Lesson 33: Joseph Fielding Smith Magnified His Calling

"Lesson 33: Joseph Fielding Smith Magnified His Calling," The Presidents of the Church: Teacher’s Manual, (1996)


The class members will understand that Joseph Fielding Smith fulfilled and magnified his calling as a prophet by the way he lived and taught the doctrines of the gospel; they will also desire to magnify their own callings.


  1. 1.

    Prepare to show the picture of Joseph Fielding Smith in the color section.

  2. 2.

    Obtain a magnifying glass, if possible, and bring it to class. If it is not possible to get a magnifying glass, make one out of paper to simulate the use of the real glass.

  3. 3.

    During the class, class members will be asked to use the magnifying glass to read captions written on six different cards fastened to the chalkboard. Obtain or make six cards (three-by-five-inch or four-by-six-inch) and write on each card the captions shown in the illustration. Write small enough that the captions cannot be read by the class members sitting closest to the board. Use some means of fastening cards to the chalkboard that doesn’t damage the board itself, and prepare the cards for display before class. The final chalkboard should look like the following illustration:

  4. 4.

    Prepare to show the picture of President Joseph Fielding Smith and the airplane included in the lesson.

  5. 5.

    If the videocassette Testimonies of the Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (53242) is available, show the section “Joseph Fielding Smith.”

Suggested Lesson Development



Show the picture of Joseph Fielding Smith.

Although a prophet’s message, at times, may seem very serious and the prophet himself may seem very stern when delivering it, usually prophets are warm, loving men who reflect a happiness for life that is contagious. It is living the gospel that brings this happiness.

Joseph Fielding Smith was a man with many talents. Because of his faith, humility, and desire to serve the Lord, he used those talents for good and became an effective tool in the Lord’s hand for leading the Saints.

Object lesson and discussion

Hold up the magnifying glass or explain that in order to enlarge an object for one’s eye one needs to be either closer to it or use a magnifying glass.

The Lord has asked us to magnify our callings. (Have a class member read Doctrine and Covenants 84:33 aloud.)

  • What does it mean “to magnify” a calling? (To become greater or to have our capacities enlarged; to better fulfill what we are called to do.)

Chalkboard and discussion

  • How is a magnifying glass a good symbol for the life of Joseph Fielding Smith? (President Smith magnified his callings in life. Write this answer on top of the chalkboard. See the sample chalkboard in the Preparation section. Also note the placement of cards for the following activity.)

Magnifying the Life of Joseph Fielding Smith

Chalkboard activity

It is important that this activity move at a pace that does not take too much time. Become familiar with the activity by rehearsing or walking through it several times before teaching it.

Fasten card 1, Physical Fitness, to the right-hand side of the chalkboard. Ask a class member to come forward and, using the magnifying glass, tell the class what is written on the card. After the card has been read, tell the class the following:

President Smith enjoyed sports and athletics as a young man. He continued to participate in many sports throughout his life and encouraged his children in all sports except hunting. He was an excellent swimmer and his home was equipped with a tennis court and horseshoe pits. He especially enjoyed handball and was an expert player.

At one time he challenged two of his sons to a game of handball. He even allowed them to choose which hand he could use. With the other hand held closely behind his back, he won the game. A former governor of Utah, Herbert B. Maw, twenty years younger than President Smith, shared his experience on the handball court with President Smith: “‘I thought I would just take it easy on the old gentleman and not beat him too far. Imagine my chagrin when he gave me the trouncing of my life! I thought that I was a good handball player, but I was no competition for him at all’” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., and John J. Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], p. 15). At nearly seventy years of age, on doctor’s orders, President Smith reluctantly gave up the game.

Using bold letters, write under card 1 Physical Fitness.

Fasten card 2, New Challenges, onto the chalkboard directly under the bold letters under card 1. Then invite another class member to come forward and use the magnifying glass to tell the class what is written on card 2.

After the card has been read, explain the following:

Picture and example

One of President Smith’s biographers, John J. Stewart, tells the following story about President Smith. (Hold up the picture of President Smith and the airplane and read the following experience to the class.)

“I remember my surprise one day when I called at his office in Salt Lake City. His secretary, Rubie Egbert, said, ‘Step to the window here and maybe you can see him.’ Curious, I walked to the window. But all that I could see was a jet streaking through the blue sky high above the Great Salt Lake. Its trail of white vapor clearly marked some steep climbs, loops, dives, rolls and turns. ‘He’s out there fulfilling prophecy,’ explained his secretary with a chuckle. ‘Scriptures say that in the last days there will be vapors of smoke in the heavens.’

“‘You mean he’s in that plane?’ I asked incredulously.

“‘Oh yes, that’s him all right. He’s very fond of flying. Says it relaxes him. A friend in the National Guard calls him up and says, “How about a relaxing?” and up they go. Once they get in the air he often takes over the controls. Flew down to Grand Canyon and back last week, 400 miles an hour!’

“I could not resist driving to the airport to be there when he landed. As the two-place [jet airplane] roared down the runway to a stop, from the rear cockpit, in suit and helmet, climbed this benign old gentleman, then about 80, smiling broadly. ‘That was wonderful!’ he exclaimed.

“‘That’s about as close to heaven as I can get just now’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 1–2).

“President Smith was an honorary brigadier general with the Utah National Guard” (Emerson Roy West, Profiles of the Presidents [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1980], p. 250).

Joseph Fielding Smith’s years spanned from the horse and buggy to the jet airplane, a century of remarkable growth and progress. Becoming President of the Church at ninety-three gave him a great opportunity to heed the counsel of his patriarchal blessing which stated: “‘Therefore, I say unto thee, reflect often upon the past, present, and future’” (A. William Lund, “Elder Joseph Fielding Smith,” Improvement Era, Apr. 1950, p. 315).

Again in bold letters, write under card 2, New Challenges.

Fasten card 3, Missionary Work, onto the chalkboard directly under the bold letters under card 2. Then invite another class member to come forward and use the magnifying glass to tell the class what is written on card 3.

Then go on to explain the remaining areas of President Smith’s life, following the procedure used in the previous examples.

Missionary Work

Joseph Fielding Smith married Louie Shurtliff on 26 April 1898. She was from Ogden, Utah, and he had met her when she accepted an invitation from his father to stay in the Smith home while she attended the University of Utah. As difficult as it must have been, Joseph Fielding bid farewell to his new bride only one year after their marriage to accept a call to labor as a missionary in the British Isles. Besides the difficulty of leaving a young wife, missionary work in England was extremely challenging. He remembered, “I have had them tell me to get out, and I’ve stood on street corners and had the crowd turn into a mob and throw everything they could find on the street at us” (talk given at the Kenwood Second Ward, Wilford Stake, 26 June 1960). Nevertheless, he fulfilled an honorable mission. (See also Smith and Stewart, “Mission to England,” Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 84–121.)

Church Service

Genealogical Pioneer: “Few men have been as [moved] by the spirit of Elijah as Joseph Fielding Smith. … [He] was one of the moving forces behind the Genealogical Society of Utah. He served as secretary to that organization from 1907 to 1922. … He … visited all the genealogical libraries in the large cities of the eastern United States in a search for the best methods of record keeping and filing. [He] returned with many practical and valuable suggestions which were adopted by the Utah Society. One of [the] recommendations was that a genealogical magazine be published. … As a result, Elder Smith was appointed editor and business manager of the new Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine [in 1910]” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, True and Faithful [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971], p. 38).

Historian: Soon after returning from his mission in 1901 Joseph Fielding obtained employment in the Church historian’s office where in 1906 he became assistant Church historian. In 1921 he became the Church historian, a position he held until 1970 when he became President, the year he turned ninety-four. (Adapted from Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 123, 359.)

Called to the Apostleship: Being called to the Council of the Twelve came as a complete surprise to Joseph Fielding Smith.

“As [he] walked through the gate of the Salt Lake Temple grounds to attend the concluding session of the April Conference in 1910, one of the gatekeepers asked him, ‘Well, who is going to be called to fill the vacancy in the Council of the Twelve today?’ Joseph Fielding replied, ‘I don’t know, but there is one thing I do know—it won’t be me and it won’t be you.’ He continued on into the meeting and took his seat.

“His father [who was President of the Church] called the meeting to order and announced the opening hymn. … Then Heber J. Grant arose to present the names of the General Authorities for a sustaining vote. About thirty seconds before he got to the point where he would read the name of the new apostle, Joseph Fielding suddenly knew that the name that would be read was his. (In those days it was not [always] the common practice to talk to the person concerned in advance.) He was right” (McConkie, True and Faithful, p. 35).

He served nobly in this calling for nearly sixty years, fulfilling many responsibilities and traveling throughout the world on assignment for the President of the Church.


President Smith loved children and was a faithful and dedicated father. In spite of a busy schedule, he took time for his family. Sadly, his first wife, Louie, died after only ten years of marriage, leaving him alone to raise two young daughters. He found a new love and helper in Ethel Reynolds and married her on 2 November 1908. They were subsequently blessed with nine children, five boys and four girls. When Ethel died 26 August 1937, he once again was faced with the loss of one he loved. But once again he was blessed. He found love and happiness with Jessie Evans, whom he married 12 April 1938.

Have a class member (preferably a girl) read the following tribute given by his wife, Ethel:

“‘You ask me to tell you of the man I know.’ … ‘I have often thought when he is gone people will say, “He is a very good man, sincere, orthodox, etc.” They will speak of him as the public knows him; but the man they have in mind is very different from the man I know. The man I know is a kind, loving husband and father whose greatest ambition in life is to make his family happy, entirely forgetful of self in his efforts to do this. He is the man that lulls to sleep the fretful child, who tells bedtime stories to the little ones, who is never too tired or too busy to sit up late at night or to get up early in the morning to help the older children solve perplexing school problems. When illness comes, the man I know watches tenderly over the afflicted one and waits upon him. It is their father for whom they cry, feeling his presence a panacea for all ills. It is his hands that bind up the wounds, his arms that give courage to the sufferer, his voice that remonstrates with them gently when they err, until it becomes their happiness to do the thing that will make him happy.

“‘The man I know is most gentle, and if he feels that he has been unjust to anyone the distance is never too far for him to go and, with loving words or kind deeds, erase the hurt. He welcomes gladly the young people to his home and is never happier than when discussing with them topics of the day—sports or whatever interests them most. He enjoys a good story and is quick to see the humor of a situation, to laugh and to be laughed at, always willing to join in any wholesome activity.

“‘The man I know is unselfish, uncomplaining, considerate, thoughtful, sympathetic, doing everything within his power to make life a supreme joy for his loved ones. That is the man I know’” (True and Faithful, pp. 83–84; see also Improvement Era, June 1932, p. 459).

Church President and Prophet

President Smith knew his calling came from God and took this responsibility very seriously. For sixty years as an Apostle—a special witness of Christ—and for three years as the President and prophet of the Church he spoke and wrote unceasingly to the members of the Church and to all people throughout the world. He urged them to come to Christ and conform their lives to the Master’s teachings. He preached countless sermons, had over twenty-five volumes of his work published (some published after his death), and spent much precious time lifting individuals.

As a young man his patriarchal blessing told him: “‘It is thy privilege to live to a good old age and the will of the Lord that you should become a mighty man in Israel. … It shall be thy duty to sit in council with thy brethren and preside among the people. … You will indeed stand in the midst of the people a prophet and a revelator to them, for the Lord has blessed you and ordained you to this calling’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, p. vii).

The Council of the Twelve over whom he presided paid this tribute to him on his eightieth birthday: “‘We who labor in the Council of the Twelve under his leadership have occasion to glimpse the true nobility in his character. … We only wish that the entire Church could feel the tenderness of his soul and his great concern over the welfare of the unfortunate and those in distress. He loves all the saints and never ceases to pray for the sinner’” (Smith and Stewart, Life of Joseph Fielding Smith, p. vii).


  • Will you magnify your calling? (Have the class members evaluate their feelings. Read the following challenge, asking them to thoughtfully consider their future roles in the kingdom of God.)

Testimony and Challenge

After challenging the class members to magnify their callings, bear your testimony that President Joseph Fielding Smith was a prophet of God and true to his calling to preach the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that Christ lives and loves us, and that we can draw nearer to him by heeding the prophets.

Videocassette testimony

If it is available, show the videocassette, part 6 (1 minute, 47 seconds), of Joseph Fielding Smith’s testimony. If the videocassette is unavailable, read the testimony as printed here.

“I rejoice in the work of the Lord and glory in the sure knowledge I have in my soul of its truth and divinity. With all my heart I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, that he called the Prophet Joseph Smith to stand at the head of this dispensation and to organize again on the earth the Church and kingdom of God on earth and the work in which we are engaged is true.”