One of the great things about my life so far, besides my wife and children, is the incredible people I have had in my life. When I first came to BYU ten years ago, a friend of mine was taking a Masters course in Religious Education. At the time he was taking a class from Joseph Fielding McConkie. My buddy encouraged me to come. It was wonderful. JFM taught me things from the scriptures I didn't know were there (which is not really a surprise). He ended up teaching two different courses that I attended.
After sometime I approached JFM and asked him for a job as his research assistant. Thus began what was for me a wonderful and singular experience. I helped him on book projects, we traveled to the East Coast twice for research and paper presentations, and even taught some of his classes. He taught me the tools I needed to read the scriptures, listen to the Spirit, and understand the doctrines of the restored gospel.
Since graduating and leaving his official employ, I have continued to help him on book and writing and research projects. We have become close and I treasure our friendship. The reason for the entry is to share something he taught me a couple of years ago that has had a lasting impact on me.
In sharing this experience, I will be a little vague, but will share the main point that has affected me deeply. I hope that it will you as well.
After returning from a vacation and arriving from a red-eye, he called me when he got home before he went to bed. He met a man while on vacation that shared an experience he had in the mission field. The man had two mission presidents. His first president had a rule to bear witness of the reality of the living Christ with every personal contact. His second president didn't have a rule. But the man reported that he noticed something. His second mission president would begin and end every talk and interview with a testimony of the First Vision. It wasn't long before the missionaries started following suit. Then something really interesting happened: obedience increased, as did baptisms and retention.
After JFM shared this story, he said, "Matt, there is a power when we testify of Joseph Smith. The Holy Ghost will always accompany a testimony of the Prophet." Then he hung up and went to bed. I started thinking. I thought about this experience for days. JFM was so excited when he called, ecstatic. After much pondering, I made a determination that has changed my life.
I decided that I would bear witness of the First Vision in every appointment, every lesson, every talk I give. Because I am the bishop in my ward, I get that opportunity often. I have been doing this for the last three years or so. Everything has changed for me. Everything. Because I am bearing witness of the First Vision, I am necessarily doing three things: I am testifying of the reality of a living God, a redeeming Christ, and a seeing Prophet. I feel the Spirit stronger each time I discuss the First Vision. And because of this, the Spirit is a staying power in my life and I am becoming a better disciple. The reality of the First Vision has become fact and knowledge for me. JFM was right: "There is a power when we testify of Joseph Smith. The Holy Ghost will always accompany a testimony of the Prophet." Furthermore, I have noticed members of my ward doing the same thing. The many members that have been doing this have experienced similar feelings.
If you are reading this, and you have a even a small testimony of the First Vision, or want it to grow, I invite you to do what I have done. Bear your witness of the reality of what took place. Because it is real and really did happen. God the Father was there in the Grove. Our Savior Jesus Christ was there, too. Joseph Smith was there and was called to be a Prophet. They spoke to him, and he spoke to Them.
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