In reference to Why a Prophet? (1), how can one then, in actual fact, know that a prophet is a true prophet? Let me give you a somewhat different approach:
About six years ago a man came for regular visits to our local congregation. He looked just like a prophet, or rather, the way you would expect an ancient prophet to look like: an older man (although he wasn’t that old) with a meager outfit and a really long beard. He had an inward bound character and appeared, to put it mildly, to be missing some screws and bolts.
Then without warning, during a Sunday worship service, he stands up and shouts: “I am a prophet! I have come to warn you! The Holy Spirit has told me that half of this congregation will die of cancer within six months!” Ooops. The Ushers tried to gently lead him out, but had a bit of trouble as he was starting to get forceful, his voice raising a pitch as he kept chanting the same words over and over.
Up until then I had remained in my seat with my family, watching my 4-year-old son’s goggle-eyes. Who ever said Church wasn’t exciting? Wanting to help, however, I walked out into the hallway, where I began addressing the man calmly, asking him questions about what he was doing, and why. To my surprise he settled down, completely. Not bad, I thought. But the trick was on me. SMACK!!! Before I could blink he had placed a swift, right hook across my jaw. It was a perfect hit. In the same motion he begun swinging his arms like helicopter blades as he went after me again. Instinctively, I ducked under his attack and threw myself at him, grabbing him above the waist in a bear hug, pushing him out the main door, and falling on top of him on the snow covered grass.
Still dizzy from the blow, I tried to orient myself. Underneath me was a nutty prophet, squiggling like a worm, screaming for his release. As calmly as my shaking adrenaline aloud me, I said: “I’ll let you go if you promise to respect our right to worship here as we please – without any threats or outbursts from you!”
But I was talking to a brick wall. He didn’t want to listen. “Let me go!” he shouted again. “You heard my terms,” I said. “I will let you go once I hear your promise.” This word struggle was repeated a third time until he finally subdued. “Okay, okay,” he said with sharp disappointment, “just let me go!” I then released him from my grip, and we both got up from the snow. Never taking my eyes away from him, he brushed himself off and started to walk away. I never saw him again.
Use Common Sense
The first and most obvious point of this story is to use your common sense when considering if someone is speaking in behalf of God – or not. Of course, in the above, extreme case even a fool would have noticed that the “prophet” was way out of tune. By applying the process of elimination this fellow immediately drops out of the race for candidates running for the office of prophet. But in many other cases this is how it is as well, more or less; just by using your common sense, you can select which “prophet” to believe in, and which not to. All you have to do is look at what they do and say, and wooops, there goes a majority of them.
Look at the Fruits
I guess another way of describing it is looking at their fruits. In fact, this is Jesus’ own remedy against false prophets: “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20). Another day I would like to expand on this, but today it will be enough to quote the prophet Moroni who wrote that “everything that inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God”; if not, it is “of the devil” (Moroni 7:13f). This key is crucial, and it’s really this simple: Either a “prophet” dedicates his life to help bring you closer to Christ, or he has another self-serving agenda in mind. With a little help from your heart, you can tell which it is.
Listen to the Spirit
The next step is praying to have the Holy Spirit guide you, especially if you’re still unsure. The Spirit will confirm the truth of all things (Moroni 10:5), I testify of it. He is not just some mystical force, but a true member of the Godhead. He is real. He is sent to us by a loving heavenly Father to not only serve as a Comforter, but also to teach us all things (John 14:26). Wouldn’t you think that such a crucial question, like knowing if God speaks today through a living prophet, would be answered by God himself? Who else would you turn to – I mean, if you really wanted to know? How correct was not Paul, the apostle, when he wrote that we can only know about God through the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:11). And the good thing about the Spirit: He will come… as long as we ask.
Test the Prophesies
Once you have gone through these simple, yet faith-demanding steps, there is still a last one. After observing, pondering, praying, and finally receiving a witness from the Spirit, then follow the evidences, or signs, if you will. But in reality, the signs will only verify to your mind what your heart already knows is true, thus securing you faith a second time. So what are the signs then? God tells Moses: “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken” (Deut 18:22). It’s a simple enough test. It actually allows the process of elimination to cast its verdict a second time, seeing that so many individuals and churches have mistakenly prophesied this or that, as our local visitor did. (Note: There was never any cancer growth, only the growth of the congregation.) Testing the prophesies is like coming around full circle:
If we start by using a little common sense, and adding a dose of faith, in the end everything will makes sense.
I cannot tell you what to do, but can invite you: Listen to the words of the prophet. Follow the words. Test them and see for yourself! Let them bless your life, as they have blessed mine. There is nothing to loose… but everything to gain.