Elder James J. Hamula
General Authority Seventy
Elder James J. Hamula was sustained a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 5, 2008, at age 50. At the time of his call as a General Authority, he had been serving as an Area Seventy in the North America Southwest Area. From 2009 to 2014, Elder Hamula was a member of the Pacific Area Presidency headquartered in Auckland, New Zealand, serving for three years as Area President. Currently, Elder Hamula is Assistant Executive Director of the Church History Department.
Elder Hamula received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and philosophy from Brigham Young University in 1981. He graduated magna cum laude with highest honors. In 1985, he received both a Master of Arts degree in political philosophy and a Juris Doctorate degree from Brigham Young University. From 1985 until his call to be a General Authority, Elder Hamula practiced law.
Elder Hamula has served in a number of Church callings including full-time missionary in the Germany Munich Mission, bishop, Young Men's president, stake president, president of the Washington D.C. South Mission (1994-1997), and Area Seventy (2000-2008).
James Joseph Hamula was born in Long Beach, California, on November 20, 1957. He married Joyce Anderson in April 1984. They are the parents of six children.
Today is a very significant day in the history of the Restoration. On September 22, 1827, one hundred and eighty-eight years ago, Joseph Smith received from the angel Moroni the plates from which Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. On this same date four years earlier, following three visitations from Moroni the night before and a fourth visitation from Moroni in the morning, Joseph went to the Hill Cumorah, found and opened the stone box containing the plates, and saw the plates for the first time. On or about this same date until 1827, Joseph returned to the Hill Cumorah to receive "instruction and intelligence" from Moroni preparatory to his receipt of the plates.
Last week, my wife, Joyce, and I had the privilege of visiting once again Palmyra, New York. We stood once again in the Sacred Grove where God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820. We visited the reconstructed frontier home of Joseph Smith's youth, and stood in the upper room of that home where Moroni visited Joseph Smith three times in the night. We visited the field where Joseph Smith was visited the fourth time by Moroni. We visited the Hill Cumorah where Joseph found and recovered the Book of Mormon plates under Moroni's direction.
Subsequently, Joyce and I traveled to Harmony Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. There, we were privileged to witness the dedication of a new Church History site by President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At this new Church History site, my wife and I visited the reconstructed home of Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, the parents of Joseph's wife, Emma. After Joseph received the Book of Mormon plates, Joseph and Emma left Palmyra and took up residence in this home for a short time. It was in this home that Joseph began translating the plates for the first time, with the assistance of Emma and her brother Reuben.
At this site, Joyce and I also visited Joseph and Emma's first home of their own, reconstructed in its original place on the Hale farmstead. Purchased by Joseph and Emma from Emma's parents, this home was the place where Joseph translated most of the Book of Mormon. Joyce and I also visited the wooded place where John the Baptist gave Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Aaronic Priesthood, and the place in the Susquehanna River where Joseph and Oliver baptized themselves with Aaronic Priesthood authority. In these same general precincts, other sacred events occurred, including the visitation of Peter, James, and John bestowing Melchizedek Priesthood authority on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph's receipt of revelations that now make up 15 sections of our Doctrine and Covenants.
Having visited in recent days these important sites in the history of the Restoration and having been in the company of one of the Lord's special witnesses of the Restoration, I come to you today with a deeper spiritual witness of a fundamental claim of the Lord's restored gospel, namely that the heavens are open again. As in times past, God in Heaven is speaking again to man on earth. As Joseph Smith proclaimed to the early Church, "Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven!; and a voice of truth out of the earth; ... a voice of gladness for the living and the dead ... how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life."1
With this renewed witness of the heavens being open again, and on this day of repeated angelic ministration in our history, I desire to teach and testify today regarding the reality of the heavens being open again to mankind. Drawing from the revelations given to Joseph Smith and others, I desire to share doctrines and principles, which if accepted and practiced, will allow the heavens to open up to you, and allow you to hear in your life the voice of gladness, the voice of mercy, the voice of glory, which is the voice of the Lord.
In my 18th year of life, I was approaching the time that young men in the Church are expected to serve full-time missions. I had grown up in an active LDS family, and I had heard the President of the Church, then Spencer W. Kimball, declare that every young man should serve a mission. Yet, as the time of my serving a mission approached, I was uncertain whether I should serve. I simply could not say for myself that the Church was true, and if I could not say it for myself, I did not feel I should say it to others.
One evening, I was sitting in my bedroom pondering my circumstances. I had recently finished reading the Book of Mormon for the first time, but doing so had not caused me to feel any differently about the Church. As I sat pondering in my bedroom my desire to know whether the Church was true, a thought came to me: "Read the Joseph Smith story."
Responding to the thought, I opened the Joseph Smith story and read it earnestly for the first time. I read of a young man, not much different from me in age, who found himself in a state of confusion on the subject of religion. He described a "war of words and tumult of opinions" among the religionists of his day, which left him uncertain on which of all the parties was right. "What is to be done?" I read him asking himself. "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?."2
As I read Joseph's description of his circumstances, I felt that Joseph's story was my story. I too was confused and uncertain on the subject of religion, and how to act I did not know.
I continued to read that Joseph came upon a verse in the Bible inviting him to pray. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally ... and it shall be given him."3 I read how Joseph said that this verse penetrated his heart with great force, and finally moved him to do as directed, that is ask God. I read how Joseph retired to a quiet wood near his home, knelt down, and offered up the desires of his heart to God.4 And I read how in response, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph and answered his heart-felt prayer.
After reading Joseph's account, I knew that I needed to do the same thing that Joseph had done. I needed to pray. I did not have a quiet wood to go to. I had only the quiet of my bedroom. I therefore closed the door, knelt at my bedside, and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God, not knowing what the outcome might be. I had prayed before, but not like this. As Joseph had described his prayer in the Sacred Grove, this was my first vocal prayer on a subject of intense and personal interest to me. On this occasion, my prayer went something like this: "Heavenly Father, if you are really there, and if Jesus is really your Son and the Savior of the world, and if Joseph Smith really saw the two of you, would you please, please tell me?"
Almost immediately, I had a feeling come over me that was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life up to that point. It was a feeling of love that entered into my heart and consumed my entire being. With it came an assurance to my mind that infused my whole being with a profound peace. So overwhelmed was I that I began to weep -- not out of fear, but out of joy. In this moment, the intense feelings of love and peace that were filling my soul delivered to me knowledge and intelligence that are more deep and enduring than can be obtained through the physical senses alone. Without seeing, touching, or hearing, I knew that there is a God in heaven, that He is my Father, that Jesus Christ is His Son and the Savior of mankind, and that Joseph Smith saw them both, just as he reported.
As the intensity of this experience abated, I wiped the tears from my eyes, and sat myself on my bed to reflect on what had happened. God the Father had answered my prayer. He loved me. I now had a witness from Him regarding fundamental truth claims of the Church. I felt such profound gratitude for having this witness, and I felt a great responsibility to act on that witness. Thereafter, I served a full-time mission. I married in the temple. And I have tried to remain true to this witness from that moment to the present hour.
Principles of Revelation
From this and other sacred experiences in my life, I know that the heavens are open. I know that they are open not only to the prophets; they are open to every child of our Father in Heaven. However, for the heavens to open up to the sons and daughters of God, they must understand and follow certain principles.
In saying this, I do not want to suggest that divine revelation can be produced at will. We are not in a position to demand, compel, or constrain anything from heaven. Such words do not describe our privileges with the heavens. All we can do is establish the conditions in our lives that may move the Lord to speak to us, when and as He wishes. We must always remember that God opens the curtains of His heaven and speaks to us "in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will."5
That said, what are the conditions that need to exist in our lives for the Lord to part the curtains of heaven and speak to us? What are the fundamental principles of revelation? I will identify four.
1. Exercise Faith in God our Father
First, you must exercise faith in God our Father. You must believe that He is there to hear you, and that He loves you enough to want to answer your prayers. Without such faith you will not be moved to pray, and without prayer the curtains of heaven will remain closed to you.
Some might ask, "How can I have faith in One from whom I have never heard?" In the language of Alma, "faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things . . . if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen [or yet known], which are true."6 At a minimum, you must simply "desire to believe" and "let this desire work in you" such that you are willing to "experiment" on the word of God and try to pray.7
In this regard, it helps to "desire to believe" that the One to whom you are directing your prayer is a loving, personal Father in Heaven. As the Bible dictionary suggests, most difficulties with prayer arise from a failure to exercise sufficient belief in the "relationship in which we stand toward God, namely God is our Father, and we are his children."8 In teaching his followers to pray, Jesus encouraged just such a belief. Said He: "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"9
2. Sincerely Inquire of God
Second, you must sincerely inquire of God. By this I mean that you must actually call upon the name of the Lord, speaking to Him out-loud and asking of Him what you desire. To his disciples in Jerusalem, Jesus said: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."10 Jesus gave the same counsel to his disciples in Bountiful. "For everyone that asketh, receiveth; he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened," He said to them.11 And at the outset of the Restoration, the Lord reiterated again and again the same counsel. As Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery commenced the work of translating the Book of Mormon, the Lord said to them: "If you will ask ofme, you shall receive; if you will knock, it shall be opened unto you."12 This instruction was, of course, the same that Joseph had found in the first epistle of James and that had moved him to go to the Sacred Grove to pray.
It has been said that there is no more common instruction in all of scripture than to call upon God our Father and ask of Him what you desire. This instruction, invariably accompanied by the promise that God will answer, is strong evidence of Heavenly Father's deep love for us and His readiness to provide us His counsel and wisdom on all issues of concern to us. But, our Father's love for us and His readiness to answer our prayers should not be understood to mean that we need to provide little to no effort in securing answers from Him. God our Father intends for us to grow and progress to become more like Him. Thus, He provides us His counsel and wisdom only after we give substantial effort to understanding and addressing the matter of concern we present to Him in prayer.
At the outset of the Restoration, the Lord made this point to Oliver Cowdery, as he sought for revelation in Harmony, Pennsylvania. "[Y]ou have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me . . . [B]ehold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me."13 Joseph Smith followed this counsel almost instinctively, and we can see the results in his life. Before going to the Sacred Grove, Joseph had given considerable thought and study to the issue of which Church was right and which he should join. And before he began to translate the Book of Mormon, Joseph pondered over and studied carefully the characters on the plates in an effort to understand them. Earnest study and pondering deepens and demonstrates one's sincerity to hear from the Lord, and it makes one's mind and heart more sensitive to and ready for the Lord's eventual answer.
In addition, we demonstrate our sincerity when calling upon the Lord by being committed to act as He directs. Again, Joseph Smith is our example. Joseph did not go to the Sacred Grove and pray simply to find out which church was right. He wanted to find out from God which church he should join. Knowing what was right was a pre-condition to doing what was right. "My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of the sects was right," Joseph said, "that I might know which to join . . . I [therefore] asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right . . . and which I should join."14 This was not a casual curiosity for Joseph; he was committed to act.
Indeed, Joseph was committed to act on whatever he received from God, even if it was contrary to his own expectations. Remember, Joseph's original question to the Lord was "which of all the sects was right." In other words, in going to the Lord Joseph was presuming that one of the religious sects in his day had to be sufficiently right for him to join. As he later observed, "at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong."15 Thus, for the Lord to tell Joseph that he "must join none of [the sects], for they were all wrong" must have come as a great surprise to him. Yet, Joseph acted on what the Lord told him to do, notwithstanding all the subsequent difficulty it posed to him.
3. Earnestly Listen for God's Voice
The third principle of having the heavens open to you is to earnestly listen for the voice of the Lord.
As often as the Lord and his prophets enjoin us to call upon God, equally often, if not more so, is the scriptural injunction to listen for and hear the voice of the Lord. There is perhaps no more powerful example of this than Joseph Smith's experience in the Sacred Grove. When the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph in response to his sincere prayer, our Father said to Joseph: "This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him!"16Note well our Father's injunction to Joseph, and to all of us who accept Joseph's account—hear my Son, listen to Him, give ear to Him, hearken to His voice. Over and over again, the Lord and his prophets repeat this command. In this regard, it is significant to note that the very first word in the Lord's preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, our collection of modern-day revelation, is "hearken." "Hearken, O ye people of my church ... hearken ye people from afar ... listen together."17
Where and how might we find the voice of the Lord? His voice may be found in three ways. First, the voice of the Lord may be heard in the voice of His servants. Before the Church was even organized, the Lord said to Joseph Smith in Harmony, Pennsylvania: "this generation shall have my word through you."18 A year later, on the day the Church was formally organized the Lord told the members of the Church: "thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments," referring to the presiding elder of the Church, Joseph Smith. "His word ye shall receive, as if from my own mouth, in all patience and faith."19 From such statements, it should be clear to us that, as far as the Lord is concerned, "whether by my own voice, or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."20
Second, the voice of the Lord may be heard in the accepted scriptures of the Church, both ancient and modern. Nephi pled with the reader of his writings: "hearken unto these words . . . for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me."21 Centuries later, the Lord himself affirmed Nephi's statement to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer in Fayette, New York: "these words are not of men nor of man, but of me . . . it is my voice which speaketh them unto you . . . Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words."22
Finally, the voice of the Lord may be heard in the ministration of the Spirit directly to one's soul. "[M]y voice is Spirit," said the Lord to Joseph Smith.23 And, as Nephi taught, the Spirit carries the words of the Lord and his servants "unto the hearts of the children of men."24 This is enormously important to understand. What this means is that it is the Spirit of the Lord that allows you to hear His voice, whether it be through his servants, through the scriptures, or directly to your soul.25 Thus, in the final analysis hearing the voice of the Lord depends on discerning the ministration of the Spirit to your soul.
So, how does the Spirit minister to the souls of men? At the outset of the Restoration, the Lord answered this vitally important question. In Harmony, Pennsylvania, the Lord told Oliver Cowdery that as often as he had inquired of the Lord, the Lord had given him instruction. The instruction came, He said, through the "enlightening" of Oliver's mind by the Spirit,26 and by the Lord "speak[ing] peace" to his mind.27 On another occasion in Harmony, the Lord promised Oliver that he would "receive a knowledge of whatsoever things [he would] ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that [he] would receive."28 If he would ask in this manner, the Lord promised Oliver: "I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost ... this is the spirit of revelation."29
Note how the Lord describes His manner of speaking by the Spirit. He "speaks peace" to the mind. He "enlightens" the mind. And He speaks to the mind and the heart. Other scriptures describe the voice of the Lord as being still, small, mild, and whisper-like, rather than loud, harsh, thunderous, or a tumultuous noise.30 Reflecting on these scriptures, President Boyd K. Packer once observed: "The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses ... gently."31
Now, if the voice of the Lord manifests itself to us in the form of whisper-like thoughts to the mind and gentle feelings to the heart, then if you wish to hear the voice of the Lord you will need to search your mind and heart for such small and quiet impressions in response to sincere petitions to the heavens. While the voice of the Lord does press itself firmly enough on us from time to time to ensure we pay heed, most of the time His voice is so soft and gentle that you will miss it if there is too much distracting noise in your life. Therefore, to hear the voice of the Lord, you need to set aside a time and place of quiet reverence where gentle, delicate impressions of the mind and heart can be felt and discerned. When such impressions come, trust them; this is the Spirit speaking to you.32
4. Act in Faith on What you Receive
Trusting the gentle, delicate impressions that come to you leads to the fourth principle of opening the heavens to you -- act in faith on what you receive from the Lord.
As you begin to receive the voice of the Lord, you will find that He does not reveal to you everything that you want to know, or think you need to know. Rather, you will find that He gives you only what you need to know to take the next step forward. "For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little."33 Referring to this declaration of the Lord, Elder David A. Bednar has observed that while we may want big answers quickly and all at once, the Lord's pattern for speaking to us is to give us "many small answers over a period of time."34
For example, Nephi did not learn to build the ship that carried him and his family across the great ocean to the promised land all at once; rather, he was shown by the Lord "from time to time after what manner [he] should work the timbers of the ship."35 Likewise, Joseph Smith did not receive the doctrines and ordinances of the restored gospel all at once; rather, he received them over a period of time with one revelation building on another. In all of this we learn the Lord's pattern for having us grow and develop. Of the Lord himself, the revelations say that He "received not of the fullness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; and thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first."36
The Lord gives us line upon line, precept upon precept in order to try and prove us.37 If we faithfully act on what He gives us, we receive more. If we do not, we receive no more, and indeed lose what we once had. "[B]lessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel," the Lord taught Nephi, "for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have."38 Thus, to have the heavens open to you and to keep them open to you, you must act in faith on what the Lord reveals, no matter how small or meager it may be. Trusting the light you receive and moving forward to the edge of that light will put you in the position of having to ask for more light to illuminate your way. In asking for more, you will receive more, and when you trust what you receive and move forward again to the edge of the light received, you will need to ask and receive and act again. This is the process of receiving "revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge," which is promised to the faithful inquirer of the Lord.39 It is indeed the process by which you grow from "grace to grace," as the Lord Himself did,40 and in time acquire the "mind of Christ."41
Now, you may ask what you should do if you ask God in faith and earnestly listen for His voice, but do not discern Him speak to you by His Spirit? Here is my answer - proceed with the best judgment you have, while continuing to listen for the voice of the Lord. If you have thoroughly studied the matter of concern to you, have prayed sincerely to the Lord for His guidance, and have sought earnestly to hear the voice of the Lord, which includes studying the Lord's scriptures and seeking the counsel of His servants such as your bishop, then act using the best judgment you have on the matter, while continuing to listen for the voice of the Lord. If you start to move in a direction that is wrong or otherwise injurious to your spiritual welfare, I promise you that the Lord will clearly warn you before you make a serious mistake. You may need to exercise the courage to heed that warning and change your direction, but you can be sure that the warning will come before any spiritual harm occurs. Likewise, if you start to move in a direction that is right, I promise you that the Lord will confirm to you very clearly that you have chosen right and well.
Why does the Lord sometimes put us in the position of not hearing clearly from Him before we have to make a decision and act on a matter of concern to us? The answer is again that He desires that we learn to think and judge as He does. We are His children, and His work and glory is to have us become all that He is. Therefore, from time to time our Father will not clearly speak to us, letting us instead exercise our best judgment. If in exercising our best judgment, we choose to act contrary to His mind and will, the Lord will tell us so in a clear and unmistakable way before we act to our detriment. Likewise, if in exercising our best judgment, we choose in accordance with His mind and will, the Lord will confirm to us in due course that we have chosen well. In this manner, the Lord teaches us to think and judge as He does, and helps us acquire the "mind of Christ."
My young friends, I know from my own sacred experience, shared in part with you this day, that the heavens are open. I testify that the heavens will open to you as you make Joseph Smith's story your story. Have faith that God is your loving Father in Heaven. Sincerely call upon Him, asking of Him what you most desire. Earnestly listen for His voice, understanding where you may find His voice and how His voice will come to you. When His voice comes to you, act in faith on what He counsels you to do. Pursue this course, and you will grow up in Him and, in due time, become even as He is, "grace for grace."
I bear witness of the reality of the Father and the Son, and of the reality of the Restoration initiated by the Prophet Joseph Smith and continued by living prophets and apostles, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
1. D&C 128:19, 23.2. JS-H 1:10.3. JS-H 1:11; James 1:5.4. JS-H 1:15.5. D&C 88:68.6. Alma 32:21.7. Alma 32:27.8. See LDS Bible Dictionary, "Prayer".9. Matthew 7:9-11.10. Matthew 7:7.11. 3 Nephi 14:8; see also Matthew 7:8.12. D&C 6:5.13. D&C 9:7-8.14. JS-H 1:18.15. JS-H 1:18.16. JS-H 1:17.17. D&C 1:1.18. D&C 5:10.19. D&C 21:4-5.20. D&C 1:38; see also D&C 68:4; Luke 10:16.21. 2 Nephi 33:10.22. D&C 18:34-36. 23. D&C 88:66; see also D&C 75:1; 97:1.24. 2 Nephi 33:1.25. See D&C 68:4.26. D&C 6:14-15.27. D&C 6:23.28. D&C 8:1.29. D&C 8:2.30. See, e.g., Helaman 5:30, 3 Nephi 11:3, D&C 85:6.31. Boyd K. Packer, "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, January 1983.32. D&C 11:12.33. 2 Nephi 28:30.34. David A. Bednar, "Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept," New Era, September 2010.35. 1 Nephi 18:1.36. D&C 93:13-14.37. D&C 98:12.38. 2 Nephi 28:30.39. See D&C 42:61.40. See D&C 93:20.41. See 1 Corinthians 2:11-16.