One of the first lessons our youth can learn as they go through the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History is how to listen to the right voice. From the very beginning of his work as a prophet, Joseph Smith is taught this very important lesson: that listening and following direction from Heavenly Father is the first and only priority. Learning to distinguish between the voice of God and the voice of the Adversary, to listen to the voice of God over friends, and finally to obey God over one’s own desires; Joseph Smith faces all three challenges very early in his work.
In Joseph Smith History verse 28 Joseph writes that he is of very tender years – it is 1823 and Joseph Smith is 17 years old. These are tender years… but our youth at this age think that they are experienced and advanced. Joseph is in a position where he truly cares most about pleasing his Heavenly Father. If he were in our seminary classes he would be the ideal student.
All the earthly things had lost its charm, all he sought was acceptance with God. Writes Oliver Cowdery: “On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother’s mind was unusually wrought up on the subject which had so long agitated his mind–his heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him had lost its charm, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God.” (Letters of Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 1:77. Letter #4.)
By this time, so deep were the impressions made on my mind, that sleep had fled from my eyes, and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard. But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before; and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them. (Joseph Smith-History:46.)
Joseph is warned that he will be tempted to use the plates for material gain. He is warned three times this night and again the next day. When he goes to obtain the plates, he fails.
I made an attempt to take them out, but was forbidden by the messenger, and was again informed that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time; but he told me that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates. (Joseph Smith-History:53.)
On attempting to take possession of the record a shock was produced upon his system, by an invisible power, which deprived him, in a measure, of his natural strength. He desisted for an instant, and then made another attempt, but was more sensibly shocked than before. What was the occasion of this he knew not—there was the pure unsullied record, as has been described—he had heard of the powers of enchantment, and a thousand like stories, which held the hidden treasures of the earth, and supposed that physical exertion and personal strength was only necessary to enable him to yet obtain the object of his wish. He therefore made the third attempt with an increased exertion, when his strength failed him more than at either of the former times, and without premeditating he exclaimed, “Why can I not obtain this book?” “Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord,” answered a voice, within a seeming short distance. He looked and to his astonishment there stood the angel who had previously given him the directions concerning this matter. In an instant, all the former instructions, the great intelligence concerning Israel and the last days were brought to his mind: he thought of the time when his heart was fervently engaged in prayer to the Lord, when his spirit was contrite, and when his holy messenger from the skies unfolded the wonderful things connected with this record. He had come to be sure, and found the word of the angel fulfilled concerning the reality of the record, but he had failed to remember the great end for which they had been kept, and in consequence could not have power to take them into his possession and bear them away. (Early Scenes and Incidents in the Church. by Oliver Cowdery., Improvement Era, 1899, Vol. Ii. August, 1899. No. 10. .)
It is sufficient to say, that such were his reflections during his walk of from two to three miles, the distance from his fathers house to the place pointed out. And, to use his own words, it seemed as though two invisible powers were influencing, or striving to influence his mind—one with the reflection, that if he obtained the object of his pursuit, it would be through the mercy and condescension of the Lord, and that every act or performance in relation to it must be in strict accordance with the instruction of that personage who communicated the intelligence to him first; and the other, with the thoughts and reflections like those previously mentioned—contrasting his former and present circumstances in life with those to come. That precious instruction recorded on the sacred page, “Pray always,” which was expressly impressed upon him, was, at length, entirely forgotten, and, as I previously remarked, a fixed determination to obtain and aggrandize himself occupied his mind when he arrived at the place where the record was found. (A Remarkable Vision,, Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, vol. 1 (May 1840-April 1841), Vol. 1, No. 6, October 1840 152.)
He momentarily lost his mind- he forgot to pray always and had a determination fixed in his mind… this is one of the weaknesses of not only youth but of mortals in general. I have spoken with youth and adults who, in a moment of weakness have related how they temporarily lost their ability to reason, or lost their focus and made some pretty bad decisions.
There are many illustrations which teach this principle that are relevant to young people. One illustration would be a youth who knows what is right but desires a boyfriend/girlfriend so desperately as to forget counsel… it is as if there is a fixed determination.
Sometimes an individual has such a desire to obtain wealth they are swindled and make foolish choices with regards to their finances.
What was Joseph’s folly? How did he change in just a few moments from a young boy of tender years with no earthly cares to one who let the wrong voice affect his heart? Oliver Cowdery gives us a glimpse into the situation with counsel that has great application to the youth of the Church today.
Oliver Cowdery on Joseph’s weakness
You will have wondered, perhaps, that the mind of our brother should be so occupied with the thoughts of the goods of this world, at the time of arriving at Cumorah, on the morning of the 22nd of September, 1823, after having been wrapt in the visions of heaven during the night, and also seeing and hearing in open day; but the mind of man is easily turned if it is not held by the power of God through the prayer of faith, and you will remember that I have said that two invisible powers were operating upon his mind during his walk from his residence to Cumorah, and that the one urging the uncertainty of wealth and ease in this life, had so powerfully wrought upon him that the great object so carefully and impressively named by the angel, had entirely gone from his recollection that only a fixed determination to obtain now urged him forward. In this, which occasioned a failure to obtain, at that time, the record, do not understand me to attach blame to our brother: he was young, and his mind easily turned from correct principles, unless he could be favored with a certain round of experience. (Early Scenes and Incidents in the Church. by Oliver Cowdery., Improvement Era, 1899, Vol. Ii. August, 1899. No. 10. .)
Learning to listen to the right voice will take some experience. The scriptures provide the backdrop from which to pull valuable experiences, stories which teach principles that help making right decisions easier. Leaders of youth in the Church have this experience. It is important for the youth to see that their leaders have this experience. By listening to counsel of leaders and scriptures, youth will have an increased likelihood of making correct choices.
I would say to the young people of the Church, if I had my wish, because you are just like Joseph Smith, tender years- you are very easily led astray, you lack experience. Who listens to the Lord’s voice, who has experience? Prophets! I wish you could always listen and follow the voice of prophets.