Week 2 is scheduled for study Jan. 4-10, 2021. What a wonderful experience this week’s lessons are designed to give us. Put on your thinking cap and be prepared to ponder the love of God for His children this week. It is time to receive your own revelation.

(Editor’s Note) My apologies for mislabeling the name of this lesson. It is not Doctrine and Covenants section two, but week 2 of the lessons. The proper title should have been, as displayed in the graphic, I Saw a Pillar of Light.

Day 1

Joseph Smith–History 1:1-26 – Joseph Smith is the Prophet of the Restoration.

As you read Joseph Smith–History 1:1-26, what messages do you find for your life? What is of most value to you and your family?

The manual encourages us to look for evidences of the Lord’s preparation of Joseph Smith for his first encounter with vocal prayer in the grove. Well, it doesn’t say that exactly, but that is where I am taking it. Since the Lord’s preparation of Joseph’s mind for his first vocal prayer is of great importance, let’s look at verse eight of the Joseph Smith history. Read this first then I will go back over it with a fine-tooth comb to see what is actually happening in this verse.

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.

I love the concept of likening the scriptures unto ourselves. Let’s compare what was happening to Joseph in this verse to experiences each of us have probably had in the past.

Joseph lived in a time of great social excitement about religion. There were tent meetings, revivals, and fervor about getting everyone converted to a church. Socially, it was all the rage, and the talk of the town. Everyone was swept up in the excitement. Joseph was at a young and tender age, and was just beginning to comprehend and be aware of the workings of the world. Seeing this kind of confusion among his neighbors, and even the divisions and discussions in his own family, was troubling to him. He was naturally drawn to the truth, and wanted to make his own decision only after he felt comfortable that what he chose was right. This was part of his natural character. We see evidences of his desire to seek for truth in almost every aspect of his life for the rest of his days.

As time progressed, Joseph came to favor the Methodists, though four of his family had already joined a different church. But even though he leaned toward the Methodists, the confusion and strife he saw all around him still left him unsettled and troubled. He recognized that he was not able to solve this problem on his own. It was simply beyond his own capabilities.

This brings us to verses 11-12.

11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of Jamesfirst chapter and fifth verse, which reads: 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.

12 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. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

It is important to note here that Joseph Smith wasn’t just casually struck with an idea one day that caused him to go out and pray. This prayer he eventually offered was something that built up in urgency and was born of sincerity over a period of time, searching, and lots of pondering, and consideration. This prayer he offered was a pure reflection of what was going on in his soul at that time. There were no doubts about God’s willingness to answer his prayer. The Spirit was working with him to lead him to this prayer, knowing what would happen when he approached the Lord with that kind of purity of thought and intent.

Did you notice that this whole process took months to work itself out? Joseph was left to himself to ponder, seek for answers, try different approaches, look for examples from others for clues to his dilemma, and finally was lead to the conclusion that only God could give him the answers he sought. When he ran across the verse in James, the Spirit confirmed to him that what he read was indeed the answer he had been looking for. Here was a way for him to find out which church he should join, and which church was right, and was God’s church. The notion that they were all wrong together never even occurred to him at that point. At least that thought seemed almost inconceivable, since he was brought up in a basically Protestant home, and had been taught to have an abiding belief in the truth contained in the Bible. Hope was born in his heart, and faith was exercised when he went out and put that hope to the test.

How often have you had such an experience? You were troubled by a question that just wouldn’t be solved. It wouldn’t go away, and kept nagging at you in the back of your mind? No matter what you did, you couldn’t find peace in your soul as you searched for an answer. But then one day, after many experiences that lead you up to a certain point of mental or spiritual preparation, you heard something, or read something, or had a thought occur to you that had a profound impact on your soul? At long last you were ready to receive the answer you sought. You may have finally been prepared to ask the right question in your prayers. You may have gone to the temple and received your answer there or shortly thereafter. Or perhaps you may have had your heart changed by your experience, and peace settled on your soul. There are hundreds of ways in which the answer that changed your life could have come to you.

The important thing here is to recognize that the Lord prepares us. Many times we don’t see that preparation unless we look back and acknowledge the Lord’s hand in leading us to the moment of truth where we experienced what we needed to in order to come to our current knowledge. The process is both common and miraculous at the same time. What happened to Joseph Smith in that grove of trees has been repeated literally millions of times in the lives of all those who come to the knowledge of the gospel truths as received by Joseph Smith all those years ago. This is how God teaches us and leads us in our spiritual progression. We may not have heavenly visitors come to us as Joseph did, but the impact of the Spirit in our lives changes us just the same.

Day 2

Joseph Smith–History 1:5-20 – If I ask in faith, God will answer.

As you read Joseph Smith–History 1:1-26, what messages do you find for your life? What is of most value to you and your family?

Remember what you studied in yesterday’s lesson. Joseph was prepared over time, and had great preparation for the moment of truth he finally experienced. When we go to the Lord in prayer, we need to be just as prepared. We may go to the Lord in prayer often, but not receive the answers we hope for. When this happens we may not be finished in our preparations or the changes we need to experience in order to be ready for the answer we seek. So if an answer doesn’t come immediately, don’t lose hope, but persevere in your seeking. Remember that God does not forget our questions when He doesn’t answer them the first time or the tenth. He needs us to be completely ready for the answer before it is wise for Him to give it. We may have to change a number of things in our own lives before His wisdom declares us prepared for our answer.

In yesterday’s lesson I made this comment about Joseph Smith – “Hope was born in his heart, and faith was exercised when he went out and put that hope to the test.” As I have said before in another article, hope is the fuel, and faith is the fire – the action that causes the changes we need in our lives.

When we decide we need to go and seek answers from the Lord, we need to remember that where there is no hope there cannot be any faith. From personal experience I know that sometimes I have asked God questions without much hope of an answer. It reminds me of Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon. Nephi had confidence that when he asked God, He would answer him. When Nephi asked Laman and Lemuel if they had asked of God, their response was that “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” They had no faith they could receive answers, so they didn’t even try. Why? Because they had no hope that it was possible for God to talk to them.

Have you ever had one of those Laman and Lemuel situations where you simply couldn’t bring yourself to try to ask for an answer, because you had no confidence that if you did an answer would actually come? Or have you held off asking because you were afraid that if you did you wouldn’t like the answer that might come? Hope and faith play a huge role in our getting answers to our prayers. But much of hope comes from the sincerity and purity of our heart in what we seek. If we have unclean motives, it will be difficult, if not impossible for us to generate the hope required for us to exercise the faith necessary to get an answer.

We need to pray regularly and sincerely. We also need to remember that our answers will not always come immediately. Many of those answers will require growth on our part before we are prepared to receive the answer the Lord has for us. This may take a readjustment in our thinking, or a change of heart, or even a change in current circumstances before we are ready. Pray anyway, for the Lord is not finished with you. And when He knows the time is right you will receive your answer, so don’t give up seeking, knocking, and praying.

Day 3

Joseph Smith–History 1:15-20 – Why are there various accounts of the First Vision?

As you read Joseph Smith–History 1:1-26, what messages do you find for your life? What is of most value to you and your family?

I find it interesting that no one questions the Four Gospels in the New Testament the way they question Joseph Smith’s accounts of his vision. But then we only have one account from each person in the New Testament, while we have multiple tellings of the First Vision from Joseph Smith.

As you consider the differences between the narratives in these accounts, consider the nature of retelling stories in your own life. Do you ever tell the same story in exactly the same way, with the same words when you tell the story to a completely different audience who may or may not have any background with the story you are telling them? Don’t we all tell the same basic story, but with variations of details to suit the audience we are addressing? That is normal.

The important thing to remember when reading or hearing the various accounts of the First Vision is to stay focused on the truthfulness of the story, not the variations in the details of the story. A change in a detail doesn’t negate the events of the overall story. Only those who have lost their faith in the truthfulness of the Restoration itself have their faith shaken by a few changes in the telling of the Restoration story. As President Uchtdorf said in General Conference, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” If you follow this link it will take you to multiple pages about the different versions of the First Vision. They are all on the church’s website.

Day 4

Joseph Smith–History 1:15-20 – The First Vision began the Restoration of Jesus Christ’s gospel.

As you read Joseph Smith–History 1:1-26, what messages do you find for your life? What is of most value to you and your family?

I would like to relate a story to you to make a point. At Christmas time in 2020 my wife and I were trying to take some of our grandchildren to a live, drive-by nativity. The line was so long we eventually gave up and went home. But while we were in the car we sought for ways to keep the children entertained. My wife suggested I tell the story of the nativity to the kids. When I finished telling the story one of the grandchildren said, “Is that the end of the story?” That thought struck me, and I told him, “No, that was only the beginning.”

Too often we think of the Restoration as a one-time event that happened in the mid 1800’s. We instinctively feel that because it happened so many years ago that it is over with – done. But, like the story of the nativity, it is only the beginning point of the unfolding of the gospel of Christ in the latter days. As God’s covenant people mature, and the wickedness of the world deepens, the continuing revelation that guides the church will steer us closer and closer to the kind of church that will be prepared to receive her king when he returns the second time.

The Restoration happened once, but that restoration wasn’t a single event. It was, instead, the first of a continual chain of events that will take hundreds of years to complete. The Restoration is an ongoing process of producing a Zion people, a people prepared to live and fit comfortably in the coming millennial society the Lord needs to have in place for his reign to be prosperous. So rejoice in the changes that must take place in the church as we prepare ourselves, and the organization of God’s kingdom for Christ’s second coming. It is something to be happy about, not a matter of concern.

Day 5

Joseph Smith–History 1:21-26 – I can remain true to what I know, even if others reject me.

As you read Joseph Smith–History 1:1-26, what messages do you find for your life? What is of most value to you and your family?

When we liken the scriptures or the history of something to our own lives, we can learn important lessons from what happened to those who lived before us. Wise people learn from the mistakes, trials, and successes of others, which includes those who lived before them.

Joseph Smith knew what he knew. It didn’t matter to him, though it saddened him, that others rejected his story. He knew that God had appeared to him, and he knew that God was aware of what He had done for Joseph. Joseph feared God, not men, so he wouldn’t deny or change his story. He lived true to the witnesses he had received. This is important to each of us. Just because our witness didn’t include a visitation from God, can we really say that the witness we received from the Spirit was somehow subpar or substandard? Is the truth of what we came to comprehend and know that day any less true because our former Pastor or Priest doesn’t like our new-found knowledge?

The important lesson (for me at least) in the story of Joseph Smith, is that living the truth the Lord gives us isn’t always comfortable or easy. Sometimes we will be ridiculed, shunned, made fun of, or hated for it. Where we place our allegiance makes all the difference. The day will come when many in the church will fall away for one reason or another. History tells us that those who fall away from the church often can’t leave the church alone, but come to hate those who are still part of the church. They can be the most persistent persecutors of those remaining in the church. If we are more concerned about the opinions and feelings of our old friends than we are about honoring and sustaining our covenants with God, it won’t end well for us. Like I said, being a covenant keeper can sometimes be a glorious thing socially, but it can also be a very trying and difficult thing. We must prepare ourselves for either eventuality. And the further into the last days we go, the less likely being a covenant keeper will become a socially great thing to be. But those who do keep their covenants, no matter what goes on around them, will be the ones who receive the greatest blessings from the Lord for their faithfulness to the knowledge they have been given, and they will be given more.

FHE/Personal Study

Joseph Smith–History 1:17 – Knowledge of God

Perhaps it is only me. Perhaps it is most people, but I often feel like there is a great gulf between the omnipotence and power of God – the grandeur of the Man – and myself. This separation makes it difficult to feel intimately and emotionally connected to Him. When I think of Christ as being the creator of the universe, and all that is included in that process, I can’t wrap my head around how he, as great and glorious as he must be, how he could be interested in me. And that makes it difficult to me to conceive that he could, let alone would, be interested in me in any kind of personal, close-kindred kind of way. Yet the truth is, he is.

When Joseph Smith offered his prayer and God and Christ came to him, what was the first thing Joseph noted in his telling of the story? It was that God called him by name. That bit of intimacy is profound. God was not just appearing to command one of His creations to do something. He didn’t come to bark orders or just to set things straight. By calling Joseph by name God was letting Joseph know that He knew him. He knew his name, his heart, his faith, his purity, his sincerity. God intimately knew Joseph in a way even Joseph didn’t know himself. God would not have appeared to Joseph if He didn’t know what Joseph would do with that visitation. God knew Joseph so well that before Joseph was even born he had been appointed to be the Prophet of the Restoration. God knew Joseph would be faithful, would keep His commandments, and would exercise his gifts wisely. God knew Joseph so well that prophets in ancient times, like Joseph of Egypt, prophesied of Joseph Smith, the greatest prophet to ever live.

What this one simple statement by God to Joseph Smith tells me is that He knows His children better than His children know themselves. He is concerned about us in ways we cannot or find it difficult to comprehend. He and Christ truly know us in the most intimate of terms. They understand our fears, our capabilities, our desires, our faith, our doubts. They know what we need and how to give it to us. Yes, they are responsible for the creation of all that exists around us. They are the most powerful beings in our universe. But God is also our Father, our friend, and one who loves us as much as love can enable anyone to love another. These men are interested in us in very kind and gentle ways. So much so that our individual progression and exaltation is God’s own stated purpose for all He does, to bring about the exaltation and eternal life of man. And by man He means each and every one of us, individually.

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I Saw a Pillar of Light

Week 2