Our beloved prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, has recently invited us to pay attention when God the Father speaks (“‘How Do You #HearHim?’ A Special Invitation,” ChurchofJesusChrist.org, blog, Feb. 26, 2020). God our Father answered Joseph Smith’s prayer with powerful and clear direction: “[Joseph,] This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him” (Joseph Smith History 1:17). President Nelson has taught us that the invitation to “Hear Him” is not only applicable to Joseph Smith, but it also applies to each one of us today.
What does it mean to “Hear Him”? To hear means so much more than simply to register sound waves in our ears. To hear also means to learn, to remember, and to adjust our lives to be in harmony with what is said.
A Boyhood Lesson
When I was a boy, I loved being outside. We had a large garden where we grew vegetables, and many orchard trees that bore fruit we would harvest and preserve for the winter. My parents had given me a BB gun that I used to play with in our garden and orchard. The gun was not very powerful and did not shoot very straight. I would practice by shooting at cans and fence posts. Then I started shooting at grasshoppers and dragon flies. One day I saw a yellow bird in a distant tree. I took aim and fired at the bird. To my surprise, the shot actually hit the bird, and it fell from the tree. At first, I was thrilled I had hit my target. Within seconds, however, I felt I had done something very wrong. Something inside me hurt. I ran home and went to my bedroom. My wise mother could tell something was wrong, and she came to my room and asked me what had happened. I told her. She took me by the hand, and we walked to the base of the tree where the bird I had shot had been perched. On the ground we found a lifeless yellow chickadee. I was so sad that I had killed this beautiful bird. My mother then pointed out that this was a mother chickadee, and way up high in the tree was a nest where we could hear the chirps of baby birds chirping for their mother. My mother taught me that day that I should not “shoot little song-birds for sport.” I remember her words distinctly. I remember the feeling I had at that moment, and I promised I would never kill a bird for sport again.
A few years later, President Spencer W. Kimball gave a powerful talk in general conference quoting from a hymn he instructed us “Don’t Kill the Little Birds” (“Strengthening the Family—the Basic Unit of the Church,” Ensign, May 1978). The message of my mother and President Kimball sank deep into my heart. I heard them clearly and have always remembered their teaching. I have not killed a bird for sport ever since.
Learning from the First Vision
This Spring marks the 200th Anniversary of the First Vision, when Joseph Smith decided he would go to a secluded place and pray out loud for the first time to his Heavenly Father.
We learn from Joseph Smith’s history that when he prayed, Joseph was visited by God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ: “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!” (Joseph Smith History 1:17; emphasis added).
What do you think Joseph Smith heard that day?
We know that Joseph wanted to know which Church he should join. But he also wanted to know about his personal standing before God. In the 1832 account of the First Vision, written in Joseph Smith’s own handwriting, we learn: “At about the age of 12 years, my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all-important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul” (Histories: Volume 1: 1832-1844, vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman , 1; emphasis added).
For approximately two years, Joseph wrestled with this concern. Perhaps his drive to learn which church to join was so that he could answer questions about the welfare of his own soul. After two years of searching and pondering, he entered that sacred grove of trees as a 14-year-old boy. He states: “I cried unto the Lord for mercy, and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness. While in the attitude of calling upon the Lord … the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord. And He spake unto me saying, Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee; go thy way, walk in my statutes and keep my commandments. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal Life” (Histories, Volume 1: 1832-1844, vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers , 1; emphasis added).
One of the things Joseph heard from Jesus Christ that day was that his sins were forgiven. Imagine the joy young Joseph felt knowing that he was clean before God.
Seeking to Know Our Standing before God
Have you ever desired to know your standing before God? When direction comes from God, are you “Hearing Him” and following what He has directed you to do?
Some may say that they do not know if God has answered their prayers. How do we know when God is speaking to us? How do answers to prayers come to us? The Lord has given us direction to answer these questions.
In April 1829, the Lord gave a revelation to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. In this revelation, He taught that revelation comes by the power of the Holy Ghost: “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3).
We can know that thoughts come from the Holy Ghost if the thoughts help us to follow the teaching of Christ, keep His commandments, and bring us a sense of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23).
President Russell M. Nelson has taught us we can take specific actions to determine when God is speaking to us through personal revelation: “Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses—yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will ‘grow into the principle of revelation’” (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for our Lives,” Ensign, May 2018, 95).
With this being the 200th anniversary of the First Vision, I invite you to follow the example of the Prophet Joseph. Find a quiet place where you can regularly go. Humble yourself before God. Pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father.
Ask him about your standing before Him. And then Hear Him. This will require not only that you listen, but that you also commit to follow what He directs you to do. And when you have learned for yourself, teach those you love to follow the same process.
As a young boy, when I shot the bird, I felt almost immediately I heard Him in my soul telling me I had offended God by needlessly killing one of his beautiful creations. I also heard the message from my wise mother, later reaffirmed by a living prophet to not kill little birds for sport. I repented of my actions and aligned my life to follow the counsel I received.
I witness that Jesus Christ lives. He knows you personally. He can guide and comfort you during times of uncertainty. May we follow the admonition of President Nelson to listen better and more often to Hear Him and stay true to the counsel and direction He gives to us.