In the last article we pretended we had a chance to enter a game show that assigned you a special quest. You could guess the quest or you could be told what it was and how to solve it but the prize was the same. Obviously, you’d want to be told what to do.
Finding a church to join is like a quest. You can just guess which church is true, but that’s pretty dangerous. If you’re going to commit to a religion, you want to be sure it’s the right one. The only way to know for sure which church is the true church is to ask God.
Today, we’re going to learn about a teenager who did just that. We’ve talked about him before, but we’re talking about him today as an ordinary teenager who wanted some answers. He was fourteen when he started to worry about which church to join. He wasn’t alone in this, though. All around him, people were worrying about which church they ought to join. His area was suddenly filled with ministers and pastors holding revivals and competing for new converts. Everyone was talking about religion, arguing about it, worrying about it. People went from one revival to another, trying to figure out which church they liked best.
Joseph Smith, the teenager in our story, was just like the others. His mother and siblings were all attending these revivals and he went with them. His father didn’t attend, not believing that was the best way to choose a church. He preferred to study quietly at home for now.
Joseph went and his family seemed to be deciding on one particular religion, but Joseph just couldn’t be sure. He thought that religion sounded pretty good, but he felt like it was such an important decision and he didn’t want to make the wrong choice.
The problem was that every minister said he was teaching God’s truth and yet, each minister taught something different. Sometimes it was just little differences, but sometimes they were big differences. Joseph Smith felt that God would have one set of truths, not lots of conflicting ones. After all, the Bible says, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33, King James translation of the Holy Bible.) Conflicting information was confusing.
But how was a person, especially a teenager, supposed to figure out who was right? While he was trying to decide, he started reading the Bible. One day he found a verse that caused him to stop what he was doing and to think about the problem in a whole new way. This verse was in the New Testament and was written by James, whom some people think is Jesus’ half-brother. The verse says:
5 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.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed (James 1:5-6.)
This made complete sense to Joseph Smith. People might lie to him or they might be mistaken, but God knew what was true and he wouldn’t lie. Joseph Smith had been raised to trust God, so he felt this was the solution to his problem.
He decided to go into the woods near his home and put this promise to the test. He wanted to be alone and he lived in a typical small home filled with parents and siblings. He also wanted to pray aloud, something he’d never done before. He went into the woods and knelt down and prayed.
Now, if you decide to put this to the test yourself, you probably aren’t going to get the results he did, but this was a special situation because God had plans for Joseph, so His answer had to be bigger than usual. First I’ll tell you what happened to Joseph. Then I’ll tell you what you will probably experience when you give your own prayer.
When Joseph prayed, Satan tried to stop him from continuing. Satan, like God, knew the plan and didn’t want it to happen. Once that ended, a light appeared in the air above Joseph. He saw two personages in the light. One was God and one was Jesus. He knew this only because God pointed to the other personage and said it was His Son, Jesus Christ, and that Joseph must listen to Him.
Jesus explained that Joseph Smith must not join any of the churches then in existence because none of them completely taught the truth. They had pieces of the truth, but none of them had the entire truth or the authority to carry out the complete program.
Why not? After Jesus died, His apostles ran the Church, but they eventually died or were killed. Because most of the people were more anxious to kill Jesus’ leaders than to listen to them, God withdrew His authority from the earth for a time. The small number of Christians remaining were very brave and did their best to keep things going but it’s hard to keep things going in a straight line without a prophet.
Even before the apostles died, various church groups were falling into apostasy. The apostles wrote many letters trying to straighten out false doctrine that developed. When they were gone, there was no one with that authority. And to make it worse, sometimes new issues came up and there was no way to find out what God wanted them to do about those things, so they had to guess. Over time, people didn’t agree on those guesses and they’d break away and start a new Christian church. Eventually there were a lot of churches all teaching different things and none of them held the whole truth because they’d all pieced together doctrine from other religions or what they thought the Bible meant.
God told Joseph to wait, so he did. Eventually, an angel named Moroni was sent to help prepare Joseph to restore the Church to what Jesus had established.
In the meantime, though, Joseph was a teenager trying to decide what church to join. The solution he chose is the same one you can choose, because that promise from James wasn’t just for Joseph. It was also for you.
Next post, I’ll tell you how to pray, in case you don’t yet know how, and what to expect from your prayer, since God and Jesus probably won’t come visit you in person.