Hearing Prophets — Just what are they saying and how to hear them.

By: Stephen Marsh
July 20, 2012

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.

Pearl of Great Price

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:

  1. Correct knowledge.
  2. 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.
  3. Incorrect, but not that harmful today.  Think of Peter preaching that the gospel was for the Jewish people only.
  4. 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.

3) Logic.

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:

  1. Calls to act.  Think of “Just stop it” or “Just do it.”
  2. Calls to learn. Think of any sermon of instruction.
  3. Calls to learn by acting.
  4. 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).

6) Speculation.

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.

It is interesting that Paul and Moroni (quoting his father) refer to love and caring for others as the one critical thing that does not fail us.

3) Do not quit working on progress

…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.

5) Stay focused on Christ.

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?

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42 Responses to Hearing Prophets — Just what are they saying and how to hear them.

  1. Stephen Marsh on July 20, 2012 at 6:42 AM

    My thanks to my able editor Andrew … the improvements are his, the mistakes are mine.

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  2. prometheus on July 20, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    A few thoughts:

    Not entirely sure I would categorize encouragement as prophecy, necessarily, but I will think about it some more.

    I would love a reference for the quote about Joseph speculating. :)

    I really like your five places to start, especially the primary sources bit. I know I tend to look for commentaries and for what other people have said, and those have been extremely helpful in aiding my understanding of the scriptures, but I need to get better at taking the next (and necessary) step of re-reading the scriptures myself with that increased understanding to see what new insights show up.

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  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 20, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    Prom — I will have to look. It is an interesting talk because he starts off expressing gratitude that he is free to speculate and make mistakes with the audience he is speaking to without fear they will rise up when he makes mistakes.

    He combines that he can make mistakes, that he is speculating and the value of the right audience just to start the sermon.

    Finding it with all the search engine sp that kicks up with a JS search is a real challenge.

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  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 20, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Kimball,_Heber_C. — for more on Kimball.

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  5. Mike S on July 20, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    I would perhaps call these “Ways Prophets Speak” as opposed to “Prophecies”, but that’s just semantics. For example, I don’t know that “speculation by a prophet” is the same as “prophecy”.

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  6. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 20, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Mike, that is an excellent point.

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  7. Mike S on July 20, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    Sorry. Didn’t have time to finish last comment (#5)

    I think we need to be more careful with semantics in the Church. I would argue that “prophecy” is a very specific thing, at least as commonly understood by most people. At its core, it is a direct message from God to man, through a prophet, generally about something that is to occur or which has the potential to occur. In my opinion, the conflation of all of these other concepts you describe with the idea of “prophecy” has lead to probably bigger issues in the Church than anything else.

    We accept our prophets as men, and allow them to speculate, to give encouragement and comfort, etc. We also accept that, at least at times, they may have a direct message from God for which they are a conduit.

    The problem is that a direct message from God should, by definition, always be True (whatever that means). At the same time, there are numerous examples of the speculation, comfort, etc. being wildly wrong (men on the moon, inhabitants of the Sun, second coming before people in Joseph Smith’s day dead, blacks = fence-sitters, etc.)

    In the Church, we have a tendency to dump everything a prophet says in the bucket of “prophecy”. When there is something “wrong” thrown in that bucket, however, it is very tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It gets muddy. Ironically, it leads to REDUCED respect for our prophets.

    I’ve posted about it before, but I think much of this confusion could be resolved by using our mechanism to EXPLICITLY mark something as prophecy. If there is a direct revelation, do like we used to and add it to our canon.

    And ironically, this would further free up our leaders to comfort, speculate, and educate, if they knew everything they said WASN’T interpreted as prophecy. It would expand their role rather than shrink it. And it would eliminate much confusion.

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  8. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 20, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    Mike, for the past thirty years I have been discussing with people on and off the idea of a technical or formal language for religion that narrows concepts down with specific words of art.

    We have so many broad terms. With multiple meanings. There are pros and cons to the establishment of a lexicon, but you make an excellent argument for the benefits of one.

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  9. Paul on July 20, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Your item 5.1 — “Do it” or “Do it now” was the President Kimball quote; “Just do it” is a marketing slogan.

    That said, I especially like your five ways to listen to a prophet. I agree with Mike S that these are ways the prophets speak to us. If we call all their utterances prophecy, then your title holds, but I think there are a fair number of pixels spilt on the fallibility of our leaders which would suggest that not every word that comes out of a prophet’s mouth is prophecy.

    Even so, a nice piece that has given me some things to think about. Thanks, Stephen.

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  10. Stephen Marsh on July 20, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    I’ve edited this post to clean up where I take the discussion in the wrong direction. I hope that helps.

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  11. Nate on July 21, 2012 at 1:19 AM

    I think this post provides much useful information for people when listening to prophets, past and present.

    I would add two tools to your list:

    1. Don’t expect everything the prophet says to be perfect and unalterable, as if it were all written in stone by the finger of God. (I know you infer this in point no. 1, but I think it bears saying in even plainer terms.) Prophets make mistakes, which even Joseph Smith admitted, after a revelation of his failed, “Some revelations are from God, some from man, and some are from the devil.” This flexibility is essential in dealing with past problematic statements, as well as weaknesses of present prophets.

    2. Have patience and charity towards prophets in their weaknesses. The Book of Mormon prophets complain that the gentiles will have no charity towards them, because of their sluggish prose, which is not powerful like they claimed their speech was. Some prophets are great and powerful, like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, others are more modest, maybe seem boring, less inspired even. It’s OK.

    What is most important about a prophet, is not his gifts, or even his words, but his call, his authority. Honoring and respecting that authority is what is important for us. To serve in his church, support him, sustain him, and be patient with him even when there might be something we disagree with, like Prop. 8 for example, if we feel so called. In my mind, you can disagree with a prophet, while still submitting to him in faith, and sustaining him in his calling. You just have to have a lot of charity, patience, and faith towards him.

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  12. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 21, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    Nate, those are some good points. I should probably do a post on lessons from history.

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  13. Howard on July 21, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    Some prophets are great and powerful, like Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, others are more modest, maybe seem boring, less inspired even. It’s OK. What is most important about a prophet, is not his gifts, or even his words, but his call, his authority.. Comparing prophets, how can the second sentence be true? Christ and a boring prophet do not equal each other. What is important is the power of God, it carries with it his authority. But the authority does not carry with it the power this comes seperatly and this is the major difference between prophets and Prophets! Sorry Nate, your concept may well intended but it is clearly wrong!

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  14. annegb on July 21, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    I think you are absolutely right.

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  15. Stephen Marsh on July 21, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    Thanks ;)

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  16. Ron Madson on July 21, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Stephen, are you assuming that every President of the church has the gift of prophecy? Is it possible in your mind that we could have a president of our church who never had the gift of prophesy?

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  17. Stephen Marsh on July 21, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    Ron, I don’t think the gift of making concrete immediate predictions is that important.

    Consider Hosea.

    Or Eli.

    (aside from the statement that the testimony of Christ is the spirit of prophecy — in that respects, every prophet prophecies).

    For more: http://ethesis.blogspot.com/2004/10/my-daughter-got-call-from-bishop.html

    When we listen to a prophet’s voice there are several things we can expect to hear. They are the things that make a prophet a Prophet of God and they are:

    1. A Witness or Testimony of Christ.
    2. A Call to share and act in the love of Christ.
    3. A Call to repent of our sins.
    4. Prophetic warnings against particular temptations or dangers of our time.
    5. Changes in the procedure or course of the Church for our time.

    None of those are concrete specific Heber C. Kimball prophecies.

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  18. Ron Madson on July 21, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    Stephen, were you assuming that I was referring to making concrete predications as a qualification for the gift of prophecy? Perhaps I need to make myself more clear. I agree that prophecy is not a simple matter of making concrete predictions–although it can be as Samuel the Lamanite demonstrated. Rather, by the gift of prophecy I am referring more to #3 and #4 you listed above. Because in those categories it appears that historically more often than not the gift of prophecy came from those in the wilderness (Lehi an outcast; Jeremiah excommunicated and cast out; John Baptist wilderness; Amos-shepherd and not priest class; Jesus; Joseph/Samuel–children; Abinadi and of course Samuel Lamanite. It seemed that the real messengers came from the outside while the then present church had those that had testimonies of the Messiah or Jesus or would preach love, etc. but could not read the signs of the times such as Isaiah who was sawed in half. So my question is broader, can the Lord have Presiding High Priests in His church that are “dumb” (Isaiah reference) as to the signs and are leading the church astray while the real voices/messengers are in the wilderness? Or is that even possible today because that type no longer applies? Your thoughts?

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  19. Stephen Marsh on July 21, 2012 at 5:50 PM

    Ron, Alma the Younger in Alma, Chapter 5, is pretty clear on calling repentance from the inside, as is Nephi3.

    As a friend of mine pointed out, for the Anti-Christ to be making an appearance from the temple means he will probably have a recommend …

    We have had a lot of warnings, which is why I linked to one of Heber C. Kimball’s later day prophecies (vs. his short term ones).

    The problem with my essay, is once it is tightened up, then it becomes perhaps too tight as to what the word “prophecy” applies to.

    We need a modern lexicon (somewhat like the modern use of soul and spirit as different things rather than somewhat interchangeable and poorly defined as they were historically).

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  20. Ron Madson on July 21, 2012 at 10:41 PM

    True, examples come from both within and without. One thing they have in common is that the real prophets read the times correctly. So I am sitting on the couch with my father in the Spring of 2003 watching the war rhetoric on the news. My father who is nearly 90 years old, served in Patton’s infantry in Europe in WWII. He is the most christlike humble man I ever knew. He tells me with tear in his eyes that our invasion of Afhganistan was contrary to all our Christian/Mormon beliefs as well as our anticipated invasion to Iraq. He spoke with such clarity that if we did not renounce those wars that we as a faith community would have like the Nephites of old fallen into spiritual apostasy. He was sure that our church leaders would follow DC 98 and the guide of the BOM and denounce our invasion of Iraq. By next conference I learned that my father had the spirit of prophecy as well as other who were voices in the wilderness in our faith at those troubled times. I learned that I no longer had to engage in mental gymnastics in order to conflate office with the “gifts” of prophecy. My father died my hero even though he never received the Medal of Freedom honor that President Hinckley received from George Bush a few years later for his support of our wars of aggression. So prophets and prophecy read the times and speak truth to power. I agree.

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  21. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 22, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    Have you reread Hinkley? It was striking to see and hear the dramatically different interpretations people had of what he said, depending on their predilections.

    My father died a true hero as well, and hated war.

    Myself, I look at Mormon’s response when asked to lead aggressive wars.


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  22. Stephanie on July 22, 2012 at 8:25 PM

    I recommend Ron Walker’s terrific book Wayward Saints for a look at the implications of choosing to follow a prophet (in this case Brigham Young)when his counsel went beyond what we usually expect.

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  23. Ron Madson on July 22, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    @ Stephen, in answer to your question I have read and re-read numerous times his War and Peace address of April 2003. I have also parsed his follow up commentaries/addresses on the issue. I find his 2003 address not as nuanced as others. I also have the commentary provided by the PR department after Elder Nelson gave an address on Section 98 in the fall of 2002 but it has since been scrubbed. Essentially the Church Spokesman said “Elder Nelson’s address did not apply to our “current hostilities”–of course not. Here what I wrote on the topic of his address in a soon to be published essay on DC 98:

    Renouncing” of a war demands that we go further then just saying ‘war is not nice’ rather it is declaring a resolute ‘No!’ as to a particular war; and secondly, stripped of its general commentary, the doctrinal “summum bonum” of his address can be succinctly found in three non-qualified statements:

    “As citizens we are all under the direction of our respective national leaders”;

    “We also are citizens of nations and are subject to the laws of our government” and

    “One of our Articles of Faith, which represents an expression of our doctrine, states ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.’”

    Then President Hinckley articulated one additional obligation to those who are in our military service: “Those in the armed services are under an obligation to their respective governments to execute the will of the sovereign. When they joined the military they entered into a contract by which they are presently bound and to which they have dutifully responded.”

    President Hinckley’s reliance on our national leaders’ judgment was not only based on our allegiance to our nation, but also founded on his belief that “They have access to greater political and military intelligence than do the people generally.” He then chose to muse as to the pros and cons of our two wars and shared with us what governed his “personal feelings” and the “dictates” of his “personal loyalties” in the present situation which rests on the belief that the invasion of these countries was analogous to the Nephites defending their families even unto bloodshed as well as defending liberty. And finally, a latter-day war indulgence (see fn. 1 above): “God will not hold men and women in uniform responsible as agents of their government in carrying forward that which they are legally obligated to do. It may even be that He will hold us responsible if we try to impede or hedge up the way of those who are involved in a contest with forces of evil and repression.”

    He also referred to the Muslim terrorists in another setting as “Gadiantons.” My reading of Isaiah has them as the Medes and not Gadiantons. Gadiantons are those within our own ranks (neocons, military industrial complex. Haliburton, etc. as I see it). President Hinckley was a wonderful, Christlike, nice man and wrote a uplifting book about “Be nice” etc. But as to reading the times in 2003 he was, in my opinion, utterly clueless and still bound by traditions that caused him to also misread the Viet Nam war–along with most all our GAs at the time. THe church also put out the DVD “Let not your Heart be Troubled” and it could have been written by a Crusading Pope like Pope Urban II or Pope Gregory. So prophets and prophecy? I sustain the concept that the Office of President and Apostle would and could intersect, but does it? You tell me? When the first apostles were ordained in our dispensation they were not apostles until they saw the very face of God, and then so testify. Someone laying on their hands does not fulfill the calling until God places His imprimatur on it. So can someone be a president and ordained to being a prophet, seer and revelator. Sure, but are they? That is another question.

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  24. Ron Madson on July 22, 2012 at 9:17 PM

    @ Stephanie, I will get the book. Thanks for the recommendation. But I have read too much on Brigham Young and it “ain’t purdy.” My ggggrandfather was summoned to Mountain Meadows Massacre by his priesthood. He later testified at the JD Lee trial. He saw what obedience to unrighteous authority looks like. Brother Brigham and the Brighamite sect that was created reads like a murder mystery (see Quinn’s 1844 Sucession Crisis). BY did not see himself as a prophet and in that I fully agree with him, and Nibley wrote some good things about his sayings, but I can see how the “follow the leaders” and not question developed. That is what happens when the persuasion and virtue is not enough to compel obedience. BY was an interesting character. After BYs death John Taylor had to sue his family to reclaim half of the church’s money that BY had given to his clan. It was a miracle that the gospel survived his tyranny but they were isolated and did not have much choice. This whole heresy about follow the prophet right or wrong and never lead astray has to go–it is long overdue, imo.

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  25. Hedgehog on July 23, 2012 at 3:22 AM

    Just jumping in briefly, as school has now broken up for the summer.
    I like your 5 tools Stephen. I also like your list of 5 in your comment 17, I think they are what we can expect to hear, though not sure that that necessarily makes a prophet… Agree with Mike S. on semantics. I don’t think a prophet has to give big revelation to be a prophet, and lots of what we read of prophets in scripture is generally warnings and such. From my perspective the whole ‘get out of debt’ we heard over and over for years before the crash comes into the warning category. Which leads on to my next point.
    As for the modern day church, I would be very interested to know more about how what they say plays out against what is going on in the US generally, and also more specifically in other religious movements in the US at the time they were said. Not something we get anything like a clear picture of from the outside I think. In other words, I’d like a clearer view on context.
    I’ve recently been reading snippets about the fundamentalist Christian Right, home ed. stuff, which seemed to kick off in the 80′s especially, and wonder how much that have might played into Pres. Benson’s remarks about women back in the home, on one side, and also this you commented else-thread Stephen (do you have any kind of dates for those talks?):
    ‘I remember reading through “old stuff” — general authorities addressing the church members before I was born. Messages like “this will surprise you men, but your wives are not your property” or “‘you tell her I’m the boss and she has to listen to me because I have the priesthood’ — ‘you don’t’ (and launching into the point that there is no right of dominion in a marriage because of the priesthood)”’
    A bit rushed, but I’m hoping I’m making sense.

    Howard, you may appreciate the high council talk we had in sacrament meeting yesterday – a veritable tirade against the check box mentality, and exhortations to strengthen ourselves spiritually. It’s a while since I heard quite such a highly charged presentation from the HC. He also quoted from a book by Elder Bednar (I didn’t catch the title – sorry)… But more reason to be hopeful I think.

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  26. Stephen Marsh on July 23, 2012 at 6:51 AM

    ‘I remember reading through “old stuff” — general authorities addressing the church members before I was born

    It was 36 years ago when I finished up that set of reading Hedgehog … MM Gleaners and similar organizations were being addressed. But it was “old stuff” then.

    Ron, I’m not a big fan of Quinn. Ever since reading his explanation that the church was in sin since he was not called as an apostle … etc.

    But, there are a lot of threads.

    The litigation was actually referenced in a different thread, where I pointed out the value of having a separate corporation for the church. http://www.wheatandtares.org/2012/06/01/how-wealthy-was-brigham-young/

    Much of what is going on is small prophecy. Calling the right person, reorganizing church units. The administrative overhead time consumes so much time ….

    Creates an interesting dynamic.

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  27. Howard on July 23, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    Mormon Heretic has an interesting OP about OD2.

    Talking about revelation in general, President Kimball wrote in a letter to his son;  Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired.  I think few people receive revelations while lounging on the couch or while playing cards or while relaxing.  I believe most revelations would come when a man is on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can for something which he knows he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer to his problems.

    During the months leading up to the June 1978, President Kimball spoke with the Twelve repeatedly about the question, asking them to speak freely…He seemed so intent on solving the problems that others worried about him…Day after day, and especially on Saturdays and Sundays when there were no organizations [sessions] in the temple, I went there when I could be alone.  I was very humble…I was searching for this…I wanted to be sure…I had a great deal to fight…myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it and defend it as it was.

    It is a wonderful account of a simple form of revelation to President Kimball after much seeking, a manifestation by the Spirit of God’s will to the group and a vision.  But as wonderful as this was it pales in comparison to Joseph’s fluid often free flowing spiritual experiences it seems to have taken a lot of work to get and it seems to occur very infrequently; OD1 & OD2 with 2 apparently referencing 1 by a vision of President Woodruff.

    This kind of spiritual manifestation and more can and should be happening frequently but apparently it is not and obviously it must be seriously sought after.  Government agitation preceded OD1 and civil agitation preceded OD2.  Since revelation “will probably never come unless they are desired” and since they apparently take modern prophets months of work in the form of contemplation and prayer to achieve, and since in some cases the prophet must fight himself (his own biases) agitation may well be a motivator to get him “on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can”.

    Hedgehog, thanks for the update.

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  28. Paul on July 23, 2012 at 10:44 AM

    @27 Howard: “This kind of spiritual manifestation and more can and should be happening frequently but apparently it is not and obviously it must be seriously sought after.”

    You’ve made this assertion before. What’s your analysis of why this should be happening more? Just because it happened in the past? No one (least of all the prophets of this dispensation) disputes that Joseph Smith was unique in his calling and circumstance.

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  29. Howard on July 23, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Joseph demonstrated what is possible and it resulted in the D&C and more! There is a learning curve in all things and it can be seen in Joseph’s spiritual experences. President Kimball admits he had to fight with his own limitations and do a lot of work to receive this revelation. How many modern prophets have gone through this? Judging from the record apparently only a few! Yet we have many unanswered questions that a Prophet like Joseph could easily have answered and a prophet like Kimball could too with work and more practice. We admit that prophets are men too but we don’t like to admit few prophets would be self motivated to overcome their own biases and work for answers and change they internally resist.

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  30. Howard on July 23, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    I was recently speaking with a physicist about gravitational waves and he pointed out that Einstein had to get outside of the frame of reference we all share to conceive of time as a variable instead of a constant, when he did the world changed! Similarly prophets may be limiting us from being exposed to new gospel paradigms and given the human tendancy to solidify our biases as we age succession adds to our flat world bias by insuring our prophets are old, compare them to JS or Christ.

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  31. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 23, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    I should also note how often we reject any church leader we disagree with. Sometimes it seems that 90% of the bloggernacle is kvetching.

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  32. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 12:14 AM

    When I did employment readiness training I often taught about “soft skills” – those qualities or abilities that make people good employees. Integrity. Hard work. Promptness. Teamwork. Ownership. Pleasantness. They don’t get much traction in the ‘nacle either, these “soft skills” in spirituality. Faith. Charity. Patience. Long-suffering.

    Your five tools are helpful. I find that when I am out of balance, it’s usually because I’m shirking my soft skills in favor of something that seems firmer, and that usually turns out to be Pharisaic.

    One thought on your categories of prophetic speech: I think you were talking about large-P Prophets, but the spirit of prophecy is available as a gift, and small-p prophecy functions along these same lines as well. Your #4, often considered “the least of these” is often the tool with the longest lifespan of influence. In SS last week we talked about how faith imparts hope (Alma 32:21) that is the most tenacious power on earth, transforming experiences that seem overwhelming to manageable, and providing just the amount of assistance we need to allow us to fully own the overcoming we accomplish. What a powerful thing is hope. What an ennobling, gracious thing, not a thing to be treated dismissively (as I think we often do.) I cannot tell the number of times that while engaged in simple encouragement and service I felt the spirit of prophecy (with a small-p), and which often led to some of the other manifestations you suggest.

    Very nice post, Stephen. I enjoyed it very much.

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  33. Hedgehog on July 24, 2012 at 1:07 AM

    Thanks for this Stephen: “It was 36 years ago when I finished up that set of reading Hedgehog … MM Gleaners and similar organizations were being addressed. But it was “old stuff” then.”
    Which could well put it pre-1960s feminism then? Interesting…

    The whole context thing is interesting to me. For the 2 ODs as well, I think it is important. I do follow your reasoning on personal biases Howard, the context on these occasions does make it seem that backs are up against the wall, and they are pretty desperate for an answer. I was a child (under 8) for OD 2, but our ward had families this affected, one of which was mixed race, so I was vaguely aware of the unfairness pre-1978, and the whole ward rejoiced at the time of the revelation. At the time of course, I knew nothing about the whole US race relations stuff, Brazil problem and so on.
    On the other hand, once the Priesthood is restored, temple ordinances established, church structures put in place, most of what is left is necessarily administrative change – consolidated program, change in the role of Seventies, that kind of thing, which I should hope is guided by revelation, but maybe doesn’t qualify as the big stuff for you Howard?
    The whole religious ferment at the time of JS perhaps was an important contributory factor in the many questions he asked that lead to revelation. Things have settled down a bit since then I think. And while our rather hierarchical structures may have its problems, I think they are a good system of checks and balances, when compared to some other faiths, where a personality cult can form around a particular pastor, and schisms occur in congregations, and so on…

    Definitely with Bonnie on the big ‘P ‘little ‘p’ prophecy, and also on the importance of hope.

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  34. Hedgehog on July 24, 2012 at 1:09 AM

    That’s ‘under 8 ‘close bracket”, not smiley!

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  35. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 24, 2012 at 3:24 AM

    Bonnie, thank you for sharing those thoughts.

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  36. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 24, 2012 at 3:26 AM

    Hedgehog — 1940s and older for much of it. So pre modern feminism definitely. Some of it back to Brigham Young.

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  37. Howard on July 24, 2012 at 6:36 AM

    Hedgehog wrote: …maybe doesn’t qualify as the big stuff for you Howard? Well apparently I sound like sour grapes to some of you but please consider the substance of my comments. The ban on blacks is certainly not the last big question facing the church is it? What about the ban on women and the ban on gays? Have these questions finally been answered? I doubt it, because it would have required modern prophets to set aside their own personal biases and then do months of work to finally receive an answer they might not even want to hear! What would motivate them to do that? Apparently only significant uncomfortable agitation. Or if you disagree with those subjects what about the sealed portion of the plates? What about finally living the 2,000 year old beatitudes instead of inforcing the Mosaic 10Cs! Isn’t it time?

    Also there is Bonnie’s big P and little p, they are quite different than mine! For me a great prophet like JC or JS is a big P and modern prophets are little ps. Why? Because according to the OD2 revelation story their level of spiritual connection is very, very basic, it is the same method as it’s members; wordless spiritual confirmation, the same method given to Oliver Cowdery. Only their calling and the size of stewardship varies from that of any faithful member! Compare this method to walking in the spirit which is an on-going conversational relationship with deity or the wordy “thus saith the Lord” direct revelation method or pure intelligence flowing through him that Joseph enjoyed! These are huge prophetic differences!!! So we’re left with administrators, care taking prophets who are ordained and sustained by seniority, not hand selected and tutored by God as Joseph was. They have little more access to deity than an average faithful seeking member! Is it any wonder they’re focused on little stuff? Big stuff is way too much work! How could any of them received enough information via spiritual Morse code in one lifetime to start a church complete with Temple ceremonies for both the living and the dead? Dead? Who among them would have even thought of dead to ask about them? Today’s gospel is limited by the basic spiritual skills and personal biases of the brethren. This was not true under Joseph, the communication was strong enough to overcome his biases and to direct him even toward the out of sight, out of mind dead and to provide detail gospel and church organizational information. Think about it, this communication limitation is precisely why we have an increasingly pharisaical church today.

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  38. Hedgehog on July 24, 2012 at 7:38 AM

    Apologies for any offence Howard. I asked the question with an interested rather than critical tone of voice.
    I can see that the things you list could be big questions. Of course we don’t know they aren’t asking. Undoubtedly they’d have biases. I do think the Lord is in overall control though. On the topic of big and little prophets, as you describe, I think if we needed a ‘big’ prophet, we’d get one. Bonnie mentioned she likes Elijah. I’ve always had a sneaking sympathy for Jonah: all too human in his weaknesses, and still requiring education about his biases even after his mission was fulfilled. A small prophet I guess, but still used in the Lord’s work.

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  39. Howard on July 24, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    It is laudable that the church encourages personal revelation but it is discouraging that it is not taught and that sharing of it is discouraged. Joseph died suddenly or he might have been able to teach those who would follow him and a prophet might have arisen based on prophetic skills and connection to God instead of time-in-grade institutionalized yes-men seniority and we would be enjoying a very different church today.

    As it is, the brethren should be practicing and sharing among themselves but if spiritual confirmation is all we had available by 1978 apparently this isn’t happening. Tim Malone at Latter-day Commentary reports that in his presence on April 8, 2012 Elder Perry was asked “Have you ever seen an angel or the Savior?” and Perry related this OD2 story. Nothing more recent? Nothing more impressive? Apparently not! So this is state-of-the-art for the current LDS church while many outside the church enjoy much, much more!

    They don’t teach it because they don’t know how! While retaining the authority they have lost most of the power of God and if this doesn’t change they will soon be eclipsed or made irrelevant by those who are more closely connected to God. Think parable of the ten virgins.

    Mormons ponder and suffer gaining spiritually from the by products of that path others meditate and find peace and spiritual connection directly while bypassing the suffering Mormons love to hate. They may be called spiritual gifts but don’t just sit there and wait for God to hand them to you, you must work to get them!

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  40. Bonnie on July 24, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    I can appreciate your desire for “impressive” revelation, but that’s counter to the structure of the gospel. Not tempest and whirlwind, still and small. That’s the way it’s been for thousands of years. I don’t see the church being much different if Joseph had lived longer.

    And it’s God’s job to impress us? So counter to the path of faith. That IS the path, not a by-product. Think parable of the ten virgins.

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  41. Howard on July 24, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    And it’s God’s job to impress us? No, it isn’t! Nice attempt at a discrediting smear job while backhandedly calling my comments counter gospel though! Isn’t counter gospel Satan’s path?

    It certainly wasn’t “still and small” with Joseph or Christ was it? Isn’t Christ still our example?

    It is the path beyond simple faith that leads to knowing. It’s our job to learn how to communicate with Him so we can become one with Him in life as well as in death. As I recall Joseph approached God, not the other way around.

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  42. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 24, 2012 at 9:39 PM

    Bonnie, just so.

    Howard, so much of what they say gets rejected, I am not sure we as a people will get more while that happens.

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