In March 1904, Joseph F. Smith as president of the Church was summoned to the witness stand in the Reed Smoot hearings. He was examined for three days. During that examination he testified to the court that he "never pretended to nor do I profess to have received revelations" (Reed Smoot Case, Vol. 1, p. 99).
If you read the text of the case, it appears he was sincere. He chose not to overstate his own experiences. He had the chance to falsely present himself in order to create the image that he was more revelatory than he really was. He chose instead to be honest. Notice, his right to guide and direct the Church as president remained intact. Members' perceptions of him as president didn't seem to be diminished as a result of his honesty. He was held in high esteem by those who worked closely with him, and by future generations. Some of the text from the hearings follows:
Senator Dubois - Have you received any revelations from God, which has been submitted by you and the apostles to the body of the church in their semiannual conference, which revelation has been sustained by that conference, through the upholding of their hands?
Mr. Smith – Since when?
Senator Dubois - Since you became President of the Church.
Mr. Smith - No, sir; none whatever.
Senator Dubois - Have you received any individual revelations yourself, since you became President of the church under your own definition, even, of a revelation?
Mr. Smith - I cannot say that I have.
Senator Dubois - Can you say that you have not?
Mr. Smith - No; I cannot say that I have not.
Senator Dubois - Then you do not know whether you have received any such revelation as you have described or whether you have not?
Mr. Smith - Well, I can say this: That if I live as I should in the line of my duties, I am susceptible, I think, of the impressions of the Spirit of the Lord upon my mind at any time, just as any good Methodist or any other good church member might be. And so far as that is concerned, I say yes; I have had impressions of the Spirit upon my mind very frequently, but they are not in the sense of revelations (Ibid, pp. 483-484).
In April 1904, President Smith issued the "second manifesto" regarding polygamy; this time with the intent not only of stopping the practice publicly, but privately as well. It, like the previous manifesto, was a change in policy and not a revelation.
Many years later, and just weeks before his death, he had a series of visions that became D&C 138.
Now, here is a man that had chosen not to put up a facade. He admitted to the truth of the matter about which he was questioned. Significantly, he's the last president of the Church from whom we've received a written revelation that has been the result of direct communication from heaven. His honesty is a good example.
Perhaps the most valuable thing you or I can learn from section 138 is not about the world of spirits at all, but about the process Joseph F. Smith personally undertook to obtain revelation of God for himself (D&C 138:1-11). Maybe if we choose to be honest about our standing before the Lord, and do not pretend to speak for him when we have no message from him, we can be brought into his trust.