In the last post, we discussed what sincere seekers of truth LOOK like. Joseph Smith was an example of a sincere seeker of truth. He wanted truth more than he wanted to be right or fit in with his family or community. In this post, we will walk through what it LOOKS like to put faith into action. We can desire truth, but what are we willing to DO to find it?
Joseph Smith had been brought up in a Christian home and taught to pray and search the Bible. He was doing those things, but in this quest for truth, he determined more was needed. So he retired to the woods to pray out loud for the first time in his life.
Am I willing to change up my routine, to do something MORE or DIFFERENT to find truth?
Am I willing to sacrifice something (pride, popularity, a bad habit) to gain heavenly truth?
It is the spring of 1820. Joseph makes sure he is alone before he begins to offer up the “desires of my heart to God.” (JS History vs 15) But he is seized upon by “some power which entirely overcame me…” He cannot speak. Thick darkness gathers around him. He feels doomed to destruction. This shows that Satan, though he has no body, has power on earth to hurt us.
Joseph is ready to sink into despair and “abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being.” (16) But he uses all his powers to call upon God for deliverance.
Do I use all my power to call upon God for deliverance from the things that bind me in life (gossip, superior attitude, fear, anger)?
Joseph sees a “pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.”(16) God, the Father, and Jesus Christ deliver him from Satan’s grasp, proving that Satan is nothing next to Them.
“The increasing darkness that accompanies tribulation makes the light of Jesus Christ shine ever brighter.”Russell M. Nelson, Hear Him, Liahona, May 2020
When the light rests upon him, Joseph sees “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 saying, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! (17)
Our prophet today has said: “The adversary is clever. For millennia he has been making good look evil and evil look good. His messages tend to be loud, bold, and boastful. However, messages from our Heavenly Father are strikingly different. He communicates simply, quietly, and with such stunning plainness that we cannot misunderstand Him. (ibid, Nelson)
Joseph Smith didn’t not misunderstand God.
Pres. Nelson went on to say about Joseph’s experience:
Our Father knows that when we are surrounded by uncertainty and fear, what will help us the very most is to hear His Son. Because when we seek to hear—truly hear—His Son, we will be guided to know what to do in any circumstance.”ibid, Nelson
Think of that! We can be guided to know what to do in ANY circumstance if we ask, listen, and hear God’s voice. This one scene alone proves that God, the Father, and Jesus Christ are two separate Beings, not some cosmic entity of Oneness without shape or form that we have nothing in common with. We were made in Their image. They have bodies. They spoke to Joseph, and The Father called him by name, proving that God knows each one of us as well. Our living prophet today has said:
If Joseph Smith’s transcendent experience in the Sacred Grove teaches us anything, it is that the heavens are open and that God speaks to His children.”Russell M. Nelson, Revelation for the Church-Revelation for Our Lives, Liahona, May 2018
The boy Joseph Smith asks God which of all the religions is right. He desires truth.
A desire for truth means we are willing to be wrong. We are willing to have our worldview shattered, if need be, to receive Truth.
If we only want confirmation of what we already believe to be “true,” we will not get further light from God. The internet will provide plenty of confirmation for whatever you want to believe. That does not mean it’s Truth. Just saying something is true does not make it so.
Joseph Smith didn’t turn to God to argue the merits of Methodism (which he leaned toward). He asked which of all the churches was true, showing that he thought he might be wrong in his preference and that was okay. He wanted truth more than confirmation of what he was comfortable with.
Jesus Christ tells young Joseph that he “must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight” because they gave Him lip service only. “…their hearts are far from me…”(19)
What is the state of my heart? Have I given my heart to God, or do I still hold back a part?
What will your seeking open for you? What wisdom do you lack? What do you feel an urgent need to know or understand? Follow the example of the Prophet Joseph. Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father. Turn to Him for answers and for comfort. Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen!”ibid, Nelson
Joseph Smith was left with no strength of body after his spiritual vision. (20) When he does get home, he leans against the fireplace. His mother asks what the matter was and he replies: “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” He then says: “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.”
Talk about an understatement. 😊
Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and regular time committed to temple and family history work. . . I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek.”ibid, Nelson
Joseph Smith states in his history that the adversary “was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?” (20)
Imagine what you would do if God the Father and Jesus Christ had come to you and answered your question—which church is true? They tell you none of them is true. What would you do? Would you keep that knowledge to yourself?
Joseph shares his vision with a Methodist preacher he had acquaintance with, who had probably discussed things a lot with him before this, since Joseph had admitted that he had leanings toward the Methodist faith.
I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil…”Joseph Smith History vs 21
We must be very careful who we share revelatory experiences with. Even members of our own faith, even family, will shut us down and treat our experience with disdain or contempt at times. Seek the Spirit’s confirmation to know whether you should share something sacred to you or not. It is a heartbreaking experience to have your sacred revelation turned against you.
Joseph’s persecution increases though he “was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world; yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.” (22)
Can you imagine any 14-year-old boy being taken seriously today, enough that adult leaders of faith would torment him and turn the public against him? To me, this is evidence of Satan’s influence on others to thwart Joseph Smith from doing God’s work.
I find it sad and interesting to note that it was religious leaders of the day who were the vilest and cruelest to Joseph Smith. They riled up mobs against him. They sought to hurt him. They sought to ruin his reputation and livelihood.
But I see parallels today on social media. You would think Christian people would use civil speech in their posts and comments, never resort to name-calling or bullying. But I have seen many examples (even among those of my own faith) of good people writing the most repugnant, hypocritical posts or comments I have seen to date. I don’t expect an atheist to follow Christ’s teachings. I do expect Christians to try, and if they make a mistake, to apologize and be more humble afterward. I see too many being prideful, justifying their hateful, mean words as “patriotic.” This is, and always will be, wrong. Christ would never use belittling, crude speech to put anyone else down. We should not either, even if leaders we follow use such tactics.
If we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, we won’t be perfect. We’ll will make mistakes. That’s why He died, to atone for our sins. But, we cannot justify sin. Christ cannot atone for something we will not admit to.
Please, please, please, do not fall into the behavior that Joseph experienced by the pious, self-righteous of his day… “a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling.” (23) I have seen too many Church members revile others of a different political leaning this year, and it always makes me uncomfortable. It never brings the Spirit.
Joseph Smith admitted to feeling like the apostle Paul, standing before King Agrippa, when he related a vision he saw, but few believed him.
Some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.
“So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”Joseph Smith History vs 24-25
We live in a confusing world of words and opinions, just as Joseph did in the 1800’s. Here is the counsel our living prophet has given us today.
If we are to have any hope of sifting through the myriad of voices and the philosophies of men that attack truth, we must learn to receive revelation. . . . Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”Russell M. Nelson, Revelation for the Church-Revelation for Our Lives, Liahona, May 2018
Joseph Smith wraps up this section of his history by saying that he “had found the testimony of James to be true—that a man who lacked wisdom might ask of God, and obtain, and not be upbraided.” (26)
We can know the same thing. Our prophet has given us clear counsel on HOW to do this last year in April General Conference. I will end with his words.
As we seek to be disciples of Jesus Christ, our efforts to HEAR HIM need to be ever more intentional. It takes conscious and consistent effort to fill our daily lives with His words, His teachings, His truths.”Russell M. Nelson, Hear Him, Liahona, May 2020
May we all seek the Spirit to help us follow his counsel.
Learn more about how to come unto Christ