Why would the pioneers do what they did?
Why would they give up everything? Many (including my own ancestors) lost family members because they were disowned when they joined the church. Many had multiple children die because they were living in unfavorable conditions (starvation, sickness, disease, extreme weather, etc.)
Many had previously led comfortable and prosperous lives and held prominent places in their communities – until they joined the church and lost it all. Many were persecuted to the extreme – they had their homes burned down, their family members killed, their cities destroyed.
Why would they keep going even through all of this affliction and adversity? What kept them going? What motivated them?
It was their faith. Their faith was their motivation. They had personally sought after and received their own individual witnesses that The Book of Mormon was truly the word of God and that Jesus Christ had restored His church back to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
And they were willing to give up anything and everything in order to live the religion that they had found to be true.
Revelation (communication from God) was what brought about the restoration of same church that Jesus Christ had established on the earth (but which had been lost and changed over the past ~1800 years).
And revelation was what every sincere pioneer received for themselves.
One of the most important doctrines in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that revelation is real and continuing. God is no respecter of persons. He loves ALL of His children – in ALL time periods. He wants to communicate with each and every one of us.
He wants to be our shepherd. He wants to guide us safely home. He wants to tell us how much He loves us. He wants to inspire us with creativity. He wants to comfort us. He wants to reveal Himself to us. He wants us to see Him and hear Him in everything.
But how do we receive this communication from Him? It’s actually rather simple. All we have to do is ask.
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
This is exactly what Joseph Smith did. He had a question, he took it to God in prayer, and he simply asked. …and God answered.
For quite a while, Joseph had a lot of questions about religion and the welfare of his soul. Living in upstate New York in the 1810s, he was surrounded by religious discussion and controversy. Religious revivals put the urgent question “What must I do to be saved?” foremost in his mind. He desperately wanted to find an answer. This question weighed heavily on his mind and heart.
When Joseph was 14 years old, he wanted to know which church to join so he asked God in sincere prayer. In response to this prayer, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph and told him the true Church of Jesus Christ was not on the earth and They had chosen Joseph to restore it.
Here is the story in Joseph’s own words:
“During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness. . . . I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: “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.”
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; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
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 at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
In accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction— not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me 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!”
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home.
So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen?
For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.” (Joseph Smith History 1:8-20, 25)
To some, this personal account sounds unbelievable… but I know it to be true.
I haven’t just taken someone else’s word for it. I’ve done the experiment myself. I’ve done the work. I’ve seen and tasted the fruits. And the fruits are good… better than good. They are delicious and desirable and joyful.
And just like I have come to know it to be true for myself, anyone who has a true desire can find out for themselves.
They can do the experiment. They can do the work. They can see and taste the fruits for themselves.
God doesn’t believe in forcing any of His children to come to Him – even when it breaks His heart to see us living below our privileges. He values our freedom to choose more than anything. He is a God of liberty.
If you want to know for yourself, all you have to do is sincerely ask. He will answer.
And when you receive your answer, you will be willing to sacrifice anything for the gospel of Jesus Christ. You will receive extra strength, courage, and faith – just like the pioneers. The blessings outweigh any sacrifice.