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The Gift of Prophecy: It's Surprising Definition + How Every Member Accesses It

The following has been republished with permission from gospelstudy.us.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Saints, the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy are compared and weighed. Too often, we as Latter-day Saints fall short of our appreciation and understanding of the marvelous gift that is called prophecy.

To discuss this spiritual gift I would like to first define it, then talk about how it is usually treated, and end with showing how it applies to each of us. Yes, I said it: the gift of prophecy affects each of us, or at least it should.

Definition of Prophecy

On ChurchofJesusChrist.org there is a section for "Study Helps." Here is the definition of prophecy provided by the Church:

"A prophecy consists of divinely inspired words or writings, which a person receives through revelation from the Holy Ghost. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10). A prophecy may pertain to the past, present, or future. When a person prophesies, he speaks or writes that which God wants him to know, for his own good or the good of others. Individuals may receive prophecy or revelation for their own lives."

Look at this definition carefully. One of the first things I noted was how generic and general the definition of prophecy is. I was raised with the idea that prophecy is something we receive only from the prophet, and his pronouncements often begin with an indication that this is what the Lord wants the Church to know. In the scriptures, we hear this expressed as “thus saith the Lord.” But this part of my understanding is completely missing from this definition. That puzzled me.

The key to understanding prophecy, and the spirit of prophecy, at least for me, is in the last sentence of the definition: “Individuals may receive prophecy or revelation for their own lives.” What? Me? 

Yes, that is what it says. So the search was on to see what the scriptures and the prophets say about what prophecy and prophesying have to do with all the members of the Church.

The Testimony of Jesus

The following verse found in Revelation 19:10 is often quoted in connection to the spirit of prophecy:

"And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."

This brings up the question: What is the testimony of Jesus? Is it a special witness only apostles can receive? Is it available to anyone who wants to work for it? Where does it come from? Okay, that’s more than one question, but you get my point. Let’s look at what an apostle of the Lord teaches about this testimony of Jesus and who can gain it.

In April of 1972, Elder Bruce R. McConkie bore witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the work He performed. His words are informative and inspiring:

"I have what is known as 'the testimony of Jesus,' which means that I know by personal revelation from the Holy Spirit to my soul that Jesus is the Lord; that he brought life and immortality to light through the gospel; and that he has restored in this day the fullness of his everlasting truth, so that we with the ancients can become inheritors of his presence in eternity.

"Now a testimony comes from the Spirit of God. There is no other source. And when a testimony is borne, it has to be borne by the power of the Spirit. And so I desire and pray fervently that I may be guided by that power on this occasion, so that what I say will be the mind and will and voice of the Lord.

"I desire to bear testimony to myself, to you as members of the Church, and to all the world. As I speak by the power of the Spirit, if my testimony is to sink into your hearts and be in you a well springing up unto eternal life—if your hearts are to burn within you, so that you will know of the truth and divinity of the words spoken—you must be guided by the power of the same Spirit, and so I pray that your hearts may be opened and that your souls will burn within you and you will know of the verity of what is said."

Important points from this part of his talk:

  1. A testimony of Jesus comes from personal revelation from the Holy Spirit.
  2. A testimony can only be obtained or believed if the Spirit is present for both the bearer of the testimony and the hearer of the testimony.
  3. As we open our hearts to the voice of the Spirit, we will come to know what has been witnessed to us. This is how conversion begins.

Elder McConkie continues his testimony in the following paragraphs:

"Now the glorious thing that has happened in this day is that the heavens have been opened; that God has spoken again; that he has called living oracles, men who are apostles and prophets, to be his mouthpiece, to declare his mind and his purpose and his will to the world; and his message is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ; and it is administered in the Church which bears his name.

"Now, my voice is the voice of testimony. I bear record of the truth and divinity of this work. But my voice is not alone. It is not one voice crying in a wilderness.

"The testimony that I bear is just an echo of the testimonies that have been borne by faithful people from the spring of 1820, when the Father and the Son appeared to usher in this last great dispensation of eternal truth. And the testimony that I bear is but a harbinger of that testimony which yet will be borne by ten thousand times ten thousand people, redeemed out of every nation and kindred and tongue and people, redeemed by obedience to the message that God restored through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith in this day."

Here are some more important points to note.

4. The Lord has opened the heavens and called prophets and apostles to bear witness of His Son.

5. The truth of that witness is being born, not just by the apostles, but by “ten thousand times ten thousand people, redeemed out of every nation.” This means that all the members of the Church can, and should, have a testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the work of His kingdom. The divinity of Christ and the certainty of His resurrection is the central doctrine of the whole Church and is the doctrine upon which all other doctrines depend.

6. This is the same testimony that has existed among the members of the Lord’s Church since the beginning of the Restoration of the gospel of Christ in 1820 when Joseph Smith was visited by the Father and the Son.

Finally, Elder McConkie ends his talk with these truths:

"This is a day of which God has said that all of gathered Israel shall be witnesses of his name. '… ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God' (Isa. 43:12).

"This is a day when he has said that every elder in his kingdom, everyone who holds the holy priesthood, has power to speak in his name, to have the Holy Ghost bear record and enlighten his mind, and to proclaim the truths of salvation."

His final points include:

7. All of gathered Israel shall be witnesses of His name. So the testimony of Jesus is not just reserved for prophets and apostles but is available to all of Israel, which is all of us.

8. His reference to every elder in the kingdom being able to bear witness of Christ also includes every woman who has made the same covenants, for we all share equally in the blessings of the priesthood.

According to John the Beloved in Revelation 19:10, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. This means we should all have the spirit of prophecy because we all have the gift of the Holy Ghost.

The Need to Edify

Paul emphasizes over and over again in 1 Corinthians 14 the importance of the edification of the Saints. Nothing should be done in our Church meetings if it doesn’t edify/educate/uplift the Saints. Verse 22 tells us that the purpose of the gift of tongues is for a witness to the unbeliever of the power of God. The purpose of the gift of prophecy is to edify the believer. Paul tells us in verses 24 through 26 that if all of us prophesy, that is all of us have the Holy Spirit with us in our meetings so we can listen and speak by His power, even the unbelievers will hear and believe, being edified or taught by the Spirit.

This doctrine, that we need to have the Spirit with us when we teach and testify, is born out in Doctrine and Covenants 42:14 where it says:

"And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach."

In short, we cannot teach/edify without the Spirit. Part of the definition of prophecy is prophesying consists of divinely inspired words or writings from the Spirit.

Where Should We See Prophecy in Action?

When we bear our testimonies in fast and testimony meeting, are we not testifying of the divinity of Jesus and the Restoration of His gospel?

When we give priesthood blessings, should we not be speaking by the Spirit?

When we open any meeting in the Church, do we not pray that the Spirit will be with us to guide our thoughts and actions?

When we conduct meetings, shouldn’t the presiding person be listening to the Spirit to make sure the doctrine is pure and the proceedings are according to the dictates of the Spirit?

Aren’t all the proceedings in the temple holy and inspired by the Spirit? And are they not all infused with the testimony of Jesus?

Aren’t family history work, indexing, and ministering supposed to be directed by the Spirit?

Is not every parent and individual supposed to be praying for understanding to live their life according to the inspiration of the Spirit?

Again, a part of the definition of prophecy is: “When a person prophesies, he speaks or writes that which God wants him to know, for his own good or the good of others.” When we minister to others it should be through the spirit of prophecy. When we minister to our family, friends, or seek for direction for our own life, it should be through the spirit of prophecy, seeking for inspiration and guidance from the Holy Ghost.

We are a generation of prophets. Please don’t get me wrong. I remind you that the Lord is not a God of confusion. We all have limits placed on our sphere of influence. Only the one man called as the prophet can receive revelation and direction for the whole Church. Everyone else can receive revelation only within their sphere of assignment.

Broadened Scope

This concept, that the spirit of prophecy permeates the Church at every level and is in every household of the Saints, was completely new to me. I knew I could receive revelation for myself, for my family, and for my calling in the Church, but to attach the concept of prophecy to it was a whole new experience. Let’s close this article with some quotes from Joseph Smith about prophecy. These paragraphs come from a chapter in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.

“No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy [see Revelation 19:10].”

“John the Revelator says that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy [see Revelation 19:10]. Now if any man has the testimony of Jesus, has he not the spirit of prophecy? And if he has the spirit of prophecy, I ask, is he not a prophet? And if a prophet, will he not receive revelation? And any man that does not receive revelation for himself must be damned, for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. For Christ says, ask and you shall receive; and if he happens to receive anything, I ask, will it not be a revelation? And if any man has not the testimony of Jesus or the spirit of God, he is none of his, namely Christ’s. And if not his, he must be damned.”

A little clarification may be in order here. When I first read these words about damnation from the prophet, I felt I was doomed. After all, who am I to claim any great revelations. It was only after doing some reflecting that I realized that all of us receive promptings from the Spirit. We daily receive guidance to talk to this person or to help that person, to read the scriptures or to pursue a particular line of study. This is all revelation from the Spirit, and all communication from the Holy Spirit contributes to our testimony of Jesus.

All of us who have made covenants with God, who strive to listen to the Spirit and live by His promptings and directions are prophets—not the prophet, but prophets nonetheless. We all do what we do in the Church by the spirit of prophecy. What gratitude should we all feel for such a gift as this? For this gift has not been available in such abundance or so freely in any other dispensation of time.

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