Around 1440 A.D., a goldsmith in Germany's wine region forever changed the world. Adapting the design for screw-type wine presses of the day, Johannes Gutenberg used his metalworking skills and observations of local wineries to build a printing press with movable type. The press marked the first time in world history that the written word could be mass produced and made available for the common man. It triggered religious reformation and political warfare with the printing of the Bible. Science, art and culture spread quickly with the distribution of Grimm's Fairy Tales and academic texts from the world's leading minds. It was a revolutionary breakthrough in a time when the world desperately needed a break.
Less than four centuries later, Joseph Smith's earnest prayer was answered with the glorious appearance of God, our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. Joseph learned, and subsequently we have all been given the opportunity to know, the reality of God and a great deal about His nature. The knowledge that God is real, has a physical body of flesh and bone, continues to speak to men through revelation and is separate from His Son changes our understanding of humanity, our own purpose in life and the love and potential available for each is us in profound ways. The restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, beginning with the First Vision, is the most significant breakthrough for the progress of humankind since the resurrection of Christ nearly two thousand years ago.
Each of us benefit daily from countless big breakthroughs that have occurred over the last six thousand years. Vaccines and medications keep us healthy or improve the healing process; business breakthroughs give us more for our money and grow our investment accounts; technology breakthroughs help us communicate instantly around the world; social science breakthroughs improve our understanding of people and the societies they create; and our own personal breakthroughs build confidence and shape our outlook on life. In fact, big breakthroughs have become so common it's almost unfathomable to consider what the world would be without Edison's lightbulb, Franklin's essays on politics, Bell's telephone, Newton's laws of motion, Luther's common Bible, or Jobs' iPod.
Dealing so frequently with revolutionary things can sometimes make it hard to deal with revelatory things. We may become frustrated or confused when the answers to our prayers don't come as quickly as a microwaved meal or as loud as the movie theater surround sound. Revelations that don't come with a powerful spiritual affirmation may seem like they're not revelations at all or sometimes we may even feel like we've received conflicting guidance. Our feelings may be magnified if we know we are praying for something good or asking about something important like whom to marry, when and how to grow our families, which job to take or school to attend, or how to help someone who may have wandered astray from the Lord's path.
Elder Bednar has taught:
Let me suggest that many of us typically assume we will receive an answer or a prompting to our earnest prayers and pleadings. And we also frequently expect that such an answer or a prompting will come immediately and all at once. Thus we tend to believe the Lord will give us a big answer quickly and all at one time. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive 'line upon line, precept upon precept,' or, in other words, many small answers over a period of time. Recognizing and understanding this pattern is an important key to obtaining inspiration and help from the Holy Ghost.
In many ways, receiving revelation is a lot like riding a bicycle. You may get on the bike to reach a destination, but it takes a lot of pedaling to get there. Similarly, a baby chick's big breakthrough may be when the egg cracks, but a successful hatch requires a lot of prep work from the chick before it ever encounters the outside world.
The truth is that most of what we see as overnight breakthroughs are the result of a lot of prep work. The average business 'breakthrough' is seven years in the making. Gutenberg worked four years to make his printing press. Edison famously found 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb before he found the one that made him famous. Joseph Smith pondered the words of God on his own, with his family, and in several congregations before learning God's will for him. If we want to see the full picture, we have to be willing to assemble the puzzle.
Elder Bednar continued:
Sister Bednar and I frequently visit with students who wonder about career choices and how to properly select a school at which to study and receive additional education. Many times a student is perplexed—having felt as though “the” answer about a career or a school was received at one particular point in time, only to feel that a different and perhaps conflicting answer was received at another point in time. The question then is often asked, “Why did the Lord give me two different answers?” In like manner, a student may sincerely seek to know if the person he or she has been dating is “the one.” A feeling of “yes” at one time may appear to be contradicted by a different feeling of “no” at another time. May I simply suggest that what we initially believe is “the” answer may be but one part of a “line upon line, precept upon precept,” ongoing, incremental, and unfolding pattern of small answers. It is clearly the case that the Lord did not change His mind; rather, you and I must learn to better recognize the Lord’s pattern as a series of related and expanding answers to our most important questions. [“‘Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept’ (2 Nephi 28:30),” BYU–Idaho devotional address, 11 September 2001; emphasis in original]
In my own life it is incredible to look back and see how the Lord has put experiences and individuals in my life that have contributed to finding answers to my prayers. Often I have not seen them as answers because I have viewed them in isolation, but strung together they create a continuous pattern of revelation that has guided my life to better things than I would have dared imagine for myself.
God has never told me what career I should pursue, but he has shown me that I like teaching, given me leadership opportunities, and even used a pretty girl and an upset parent to steer me toward a graduate program I never would have considered otherwise. Before He confirmed I should marry my wife, He first showed me the fun we'd have, gave me glimpses of her divine nature, helped me mature and be a man, and blessed me with a heart brimming over with love for her. And just as Gutenberg's press and Edison's lightbulb have been the foundation for many wonderful inventions since, the Lord continues to build future revelations upon the answers He has already given us.
The greatest architecture on the planet was constructed brick by brick; the grandest literature is printed page by page; and even the best football teams have to move the ball up the field to score a touchdown. The answers to our prayers may not often be the completed book, but the Lord will give us the next page or two if we seek it. He has promised:
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more.