Sabbath Musings - The Spirit of Prophecy
|Unknown Allegory With a Man Dancing, by Brian Kershisnik|
So it's been over two years since I posted. This isn't promising any kind of return to regularity, but I felt like writing something tonight.
A conversation at church today got me thinking about prophecy. Prophecy. It's quite an audacious claim we make in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: that the men who lead our church are prophets in the biblical sense of the word. Men who speak directly to God and receive from Him instructions and guidance for not only God's people, but the entire world. But I wonder if it isn't more audacious to remember that this same spirit of prophecy is made available to all as one of God's spiritual gifts. In fact, if Paul is to be believed, it's one of the gifts we should seek after most earnestly. From 1 Corinthians 14:
"Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy." (verse 1)
And later in the same chapter:
"Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy..." (verse 39)From various passages in the scriptures (one example), it seems this spirit is to be obtained through fasting, prayer, and study of the words of the prophets. It's not a special privilege of the few chosen to lead. It's a guide for the benefit of all who speak in the name of the Lord, or who desire to understand their words (see item 9 in the link). Its use is also not reserved for the realm of the purely spiritual. The Old Testament is full of examples of this, but I'll call out one from The Book of Mormon because it uses the words. From Alma 16:5, emphasis mine:
"...now Zoram and his two sons, knowing that Alma was high priest over the church, and having heard that he had the spirit of prophecy, therefore they went unto him and desired of him to know whither the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren, who had been taken captive by the Lamanites."
In the story, it works. Alma asks the Lord, who answers. Then Alma gives them advice on where to go. They listen, and are successful. That's how prophecy operates.
It's worth saying that Zoram and his sons could probably have gotten this same help themselves, if they had spent their lives cultivating the spirit of prophecy. They may well have done so, but this was an emergency and they wanted to be sure. We tend to have a lot more faith in the ability of our leaders to be divinely directed than in our own ability to do the same. Hard to blame us, when we consider that they are literal Prophets (note the capitalization).
So what is the spirit of prophecy? As with many things the scriptures give us a very helpful definition:
"...the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10)Let's think about that for a minute. It's easy to think of the testimony of Jesus as a simple belief that Christ lived and completed His atonement. For Mormons, it's easy to extend that to include a belief in Christ's restoration of the gospel and organization of the church. That's a necessary beginning, but I think it's more.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in his book Christ and the New Covenant, says that faith, in order to be living and effective in a person's life, must be based not only on things of the past, but on things of the future. That's a pretty logical concept. Faith pertains to things we don't yet know and, as muddy as history can be, the past is still the realm of the known. Or at the very least, it is the realm of what can no longer be changed by our choices, and therefore could be known if we could find a reliable source of information.
For our faith to make a difference in our lives - for it to matter at all - it must bear relevance to something that can still be influenced (i.e. the future). It must be centered on a god whose power extends to the future. So faith in Christ, to make any difference in our lives, must be centered on the Christ to come, not just on the Christ who came. It is the living Christ, not just Christ crucified, who we worship.
Well, what do we call the ability to perceive or know things pertaining to futurity? Generally we call it prophecy. So if our faith is centered on a Christ who we believe will someday return, then John's statement in Revelation appears aptly descriptive. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. But it's not the mere acknowledgement of general belief in Christ. It has to be the living belief that everything - our hopes, our successes, our joys, our blessings, our families, ourselves, our entire futures - hangs on the promises of the gospel being true. It has to inspire us to live with this conviction: that the promises are true and that we therefore must live up to them or fall short of our potential, because someday Jesus will come again. That day can hold hope for us or dread, but for our testimonies to be vital - to be prophetic - we must expect that it will come.
This is just a post about today's musings, but if I'm driving at a point, I suppose it's this: we need the spirit of prophecy in our own lives. We need it desperately to survive spiritually in a world that has adopted an admirable form of godliness, but denies the power thereof. We need it to help our families navigate the "war of words and tumult of opinions" in the midst of which we must operate our earthly vessels. It's more than simply believing in Christ. It's what that belief inspires us to do. To study his words. To seek communion with him through fasting and prayer. To live according to his commandments. These actions open a channel to the God of truth who cannot lie, and who can help us comprehend the truth as he does.
"And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24, emphasis mine).
In other words, truth includes a knowledge of the future. For parents, this might include the ability to see the potential of their children - to perceive them as the beings they may become if they choose. For an individual, it might be to see this same potential in themselves. It might be a flash of inspiration warning to make a specific choice or avoid a certain failing. It might be a vision of a time to be, even if that vision's purpose isn't clear. It might be flashes of insight into the consequences of certain choices or the conditions that will result from the interaction of external forces. It might be the discernment of a subtle error in a popular philosophy that, if adopted, may cloud the way to greater understanding. It might be guidance about what to study to succeed on an upcoming test. To list all the forms it might take would be impossible, but its scope can range from the most grand visions to the most mundane concerns. It is any time we receive by the spirit of God a knowledge of things to come, even if we don't recognize it as such at the time. This is the spirit of prophecy.
I don't say that we should all seek to be Prophets (note the capital P), judging the world or issuing universal commandments from on high. But within the realm of our own stewardships: in our families, quorums, relationships, callings - in our individual discipleship - we have the privilege to be prophets. We are already called to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Let us behave as though we believed it, and seek the spirit of prophecy.