Our youth theme for 2017 comes from James 1:5-6, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”
This scripture is often associated with the Prophet Joseph Smith and played a large role in motivating him to approach the Lord in prayer in the Sacred Grove. His desire to know which church to join — simply asking a question in faith — opened the door for the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth in this dispensation. The month of December is the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birth month and a good time to think about how we can encourage our youth to seek for their own testimonies of Joseph Smith and his divinely inspired call as the prophet of the Restoration.
Elder M. Russell Ballard has taught us, “Although we can have testimonies of many things as members of the Church, there are basic truths we need to constantly teach one another and share with those not of our faith. Testify God is our Father and Jesus is the Christ. The plan of salvation is centered on the Savior’s Atonement. Joseph Smith restored the fulness of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Book of Mormon is evidence that our testimony is true” (“Pure Testimony,” Ensign and Liahona, Nov. 2004).
We learn from this statement and many other similar instructions that having a conviction of Joseph Smith’s role as the prophet of the Restoration should be a part of the testimonies we bear to one another. A testimony of the divine nature of Joseph Smith’s role in the restoration is foundational to our belief that this is the Lord’s true Church on the earth.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the reason that our testimonies should include a testimony of the role Joseph Smith played in the Restoration. He said, “The prophet Joseph Smith ... is one of the great dispensation heads, and a dispensation head is a revealer for his age and his period of the knowledge of Christ and of salvation.”
Elder McConkie goes on to state that there have always been testimony meetings and that if we had lived in the days of Adam or Enoch, we would have testified of their true callings and linked them to the Savior (Bruce R. McConkie, “Joseph Smith: A Revealer of Christ,” [Brigham Young University devotional, Sep. 3, 1978], 3-4; speeches.byu.edu).
We are encouraged to have a testimony of Joseph Smith’s calling because he stands at the head of our dispensation as the legal administrator with the keys and authority for this period of time. He is the revealer of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and of salvation for our day. How important it is for our youth to understand that principle!
Next year’s theme will provide many rich opportunities to study the life and teachings of Joseph Smith and better understand the remarkable role he played in restoring the gospel. It provides a chance to use stories from his life to teach gospel lessons and reinforce qualities we want our youth to develop in their own lives.
Because Joseph’s call came at the tender age of 14, it is easy for youth to relate to his challenges and trials and find examples of how to meet their own. For example, they can see that it was because a teenaged Joseph Smith had a question which concerned him that the whole Restoration was set into motion. Through that example, we can teach our youth that it is good to have and ask questions because seeking answers to those questions in faith, from the right sources, will result in increased knowledge and understanding.
Our youth will understand courage as they learn of the young 7-year-old Joseph enduring a painful operation to remove diseased bone in his leg without anesthetic. Perhaps our youth can find life lessons to help them handle bullying or being made fun of for their beliefs as they learn of how 14-year-old Joseph was persecuted and mocked by most of the religious leaders in his community after he shared his experience in the Sacred Grove. They can learn from him to trust in what they know, feel and have experienced in living the gospel and stay firm in their testimonies.
If our youth are still in the process of gaining a testimony of Joseph Smith, next year’s theme holds the very key they need to accomplish that. Just as the young Joseph learned that you can ask the Lord when you have a question, so our youth will understand that they can also ask the Lord to confirm the divinity of Joseph Smith’s call to restore the gospel and priesthood keys to the earth. James 1:5-6 provides many rich opportunities to remind our youth that just as the Prophet Joseph Smith did, they too can seek for answers to their concerns and questions through prayer, and that the Lord hears and answers prayers in our lives. What glorious opportunities for increasing testimonies we will have in the coming year.