A lot of people love our prophet and look to him as a spokesman for God. However, we all have times when we aren’t sure we agree with what the prophet has taught or the policies he’s instituted. And in those moments, we do have to reassess and recommit to our faith. But recently, I’ve seen some concerning perspectives and comments about the prophet and things he’s said.
While many people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that President Russell M. Nelson is our living prophet today, it appears that some people choose not to take his words or teachings very seriously. So today, I want to reiterate a few things about the prophets of God, and particularly our living prophet, that I think will be essential for our spiritual safety and well-being in the future.
Prophets Are Not Perfect Men
People tend to be highly critical of prophets, especially when prophets make mistakes. But it’s important to remember that prophets are still human. They are working to do their best and to serve God, but sometimes their best intentions and efforts don’t work out the way they wanted them to.
One prophet in particular who receives a lot of criticism is Joseph Smith. Joseph is in the unfortunate position of being the first prophet in modern times and the prophet whose mistakes are probably best known. This past week in the Come, Follow Me study, we’ve been learning about one of Joseph’s mistakes – letting Martin Harris take (and then lose) the 116 translated pages of the Book of Mormon and fearing men more than God.
God had already prepared for this mistake by having Nephi rewrite the events of those pages and by directing Mormon to include the repeated section in his abridgment. Though the mistake was prepared for, Joseph’s mistake taught him an important lesson, and it teaches us that same lesson as well – to always fear God more than men and to obey His commandments to the best of our ability.
In a revelation to Joseph several years later, our Father in Heaven told him and all of us,
25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.Doctrine and Covenants 1:25-28
These verses illustrate the purpose of us knowing Joseph’s mistakes as well as the mistakes of other members and prophets – that through these mistakes we all can receive wisdom, instruction, chastening, humility, and strength.
Of course, Joseph was not a perfect man. No prophet is perfect. But when we recognize that God has a purpose in showing us those mistakes and that God still calls those imperfect men to lead His work on the earth, we can better accept these imperfect men as the mouthpieces of our Father in Heaven.
Prophets Speak the Word of God – Not Just In General Conference
I’ve noticed that when the prophet posts on social media, some people take his comments seriously while others don’t. Or when he speaks publicly outside of General Conference, sometimes people seem to assume that his words hold less credibility outside of General Conference.
I’m guessing that most people prefer to take him seriously, even when he speaks outside of General Conference, and that’s a great thing. It’s so powerful to see faithful people choosing to accept the words of the prophet no matter the context.
But not everyone seems to do so. Here’s the thing – the prophet is the prophet, even when it isn’t General Conference. So when he speaks publicly or publicly posts on social media, his words are just as significant and relevant then as they are in General Conference. If we believe that he is the living prophet of God, then we should always be willing to listen when he speaks.
Of course, in his personal interactions with people, it can be a little different. If the prophet isn’t speaking publicly to the world, then his statements are not for the world. I don’t think we need to get hung up on what he says to individuals or small groups of people that were not intended for the world. For example, the things he teaches his own family are important and full of wisdom, but those things were never intended to be shared with the whole world. The teachings we need to take seriously and apply to ourselves are the ones the prophet directs to us.
A Prophet’s Revelation vs. Personal Revelation
Personal revelation is an essential skill for each of us to have and develop. President Nelson has said,
In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.President Russell M. Nelson, “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” April 2018
I wholeheartedly believe that God speaks to each of us individually as we face our unique challenges, struggles, and opportunities. He knows what we need to learn, what strength we need, what we are lacking. And He does not leave us alone to figure it all out. He helps us each step of the way when we turn to Him in faith and seek His will with pure intent.
To help us gain personal revelation, we are taught – urged – to refer to the scriptures and to the words of modern prophets. Ancient and modern prophets have been blessed with the authority to speak God’s words on the earth as though God were speaking them.
The rest of us don’t have that authority, though we do have the ability to receive revelation for our own lives and stewardships. As we seek revelation for ourselves, we should use the words of those who do have the authority to speak for God. Though those words were given to all of us, they can hold powerful help and strength for us individually as well.
Now, here’s the point I’m getting to – though we need to receive our own personal revelation for our own lives, never will that personal revelation contradict the teachings of God’s prophets, whether ancient or modern. Their word is God’s word, and it applies to each of us. Their words are intended to help us gain revelation, not hinder us.
Personal revelation will always align with the will of God and the words of His servants. If it seems not to, then that is probably a sign that we need to assess ourselves and check that our will is aligning with God’s will. Because that’s the point of our lives, to learn to shift our will to become His. All of us have to struggle with this, but if we make our best efforts to choose His will, then we will be able to “let God prevail,” as President Nelson told us last October.
Please don’t let personal opinions prevent you from accepting the words of the prophets. Instead, turn to God and seek to align your will to His instead of trying to convince Him to align His will to yours.
Prophets and Politics
I usually avoid talking about politics on this website. Rarely do I find politics to be relevant here. But when it comes to a conversation about prophets, I do think it’s warranted to talk about politics a little bit.
This point is actually similar to the previous one about personal revelation and aligning our will to God’s. But there’s a little more to it that I’d like to dig into.
The Church rarely comments on politics. They don’t support any political party or candidate and leave us members to decide what we believe politically on our own – on most things. But once in a while, a particular piece of legislation might be brought to vote that the Church does choose to comment on. This usually happens when the Church leaders feel that the legislation goes so directly against our faith’s beliefs or that the legislation could be a genuine danger to everyone it affects that they need to speak out against it. However, sometimes it isn’t about voting and is about a certain societal or political situation that the Church leaders feel needs to be addressed.
However, when the Church does do this, the response from many members is often mixed. They are offended that the Church is discouraging them from voting a particular way or supporting certain political stances. But remember, the Church can’t and doesn’t force anyone to vote or believe a certain way. They may say that a particular piece of legislation is against God’s law or that it is more dangerous than it is helpful, and they will ask that you choose not to vote in favor of it. Or that certain behaviors and beliefs are not in line with God’s will. You still have the choice as to whether you actually do vote for it or believe it or not. You still have agency in the matter.
Here’s the thing – if we believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by a living prophet who speaks for God, and that prophet happens to comment on something political, should we really dismiss it? The Church’s political comments are rare, and if our leaders feel the need to comment on politics, they certainly have a good reason. And that reason probably has something to do with God directing them to make the comment.
If we say that we believe in a living prophet, and then ignore his teachings and doctrines, maybe we don’t actually believe in him as much as we claim to. It wouldn’t be the first time in history that that has happened.
It’s like saying to Moses, “I believe you’re a prophet, but this brass serpent can’t heal me,” or to Noah, “I believe you’re a prophet, but your ark is stupid and there’s no way I’m getting on it. There’s no way it will rain that much.”
Prophets speak for God. They warn us and guide us through this life. And the way I see it when a prophet of God makes a comment on something political, that thing stops being political and becomes a divine direction from God. At that point, it’s up to us to decide if we choose to follow that divine direction or not.
Trust God and His Prophet
Let’s not be the next generation of people who disregard the words of the prophet. Let’s believe what he says, trust him as a servant of our Father in Heaven, and do our best to align our will to His.
Trust me, I know that this isn’t easy. All of us have had at least one thing the prophet has said that made us go, “Eh, I’m not so sure about that.” But when those moments come, we need to revisit faith. We need to ask ourselves, “Do I really believe that God chose this man to be His prophet and spokesperson?” Because if we do believe that, our next course of action needs to be softening our hearts and turning to God to gain wisdom and understanding.
And I promise that when we give our trust to God and His prophets, we will not be led astray.