I have gained a great deal in the last 40 years of intensive studies of the Prophet Joseph, trying to see and follow patterns of his life and his faithfulness and his incredible obedience to the Lord.
Joseph was tutored by no less than 56 different messengers from Heaven, including at least five visits from the Father and the Son, 22 visits from the angel Moroni alone, and visits from the original 12 Apostles called in Jesus’ time, and the 12 Disciples of Christ of the Nephites. Joseph is one to trust, to follow and to have a sure witness of his calling.
I have been especially impressed to write about seven patterns of Prayer I have learned from the Prophet Joseph—patterns that will help us draw closer to the Lord, and help us exercise great faith unto salvation. I think some of these patterns will surprise you.
Prayer or Pattern One:
Knowing our absolute dependence on the Lord.
This I learned from The First Vision.
This prayer is all about our absolute dependence upon the Lord for knowledge that we simply cannot obtain without His help. Joseph wrote clearly about his response to James’ promise of obtaining answers from God:
“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know…At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.”[i]
Note that Joseph came to realize that without God’s help he would remain in darkness and confusion as to the knowledge that he needed to move forward in life.
Are we in a similar position in our lives? Are there things that we just cannot know without God’s help, inspiration and, at times, intervention?
So, again, one of the patterns of this first prayer of the Prophet Joseph is we need God’s help to obtain wisdom and knowledge that we otherwise will never obtain.
Could this come in handy in your own life?
Prayer or Pattern Two:
Weary the Lord Until He blesses you.
What? This sounds like nagging, doesn’t it? No, it is not.
The lesson of Jesus’ little-remembered parable of the importuning widow and the unjust judge was a recurring allusion in the teachings of the Joseph Smith. The parable reads:
“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”[ii]
Encouraging each of us to follow the example of the importunate widow, Joseph then said:
“God is not a respecter of persons. We all have the same privilege. Come to God. Weary Him until He blesses you.”
So, now we know that must come to God to find things out that we could not find out without Him, AND, we are invited to Weary Him until He blesses us.
Can this apply in your lives? Are there things that you really, really, need? I’m not talking about cash and checks—although those, at times, also become a part of our prayers, but when we need to know directions, have guidance, obtain healing from our sicknesses and infirmities, must have revelation about something, we can weary Him and we are invited to do so. I believe we still have much to learn about this pattern of prayer.
Prayer or Pattern Three:
Joining the faith of others in obtaining powerful blessings.
This seems obvious, that we would want to join our faith with our family and close friends to obtain blessings, but let’s look at the pattern in Joseph’s life.
Listen closely at this account of Joseph and Hyrum both being stricken with cholera:
“Soon after arriving at the point of destination, the cholera broke out among us, and the brethren were so violently attacked that it seemed impossible to render them any assistance. They immediately sent for us to lay hands on them, but we soon discovered that this also was the judgment of the Almighty, for when we laid our hands upon them in the name of the Lord in order that they might be healed, the disease instantly fastened itself upon us. And in a few minutes we were in awful distress. We made mute signals to each other and left the house for the purpose of going into some secluded place to join in prayer that God would deliver us from this awful influence; but before we could get a sufficient distance to be secure from interruption, we were scarcely able to stand upon our feet and we were greatly alarmed, fearing that we should die in this western wilderness so far from our families, without even the privilege of blessing our children or giving them one word of parting counsel. Hyrum cried out, ‘Joseph, what shall we do? Must we be cut off from the face of the earth by this horrid curse?’
“‘Let us,’ said Joseph, ‘get down upon our knees and pray to God to remove the cramp and other distress and restore us to health, that we may return to our families.’ [Here we see these two brothers, Joseph and Hyrum, joining their faith in praying for each other and their healing] We did so but without receiving any benefit, but still grew worse. We concluded, however, to make a second effort, and when we kneeled again, the cramp seized the calves of Joseph’s legs, gathering the cords into bunches, and then the operation extended in like manner all over his system. He cried heartily unto God, but the heavens seemed sealed against us and every power that could render us any assistance shut within its gates. The universe was still. ‘When we arose again,’ said Joseph, ‘I found Hyrum was in the same situation with myself.’
“We soon came to the resolution of appealing again to God for mercy, and not to rise from our knees until one or the other got a testimony that we should be healed, and he who received the first intimation from the Spirit should inform the other of the same. We prayed some time, first one and then the other, and soon perceived that the cramp began to loose its hold. In a short time Hyrum sprang to his feet and exclaimed, ‘Joseph, we shall return, for I have seen an open vision in which I saw Mother on her knees under an apple tree praying for us, and she is even now asking God, in tears, to spare our lives, that she may behold us again in the flesh. The Spirit testifies to me that her prayers and ours shall be heard’-and from that moment we were healed and went on our way rejoicing.”
“Oh, my mother,” said Joseph, “how often have your prayers been a means of assisting us when the shadows of death encompassed us!”[iii]
Can we humble ourselves and ask for the faith and prayers of our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and dear friends when we are encompassed with challenges heavier than we can bear? It doesn’t matter whether your parents or family members are members of the Church, they can still exercise faith in God in your behalf.
Use this powerful pattern of prayer and your will find great blessings come to you, including deeper unity in your family and great love among you.
Prayer or Pattern Four:
A Prayer for Something Better
This seems trite, but I’m learning from the Prophet Joseph and I trust I can follow these patterns.
John Lyman Smith, first cousin to Joseph, was staying with Joseph and Emma, and he recalled this story:
“In my early years I used to often eat at the table with Joseph the Prophet. At one time he was called to dinner. I being at play in the room with his son Joseph, he called us to him, and we stood one each side of him. After he had looked over the table he said, ‘Lord, we thank Thee for this Johnny cake and ask Thee to send us something better. Amen.’ The corn bread was cut and I received a piece from his hand.
“Before the bread was all eaten, a man came to the door and asked if the Prophet Joseph was at home. Joseph replied he was, whereupon the visitor said, ‘I have brought you some flour and a ham.’
“Joseph arose and took the gift, and blessed the man in the name of the Lord. Turning to his wife, Emma, he said, ‘I knew the Lord would answer my prayer.’”[iv]
Is this a prayer of ingratitude? I do not think so. I believe this is a prayer from someone who really knows the Lord and knows that He is a giver of good gifts to them that ask. I love the Prophet’s translation of the scriptures where he says this:
What man among you, having a son, and he shall be standing out, and shall say, Father, open thy house that I may come in and sup with thee, will not say, Come in, my son; for mine is thine, and thine is mine?[v]
I truly believe that as we exercise faith and come to know the Giver of the gifts and blessings we receive, we can ask for something better and we will receive it.
Prayer or Pattern Five:
Come to know God so well that you really know to Whom you are praying.
Joseph said the following about our exercising true faith in God:
“Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
“First, the idea that he actually exists.
“Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes.
“Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will.”[vi]
I love reading my scriptures with the intent of obtaining a correct idea of God’s character, perfections and attributes. As I come to know Him better, I am better able to pray to Him. His attributes are scattered all through the scriptures, note what we can learn from this one passage from King Benjamin alone:
“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”[vii]
So, we learn that:
He is the Creator of all things
He has all wisdom
He has all power both in Heaven and in earth
Man cannot comprehend all the things which the Lord can
A knowledge of these things helps us exercise true faith in Him.
Now, let’s look at the Prophet Joseph’s life and see this pattern:
Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner gave us this remembrance:
“[My mother and I] went a few evenings later to the Smith home, where others were already assembled. Soon Joseph came in and they held a meeting, the people mostly sitting on boards put across chairs. The Prophet began addressing the group, but after a while he stopped speaking and remained silent. His countenance changed, and he became so white that he seemed transparent. He stood looking intently over the congregation. Finally he spoke. ‘Do you know who has been in your midst tonight?’ Someone said, ‘An angel of the Lord.’ And Martin Harris said, ‘I know, it was our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.’ The Prophet put his hand on his head and said, ‘Martin, God revealed that to you. Brothers and Sisters, the Savior has been in your midst tonight. I want you all to remember it. There is a veil over your eyes, for you could not endure to look upon Him.’
“Then they knelt in prayer, which he led. His prayer was so long, that several of the people rose and rested and then knelt back down to endure to the end. Such a prayer,” Mary said, “I have never heard before or since. I felt he was talking to the Lord, and the power rested upon us all.”[viii]
Joseph could have this kind of prayer because he really knew the Lord personally and talked to Him as one man talketh to his friend.[ix] I love this kind of powerful prayer.
Prayer or Pattern Six:
Knowing beforehand you will obtain your answer—exercising great faith.
I love studying the accounts of the evening of September 21 and 22, 1823, to see how the young, 17 ¾ year-old prophet prayed with knowledge and power. Listen closely to this account from Oliver Cowdery as he received it from Joseph Smith:
“[Joseph’s] heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost it charms, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God. [And as Joseph recorded: …for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.[x]]
“At length the family retired, and he, as usual, bent his way, though in silence, where others might have rested their weary frames ‘locked fast in sleep’s embrace;’ but repose had fled, and accustomed slumber had spread her refreshing hand over others beside him—he continued still to pray—his heart, though once hard and obdurate, was softened, and that mind which had often flitted, like the ‘wild bird of passage,’ had settled upon a determined basis not to be decoyed or driven from its purpose.”[xi]
Of course you know that this prayer brought the first visit of the angel Moroni. But I love all that we learn:
Joseph had full confidence he would obtain a vision.
He was drawn out in fervent prayer.
His whole soul was lost to every thing of this earth.
His heart was softened.
He was determined not to be decoyed.
And look at the results! We can learn something from this pattern of prayer!
Prayer or Pattern Seven:
Crying from the Depths of our soul.
Sometimes we really want something from the Lord and we have to keep praying for days, weeks, months or even years. This seemingly unanswered prayer keeps us on our knees and in this mode of pleading for much longer than we ever supposed.
Joseph Smith had been arrested on November 1, 1838—and for the next 140 days straight he prayed for release and pleaded with God for justice to be given to him and his companions. He cried out in the anguish of his soul:
“Oh, God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”[xii]
We really do get to that point of crying out. But through this experience, Joseph drew closer to the Lord. He was taught the principles upon which the priesthood was to be handled. He was given strength and confidence and power that he did not beforehand possess. Before Liberty Jail, Joseph always had a spokesman to speak for him: Sidney Rigdon or Oliver Cowdery would give the big addresses, Joseph the short ones. After Liberty, no one spoke for Joseph.
Sometimes we, too, will have this type of prayer—and we will cry out with all our being for HIS help. And the word of the Lord will come to us as it came to Joseph:
“My son [my daughter], Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but for a small moment.”[xiii]
I testify that we have much to learn about prayer in our personal lives. I testify that God is willing to teach us how to pray. I testify that the patterns that the Prophet Joseph has taught us will help us draw closer to God and help.
[i] JS History 1:12,13 (emphasis added).
[ii] Luke 18:1-5.
[iii] Smith, Lucy Mack. The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother. Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996, pp. 318-19 (emphasis added).
[iv] Recollection of John Lyman Smith in Juvenile Instructor (March 15, 1892): 172.
[v] See JST Matthew 7: 17
[vi] From Lectures on Faith 3:2-5.
[vii] Mosiah 4:9.
[viii] See Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Papers; YWJ 16 (December 1905): 556-57; Andrus, Hyrum L., and Helen Mae Andrus, eds. They Knew the Prophet. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974, pp. 23-24.
[ix] See also Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10; Genesis 32:30.
[x] See JS History 1:29.
[xi] See The Papers of Joseph Smith, Volume 1, Autobiographical and Historical Writings. Edited by Dean C. Jessee. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989, pp. 50-51.
[xii] See D&C 121:1.
[xiii] D&C 121:7.