We learn more about Nephi’s records, or plates, in the front of the Book of Mormon with a section called “A Brief Explanation about the Book of Mormon”:
The Plates of Nephi, which were of two kinds: the Small Plates and the Large Plates. The former were more particularly devoted to the spiritual matters and the ministry and teachings of the prophets, while the latter were occupied mostly by a secular history of the peoples concerned.1 Nephi 9:2–4
Nephi kept two records, one containing a secular history upon ‘other plates’ which came to be known as the ‘large plates of Nephi’ and another record upon smaller plates that contained primarily prophecies and sacred teachings.
How many of us do a good job with keeping a journal or secular history (large plates) of our lives of any kind at all? It’s no secret that we collectively seem to struggle with this, so how likely is it then that we keep a record of our own personal revelations, answers to prayer, promptings, etc? I would bet that many of us have not even considered doing so in the first place.
First off, let’s see what various church leaders have said on the matter:
“Sometimes the impressions are just general feelings. Sometimes the direction comes so clearly and so unmistakably that it can be written down word for word, like spiritual dictation.” [He then goes on to describe an experience he had, he was in a Sunday church meeting when the impressions came flooding in,] “I continued to write the feeling that flooded into my mind and heart as accurately and as faithfully as possible. After each powerful impression was recorded, I pondered the feeling I had received to determine if I had accurately expressed them in writing. As a result, I made a few minor changes to what had been written. Then I studied their meaning and application in my own personal life.
Subsequently I prayed, reviewing with the Lord what I thought I had been taught by the Spirit. When a feeling of peace and serenity confirmed what I had sought, I thanked Him for the guidance given. I was then impressed to ask if there was yet more that I could be given to understand. I received further impressions, and the process of writing down the impression and pondering and praying to know if I had done it properly was repeated. Again I was prompted to ask, “is there more I should know?” There was. When that last, most sacred experience was concluded, I had received some of the most precious, specific, personal direction one could ever hope to obtain in this life.
I am convinced that had I not responded to the first impressions, valued, and recorded them, I would not have received the last, most precious guidance. What I have described in not an isolated experience.”Elder Richard G. Scott, “Finding Peace, Happiness, and Joy” pgs. 42,45,46
Some more powerful insight from Elder Scott (he’s a great source for this topic)
“Powerful spiritual direction in your life can be overcome or forced into the background unless you provide a way to retain it. Brigham Young declared, “If you love the truth you can remember it” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 10). Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light.“Richard G. Scott, “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 86
Another powerful point by Elder Scott, note how much importance he places on this task as it relates to recognizing the Spirit
“Write down in a secure place the important things you learn from the Spirit. You will find that as you write down precious impressions, often more will come. Also, the knowledge you gain will be available throughout your life. Always, day or night, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, seek to recognize and respond to the direction of the Spirit. Express gratitude for the help received and obey it. This practice will reinforce your capacity to learn by the Spirit. It will permit the Lord to guide your life and to enrich the use of every other capacity latent in your being.
If I had the power to communicate the importance of the principle just shared, I could end this message now, and you would have received the major benefit from these words. It requires effort and practice to consistently learn by what you see and feel. I suggest that you practice this principle now. As I ask a few basic questions that only you can answer for yourself, will you think of your responses? Perhaps you can jot them down. Then consciously ask the Lord to help you recognize any guidance He wants to give you. Since the Lord will not force you to learn, you must exercise your agency to authorize the Spirit to teach you. Continue to seek this guidance while I suggest some ways to realize your aspirations. I will also suggest what can motivate you powerfully to higher achievement. What you write down from the impressions you feel will be the most valuable help you can receive.”Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Knowledge and the Strength to Use It Wisely,” Liahona, Aug 2002, 12
A short quote from D. Todd Christopherson
“…waiting for spiritual impressions, and writing down the impressions and insights that come so you can remember and learn more.”D. Todd Christofferson, “When Thou Art Converted,” Liahona, May 2004, 11–13
Spencer W. Kimball
“Get a notebook, my young folks, a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it for eternity. Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies”(New Era, Oct. 1975, 5).” ~ President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985)
There are many, many, many more but this will suffice for now. I began this practice on my own almost a decade ago and I’ll share with you what I do and maybe some of the things I’ve learned can help you in your own efforts to keep your own personal “small plates”. Since I began, I have followed the same basic format with almost no variation.
First off, buy a book. Don’t use anything that isn’t made to last. You are going to want to pass this down to your kids and posterity, let’s take some pride and get something that will last a bit. A blank book of around 100-250 pages works great; I usually prefer a thin, yet rigid cover.
Another reason for writing in a book is that it is very easy to keep track of as opposed to just random pieces of paper or even some kind of spiral notebook where the pages are always falling out. Keeping something that is more sturdy, at least for me, played a huge factor in continuing this practice. I have seven of these books now and I keep them all together in a certain place where I can refer back to them. I manually number the pages so I can cross-reference pages in the book as well as include cross-references to other books (i.e: Book 1, pg 2)
Nephi etched his record into gold because he wanted it to last, let’s try to keep the same idea in mind ;)
Rule number one for me is to not write anything on my small plates except for things that have come to me via inspiration from the Holy Spirit. The way I do it, I make it a point that this is not a notebook for taking notes, it is a sacred record.
You can do it differently, this is just how I do it.
The reason why I don’t include just random notes is that I want this record to be 100% solid testimony. I do carry around other Moleskine notebooks for writing random ideas in, sketching, and writing about other things that interest me; so usually I have two of them.
I have a way to record four different kinds of impressions. Each impression is recorded independently with a short dash on the left indicating a separate thought.
– If it is just a dash with text, then I’m paraphrasing something I heard
– “If it is an exact quote then I’ll put quotation marks around it”
– <If it is a personal insight, I will put it between greater than or less than signs>
– (If it is an impression from the Spirit I will put it in parenthesis)
Since I’m not just taking notes, more is required than just listening with your ears. Making this an effective practice requires worthiness, patience, and the skill to hear the voice of the Spirit.
It is a fact that there are things in our lives that cloud our receptiveness to the Holy Spirit. You have to learn to be very quiet inside; don’t expect to be able to hear the voice of the Spirit if you’ve been listening to Metallica on the way to church. I’ll give you my favorite example of what I mean.
Now if you’ve ever studied communications, you would be familiar with the idea of communication channels and the factors involved. A simple one-way channel would involve a sender and a receiver, the sender encodes a message, sends the message, and then the receiver must accept and decode the message.
Once the message is sent, however, it is subject to corruption or dilution via the noise that surrounds it, also, the receiver’s ability to decode the message plays in as well.
Speaking is a simple example of this; one person encodes his message into words that make sounds, as the sound travels through the air it mixes with other noises, the recipient then must filter the sound of the words and then decode what was said into a thought. This is how communication works.
With this in mind, let me share with you a little analogy I like to use.
Imagine you are driving in a car with the radio on. The music is not blaring but because of the noise coming from the car and the road it has to be elevated enough to enjoy. After parking and turning off your car you look down at your phone only to realize that you missed 5 phone calls on your drive! You are shocked because you didn’t hear a thing; your ringer was inaudible because of the noise of the car and the music (the static).
You don’t have time to call the person back because you are late to church so you rush inside and sit down. Sacrament meeting begins and everything is still and quiet (very little static), but you forgot to turn off your ringer or change the volume so Murphy’s Law comes into effect and your phone goes off blasting a Woody Woodpecker laugh ringtone throughout the chapel.
As you fiddle to silence it, you think to yourself: “Why couldn’t the phone have been this loud in the car?”
Update (9.1.10): See also Mormon Messages Video: Voice of the Spirit
So what happened? In both cases the volume of the ringtone was the same, what was different was the surrounding static. This doesn’t mean however that noise was the problem, static is not necessarily noise. Let’s imagine that while in the car, the person was waiting for a call while listening to the music, even with all the noise, having a focused ear, the sound of the ringtone could have been heard. On the converse side, in a quiet room, if your thoughts are deep enough, distracted by some other topic, you can totally miss something that everyone else notices.
The key to being a good receiver is to be aware of the sender and the messages he sends, to always be on the lookout, and be receptive.
Static that blocks message the Spirit sends can come in many forms such as personal sins, transgression, apathy, contention, impatience, and just plain distraction. Eliminating this static through repentance, desire, patience, meditation, and focus are the best ways to keep yourself worthy to receive revelation from the Spirit.
Once you have worthily prepared yourself, it is time to exercise some patience and trust in the Lord. This isn’t something that you are likely to perfect overnight so don’t be discouraged if nothing seems to come at first. Remember Alma 32 and the concept of planting a seed and exercising faith to nourish it and let it take root and grow. We first show the Lord that we are receptive and ready.
In the April 2020 General Conference, Julie B. Beck, the Relief Society General President said these profound words:
The ability to qualify for, receive, and act on personal revelation is the single most important skill that can be acquired in this life. Qualifying for the Lord’s Spirit begins with a desire for that Spirit and implies a certain degree of worthiness. Keeping the commandments, repenting, and renewing covenants made at baptism lead to the blessing of always having the Lord’s Spirit with us.
The Websters 1828 dictionary defines ‘skill’ as:
SKILL, n. Calleo, that is to strain, stretch, reach, and with to perfect, that is, to make sound, or to reach the utmost limit.
It is very much a skill to work toward clearly discerning the voice of the Spirit, there is much static to overcome. There is a sender who is constantly sending messages, there is no flaw in the sender, his messages, or the manner in which they are encoded; if we do not hear them, the problem is with us.
Combined with worthiness and patience, we can take our small plates in hand and in any situation consider the manner of our preparation and open our ears to hear and expect with faith those messages that will surely come – I testify that they do.
With these simple tools, you can begin to record your own impressions and classify them accordingly. I have used this system for over a decade and have filled
four five seven books thus far. It is incredible to look at them stacked up and realize that every word in those sacred records is revealed truth from the Spirit. Every answer to a prayer, every prompting, every testimony, it’s all in there, every communication I have received from the Spirit in the last 10 years.
I remember when I was first inspired to keep my own “small plates”. I was sitting in an Institute of Religion class when these words from Richard G. Scott were spoken: “Powerful spiritual direction in your life can be overcome or forced into the background unless you provide a way to retain it… Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light.” Those words sank deep into my soul and I was excited and intrigued at the possibility of receiving further light through such a simple practice.
Taking notes was something I never liked doing; I would always write interesting things down on the back of a program or scrap paper that was destined to end up in the trash later. I felt that note-taking was simply a waste of time for me. So I got a book and decided to do something different, to make a record that would last, one that I could refer back to and that I would only write sacred revelation in it.
I can now bear record that this practice, above just about any other has helped me to hear and recognize the voice of the Spirit more than just about anything else I have ever encountered. I can promise you that if you will take this practice upon yourself, you will indeed amp up your receptiveness to the Spirit, you will have more things revealed to you and you will experience having to pull over in your car often to record impressions as they come more and more frequently. You will begin to record answers to sincere prayer, answers that are not just a warm feeling but specific instructions, lists and many other wonderful things.
The Conference factor
Every General Conference, I take all of my impressions from the sessions and I browse through them. I then look specifically for things that I need to “DO”, things that I need to change, adjust or start up and I put an asterisk* next to them on the left of the dash.
Then I paraphrase each item in the next entry of my small plates. There are always 10 items of “Do’s” and these are the things I strive for until the next General Conference. This practice has helped me to truly live by the words of the modern prophets and I believe that this as well has helped me to become worthy for the Spirit.
Be warned, this is an incredibly addictive practice, you’ll never just sit and ‘take notes’ again. Keeping a personal sacred record is a practice well-supported by scripture and strongly advised by living prophets today.
By doing so, we become entitled to the promised blessings of keeping the practice and we can further enhance our lives by doing something small and simple that helps to bring the revelations of the Spirit in an incredible way. It doesn’t matter how this record is kept, just so long that you are keeping it.