Recently I have thought about the new Duty to God program that the Church has implemented with a focus on young men learning, acting and then sharing their experiences. This pattern parallels the early life of Joseph Smith as recorded in Joseph Smith History.
“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. My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others. In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? 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 James, first 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. (Joseph Smith History v.8-11)
Joseph relates immediately that he did not know who was right and who was wrong, but that he found some direction in the scriptures. From this he says, “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” (Joseph Smith History v.12)
Joseph then acts on what he knows he must do, that he must pray and ask God which of all the churches are true. From this experience he has a marvelous vision where he sees the Father and the Son. He receives instruction. He writes, “I was answered that I 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; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. (Joseph Smith History v. 19-20)
This last phrase teaches a powerful truth to young people: God always gives more than we expected. We see this again and again throughout the scriptures. Joseph prays to know how to act in relation to his search for the true church and is given much more than he asked. Nephi prays to see what his father saw in relation to the Tree of Life and is given so much more. The brother of Jared prays that his people stay together and their language not be confounded and God makes them the mightiest nation on the earth (Ether 1:43).
After he learns and acts according to what he knows he should do, Joseph then shares his knowledge with others. Although initially the response was not what he expected (see Joseph Smith History v. 21), Joseph had tremendous integrity and did all that the Lord required of him in relation to this visionary experience. In the pattern of all prophets, Joseph learned, acted, and then shared what he had learned. He stayed true to his message.
He writes, “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 v.25)