As we pack up our baskets and plastic eggs and put them away, the celebrations of Easter are still fresh in our memories. But life has a funny way of moving on, and sometimes we forget the blessings and inspiration we feel as we celebrate the Savior. This year, however, the message that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is sharing is one that echoes through the ages: Hear Him! The statement is simple but profound, and one that will be celebrated throughout the year. The year 2020 marks the bicentennial of the First Vision of the prophet Joseph Smith, who as a young boy prayed to know which church he should join. The answer that he received was unexpected. The heavens opened, and two heavenly personages appeared to the boy. God the Father, pointing to the other, said,
This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him! (Joseph Smith History—1:17).
In the quiet grove of trees, young Joseph had no trouble hearing the message Jesus Christ had for him. Joseph related his experience to others. Some believed him, others didn’t. And those who didn’t persecuted and ridiculed him. But he would not recant. As Joseph Smith said,
I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it (Joseph Smith—History 1:25).
This was the beginning of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the great messages of this Restoration is that we, too, can hear Him. God will and does speak to us today, if we will listen. We can learn a lot from the simple, humble prayer of a young 14-year-old boy. Lessons that will help us to hear Him in the loud chaos of today. Let me explain.
A Young Boy’s Prayer
Before I can go forward, I need to go back. Way back, to the days when the Savior walked the earth. Jesus Christ established His Church during His mortal ministry, with apostles and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. Christ used the power and authority of the priesthood in organizing His church, and He ordained men, including His Twelve Apostles, giving them the power and authority to continue His work. But, as President Russell M. Nelson explained,
After Christ and His Apostles passed away, men changed the ordinances and doctrine. The original Church and the priesthood were lost.
Throughout the next nearly two millennia, followers of Jesus Christ worshipped Him to the best of their ability but did not have the fulness of His gospel. There was much confusion over His doctrines. The ancient Apostles prophesied of this Apostasy (which just means the time period in which the fulness of the gospel wasn’t on the earth) but also promised that the gospel would be restored. Elder Robert D. Hales taught,
Over the centuries, the world prepared for that restoration. The Bible was translated and published. A new land was discovered. The spirit of reformation swept through the Christian world, and a nation was founded on the principles of freedom.
Joseph Smith was born in that nation and, at the age of 14, found himself caught in a ‘tumult of religious opinions.’
During the religious excitement of the day, there were many churches teaching different doctrines. Joseph wondered which church was right? And how would he know? Then he read one day in James 1:5,
If any of ye lack wisdom, let him as of God.
He needed wisdom, so he decided to go to a grove of trees and pray, asking God which church he should join.
God’s Answer—The First Vision
As young Joseph knelt in the peaceful, quiet grove of trees, he began to pray. Joseph said,
I … began to offer up the desire of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy … and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair … just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
… 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 1:15-17)
Heavenly Father answered Joseph’s humble prayer. Elder Hales taught,
God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, conversed with Joseph. They answered his question. They taught him that the true Church of Christ had been lost from the earth. Joseph learned that these members of the Godhead were separate and distinct beings, They knew him by name, and They were willing to answer his prayers. The heavens were opened, the night of apostasy was over, and the light of the gospel began to shine forth.
Lessons from the First Vision
The First Vision taught us that God knows each of us, by name. That He loves us. That He is real and that He does still speak today. Elder L. Tom Perry explained,
This vision revealed unto us that God our Father and Jesus Christ, His Beloved Son, are two separate personages. Each has a body of flesh and bones that is glorified and perfected, thus clearing up the misconception that had been in existence for many centuries concerning the concept of God.
But we also learned of the reality of Satan. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught,
When we rehearse the grandeur of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, we sometimes gloss over the menacing confrontation that came just prior to it, a confrontation intended to destroy the boy if possible but in any case block the revelation that was to come. We don’t talk about the adversary any more than we have to, … but the experience of young Joseph reminds us what every [person] needs to remember.
Number one, Satan, or Lucifer, or the father of lies—call him what you will—is real, the very personification of evil. His motives are in every case malicious, and he convulses at the appearing of redeeming light, at the very thought of it. Number two, he is eternally opposed to the love of God, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and the work of peace and salvation. He will fight against these whenever and wherever he can. He knows he will be defeated and cast out in the end, but he is determined to take down with him as many as he possibly can.
So while we can—and need to—reach out to God and seek answers, we also must remember that Satan will try to thwart us in this process. And we can’t let him.
The Words of Christ
The goal for each of us is to receive our own personal revelation. Elder Hales explained,
Personal revelation is the way we know for ourselves the most important truths of our existence: the living reality of God, our eternal Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ; the truthfulness of the restored gospel; and God’s purpose and direction for us.
Before we can learn to hear Him, we need to know where to find the Savior so we can learn of Him. Young Joseph didn’t just go to a grove of trees to pray, first he studied the words of the Bible. He listened to different preachers teach. He pondered the words they were saying. Searching, pondering, praying. Those are the first steps to gaining personal revelation. Elder Hales taught,
The scriptures are the word of God given to us for our salvation. The scriptures are essential in receiving a testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel.
In addition to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, Latter-day Saints have the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price in their scriptural canon as well as the words of modern prophets. Elder Quentin L. Cook said,
… All the standard works of the Church contain the mind and will of the Lord for us in this last dispensation.
In addition to these great foundational scriptures, we are blessed with continuing revelation to living prophets. Prophets are ‘commissioned agents of the Lord, authorized to speak for Him.’
Some revelations are of monumental importance, and others enhance our understanding of essential divine truths and provide guidance for our day.
As we study and ponder the words of Christ through His apostles, both ancient and modern, we prepare to receive our own personal revelation.
Obedience to the Commandments
The scriptures teach us that “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3). As we learn of Him in our quest to hear Him, we must be obedient to His commandments if we want to receive personal revelation. President Henry B. Eyring taught,
It will take unshakable faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to choose the way to eternal life. It is by using that faith we can know the will of God. It is by acting on that faith we build the strength to do the will of God. And it is by exercising that faith in Jesus Christ that we can resist temptation and gain forgiveness through the Atonement.
As President Dallin H. Oaks, said,
Knowledge encourages obedience, and obedience enhances knowledge.
Obedience to God’s commandments helps us to prepare to hear Him. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained,
Obedience is the lifeblood of faith. It is by obedience that we gather light into our souls.
President Joseph F. Smith said,
Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Light, who is no respecter of persons, and in whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning. To please him we must not only worship him with thanksgiving and praise but render willing obedience to his commandments. By so doing, he is bound to bestow his blessings; for it is on this principle (obedience to law) that all blessings are predicated (Improvement Era, Dec. 1917, p. 104).
Hearing Him—and Learning to Listen
One of the greatest messages of Joseph Smith’s First Vision is that God does hear and answer our prayers. His example of studying, pondering, praying and obedience to God’s commandments is the pattern that we also must follow if we are to receive personal revelation. But we also have to learn to listen. President Eyring said,
There may be many reasons God could speak so powerfully to young Joseph, but a primary reason was that his heart was ready.
Joseph … wanted forgiveness of his sins and weaknesses, which he knew could only come through Jesus Christ. And he was desperate to know which of the contending churches was right and which he should join.
Joseph had been prepared with faith that Jesus is the Christ, his Savior. With that faith and a humble heart, he was ready. … He was prepared, as we can be, to claim the promise of James.
As we seek to hear God’s voice, we must learn to discern it. President Nelson taught,
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 communicated simply, quietly, and with such stunning plainness that we cannot misunderstand Him.
Hearing Him is more than just listening. President Nelson continued,
The very first word in the Doctrine and Covenants is hearken. It means to ‘listen with the intent to obey.’ To hearken means to ‘hear Him’—to hear what the Savior says and then to heed His counsel. In those two words—’Hear Him’—God gives us the pattern for success, happiness, and joy in this life. We are to hear the words of the Lord, hearken to them, and heed what He has told us!
After we have heard Him and heeded His words, we feel the power of His love. But then we have to return to reality. And sometimes that reality includes quarantines and schooling at home and economic worries. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said,
The fact of the matter is that none of us want tomorrow, or the day after that, to destroy the wonderful feelings we have had…. We want to hold fast to the spiritual impressions we have had and the inspired teachings we have heard. But it is inevitable that after heavenly moments in our lives, we, of necessity, return to earth, so to speak, where sometimes less-than-ideal circumstances again face us.
But the Lord has not forgotten us. Elder Neil L. Andersen taught,
Along with the peaceful direction we receive from the Holy Ghost, from time to time, God powerfully and very personally assures each of us that He knows us and loves us and that He is blessing us specifically and openly. Then, in our moments of difficulty, the Savior brings these experiences back into our mind.
In the loud, chaotic and coronavirus-filled world that we live in, we must stop and listen to the voice of the Savior. As President Nelson said,
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.