One day, while attending a vacation Bible School in my neighborhood, we learned about Old Testament prophets. I was extremely excited to find out God could talk to a prophet and tell him what was true and what we should be doing for God. I had been visiting various churches with family members and friends and even at a very young age, I’d been puzzled by the way they all contradicted each other. Despite these contradictions, they all either claimed to be the true church or they claimed all churches were equally true. Even a child could see they couldn’t all be true. Sometimes the things they disagreed about were very important. I just didn’t think God intended for us to spend our lives confused about important things.
I asked the teacher who the prophet was now and was told there wasn’t one. God didn’t talk to us through prophets anymore. She suggested I could just pray myself if I wanted to tell Him something, but I thought that if that was enough, there would only be one church, because I presumed all those ministers I’d met were praying. I tucked it away in my heart and kept my eyes open for a prophet. There had to be one somewhere.
When I found The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons, I had a head start. I already believed many of their teachings, not just the mainstream Christian beliefs, but also some of the more unique teachings. I was sixteen now, but still searching for the prophet I knew had to be out there somewhere.
Until this point, I had been looking for a prophet in a generic sort of way. The Bible talks about prophets and even says God’s church must be built on a foundation of prophets and apostles. It says God will do nothing without first revealing it through his prophets. But I wasn’t entirely sure how people in the Old Testament had known these men were prophets. The people in Noah’s time had entirely rejected their prophet, with deadly results. Moses’ people accepted him as their prophet but tended to ignore what God told him to say when the teachings weren’t to their personal liking, which, to my mind, suggested they weren’t entirely convinced he was a prophet. I didn’t want to be one of those people who bumped into a prophet and didn’t recognize him for who he was.
Soon before I got invited to attend church with a Mormon, I became aware of a famous women who was called a prophet. Her predictions were published in the newspaper every New Year’s Eve and she got a lot of attention for them. They were interesting predictions, but they were too often on unimportant things, such as celebrity gossip. I didn’t really see God caring to announce through a prophet who was going to win a big award that year or even which movie star would get divorced. I started a list of what I wanted in a prophet—I love making lists. The first thing was that the prophecies had to matter enough for God to announce them. That was pretty much all that was on my list. I wasn’t sure what else went there.
When I began learning about Spencer W. Kimball, the current prophet of the Mormon people, I wondered how I was supposed to know if he was a prophet. Learning to believe in prophets had been easy; recognizing that prophet was not. I knew from reading the Bible that prophets didn’t have to be perfect. Some in the Old Testament had made some big mistakes in their lives. As I learned about President Kimball, I saw that he lived a more Christ-like life than many of the Old Testament prophets had. If behavior belonged on the list, President Kimball passed the test.
I started reading the things he taught. He was especially fond of talking about the need for repentance and the blessings that came from it. He never watered down doctrine or said what was popular. He was firm in his teachings. I felt those things were to be expected in a prophet. Most of the things God had taught in the Bible had been unpopular, but true. I was pretty sure a false prophet would be more inclined to tell people what they wanted to hear and to make the gospel easy. In the Bible, it wasn’t presented as easy.
I began to learn how the Holy Ghost teaches us. I learned that if I lacked wisdom, I could pray and God would tell me what I needed to know. (See James 1:5 in the New Testament.) I began praying for things that couldn’t be answered by actions, such as causing me to remember a forgotten test answer, and praying for new informationI learned to study an issue out spiritually and intellectually, make a choice, and then pray to know if my decision was correct. . In time, I learned to recognize the calm, peaceful feeling that told me the Holy Ghost was there with me, approving the decisions I had made.
In the end, this was how I came to know Spencer W. Kimball was a prophet. I my lists, my studies, and the other methods I used were part of the preparation process, but the only way I could actually know he was a prophet was by asking the only one who knew for certain—God. Anyone else could be wrong. The Bible held the answer to my question when it instructed me to ask God and promised me He would answer. I prayed, he answered, and I knew.
When President Kimball died, I felt I needed to start over again, studying and praying. I did, but what I realized was that if I belonged to the true church, God would make certain it was led by a true prophet. I didn’t need to pray about every individual doctrine once I knew I had found the gospel. Of course, from time to time I would learn of a doctrine I just didn’t feel sure about. Then I was encouraged to pray again to know whether or not it was true. To my surprise, my leaders and teachers told me I must never take their word for it. I must only trust God. That was certainly something I’d not encountered before. Everyone wanted me to take the word of an infallible human in the other religions I’d studied. Knowing I was to find my own answers gave me confidence. In time, a new prophet could be sustained and I could raise my hand to support him even without praying—but I could pray if I wanted to.
I was certain that was how God would want it to be.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.