Hearing Prophets — Just what are they saying and how to hear them.By: Stephen Marsh
When prophets talk what they say falls into one of six categories. This essay is about how to determine which category their words fit into and how to have a better understanding and application of the speech of prophets, ancient and modern. It presents six categories and five tools.
The six categories are:
1) Specific prophecies of events.
Heber C. Kimball was known for very clear and specific prophecies (e.g. “in less than one year … everything we shall want [will be sold in Salt Lake] at less than St. Louis prices” and a number of others). Isaiah 7:16 is another example of this sort of prophecy. This is what people usually think when they hear the term “prophecy.”
2) Repetition of received knowledge.
Quoting the “fathers” and others. Such repetition can be in several forms:
- Correct knowledge.
- Incorrect, but harmless. Think of President Packer’s talk where he was told his use of a scripture was proof-texting (I mentioned this incident in my post from two weeks ago). He was using the scripture for the point he was trying to make because others had used it for the same point. The point was correct (and there were other scriptures that supported that point without being proof-texts), but his use of that particular scripture for that particular point was incorrect.
- Incorrect, but not that harmful today. Think of Peter preaching that the gospel was for the Jewish people only.
- Incorrect and harmful. Think of Aaron making a golden calf for the children of Israel. Or Moses taking credit for bringing water out the rock.
Brigham Young was fond of using logic to figure things out. When he was challenged on points that were his logic alone, he was quick to point out that his belief in those points came not from revelation but from kenning or logic. Perhaps it is all the more memorable because he was most likely to be wrong when he concluded things that “only stood to logic.”
4) General Comfort and Encouragement.
Think President Monson and caring for widows.
5) Exhortation and instruction.
Exhortation and instruction can come in four different forms:
- Calls to act. Think of “Just stop it” or “Just do it.”
- Calls to learn. Think of any sermon of instruction.
- Calls to learn by acting.
- Calls to receive testimony (e.g. a prophet testifying that Jesus is the Christ is calling on the audience to hear and receive his testimony).
With the right audience, a prophet can receive feedback from the Spirit as he teaches others. Joseph Smith gave a sermon where he expressed gratitude for an audience that would let him speculate and make mistakes so that they could all learn from them. Brigham Young was fond of speculating (and often gave conflicting sermons) in front of audiences as well.
Not surprisingly, that sort of thing leads to confusion. Consequently, the result of instruction is to teach nothing but repentance. There is an excellent short lesson on that point at Feast Upon the Word.
So, how can you hear the difference and how do you best apply what you have heard?
Five places to start, five tools to use:
1) Take Brigham Young and Spencer W. Kimball seriously.
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way” ( Discourses of Brigham Young, 135).
That was quite the warning when Brigham Young gave it, and even more when Spencer W. Kimball repeated it.
2) Focus on helping people, on being kind, and on cultivating the pure love of Christ.
…and do not mistake financial prosperity for spiritual progress — prosperity and wealth are the thing we are warned will cause those in our time to fail.
4) Remember your primary sources!
Keep grounded in basics, such as reading the scriptures rather than commentaries or secondary sources (nothing wrong with those, but they should be support and not a replacement). Read the scriptures.
And stay focused, realizing that Christ requires conversion and sacrifice.
…I haven’t given you anything here about who to believe and who to ignore. I know. No touchstones, no magic resolutions, no golden calf as a substitute. But hearing prophets doesn’t require magic. Instead it requires knowing what they are saying and how to listen.
What do you think?