by Eric Kotter, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormon“), Eric is a student at BYU-Idaho studying communications.
Have you ever had just a strong desire to know something? You may be confused with how to do a certain math problem, or it might be something bigger such as understanding how to find more meaning in your life. This is the same way a young 14 year old boy felt. As a young teenager, a boy by the name of Joseph Smith wondered about religion and salvation. He wanted to know and understand the things that God wanted him to do in order to return back to Him.
In around 1820, Joseph Smith started to get involved with some of the religious excitement that was going on at the time where he was living in Palmyra, New York. Using his own words from Joseph Smith History it says,
During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong (Joseph Smith History 1:8).
Joseph Smith wanted to find truth. He wanted to understand what was right, good, and true. He went to many different religions trying to study things out and figure out what was the right thing to do. During his search, he was reading in the Epistle of James in the King James version of the Bible, and he came across a verse, James 1:5 whi, “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.” Joseph Smith said, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart” (Joseph Smith History 1:12).
There have been many many times in my life when I have lacked wisdom. There was one time in my life that I was feeling overwhelmed with a problem I was facing in my life. I wanted to overcome some challenges in my life, so I prayed for God’s help. One day I went to a fireside (inspirational meeting) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Inadvertently called by friends of other faiths, “The Mormon Church”). The speaker at the fireside gave a very good talk. I really felt like the things that he said applied directly to me in helping me to overcome my concerns. Basically, the speaker talked about self improvement, and how we need to improve ourselves one step at a time so that we don’t get overwhelmed. This experience showed to me that the Lord is very aware of me and my needs. He answered my prayer and continues to answer my prayers. I know that God will answer everyone’s prayers as we seek out the answers. Joseph Smith followed the counsel of James 1:5 and decided to ask God.
On a spring day in April 1820 Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees near his house in Palmyra, New York. He went there and knelt down and began to offer up the desires of his heart. As he did so he began to feel overcome by darkness. The adversary of all righteousness was trying to stop him from seeking the Lord’s help, but Joseph called out to God for deliverance, and these are the words of his experience of what happened next:
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History 1:17).
This is such a marvelous experience. Even though I wasn’t there when Joseph Smith experienced this vision, I know that it happened. There have been many times, as a missionary of Jesus Christ, when I have related this experience to others. As I told Joseph Smith’s experience to others, I have felt the spirit of the Lord testify to me that this experience really happened. I’ve felt a calming assurance that God the Father, and His son Jesus Christ really did appear to Joseph Smith. I’ve felt the Holy Spirit testify to me that God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph for a wise purpose. Joseph was told by Jesus Christ to join none of the churches. The Lord said, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith History 1:19). Joseph was told that he would be used as an instrument in restoring The church of Jesus Christ back to the earth as it was when He was on the the earth. Joseph was to be called as a prophet, just as Moses in the Bible was called, to help establish the Lord’s church back on the earth in its fulness.
It is comforting to me to know that this experience really occurred! Knowing that God hasn’t abandoned us, but on the contrary, is very aware of us, gives me peace. He has called prophets to guide His children since Adam and Eve–it is wonderful that He still does so today.
I’m impressed with how much faith and strength Joseph had since the time he was a child. For example, after getting an infection in his leg which was brought on by typhus fever, Joseph had to under go surgery to fix the bone in his leg that was affected by the infection. The doctors told Joseph they were going to tie him down during the surgery so he wouldn’t thrash around because of the severe pain. But Joseph instead asked that he not be tied down, but asked that his father might hold him in his arms while the surgery took place. When offered brandy or wine to numb the pain, Joseph Smith declined saying, if my father will hold me, I can do what I need to. This show of courage made by Joseph is amazing to me. It also reminds me of God our Heavenly Father, and how they can help us and hold us in times that are difficult. In the New Testament of the Bible it says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philipians 4:13). Joseph Smith showed a strong faith in Christ all throughout his life.
After the marvelous experience in the grove of trees, Joseph Smith waited a few years before receiving further instruction from the Lord. He was in his room one night seeking forgiveness from his sins and follies, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in his room. The angel’s name is Moroni. Moroni told Joseph Smith that the Lord had a work for him to do. He told Joseph about a hill nearby to where he lived that contained gold plates of ancient writings. These ancient writings contain a record of a civilization that lived on the American continent. It contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and gives an account of God’s dealings with them. Joseph Smith was informed that the Lord wanted him to translate this record and publish it as another witness of Jesus Christ comparable to the Bible. Through Joseph’s obedience to the Lord, he was guided and given revelations from God, one step at a time, to establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly misnamed “The Mormon Church”). I have read The Book of Mormon for myself–I have felt it bring peace into my life as I have read it, believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ contained in it, and lived by those teachings.
Joseph Smith exhibited a Christ-like life. He always sought to be a better person and treat those around him with respect. He wasn’t perfect but he always strived to do better. There is an experience that David Whitmer, an early Latter-day Saint church leader, told about Joseph Smith.
David Whitmer recounted: “One morning when [Joseph Smith] was getting ready to continue the translation, something went wrong about the house and he was put out about it. Something that Emma, his wife, had done. Oliver and I went up stairs, and Joseph came up soon after to continue the translation, but he could not do anything. He could not translate a single syllable. He went down stairs, out into the orchard and made supplication to the Lord; was gone about an hour—came back to the house, asked Emma’s forgiveness and then came up stairs where we were and the translation went on all right. He could do nothing save he was humble and faithful.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, pg.116)
This story shows to me that Joseph truly was a servant of the Lord. The work he did wasn’t about himself, it is the Lord’s work. He couldn’t do it on his own, even if he tried. The Lord needed him to be worthy in order to use him as His instrument. I’m grateful that Joseph Smith tried to live a Christ-like life so that the Lord could use him to restore His church on the earth.
We as Latter-day Saints, worship the Savior Jesus Christ, not prophets. Prophets have been around since man was created. The Lord called and authorized prophets such as Adam, Moses, and Abraham to teach His gospel and administer the ordinances of salvation to the whole world so all of us might know the way back to Heavenly Father. I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus Christ spoke to Joseph Smith and called him as a prophet to restore the Savior’s church to the earth. He was just as much of a prophet as Moses was. The sweet feelings of peace and truth have witnessed to my soul that The Church of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fulness. When I hear the modern day prophet speak, President Thomas S. Monson, I know he speaks by the power of revelation. He speaks for Jesus Christ and tells the world what the Savior would tell us if He were here. The prophet gives us the direction and counsel we need for our day. I can feel the Savior’s love for me when the prophet speaks. I know that Jesus Christ lives, and is aware of us, and speaks to us today through living prophets and apostles. I know Joseph Smith spoke the words of Jesus Christ.