Today I taught my class of 12-13 year olds about the Prophet Joseph Smith. We read parts of Elder Anderson’s talk from conference a couple of years ago, and spoke about Joseph Smith’s life and character. Doing so really helped me to appreciate the importance of gaining a witness of the role Joseph Smith played in restoring the true Church of Christ to the earth.
What I really enjoyed about Elder Anderson’s talk is how he focused on the importance of turning to God to get spiritual answers. It seems to me that this is an often ignored component in the process of learning. We focus on book learning, but fail to recognize the importance of having the spirit with us.
Why does the Lord allow the evil speaking to chase after the good? One reason is that opposition against the things of God sends seekers of truth to their knees for answers.
Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration. His spiritual work began with the appearance of the Father and the Son, followed by numerous heavenly visitations. He was the instrument in God’s hands in bringing forth sacred scripture, lost doctrine, and the restoration of the priesthood. The importance of Joseph’s work requires more than intellectual consideration; it requires that we, like Joseph, “ask of God.” Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.
At the end of the day, we have a choice. We can look at the same facts and reach different conclusions. We can focus on all of the flaws in Joseph’s character and life, or we can see the divine hand guiding him as the prophet of the Restoration. If we take the former course, then we will grow more and more cynical. There is always evidence to affirm our worst fears. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to see instances of divine inspiration in the life of the Prophet, then our faith will grow stronger. We will be blessed with a witness of the holy ghost and a sure testimony that he was, in fact, a Prophet of god. That is the type of witness that we need in these days.
Each believer needs a spiritual confirmation of the divine mission and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is true for every generation. Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.
Recently while I was on the East Coast of the United States, a returned missionary spoke to me about a friend who had become disillusioned with information he had received about the Prophet Joseph Smith. They had spoken several times, and the returned missionary seemed to have some doubts himself as a result of the discussions.
Although I hoped he could strengthen his friend, I felt concerned for his own testimony. Brothers and sisters, let me give you a caution: you won’t be of much help to others if your own faith is not securely in place.
A few weeks ago I boarded a plane for South America. The flight attendant directed our attention to a safety video. “It is unlikely,” we were warned, “but if cabin pressure changes, the panels above your seat will open, revealing oxygen masks. If this happens, reach up and pull a mask toward you. Place the mask over your nose and mouth. Slip the elastic strap over your head and adjust the mask if necessary.” Then this caution: “Be sure to adjust your own mask before helping others.”
The negative commentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith will increase as we move toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The half-truths and subtle deceptions will not diminish. There will be family members and friends who will need your help. Now is the time to adjust your own spiritual oxygen mask so that you are prepared to help others who are seeking the truth.
As part of my lesson, I showed my class a video that I felt best illustrates the character of the Prophet. One of my favorite stories of the Prophet is how he was willing to forgive apostates such as W.W. Phelps even though they had done incalculable harm to the Church and to Joseph personally. Joseph Smith’s kind words “Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first, are friends again at last,” were magnanimous and charitable beyond my ability. For me, his actions illustrate his character and motivate me to try to become better.