I believe that by studying the different scriptural accounts that we have been given of the different prophets of all ages we can discover a pattern of receiving direction from the Lord.
In 1 Nephi, chapter 1, an account is given of an experience Lehi had that is similar to the first vision account given by Joseph Smith.
Nephi 1:5 Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.
6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.
7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at
; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen. Jerusalem
Although Lehi summarizes his experience by saying he “saw and heard much”, the wording he uses to describe his experience is similar to that of Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith History 1:14 So, 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.
15 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.
16 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.
17 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!
Like Lehi, Joseph describes the fatigue he felt after the experience by stating, “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.”
At about the same time that Lehi had his vision, the prophet Ezekiel had a similar experience with the Lord. Instead of using the terminology of “pillar of fire” to describe what he saws, he explained the phenomenon as “the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.” I believe that this is simply another description of a “pillar” like light formation.
Moses describes his experience with the description of a “burning bush” and states that the experience left him weak by stating that it was “the space of many hours before he received his natural strength” again.
In all these experiences the person who received the gift of the Lord by vision were forever changed. Anyone who receives the greater light is forever changed.
Do we seek for that great change?