I’m into my second week of teaching Seminary and I feel like I was dropped into the deep end. Swimming in waves and waves of resources, tools and historical facts, figures, locations and stories… I worried: how on earth are we going to cover so much in so little time? And at 6am! What could my class of high school boys really take in?
My aunt, Tricia, answered my question. A veteran seminary teacher she simply said, “you can’t!”
“Before the students have left the car park they will have forgotten what you taught them. That is normal. What they will remember is how they felt. That will stay with them, as a suit of armour, throughout the day.”
Right then and there I decided that the kind of teacher I wanted to be in seminary was a teacher who helped my kids feel, and make their own decisions. I wasn’t going to worry about collecting all the right answers and remembering all the dates and verses. I was going to ask the spirit to help us all find one thing every lesson that the kids needed.
During the first week, it was the lesson that Boy-Joseph had a unique attitude that testified to us that he was pre-ordained for this earthly mission. Second to the Saviour’s mortal mission, perhaps his was the most important of Heavenly Father’s plan of Happiness. We’d read that old testament prophets had seen him, and knew his name. We’d read that Book of Mormon prophets depended on him to share their testimonies of the Saviour. We’d even learned that Joseph Smith’s own ancestors had felt spiritually prompted that their posterity would do important work for the Lords. But my testimony was strengthened as I picked out a few choice details of his upbringing that confirmed to me that he was no accident. That he was a choice son of God. And that the Lord loved brother Joseph.
Joseph read his scriptures. How simple this act is. It’s a little investment. Most of us read without fully comprehending archaic language and racing toward the good stuff: the verses worth cross-stitching on pillows or graphically re-imagining into an instagrammable quote. But simple as it was, under the direction and example of righteous parents, Joseph read his scriptures. Exactly how often and how sincerely he read, we don’t know… only enough to say that with little education, not very much of it stuck; and for the rest of his life Joseph depended on the insight and scriptural understanding of women like Lucy, his mother, and Emma, his wife.
But here is this boy who, when faced with a little question that grew stronger and more prevalent, he knew that turning to his scriptures would prove fruitful.
Joseph didn’t just read, shut the good book and amble along independently. He was responsible for what he learned. I’ve often wondered if this was the hardest the Holy Ghost had worked for anything throughout all time. How long must he have gently prompted Joseph to question what he was learning in Sabbath school. To question what he was hearing. To prompt him to search for himself. To keep himself clean. To prepare him gently for what was to come…
My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant,,, In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: ‘What is to be done?’
… I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chaptere 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.
So profound a promise was this that Joseph carefully planned to execute the instruction he’d received- and surely the Holy Ghost had a huge part to play in that.
Joseph prayed… out loud. This was important for a couple of reasons. First: praying out loud was something reserved for religiously educated men to do. Praying out loud was important, etched with pomp and circumstance. What right had this fourteen year old to address the omnipotent God aloud? Perhaps for this reason, Joseph stole away in private. But regardless: Joseph was bold and unapologetic. He had likened the scriptures to himself and taken very literally the invitation in the bible to come unto God. His audacity angered the grown-ups in his town. But it was his boldness and riskiness that opened the last dispensation!
Secondly to this point: praying aloud gave Satan reason to tremble with anger. Able to hear the deepest desires of Joseph’s heart: able to see his humility and fearlessness, Satan gathered all his might to combat something significant that he had not necessarily anticipated.
… I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires 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.
(See how powerful our voices and the words we use can be?
Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction
This scene is familiar. Countless examples of head-to-heads with the adversary are recorded between prophets of old in the bible and in the Book of Mormon. What’s new to us, is this account of a boy of fourteen then choosing to exert all his power to counter the adversary. This description is something rarely so described in scripture. Joseph actively chose to fight back. Physically, mentally, he was unreserved and gave it his all. Without fully knowing the nature of the battle, he was fully invested on the side of a yet-unknown “good”.
Then, Joseph freely does something so many of us struggle and actually combat. He asks God for help. Now if there’s anything I know about God, it’s that the way to his heart is by humility and faith beyond worldly reason. In that moment, I imagine God was well-pleased with Joseph’s eternal offering. I imagine Him waiting in those moments, considering His plan for us: His plan to afford all of us immortality and eternal life. In this moment I believe Joseph did the natural man credit to God. This moment should offer us more hope in our state as natural, fallen men and women. Joseph exhibited godly power, and we can too.
At the close of this experience, Joseph is enlightened. I think he must have realised mankind’s capacity to thwart the plight of Satan. In awe, my seminary class read Joseph’s simple observation:
It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove an annoyer of his kingdom.
I was destined to prove an annoyer of Satan’s Kingdom. How much that impressed me! Could I say the same? We often consider our mortal quest and hope to be a credit to God’s kingdom and plan… but do we ever consider it this way around? Do I ever wake up in the morning and think, “Boy, I really hope I’m a thorn in Satan’s side today!” For Joseph, the war in heaven was still about him: and in fact, the realness of these being the most critical, most difficult days of “fight” was a reality. How will you and I thwart his mission tomorrow?
The fall-out from Joseph’s experience was immense, invasive, life-threatening. He had seen, and Knew that God the father and His son Jesus Christ were real. But he had experienced, right through to the bones, that Satan was real too. He had earned himself the top spot on the adversary’s “hit-list”, and he and his family were persecuted for the experiences he shared with others.
Remember, he was fourteen years old.
In the face of such opposition, Joseph remained a credit to his Father in Heaven. His behaviour must have confirmed to God that He was a good call. He was a dependable servant.
As a fourteen year old girl myself, my curiosity and testimony of this man Joseph began with this account. I read it over and over, awed by the simplicity of Joseph’s reasoning; the bravery of his choice and the finality of his conviction.
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 cision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me and speaking all manner of evil against me for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth?
I love the simplicity and the youth of that- why persecute me for telling the truth? I can empathise with the youthful sense of injustice he must have felt…
I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that can withstand God
This is important: his reason to continue to tell his story was not laced in youthful stubbornness or the need for attention. Rather it was a deepened sense of reverence and fear of what God might think of him rather than what mankind may believe about him.
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.
As we studied the Joseph Smith History in seminary, I often thought of that bittersweet prophecy foretold to Joseph by the angel Moroni: that Joseph’s name would be known throughout history, both for good and also for evil. In the world today, perhaps Joseph’s name is known for more evil than good. But it’s my privilege to choose how to regard this boy whose life, so short, was completely given to the service of God.
I know that he was a prophet. The calling did not randomly fall to him: he worked. Maybe no other human being worked as hard, gave as much or suffered so great as Joseph. Every good thing in my life is enabled because he had the audacity, the nerve and the committed resolve to kneel in prayer and ask for it. Maybe in that moment he didn’t know that he was a mouthpiece for the rest of us. But how grateful I am for that fourteen year old boy.
My seminary class this year is made up of boys just like Joseph. The are aged 14-17. They are bold, they are dedicated and they have questions. They show up. They love God. If I have even the tiniest opportunity to be their Lucy Mack Smith or their Emma, I am profoundly grateful, and exceedingly glad!