Joseph Smith had to wait a long time to obtain the plates containing the original text of the Book of Mormon.
When the angel Moroni appeared to him on the evening of Sunday, September 21, 1823, even before showing him in a vision the place where the plates were buried, he indicated that it was not yet time for Joseph to take possession of them. “The time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled,” he said (Joseph Smith—History 1:42).
Nevertheless, the following morning, when Joseph went to the place he had seen and unearthed a box containing the plates, his instinct was to pull the plates out of the box The angel told him to stop, and instructed him to return to this place exactly one year later for further instruction. He should continue to do this each year “until the time should come for obtaining the plates” (Joseph Smith—History 1:52-53). Four years later, on Saturday, September 22, 1827, he was finally permitted to retrieve the plates (See also “Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” in the introductory pages of the Book of Mormon.)
The waiting must have been hard, but it was necessary. After all, Joseph was only 17 years old when the angel first appeared to him. In the following four years, he would have many opportunities to learn, to deepen his relationship with God, and to strengthen his commitment to the work he had been called to do.
A year and a half later, Joseph’s brother Hyrum would receive similar instructions to patiently prepare for a future assignment:
Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.
But now hold your peace; study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, and also study my word which shall come forth among the children of men, or that which is now translating, yea, until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation, and then shall all things be added thereto (Doctrine and Covenants 11:21-22).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell learned a similar lesson about patience as a young man:
Soon after arriving home from World War II, I had “promises to keep” (Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” in The Poetry of Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Lathem , 225)—meaning going on a mission now. I grew tired of waiting for the bishop. And in some early ark-steadying, I went to the bishop’s home and said I had saved the money and wanted to go, so let’s “get this show on the road.” The good bishop hesitated, and then said he’d been meaning to ask me about going.
Years later, I would learn from that bishop’s devoted ward clerk that the bishop had felt I needed a little more time with my family after having been away so far and for a tenth of my life. Hearing this, I chastised myself for having been too judgmental (“Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” General Conference, April 2004).
Today, I will remember that my enthusiasm to serve must be tempered by patience. I will be eager to do God’s work, but also willing to submit to the Lord’s timing.