Last night I watched a new BYU production, Joan of Arc, streamed live from BYUTV.org. The story itself is stunning in its impact, inspirational in content, and as historically accurate as they could make it – taking the dialogue straight from the extensive trial transcripts that have miraculously survived over 500 years. Click HERE to view their upcoming schedule.
At about age 13, Joan claims to have been visited by an angel announcing her calling by God to lead the crown prince of France out of exile and be crowned in Reims. Then she was to lead the French patriots against the English who already occupied much of the country. How could a mere farmer’s daughter hope to accomplish any of this? But she believed this was from God, and she had repeated visits and messages from her “voices” who tutored her until she was 17 or 18, when she set out secretly to obey. Well might we think she was schizophrenic or otherwise deluded if it weren’t for the fact that she miraculously succeeded beyond even her own wildest dreams. That she was subsequently tried for heresy for merely political reasons and burned at the stake doesn’t change this history at all. God evidently didn’t want France to be English! And her martyrdom guaranteed that we would never forget His divine role.
I think many people would agree that individuals can and do receive answers to prayer, even many miracles in their own lives. But do we also believe that God directs those leaders, who are willing, on how to bless whole groups of people? Do all people who claim divine authority actually have it? And are there limits on the reach of authority of those who are genuinely inspired?
I think we can all agree that some people are either deluded or lying about claiming revelation and divine authority. But I suggest that Joan’s story gives us one guideline for discerning the source of claimed revelation:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (New Testament, KJV, Matthew 7:15-20)
Here are some others:
Moses claimed that God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to free the Israelites from bondage in Eqypt, in spite of his personal weaknesses. Moses doubted, but obeyed. The result was a series of miracles and deliverance of his people into a better land and a newness of life – clearly “good fruit.” See Exodus 3-15.
The Virgin Mary learned she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the promised Messiah, in spite of her lack of social prominence, wealth, and existing betrothal to another man. The result was the best fruit to ever come forth in all of mortal existence: Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.
Teresa D’Avila was Mother Superior and reformer of a Carmelite order of nuns in Spain in the 1500’s. She was a practical administrator as well as famed mystic. She would retreat into prayer for long periods of time, communing with the Spirit of God. The famed sculptor Bernini portrayed her being flooded with divine light and pierced with the love of God. I was privileged to see this amazing work on the wall in the church of Santa Maria Vitória in Rome in 2001 and have never forgotten its impact as lovely soft light filtered down on it from above, just as it evidently did on her in real life! She reports that these experiences informed all areas of her life and very successful leadership.
Peter Marshall was a Scottish immigrant who had received a call to the ministry in his native land after being saved by a divine warning from tumbling over a cliff during a late night walk. He emigrated, attended Seminary, eventually headed a successful Presbyterian church in Washington DC, and finally became the US Senate Chaplain. He was known for his fiery sermons and no compromise on principles. He died young, and his widow Catherine Marshall became a prolific and beloved Christian writer. Reverend Marshall felt the call many times in his work and in his message. His wife’s biography of him, A Man Called Peter, was eventually made into a popular movie – I highly recommend both book and movie (which has a rare audio recording at the end of the real Dr. Marshall speaking). Once again, we have someone called to a specific work for God, and his fruits are far-reaching and good.
Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) reported a visitation by God the Father and Jesus Christ in a grove of trees in Palmyra, New York, after reading James 1:5 (If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him) and praying to know which church to join. The result was a totally new church with over 15,000,000 members today, approximately 100,000 missionaries (most paying their own way), and 150 temples, and growing, in operation worldwide providing saving ordinances and sealing families together eternally. With an emphasis on personal sacrifice, Christ-like love and service, this is an abundant harvest of goodness.
People in other walks of life often claim inspiration and divine guidance in their work and personal lives. One doesn’t have to be a religious leader to receive guidance for groups and individuals over which they have some stewardship (family, patient, client, employee, etc.), just sincere humility and honest intent.
I pray for my children and grandchildren daily and often see the fruits of those prayers. I prayed to be a better teacher, and I still pray for my real estate clients and to know how to properly advise them. I believe we each have an opportunity to become a conduit for God’s love, mercy, wisdom and power in this fallen world.
Just think how much light all of us joined together in faith and charity can bring to it!