The scriptures teach that if we keep the commandments we will prosper. Yet many faithful members of the Church face hardships. Why aren’t we always blessed with prosperity when we are living worthily?
Perhaps the problem lies in our tendency to think of prosperity only as it is represented by material wealth or lack of serious problems. The word , an institute instructor and teacher for the Temple Preparation Seminar in the Reading England Stake.prosperity itself comes from the Latin pro + spes, which means “hope.” Though the word soon came to mean “succeed” and is often used in the sense of material success, it does not necessarily mean an abundance of temporal possessions—or even a relatively comfortable, problem-free life.
If we remember the scriptures’ admonition that “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25), we can see that, for those who live the gospel, prosperity can mean joy, peace, harmony, unity, love, and sufficient faith and means to meet our needs without fear. Such prosperity comes because one possesses faith and peace of mind.
The scriptures record many promises of prosperity to those who are faithful to the Lord. For example, in 1 Nephi 2:20, [1 Ne. 2:20] we read the Lord’s promise to Nephi, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to … a land which is choice above all other lands.” In 2 Nephi 1:9, we read a similar promise to “those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem”—Lehi and his family. [2 Ne. 1:9]
Note, however, that these verses do not promise prosperity unconditionally to everyone. Indeed, not even all the members of Lehi’s group prospered. Among the group were Laman and Lemuel, both of whom murmured against the Lord, their father, and their brother Nephi. Laman and Lemuel eventually separated from Nephi, and those who followed them eventually became wicked and anything but prosperous.
The Nephites, on the other hand, did prosper in the land to which the Lord had led them when they kept the commandments. As a group, they were close to the Lord, and the Lord blessed them in their “land of promise.” This does not necessarily mean, however, that others who are righteous will always receive similar rewards.
Righteousness involves a cleansing of the spirit—a putting aside of worldly attitudes and values and a dedicating of one’s self to furthering the Lord’s work. If we are righteous, we will be able to put the world’s values and attitudes in proper context and follow the Spirit’s promptings in our everyday lives and endeavors.
Consequently, if our desires are righteous, our decisions will lead to success—though not necessarily in terms of worldly wealth or absence of problems. The Lord promises, “Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof.” (D&C 19:38.)
To the Saints of this dispensation, he promised, “If ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity; and it must needs be that the riches of the earth are mine to give.” (D&C 38:39.)
Let us note that, although the Lord can bestow on us “the riches of the earth,” the riches he most wants to bless us with are “the riches of eternity.” As he counsels elsewhere, “Seek not for riches, but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (D&C 6:7.)
One of the problems with material wealth is that it sometimes corrupts those who have it. It is for this reason that the Lord’s promise of riches in section 38 cited above ends with the warning: “But beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.” (D&C 6:39.)
If we set our minds on the “treasures of earth” rather than on the things of eternity, we will lose our spirituality and begin to rely on our own wisdom. Indeed, it was the Nephites’ pride and lust for riches and their failure to dedicate their blessings to the Lord’s work that stirred Jacob to condemn them for failing to “think of [their] brethren like unto [them]selves” and for not being “familiar with all and free with [their] substance.” (Jacob 2:17.)
In saying that prosperity can be gauged in other than material ways, I do not imply that we must simply accept our circumstances in life as God-given and do nothing to change them. We should develop our talents and abilities and make the most of our situations. But we must not ascribe worldly success to righteousness, or lack of success to a lack of righteousness. It is true that the Lord does sometimes directly bless someone materially, but more often he expects us to learn particular principles—both temporal and spiritual—and apply them to our lives. In this way, we learn to handle difficulties and problems and to advance in knowledge and understanding.
The truly righteous are prosperous, in the sense that they have confidence, which triggers faith into activity and creates beneficial circumstances from less-favorable ones. They do not wait for the Lord to give or withhold rewards, but instead call on him for guidance about what will be most beneficial for them, both temporally and spiritually. Such guidance may lead to changing occupations, moving to another district, acquiring training or new skills, or accepting things as they are but working within one’s own limitations and following the Spirit’s direction in other ways.
Some problems may appear to be beyond our control, and our faith may be put to the test, but we need not find any situation hopeless. As the Lord tells us in Moroni 7:33, with faith and hope we can “have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient.” [Moro. 7:33] Just as the early Saints crossed the plains with little more than a driving faith that all would be well, we, too, need to forge ahead with faith. In doing so, we can support each other and learn to find joy, not in material possessions or comfortable situations, but in our relationship with the Lord, in service to others, and in developing our capacity to overcome obstacles with God’s help.
Is the gift of prophecy limited to those whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators?
The answer is a simple no. Prophecy is a gift of the Spirit that can come to any baptized member. Its expression, however, is limited to our areas of responsibility. Only one person at a time, for example, serves as prophet for the entire Church. , academic vice-president, Ricks College.
When I think of the word prophecy, dramatic events immediately spring to mind. I picture in my mind’s eye Lehi warning his fellow citizens that Jerusalem is soon to be destroyed or Nephi seeing in vision the beautiful scenes surrounding the Savior’s birth, six hundred years before these events would occur.
Prophetic utterances from our prophets, living and dead, give powerful evidence of their divine callings and represent an important part of our scriptural heritage. But fortunately, the Lord has not limited this precious gift to his Apostles and prophets; he has extended it to many others. Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote, “No special ordination in the Priesthood is essential to man’s receiving the gift of prophecy. … This gift may be possessed by women also.” (Articles of Faith, 12th ed., Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1924, pp. 228–29.) The Old Testament, for example, uses the word prophetess to describe at least five women: Deborah (Judg. 4:4), Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Huldah (2 Kgs. 22:14), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), and Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3). Similarly, the New Testament makes reference to Anna, a prophetess (Luke 2:36). The Apostle Peter spoke of the last days when “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:17; see also Joel 2:28.)
The gift of prophecy is but one of the many spiritual gifts from God. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul as he puts this gift in beautiful perspective:
“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. …
“The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
“To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
“To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
“But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. (1 Cor. 12:4, 7–11.)
Paul seems to place prophecy in the front rank of the spiritual gifts deemed most desirable: “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy,” he exhorted. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” (1 Cor. 14:1, 3.)
The Lord generously offers spiritual gifts to all of us, according to our needs and the service we are called upon to render. This is a key point. The most important question for us to consider is not “Who gets to prophesy, and who does not?” but rather “Which gifts of the Spirit do I need to fulfill my personal mission in this life, and how can I become worthy to receive them?”
We may wonder, “If so many people are allowed to prophesy, won’t this lead to confusion?” Again, the answer is no—if we keep the function of the gift in proper perspective. Consider this excellent counsel from Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve:
“Revelations are given for a two-fold purpose: to furnish guidance for the Church, and to give comfort to the individual. …
“Divine manifestations for individual comfort may be received by every worthy member of the Church. In that respect all faithful members of the Church are equal. Such manifestations most commonly guide the recipients to the solution of personal problems. … They are cherished possessions, and should be so valued by those who receive them. …
“Every member of the Church may seek and receive revelation, but only for himself and those for whom he is responsible. Every officer of the Church is entitled to revelation to help him in the field into which he has been called, but not beyond. The bishop can claim no revelation except for his ward duties, the stake president for his stake duties only; the President of the Church is the only person who can receive revelations for the guidance of the Church as a whole. These limitations, coming from the Lord, protect the orderliness of the Kingdom of God on earth.” (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, pp. 98–99, 101; italics added.)
When most of us consider the word prophecy, we usually think of it in the narrow sense as the gift of predicting future events. However, when considered fully, the term carries with it a much broader meaning. Elder Talmage suggests that “the function of prediction, often regarded as the sole essential of prophecy, is but one among many characteristics of this divinely given power. The prophet may have as much concern with the past as with the present or the future; he may use his gift in teaching through the experience of preceding events as in foretelling occurrences.” (Talmage, p. 228.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve suggested that prophecy may correctly refer to all inspired utterances of prophets and that they may pertain to the past, present, or future. (See Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 602.) This expanded interpretation helps us to understand our fifth Article of Faith, which states that we must “be called of God, by prophecy … to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” The term “by prophecy” as used in context with our various Church assignments means that the call to serve should come by revelation from the Holy Ghost.
Considered in this broader sense, the gift of prophecy is available to every member, and it is appropriate for every member of the Church to seek it, for it is by this gift that a testimony of the truth comes. (See Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 312.) As Brigham Young expressed it: “Without revelation direct from heaven, it is impossible for any person to understand fully the plan of salvation. We often hear it said that the living oracles must be in the Church, in order that the Kingdom of God may be established and prosper on the earth. I will give another version of this sentiment. I say that the living oracles of God, or the Spirit of revelation must be in each and every individual, to know the plan of salvation and keep in the path that leads them to the presence of God.” (John A. Widtsoe, comp., Discourses of Brigham Young, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 38.)