In the spring of 1820, a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith prayed to know which church he should join. In response to that prayer, God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to him, initiating the Restoration of the Gospel. Although he wrote four different accounts of this experience, each of which emphasized different aspects, one of those accounts in particular, written in 1838, is included in the Standard Works and is regarded by Latter-day Saints as scripture.
Here are some of the lessons I have learned from this account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, together with related Book of Mormon passages and blog posts:
Contention is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ (v. 6).
King Benjamin warned his people, “Beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit” (Mosiah 2:32). Jesus said, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention” (3 Nephi 11:29). Joseph Smith was bothered by the way he saw believers treating people who belonged to other churches. In a troubled world, with harsh and hateful invective all around, true disciples of Jesus Christ work to reduce division and barriers between people. (See No Contentions, No Disputations – 3 Nephi 11.)
We can find guidance in the scriptures (v. 11-12).
Nephi read many passages from the five books of Moses and from Isaiah to his brothers. He said, “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23). Joseph Smith was inspired to pray by a passage he read in the New Testament: James 1:5. We can apply the principles in the scriptures to the problems we face every day. (See Liken Them unto Yourselves – 1 Nephi 19:23-24.)
God will answer our questions (v. 16).
Nephi knew that God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” and that He answers prayers today just as He did in earlier times (1 Nephi 10:18). Jesus gave us the following invitation, “Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (3 Nephi 14:7). Joseph Smith received answers to his questions by setting a time and place where he could be alone and pray vocally. When we ask, we demonstrate our faith in God and we open our mind and our heart to receive answers from Him. (See Why Is It Important to Ask Questions?)
The Savior needs disciples whose actions match their words (v. 19).
Jesus taught that not everyone who speaks in His name will enter the kingdom of heaven, “but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven” (3 Nephi 14:21). When Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Savior lamented the condition of many religious teachers: “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Discipleship is about action, not just about words, and a disconnect between actions and words is unsatisfactory. We need to be authentic. (See I Never Knew You – 3 Nephi 14:21-23.)
We need to stand up for the truth (v. 24-25).
Even when Abinadi was threatened with death, he said, “I will not recall the words which I have spoken…for they are true” (Mosiah 17:9). Alma, who was converted by Abinadi’s preaching, taught that disciples of Jesus Christ have an obligation “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). Joseph Smith likewise refused to deny what he had experienced: “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it.” An honest witness is focused on the facts, not on the likely reaction of their audience. (See With Words of Soberness.)