An Instrument in the Lord’s Hands

by Michael Pulsipher

As a young man living in Utah, I was used to people sharing facts about their ancestors who participated in early Church History events. In these discussions, I often related that my fifth great-grandfather, Zerah Pulsipher, baptized Wilford Woodruff. In fact, I shared this story so much that, in my mind, Zerah Pulsipher morphed into a special individual with the unique ability to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands for missionary work. 

In my own life, on the other hand, I felt that my time as an instrument of the Lord had finished after serving a beautiful mission in Guatemala.  When my official missionary service ended, I felt that I had become a run-of-the-mill Church member that the Lord just wasn’t using anymore. But those feelings changed soon after I started working as an intern for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. 

At first I wasn’t even thinking about the Lord or helping Him in His work. Instead, I was excited for the opportunity to interact with Wilford’s own journals and maybe discover Wilford’s side of the baptism story. I had already read Zerah’s account a few times, but Zerah hadn’t placed much emphasis on it and didn’t give a lot of details. So, after joining the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project, I set aside a few minutes and found Wilford’s journal entries where he wrote his first experiences with Zerah and the Church. 

In 1833, Wilford recorded that he, along with his older brother Azmon, were searching for the true church. When they heard about a meeting that had been organized by the visiting missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they eagerly attended. This was information that I already knew, but as I read about how Wilford met Zerah, my heart melted. Wilford wrote that while Zerah was praying and preaching that night, “I felt the spirit of God to bear witness that he was the servant of God. He then commenced preaching and that to us with authority, and when he had finished his discourse I truly felt that it was the first gospel sermon that I had ever he[a]rd ....”

After reading this, it occurred to me that I had been thinking about Wilford’s baptism and about my ancestor’s role in Wilford’s conversion in all the wrong ways. Zerah wasn’t unique or special. Instead, Zerah was a normal man trying to righteously fulfill what the Lord had called him to do. So when Zerah taught the gospel, he taught with authority and the Spirit of God, and the Lord was able to use Zerah to produce a miraculous missionary experience. 

When I read Wilford’s account, I realized that Zerah’s ability to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands wasn’t limited to his missionary calling. He could be an instrument in the Lord’s hands because he was living in a way that allowed the Lord to use him. Therefore, if the Lord wasn’t using me, it was not because He didn’t want to, but because I was not open to doing what He called me to do. That is the secret. 

The Lord called me as a missionary to serve in Guatemala, like He called Zerah in the early 1830s in New York. Now, I no longer wear a nametag on my chest, but the Lord still needs me to do other important things in my life for His children. Therefore, I need to answer His call, and be an instrument in His hands as I do what the Lord calls me to do. 

Michael Pulsipher is a Research Assistant for the Wilford Woodruff Papers Project. He is currently a senior at Brigham Young University-Provo, majoring in family history with a focus in the United Kingdom, and minoring in editing.

Michael Pulsipher

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"Journal (December 29, 1833 – January 3, 1838)," December 1, 1833, The Wilford Woodruff Papers,