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“Lord, Is It I?”—What I Learned from Martin Harris and Jonah

Title“Lord, Is It I?”—What I Learned from Martin Harris and Jonah
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1989
AuthorsPerry, James M., and Robert J. Woolley
Issue Number7
Date PublishedJuly 1989
KeywordsHarris, Martin; Jonah (Prophet)

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“Lord, Is It I?”—What I Learned from Martin Harris and Jonah

By James M. Perry, with Robert J. Woolley

On the day appointed for the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon to receive the visit from the angel and to see the gold plates, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris retired to the woods with Joseph Smith. Each of them prayed in turn for the promised manifestation, but with no apparent results. Again each of them prayed, and again they received no answer.

Feeling that his present unworthiness was the cause of the manifestation’s being withheld, Martin Harris then withdrew from the others. Almost immediately, the angel appeared to the others and showed them the plates. (See History of the Church, 1:54.)

If the priesthood quorum or Relief Society presidency you serve in doesn’t seem to be receiving the revelation you need, could it be that one of you—a Martin Harris—is limiting the blessings that could come to all of you?

Likewise, when Jonah disobeyed the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to the people of Nineveh and boarded the ship to Tarshish, he unknowingly put the ship’s entire crew in danger. When those on board began to suspect that Jonah was the cause of that danger, Jonah said to them, “Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.” (Jonah 1:12.) The sailors did as Jonah had said, and the storm ceased.

If your family life seems to be sailing on stormy seas, could it be that one of you—a Jonah in some ways—is making the storm rage?

As with Martin Harris and Jonah, the Lord usually leaves it to us to identify areas that need improvement in our own lives. If we have problems in any relationship—whether it be family, neighbor, quorum, Relief Society, or even the entire ward—we might remember the example of Christ’s Twelve Apostles at the Last Supper. Elder Boyd K. Packer commented on the fact that, when the Savior told the Apostles that one of them would betray him, “They did not, on that occasion, nudge one another and say, ‘I’ll bet that it is old Judas. He has surely been acting queer lately.’ It reflects something of their [apostolic] stature,” Elder Packer continued. “Rather it is recorded that ‘they were exceedingly sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?’ (Matt. 26:22.)” (“That All May Be Edified,” Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 237.)

This is a question we all might ask ourselves. Though we think our problems are because of our spouse, the quorum president, or the bishop, it is contrary to the spirit of unity to criticize others. Introspection is the example the Apostles set for us. If all our thoughts are of “Is it I?” we need not worry about “Is it he (or she)?”

While I was on my mission, I was given a new companion who had a reputation of being hard to get along with. He continued to have problems while I served with him.

After a few months, I described to my mission president all that my companion had done wrong and all the patience I had shown in putting up with him. After I had finished, I sat back to hear the mission president’s response.

“Elder,” he said, “you must get to the point where you acknowledge that 95 percent of the problem is with you.” That was not exactly the sympathetic response I had expected! Then he said, “The Lord has placed you in a position where you could have experienced tremendous growth, but you have denied yourself those blessings by letting yourself feel like a martyr.”

He challenged me to be more Christlike and to try to respond positively to negative feedback. That interview changed my outlook completely, and I did improve myself. I had been spending all of my time up till then brooding and saying, “Lord, it’s him,” instead of “Lord, is it I?”

Perhaps my companion had been a bit of a “Jonah” in some ways, but if so, my preoccupation with his faults had prevented me from recognizing that, in some ways, I had the same faults, too. I should have followed Paul’s counsel: “Be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philip. 2:2–3.)

If, while serving with that companion, I had esteemed him “better than myself,” my time with him would have been much more pleasant and productive.

The Lord taught a great principle in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? …

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye.” (Matt. 7:1–3, 5.)

Brigham Young said, “We are apt to neglect … to weed our own gardens, and while we are weeding our neighbor’s, before we are aware, weeds will start up and kill the good seeds in our own.” (Journal of Discourses, 2:93.)

This principle of introspection is one of the surest solutions to the lack of unity in any association. If we learn to apply this principle in our lives, we will solve many of our own problems; furthermore, we will not prevent others from receiving promised blessings nor cause unnecessary “storms” in their lives.

James M. Perry, a financial analyst, teaches Primary in the Southfield First Ward, Bloomfield Hills Michigan Stake.

Robert J. Woolley, a physician, recently moved to St. Paul, Minnesota.