recommend reading the whole thing. The first time I heard that quote, and after much pondering, I decided it did not reflect my life’s experience with the burning of the bosom, which I have shared previously on this blog. Additional support for the quote you shared may be found from Elder Oaks: What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom.” (Ensign, Mar 1997, p. 13)

    I also grew up with Primary, Sunday school and Seminary teachers who taught that it was our right to receive a manifestation from God when we wanted or needed to know the truth of something. Because I believed them, I sought early and often for this experience, especially when I felt challenged in my testimony before my mission. The burning of a the bosom is a real principle that has worked for me all my life. It is a principle of the gospel since the early days of the church as evidenced by the story of the two witnesses of the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32).

    Here are three essays from earlier in my blog that illustrate this principle as it has worked for me in my life.

    24 May 2008 – Burning of the Bosom – Feelings From God
    18 Feb 2010 – Revelation and Emotional Response
    30 Jan 2010 – Letter to a Reader – A description of my revelatory experience

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