Relief Society Lesson 33: The Spiritual Gifts of Healing, Tongues, Prophecy, and Discerning of Spirits
Note to teacher: Make sure that women read inclusively when they read quotes from this chapter. i.e. everytime it says ‘man’ have them read ‘man and/or woman.’ Spiritual gifts are not gendered, so when Joseph Smith uses his ‘man’ language, he’s speaking generally. Also, there will not be enough time to cover all four spiritual gifts that are mentioned in the title. Pick 2 or 3 to focus on. I would personally go in the order they appear in the manual – healing, tongues, prophecy, and then (if time and desire) discerning of spirits.
Engage and Connect: Start off with a question that gets the coversation going immediately. What spiritual gifts do you have? What spiritual gifts would you like to have? Why? Chances are that people will mention some of the four in the lesson title. Write them on the board, and tell them that the lesson specifically mentions these four. Do you have any idea why Joseph Smith chose to focus on these four? Why would they be grouped together? Is there a unifying theme? That’s an open ended question with many possible responses. You might want to have a response ready yourself.
Section 1: The Gift of Healing
Manual says, “What is the sign of the healing of the sick? The laying on of hands is the sign or way marked out by James, and the custom of the ancient Saints as ordered by the Lord, and we cannot obtain the blessing by pursuing any other course except the way marked by the Lord.” p. 382
Put this quote in some context. Clarify to the women that in Joseph Smith’s day, it was VERY common for both women and men to lay hands on to bless and heal. In Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 224-225, it says, “Respecting females administering for the healing of the sick, [Joseph Smith] further remarked, there could be no evil in it, if God gave his sanction by healing; that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on and praying for the sick, than in wetting the face with water; it is no sin for anybody to administer that has faith…” *
While the practice of women laying hands on and healing was common in the early Church, the practice was discontinued in the early twentieth century. These days only male priesthood holders ritually heal by the laying on of hands and annointing with oil. Even so, I think there’s a lot of value in thinking about how this gift of healing can and does apply to women.
- How does the gift of healing still apply to women in the Church today?
- Have you had any experience (either yourself or others) with women who have had a gift of healing? Perhaps someone with a healing and comforting presence or touch? A woman whose prayers for healing have been particularly powerful? Be prepared to tell your own story of a woman with the gift of healing that has affected your life.
You could also take this outside an LDS context and talk about Mother Teresa and her gift of healing. How her willingness to acknowledge the untouchables and give dignity to the most forgettten and despised in society healed the spirits of these people. **
After this discussion of healing, consider closing the section with this thought from the manual, that the righteous as well as the unrighteous will sometimes fail to heal or be healed, so it does no good to attach judgement to those who are not healed. (last paragraph in section).
Section 2: The Gift of Tongues
Throughout this section Joseph Smith cautions that this gift should be employed very carefully, and that for it to be valid, there also has to be an interpretation of tongues available as well. “Speak not in the gift of tongues without understanding it, or without interpretation.” p. 384. Clearly the point of the gift of tongues is to foster communication. If it doesn’t do that, then there’s no point.
Normally we think of the gift of tongues as pertaining to missionary work and the speaking of foreign languages. (p. 382-383). However, let’s try to apply this gift more broadly. If we think of the gift of tongues as God’s help in facilitating communication, I think we can begin to think about how this gift could be a more regular part of our lives.
- How can divinely inspired communication enhance our relationships with our families, friends, and co-workers?
- Have you ever had an experience in which you had to have a difficult conversation, but with prayer and God’s help you found the right words?
- Do you think that this broadened definition – divinely inspired communication – is a valid way to think about the gift of tongues?
Section 3: The Gift of Prophecy
Manual says,”No man [or woman] is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man [or woman]can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he [or she] has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy.” p. 384
Here we have a great definition of ‘a prophet’ – someone who is a minister of Jesus Christ and has a testmony of Jesus Christ. Clearly this applies to men, women, and children. This, of course, is different from “The Prophet” who in an LDS context is the President of the Church.
This is a gift where it might be a little more difficult to get people to contribute their personal stories. (Prophecy can sound a bit daunting.) I would start with a story of your own about a time when you felt you were a voice for God – not as a predictor of the future, but a speaker of God’s words, a person speaking beyond her normal ability. Alternatively, call a few women beforehand and find someone who is willing to tell a personal story about the gift of prophecy in their lives, and give them 2 or 3 minutes to come up in front of the class and speak.
- How has this gift affected your life? Have you known anyone personally who has had this gift so as to be able to speak with wisdom beyond her power? Have you yourself had experience with this?
End the section with the thought that we all can and perhaps ought to be prophets in our own lives. That it’s not just a gift that’s out there, but it’s a call to those that are willing to be prophets in our own particular spheres of influence.
Section 4: Discerning of Spirits
I would skip this section. It’s particularly complicated because the quotes are out of context and he keeps referring to priesthood leaders as the holders of this gift. However, we know that this gift, as all gifts of the spirit, are available to both men and women, but that just doesn’t come out in the manual. JS is clearly responding to a particular situation, probably apostasy, but we just don’t have enough info. If you feel like you need to cover it, see the suggestions at the end of the chapter.
Closing: Consider ending the lesson with this final discussion.
- Are people just born with spiritual gifts? Or can we develop them through will and effort? I can see people bringing up valid points on both sides.
- What would be the best ways to develop spiritual gifts that we feel we’d particularly like to cultivate? Is what we must do to cultivate one gift the same as what we must do for another? Try to get the class to move beyond prayer and scripture reading answers. I would try to lead them to talk about careful observation of the people around them who are blessed with these gifts, how they conduct their lives. Also, reading about people in the world, like Mother Theresa, can be a way to inspire a desire to develop gifts which can serve others around us. Lots of other possible answers.
Ending thought: Paul says, “To one is given the gift of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discerning of spirits.” (1 Cor 12:10). I like to think about why God would give different people different gifts, and what strikes me is that it’s a way to equalize people and make them all important members of the community, of the body of Christ. This might take us back to my first question about the unifying theme that binds these gifts together – in my mind, it’s a fostering of community and unity. By helping, caring, communicating, and speaking/discerning with wisdom, we bind people together in love and service.
* Women of Covenant, published by Deseret Books to honor the sesquecentenial of the Relief Society, has some wonderful and inspiring quotes from the early days of the Church about women’s spiritual gifts. I love Helen Mar Kimball Whitney’s story, who had just given birth and was suffering from a serious infection. Sister Persis Young came to see her. Helen writes, “She had been impressed by the Spirit to come and administer to me, and I would be healed; that she could not sleep, and she had come there in obedience to that Spirit. She had been so long under its influence that she shook as though palsied when she laid her hands upon my head with my mother. She rebuked my weakness, and every disease that had been, or was then, afflicting me, and commanded me to be made whole, pronouncing health and many other blessing upon me…. From that morning I went about work as though nothing had been the matter. Thus did the Lord remember one of His unworthy handmaidens and fulfill the promise that had been given by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost.” p. 67-68.
**Chieko Okazaki talks a lot about Mother Theresa. In Disciples, she gives this quote from Mother Theresa, which highlights Mother Theresa’s unique vision of a healing kindness. “Be kind and merciful. Let no one ever come to you without coming away better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting. In the slums, we are the light of God’s kindness to the poor.” p. 195
If you happen to have access to Carol Lynn Pearson’s Daughters of Light, that is also a great resource for accounts of women exercising spiritual gifts.