Steve Donegan is a retired U.S. Army warrant officer. He joined the Army and made this prophetic statement during his initial training: The Army will either make me an alcoholic or a Christian. Luckily, he chose the latter. His Army career took him into many locations in Europe, to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and around the United States. In each location he served as a teacher at many levels, counselor and/or secretary in many presidencies, and a student at the feet of many who knew/know more than him. His Eternal Companion, Kathleen, has given him three children on each side of the veil and the three on this side have provided nine grandchildren.
I remember reading about a conversation that supposedly happened between Joseph Smith, Jr., and Eliza R. Snow. They had been to a meeting where President Smith was fielding questions from other attendees. One of the questions, which was less than relative to the prophet’s knowledge and opinion, concerned whether there were men on the moon (remember, this conversation happened in the mid-1800s). President Smith’s reply was in the affirmative and he advised they were a uniform six feet tall and dressed like Quakers. On the way home that evening, Sister Snow asked the prophet why he had given that answer. The reply is etched into my memory: “Why did he think I’d know?”
Now whether this occurred or not, the point that struck me was that prophets of God are here to provide guidance and revelations that helps us return to Heavenly Father. Not answer scientific, off-the-wall, or worldly questions that we may have.
Another memory from my past reading concerned a story of two co-workers meeting at the water cooler during a break at work one Monday morning. The one who was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked the other, a member, what he had done over the weekend. The member explained it had been General Conference weekend, so he had spent his time listening to the prophets and the Church’s president speak. The non-member then asked the “golden question”: What did the prophets and president have to say?
The first reminds me prophets and presidents are human with human emotions and needs. The second reminds me to pay closer attention during Conference talks in case I get asked the golden question.
A Prophet for All Times
Let us start with the first one. In the Bible Dictionary, part of the definition for the word “Prophet” is:
“The work of a Hebrew prophet was to act as God’s messenger and make known God’s will.”
I do not believe the work of latter-day prophets is any different, except now the whole world is the intended audience. But as the Hebrew prophets were human, so are ours. I have stood next to President Gordon B. Hinckley as he got a gleam in his eye and a knowing smile crossed his lips after something small happened in front of him. I have read stories of people who discarded the calling of President Joseph Smith, Jr., because he played games with the youth of his time. Let us be grateful for the “humanness,” examples of kindness and caring toward others, and not be unfair to those who have the voice of our Savior guiding them so they can guide us.
Later in the definition, we read:
“…as a rule a prophet was a forthteller rather than a foreteller.” (emphasis in the original)
Those words in italics are important. Those words mean our First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are called and set apart to “tell forth” whatever the head of our Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, has told them to tell us. They are not set apart to be our fortune tellers, letting us in on the secrets of our individual or group futures.
All of this does not mean we should not take clues from what our prophets tell us. Our 20/20 hindsight can show us where our imagination could have taken us. Look at the home-centered, Church-supported guidelines. This started before the pandemic (having been announced during the October 2018 General Conference) but provided a resource to help us be prepared to grow spiritually while we could not meet in groups. Technology then allowed us to meet in groups from our home and more growth transpired.
It is possible that we may have speculated when the program was announced something was coming but our imaginations could not see what. Now that we are on the other side of the pandemic (ok, for the most part at least) we can appreciate our leadership and praise them for showing us how to get through a terrible time while continuing to grow closer to our Savior. Our prophets truly made known “God’s will.”
Because the restoration is ongoing, there are a number of instances where official proclamations are given to the Church, some of which are:
- The Word of Wisdom
- Family Home Evening
- The Revelation on the Priesthood
- The six Proclamations issued by the Church from 1841 through April 1980
- “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City
- “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World,” read by President Russell M. Nelson from the Sacred Grove April 5, 2020
- The transition to Ministering
With almost 200 years of leadership which has been consistent in a very inconsistent world, we need to remember we are allowed to be prophets within our own sphere of influence, but not for the world-wide Church. As a world-wide Church, we declare there are prophets on the earth today:
“We sustain the President of the Church as prophet, seer, and revelator—the only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire Church. We also sustain the counselors in the First Presidency and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators.”
See also “Prophet” in the Bible Dictionary where it reads,
“In a general sense a prophet is anyone who has a testimony of Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost, as in Num. 11:25–29; Rev. 19:10.”
Maybe it is my military training, but to voice dissatisfaction with someone who sees the whole picture from my blinkered place in the universe is limiting, to say the least. As we would not allow our accountable eight-year-old to decide on the direction for our family, so we should not attempt to out-guess, out-think, out-“revelate” those who have a place in the more significant meetinghouse of the Lord.
As a sidenote let me bring up the Children’s Hymn #78, “I’m Trying to Be like Jesus.” If you look over the words you will see the song does not suggest we be Jesus, just try to be like Jesus. Jesus has a Moses; he has a Saul/Paul. Jesus has a Peter; he has a Moroni. Jesus has a Joseph Smith, both Senior and Junior; he has a Brigham Young. What Jesus may not have is you or I. We have been placed in the space where we are because Jesus needs you—me—there. 7.98 billion people on this Earth, but no one, no one, has the gifts we have coupled with the experiences we have. We are needed where we are just like President Nelson is needed where he is. We would not want someone else in our space and Jesus does not want us even attempting to take the place of any of his General Authorities.
Our Personal Small Plates
So on to the second one or the golden question. In the nine and a half hours of Conference there will be many chances to be awed, inspired, have questions answered, have questions come up, and even enjoy a laugh or two. How do we keep track of it all so we will have an answer if the golden question is asked of us? The answer to that question is as diverse as the number of people reading this article.
My eternal companion and I have a system that works for us and may work for you. Our system works on a two-pronged approach. In one prong we have spiral notebooks, the kind with a hardback so it can be written in with or without a table/hard surface, and we make notes while the speakers are speaking. Now, these aren’t the “large plates” with word-for-word recaps of what was said, those will come in the Liahona magazine or Gospel Library app in a short while, they are the “small plates” wherein we capture the thoughts and feelings generated in us by the speaker’s words. This means the notes I have for one speaker may look and sound different than the notes my eternal companion has, but the essence will be close. The other prong in our system has us ask ourselves and each other the golden question at the end of each session. This reinforces what we have just heard and, admittedly, surprises each of us now and then with what the other thought was the “big takeaway” from the session. With this two-pronged approach, we have found we can remember more of what happened over the weekend, this not only strengthens our faith, but it also allows us to not be left flat-footed if the golden question is asked of us.
Our Personal “Golden Questions”
On another level is what have we gleaned from our experience from General Conference, or as we listen to, read or personally attend other talks and trainings given by our beloved Prophet and Apostles. Do we find that our footings in gospel truths are strengthened? Are we prepared to defend our faith? Did some comments touch us in tender or questioning ways that we need to dig into more fully to understand and embrace? Then, as President Spencer Kimball was so famously known for, “Do It!”
What am I hoping will be the big takeaway from this article? In keeping with our original theme, two things. One, I wish for us to allow our prophets to be given the same allowance we hope for in our calling: namely, to be human. Sometimes our past thoughts will express themselves even though all the time we wear the mantle of our calling. That has got to be okay.
“I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written, the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of Heaven till I am 85 years old…”
That was said by Joseph Smith, Jr., on April 6, 1843.
It is also taken out of context. Here is more of what he said,
“I do not say whether he will make his appearance, or I shall go where he is. I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written, the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of Heaven till I am 85 years old…”
Adding the first sentence gives more credence to the second as we now know, Joseph Smith, Jr. did not live to be 85-years old, and the Son of Man has not come in the clouds of Heaven… yet.
Second, I invite each one of us to pay closer attention when our prophets speak. And please, if we listen to General Conference and read the Liahona monthly, know we are not getting all the words of our prophets. They do not only speak at official Church functions covered by those mediums. They speak at events hosted by world leaders and international organizations, which are reported on by people who do not have our same priorities and principles. These reporters give details based on guidelines their leadership has supplied to them.
- Only so many words
- Only take this much time
- Look for the sensational, not the casual
These and other possible rules slant their reporting. Look for other venues where our prophets have spoken, or even just showed up to lend their support, and then look for trusted reporters to ensure you get the best representation of what occurred. Even then, no matter how diligent you are, you will probably miss some small event. Do not let that thought dissuade you from trying. The words our prophets speak are important and the more we can gather to our head and heart, the better – for us, our family, our Church organization, and our community.
It is my hope that we love our prophets, even when what they speak surprises us. Both unsurprising and especially surprising comments are a gift to us to seek after personal understanding for our situation and how we can best apply this counsel or guidance. We each are entitled to revelation, and we should regularly seek after that revelation as we study the words of the prophets.
I desire that each of us realize that we have as much right to revelation, prophecy, within our sphere of influence as our current prophet and president of the Church has for the entire world.
There is no doubt that we are loved by heavenly and earthly leaders who only have our best interests at heart.
As we listen with the kindest part of our heart, we will know that they were human beings long before they became prophets to us. But prophets to us they are.