As I contemplated the upcoming year today I reviewed a talk I gave in church on December 29, 2002. Its’ challenge was to develop a charitable attitude during the course of the next year. For me this is as important a goal for the coming year as it was then. Perhaps even more as there seems to be a never ending series of crisis where charity can make a difference; war is ever present, economic woes seem never ending; natural disasters of one form or another; the almost uncountable lives impacted in the wake of substance abuse … . Of course one of the biggest blessings associated with true charity is the impact on the individual practicing it. You’ll find the talk below.
Savior may I learn to love thee, walk the path that thou hast shown.
Pause to help and lift another, finding strength beyond my own.
Who am I to judge another, when I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see.
I would be my brothers’ keeper; I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary I would show a gentle heart.
Savior may I love my brother, as I know thou lovest me.
Find in thee my strength, my beacon, for thy servant I would be.
What a wonderful message! These words express the desire of a heart in tune with the Spirit. A message which, if internalized by a relative few, could truly change the world. I am reminded of King Benjamin’s sermon from which this song could well have been distilled:
“And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God …, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you…, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, … .
“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true.
“And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.
“And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; … But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” — Mosiah 4:11-16
How can we be become this person; who is filled with the strength of the Lord and is his brothers’ keeper?
One way is to cultivate a desire to serve others and incorporate this into our lives. Elder Derek A. Cuthbert of the Quorum of the Seventy said this in a General Conference address April of 1990:
“Service changes people. It refines, purifies, gives a finer perspective, and brings out the best in each one of us. It gets us looking outward instead of inward. It prompts us to consider others’ needs ahead of our own. Righteous service is the expression of true charity, such as the Savior showed.” — Derek A. Cuthbert, “The Spirituality of Service,” Ensign, May 1990
Elder Ezra Taft Benson made these remarks in April 1979 General Conference:
“One of Satan’s greatest tools is pride: to cause a man or a woman to center so much attention on self that he or she becomes insensitive to their Creator or fellow beings. It’s a cause for discontent, divorce, teenage rebellion, family indebtedness, and most other problems we face.
“If you would find yourself, learn to deny yourself for the blessing of others. Forget yourself and find someone who needs your service, and you will discover the secret to the happy, fulfilled life.” — Ezra Taft Benson, “This Is a Day of Sacrifice,” Ensign, May 1979
I’d like to like share with you four thoughts regarding an attitude of service, which I gleaned from scriptures and conference addresses that can motivate us towards this end.
I. Establish a Tradition of Service in our Homes
First, to parents, we need to establish a tradition of service in our homes. I found the following remarks by A. Theodore Tuttle of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy in General Conference, April 1984 to be instructive:
“I have served in past years as both a mission president and as a temple president. I have watched the young people as they have come to the missions in South America and come to the temple for their endowments and sealings.
'”I have seen those who were well prepared, and those who were not so well prepared for these blessings. But, most of all, I watched anxiously for those who were not prepared—those who did not come at all—and wondered why.
“A few of them were from families where every effort had been made to prepare them for missionary service and for the blessings of the temple. Most of them, however, were from homes where they did not receive what was required to qualify them and to give them a desire to serve.
“In order to prepare youth for missionary service and for the temple blessings, parents must have more in mind than schooling. They must have more in mind than preparing for a career. They must have more in mind, really, than just to be a missionary—as though attendance was all that was required.
“There are three words that must be kept in mind: covenants, ordinances, and service.
“The training for covenants, for ordinances, and for service belongs in the home. If these are paramount in the minds of the parents, the youth will be prepared. And they will not, because of this, miss any essential training for their careers.” — A. Theodore Tuttle, “Covenants, Ordinances, and Service,” Ensign, May 1984, 23
This is a powerful admonition! How much more critical is it for us to give heed to it today than it was twenty plus years ago when it was given?
When I was a young boy my father taught me about the joy of serving. I was not always a willing pupil but in the end I gained a testimony of service as I saw how other lives were blessed and felt my heart swell with joy.
I remember each Christmas as we would go out into the forest to cut down our Christmas tree we would always cut an extra two or three and then deliver the nicest ones to those who were less fortunate than us. In the Seattle area where I grew up, it was usually cold and rainy on tree cutting day. I just wanted to get our tree and go but that was not to be. However, when I saw the excitement in other children’s eyes as they saw their tree and noticed the unspoken gratitude in the eyes of their parents it made next year’s chore a little easier.
Opportunities for service abound we just need to open our eyes. I’d like to recount another experience with my father. This is one of my most poignant memories. We were grocery shopping and my father noticed a young mother with a baby and toddler digging through her purse, counting and recounting her change as she put each new item in her shopping basket. When she turned the corner my father handed me a twenty-dollar bill (this was over forty years ago when bread was $0.25 a loaf). He asked me to take this to her and tell her that I saw it fall out of her purse. When I did she said a puzzled thanks and not much else. However we got to watch her as she filled her basket no longer pausing to look for more pennies in her purse.
Sister Barbara B. Smith then Relief Society General President told the following story at the October 1977 General Conference.
“I recently heard of a ward in which there were seventy sisters over seventy years of age. Their wise Relief Society president felt that even those who were homebound could serve, and so she gave each of the seventy sisters either a visiting teaching assignment or a compassionate service assignment. Even a sister stricken with a terminal disease was assigned to write a monthly letter to each of three sisters who were homebound. Some sisters were assigned to call other sisters each day to make sure they were all right.
“One sister continued to serve as a visiting teacher supervisor when she was ill and homebound. Her Relief Society president reported that, with much effort, this sister put on one of her prettiest dresses before doing the telephoning each month, feeling that this act gave her service importance and dignity as she filled this assignment for the Lord.” —Barbara B. Smith, “She Stretcheth Out Her Hand to the Poor,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, 89]
In an address to the Nephites, King Benjamin made the following statement:
“And behold I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” — Mosiah 2:17
Weaving service into the fabric of our children’s lives keeps all of us serving God.
II. Service Teaches Us to be Unselfish
Second, service teaches us to be unselfish and thus helps keep us from sin. I cannot think of any sin that does not involve selfishness; stealing, lying, immorality, idleness, substance abuse, … . Sin is always for our own gratification – not others. If we cultivate an attitude of service then these will not be apart of our lives. Additionally, service actually helps recompense for sin. The Apostle Peter counseled his flock:
“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover a multitude of sins.” — I Peter 4:8
William R. Bradford taught us in a General Conference address in October of 1987:
“Selflessness is righteousness. It embraces the true spirit of companionship. It is the very essence of friendship. It is the portrayer of true love and oneness in humanity. Its reward is the freeing of the soul, a nearness to divinity, a worthiness for the companionship of the Spirit. Every requirement that God’s plan for our salvation places upon us is based on the giving of one’s self.
“The only way under the heavens whereby a person can be sanctified is in selfless service.
Where the proper focus on gospel-centered, selfless service is not developed, selfishness takes over. Of all influences that cause men to choose wrong, selfishness is undoubtedly the strongest. Where it is, the Spirit is not. Talents go unshared, the needs of the poor unrequited, the weak unstrengthened, the ignorant untaught, and the lost unrecovered.
“Selfishness, viewed in its true sense, is the absence of empathy and compassion, the abandonment of brotherhood, the rejection of God’s plan, the isolation of one’s soul.” — William R. Bradford, “Selfless Service,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 75
Thus we see that when we serve others unselfishly we are following God’s plan but when selfishness enters our lives it has the power to remove us from our pathway home.
III. Service Builds Faith and Knowledge
Third, service builds faith and knowledge. The Lord gives us the following counsel:
“Let thy bowels also be full of charity toward all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” —D&C 121:45
What a wonderful blessing, confidence before God and knowledge bestowed on us, all predicated on being full of charity – which is evidenced by service.
I am reminded of an acquaintance of ours who felt prompted to help a young family. They went to the bank and withdrew some cash to put into an envelope and give to the family. Then before giving it felt prompted to put more cash in the envelope. Finally, just before the envelope was delivered, they again felt prompted to add to the amount. A surprisingly appreciative mother (surprisingly because she was very self-sufficient and did not seem the type to accept help) accepted the gift. Later in a thank-you letter she shared the following:
“We had recently spoken with the Bishop because our financial circumstances were very difficult. He asked us to review our situation, determine exactly how much was needed and to take the matter before the Lord. When we got home I made a list of only what we really needed and tallied the amount. We never went back to the Bishop but we did make this a matter a prayer. The amount you gave was within a single dollar of the amount I had written down. “
Imagine the increase of faith gained by both parties. The Lord had heard the righteous prayer of a family and answered. Two parties were blessed; the receiver and the givers who received the knowledge that they helped answer a prayer. Most of us do not receive such an explicit understanding that we are serving the Lord when we serve others but I testify to you that service always in the end builds faith and increases our knowledge of the Lord!
While on my mission in Denmark my companion and I were knocking on doors in an apartment building when an older lady opened the door (she most have been in her mid-forties). We received a strong impression that we needed to speak with her. We tried but to no avail as she shut the door on us.
Later that week we felt prompted again to visit her. Again, as soon as she opened we again felt the prompting that she needed us. We were quite explicit about the Lord wanting her to hear our message but again the door shut; this time with the threat that if you come again I will call the police.
The following week, I was in the same area with another missionary, and again felt the Spirit tugging at me and telling me to knock on her door. I tussled with the Spirit. There was the obvious lack of desire on the part of the woman to listen to us coupled by the threat of the police. Nonetheless the Spirit persisted and I relented. We cautiously knocked on the door. It opened and before I could open my mouth she welcomed us into her apartment. She said that had not been feeling well before but really wanted to speak to us. We subsequently had many wonderful discussions with her and she began to attend church just prior to the conclusion of my mission.
IV. Service is Essential
Fourth, developing an attitude of service is an essential part of our mission on earth. Let me just briefly share a couple of scriptures:
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” — Matthew 25:34-40
“And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
“He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
“And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.
“And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
“But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?
“And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
“And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
“And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,
“And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
“And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.
“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
“And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” — Luke 10:25-37
I leave you with this testimony from King Benjamin, which I know to be true.
“I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
“And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.” — Mosiah 2:21-22
I hope that as we begin the New Year we will cultivate a spirit of service in our lives. We will not only bless the lives of others but bring joy into ours.