Relief Society Lesson#43: "He Was a Prophet of God"
Contemporaries of Joseph Smith Testify of His Prophetic Mission.
As an overview, this lesson is divided into four main sections that I’ve summarized below:
- Like his contemporaries, we too can have a testimony of Joseph Smith
- Joseph Smith was an example of developing a Christ-like character
- Joseph taught the Plan of Salvation with Clarity and Power
- We can treasure the words and live the principles Joseph Smith taught
My main objective is taken from the subtitle of the lesson, which is about Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission. The theme that I see woven throughout the different sections is the way that Joseph Smith was called to his mission, and the way he lived in accordance with that mission. As a lesson objective, you may want to encourage sisters to identify their key spiritual missions. Throughout the lesson, point out ways they can live to strengthen the missions to which they have been called.
Section 1: Like his contemporaries, we too can have a testimony of Joseph Smith
This section talks about the personal mission of Joseph Smith. As an opening activity, you might start off talking about missions. There are of course full-time missions, but have the class think beyond that into the kind of missions that may coincide with our day-to-day lives. Ask the class to think about and discuss people in their lives who seem to have been called to a special mission. This might include people who have a gift of healing the sick, resolving difficult situations, or the ability to teach principles in clear and effective ways.
This makes me think about a cousin of mine who has Down’s Syndrome, but seems charged with a mission of reminding us that there is energy and force around us that we cannot see with our physical eyes. Encourage the class to think especially about women whom they have observed, and the missions that they see in their lives. How did these people live their missions? How did they deal with setbacks and discouragement? Do any of the sisters in the class feel that they have been given a special mission, even if for a period of time, in their lives? Tell sisters that this lesson is meant to help them think about their own missions in life, and to draw strength for those missions from the example of Joseph Smith.
As with many of the people we have known and observed in our lifetime, Joseph Smith was a man who was called to fulfill a divine mission:
Eliza R. Snow, the general president of the Relief Society from 1866 to 1887: “In the cause of truth and righteousness—in all that would benefit his fellow man, his integrity was as firm as the pillars of Heaven. He knew that God had called him to the work, and all the powers of earth and hell combined, failed either to deter or divert him from his purpose. With the help of God and his brethren, he laid the foundation of the greatest work ever established by man—a work extending not only to all the living, and to all the generations to come, but also to the dead.
“He boldly and bravely confronted the false traditions, superstitions, religions, bigotry and ignorance of the world—proved himself true to every heaven-revealed principle—true to his brethren and true to God, then sealed his testimony with his blood.”
Encourage sisters to think about their gifts and their missions. What might they follow from Joseph Smith’s life to help them live with conviction? Some answers may be along the lines that because he knew his true purpose, he was not afraid of the judgments and prejudices of the world. There was no need to be defensive, in fact knowing his divine mission allowed him to carry himself with grace and kindness before others.
Section 2: Joseph Smith was an example of developing a Christ-like character
Ask sisters to think about the qualities in Joseph Smith they admire as you read the following quote.
Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church: “He was brimming over with the noblest and purest of human nature, which often gave vent in innocent amusements—in playing ball, in wrestling with his brothers and scuffling with them, and enjoying himself; he was not like a man with a stake run down his back, and with his face cast in a brazen mold that he could not smile, that he had no joy in his heart. Oh, he was full of joy; he was full of gladness; he was full of love, and of every other noble attribute that makes men great and good, and at the same time simple and innocent, so that he could descend to the lowest condition; and he had power, by the grace of God, to comprehend the purposes of the Almighty too. That was the character of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”
What I love about this quote is that it shows that there can be happiness, joy, and fun while living one’s mission. Even though Joseph Smith was called to such an important work, he took the opportunity to relax, play, and show his love toward his family and others. Doing these things didn’t detract from his mission, but gave him the strength he would need when times were rough. As sisters, we can often be very hard on ourselves, but in reality when we take care of ourselves, when we allow ourselves some time to recharge our stores, when we permit ourselves to feel and experience real joy that comes from recognizing we are human and can only do our best, we can be more profitable servants in a sustainable way.
Ask the sisters in your class what qualities they seek to share with Joseph Smith? How can they work to attain these characteristics?
Section 3: Joseph taught the Plan of Salvation with Clarity and Power
This might be a good section to ask sisters how they think Joseph Smith received his ability to speak with clarity and power. While this may have been a gift of the spirit, and we all have our different gifts, what can we do to receive more clarity and power in our convictions of Christ’s gospel and the missions we’ve been called to?
Section 4: We can treasure the words and live the principles Joseph Smith taught
Wilford Woodruff, reporting an April 6, 1837, sermon: “President Joseph Smith Jr. arose and addressed the congregation for the term of three hours, clothed with the power, spirit, and image of God. He unbosomed his mind and feelings in the house of his friends. He presented many things of vast importance to the minds of the elders of Israel. Oh, that they might be written upon our hearts as with an iron pen to remain forever that we might practice them in our lives [see Job 19:23–24]. That fountain of light, principle, and virtue that came forth out of the heart and mouth of the Prophet Joseph, whose soul like Enoch’s swelled wide as eternity—I say, such evidences presented in such a forcible manner ought to drive into oblivion every particle of unbelief and dubiety from the mind of the hearers, for such language, sentiment, principle, and spirit cannot flow from darkness. Joseph Smith Jr. is a prophet of God raised up for the deliverance of Israel as true as my heart now burns within me.”
I think one of the most impressive images from President Woodruff’s quote is the one taken from Job’s testimony of the Redeemer and the resurrection. Job wishes that he could have that testimony written on his heart with an iron pen. As a good closing discussion, you can ask sisters to share their own take-away from the lesson. Ask sisters what are some of the principles of the Restoration that they would like to write upon their hearts? After a few responses have been shared, remind them that there may be no right or wrong answers, but it could be something the Spirit calls upon them to attract more into their lives. It could even be something that could cue them into their divine mission, at least for the present.
Close with your own experience and testimony of the lesson material.
Additional Thoughts as You Prepare
A note to some of you who are struggling with the material/quotes in this lesson: It might be because of the overlap in Sunday School and Relief Society this year of Joseph Smith stories, but this lesson seemed remarkably similar to a few others I’ve recently participated in. When I first read through all of the quotes in the manual, I became a little overwhelmed by the full forcefulness of Joseph Smith’s countenance as described by his contemporaries, especially when compared to some of the lower-key leaders of the Church in my lifetime.
If you struggled with some of the quotes and messages as I did, you may be helped by this essay at Beliefnet, by Exponent’s emeritus blogger Linda. As you teach this lesson to some women who may feel like they don’t have or could never have the same gifts and power of Joseph Smith, which could be used to fuel a sense of hopelessness about their own spiritual abilities and missions, these quote from her essay might help to provide balance and serve as a reminder of the ends to which Joseph Smith lived:
[…T]he president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, said in April 1995:
This church does not belong to its President. Its head is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name each of us has taken upon ourselves. We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as mine in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. To each of us in our respective responsibilities the Lord has said: “Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you: succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (Doctrine & Covenants 81:5)
[And from] Joseph Smith [in] the History of the Church:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.
Thank you, Brother Joseph.