Relief Society Lesson #5: Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration
This lesson focuses on the prophetic role of Joseph Smith. It’s important when teaching this lesson to acknowledge the complexities of Joseph Smith, that his life wasn’t black and white. He was a human who made mistakes, but he also happened to have a divine calling extended to him. He did the best he could under mortal circumstances and despite it all, he was the instrument in restoring the Church of Christ. In addition, Brother Joseph taught us all the principles of patience, perseverance, and faith in Christ. Though imperfect, the Prophet Joseph Smith can be–– like any other faith leader–– an example to us all, regardless of personal belief.
From the manual, when referring to the death of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo:
“The responsibility I feel for the work the Prophet Joseph inaugurated fills me with a determination to do all I can in the time and season allotted to me. Surely Joseph was faithful and true to his time and season! … I bear solemn testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith as the Lord’s anointed servant in these the latter days. To his testimony of the divinity and reality of Jesus Christ I add my own.”
President Hunter noted that Joseph Smith inspired in him a sense of determination to do all he can with “the time and season allotted to me”–– his resources and time available. Joseph Smith was a great example in doing what he could with what he had. He translated the Book of Mormon with the simple materials given to him and with the help of willing and supportive friends was able to establish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From Alma 37:6, “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.”
Through small and simple things, miracles occurred that made it possible for Joseph Smith to form a community of disciples through the Church of Christ. As sisters in Zion we can follow the example of Joseph Smith and do what good we can with whatever means we have. Emphasize to the sisters that they have also been called to perform a divine work to uplift and strengthen one another and spread forth the Gospel of Christ.
- God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith to initiate the Restoration
The idea that God and Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith is a radical one; but also an idea that can instill in us a sense of importance and equality: not one of us is unqualified to hear the voice of the Lord and do His work. If a poor teenage farm boy from New York can be used as an instrument of the Lord, so can we all. Perhaps not in the same way, but in some form or another, the Lord inspires us to carry on His work.
From the manual:
“Those who rejected the Savior when he came to earth with the declaration that he was the Son of God said of him: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55.) When Joseph announced that he had seen a vision and had seen the Father and the Son, the query came to the minds and lips of the neighbors, the ministers, and the townspeople: “Is not this the farmer’s son?” Christ was persecuted and put to death, but time has been his vindicator. As with the carpenter’s son, so it has been with the farmer’s son.”
Again, no matter our status in life–– no matter how much or how little money we have, no matter our possessions or careers–– God can work through us and with us to do good in this world.
When have you felt inspired to care for or help someone? How have you felt this inspiration?
Have you ever felt unworthy or unqualified for a calling/job/responsibility? In what ways have you gotten over such feelings and what were the results?
- Jesus Christ reestablished His Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith
In 1830, Joseph Smith formally organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both men and women were present in the restoration of the Church of Christ. Because of this restoration, priesthood keys and offices and church ordinances were restored in its fullness.
In what ways has being a member of the Church affected your life? (Greater sense of belonging, being a valued part of a community, knowing others you wouldn’t have otherwise met, opportunities to serve are some non-religious answers in addition to temples, eternal families, priesthood ordinances, etc)
Has there been a time when being a member was difficult and a struggle? How were you able to overcome that? If you haven’t, what motivates you to stay a member (family, community, tradition, etc)?
What the manual leaves out is the formation of the Relief Society. Even in the time of Christ, the Church wasn’t complete without the discipleship of women.
In an October 2011 General Conference talk, former Relief Society President Julie B. Beck had this to say:
“I hope my granddaughters will understand that Relief Society today is organized after a pattern of discipleship that existed in the ancient Church. When the Savior organized His Church in New Testament times, “women were vital participants in [His] ministry.” He visited Martha and Mary, two of His most dedicated followers, in Martha’s home. As Martha listened to Him and served Him according to the custom of their time, He helped her see that she could do more than that. He helped Martha and Mary understand that they could choose “that good part,” which would not be taken from them.”
Equally, in the latter-days we know that the current church would not have been complete without the formation of Relief Society.
From Daughters in My Kingdom:
“The women in the ancient Church were dignified and noble, needed and valued. They served others, increased in personal holiness, and participated in the great work of saving souls. These patterns have been restored in the latter days through the organization of the Relief Society. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.” Sister Eliza R. Snow, the second Relief Society general president, reiterated this teaching. She said: “Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet that the same organization existed in the church anciently.”
Without Relief Society, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wouldn’t be complete.
What good works have you seen done through the work of Relief Society?
What are some ways that Relief Society performs priesthood functions in blessing the lives of others?
How can our specific Relief Society in this ward amplify and lift up the voices of women? How do we make our presence known?
- Joseph Smith was a prophet, seer, and revelator
This section is generalized enough where it could be used to talk more generally about what those roles are, not just in regards to Joseph Smith. A straightforward conversation about what “prophet”, “seer”, and “revelator” mean would work.
Also include how broad the definitions are actually are. Mention how a prophet can simply mean one who prophesies and speaks for the person who sends him/her, and that women can also be prophets/prophetesses.
There are several female prophets listed in the Bible, including: Miriam (Exodus 15: 20-21), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3), and Anna (Luke 2:36). Have different read the scripture that corresponds with the aforementioned figures. Discuss also how in the Book of Mormon Abish could also be considered a prophetess.
What would the gift of prophecy mean to you today (not including the Prophet of the Church–– i.e. how does the ordinary person perceive prophecy)?
How can we as women exercise and develop gifts of prophecy? In what ways have you used this gift?
- Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah
This section can be uncomfortable for some people, as it can be perceived as idol worship of Joseph Smith. Take great care to balance respect of Joseph Smith with rightful and true praise to the Savior.
Commending Joseph Smith for his service as a prophet, this section can be used to discuss how we as members can respect and revere other influences in our lives and those who inspire us.
An interesting thing to do would be to take the first sentence of each paragraph that begin with “We praise Joseph” and have those in the lesson share how they praise others (ideally, women or Christ) in their lives who share the same quality that was described in the manual.
For example, in the manual, one paragraph begins with, “We praise Joseph for the capacity to endure persecution…” A sister can share how she “praises” her mother for enduring a difficult trial in her life.
Tie it all in by saying how like the Prophet Joseph Smith, there are modern-day examples of courage and bravery and discipleship and those who face toward the Savior.
- The life and mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith help us turn to the paths that lead to eternal life
I would use this section to end the lesson by saying that in spite of the many mistakes Joseph Smith made, he established a religion that many of us still belong to and find some good in. That in some way or the other (through community, culture, or priesthood ordinances), the Prophet Joseph Smith created something bigger and grander than himself. He established a pattern of humility and humanity; that we each fall short of the glory of God, but through the Savior we can repent and continue to carry on His great work.
Have people read the First Vision (Joseph Smith History 1-20 in the Pearl of Great Price). Particularly, if there’s not enough time to read the whole thing:
“16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!””
No matter what path we all are on now, we all have being a member of the Church in common and have the privilege of knowing one another. And how even that can be enough to thank Joseph Smith for.