Here is my talk... (minus the ad-libbing I did)
When my sister-in-law Katie was 7 years old, her father was called to be a mission president in Louisiana. He was 41, and had his own law practice that he was running. He had 6 children, ranging in age from 17 to 3 years old, and another that was born while they were serving. The call to serve came at a time that meant a great sacrifice to their family, to leave their friends and job, and travel to Louisiana to run the mission there.
However, Katie’s parents had faith that the Lord would bless them if they made the sacrifices necessary to fulfill this calling. Their family grew closer together as they had to rely on each other for friendship in a new area. The family was able to grow spiritually because of the service that the family rendered to the missionaries and people in that area. And there are many blessings that the family knows they have received that are unseen.
I cannot imagine the sacrifice of uprooting a young family, leaving a successful law practice and going to an area where there were few members to serve as the mission president. It would have been easy for their family to make excuses. And yet, when called, there was no question that they would go and serve for the Lord.
Often, the spirit of God whispers to us at the most inconvenient times. A neighbor’s need, for example, becomes clear to us just when we set ourselves about what seems to be a much more pressing task. Occasionally, the Lord will give us a church calling that just does not seem to fit with the other demands on our time, or with what we see ourselves capable of. Sometimes, personal circumstances seem to prevent us from placing everything we have on the altar of personal consecration. We may say to ourselves, “If I can just take care of a few things, then I will be ready to help,” or “I have so little to give, surely the Lord must be mistaken.” We may not try to physically flee like Jonah did, but our response may be the same nonetheless.
In 3 Nephi 17 we read how Christ had been teaching the people, and announced that he was going to leave them until the next day. Verse 4 says, “But now I go unto the Father and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel…” However, in the next verse continues with “And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.” Christ had compassion on the people, and put his plans to leave and go visit the other tribes of Israel on hold. Instead, he took the time to bless the sick among them, to bless their children, and to administer the sacrament to the people. He was not concerned with getting on with his business, but knew that the Nephites needed him to stay a little longer.
Are we willing to follow Christ’s example and change our plans to bless the lives of others. Those of us who have been baptized have agreed to do this. We have agreed to take the name of Christ upon us, and by so doing we must follow the example he set.
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other… the more we follow the teachings of the Master, the more enlarged our perspective becomes. We see many more possibilities for service than we would have seen without this magnification. There is great security in spirituality, and we cannot have spirituality with out service!”
The spirituality that President Kimball talks about is a wonderful blessing that comes from serving, but to receive it, it is necessary for us to take a personal inventory of the reasons we serve.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave a conference address in 1984 that discussed the various reasons people may serve. He said, “
People serve on another for different reasons, and some reasons are better than others. Perhaps none of us serves in every capacity all the time for a single reason. Since we are imperfect beings, most of us probably serve for a combination of reasons, and the combinations may be different from time to time as we grow spiritually. But we should all strive to serve for the reasons that are highest and best.”
Elder Oaks gave examples of motivation people may have when they serve, such as hope for an earthly reward (such as praise, honor or riches), fear of Godly punishment, or a sense of loyalty or duty. However, Elder Oaks suggested there are two higher motivations we should strive to have.
One such higher motivation is the hope of an eternal reward. Service for this reason necessarily involves faith in God, and in the fulfillment of his prophecies. The scriptures use eternal reward as a means of motivation. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 14:7 The Lord said, “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God.”
The last motive Elder Oaks discusses is what he calls, “the highest reason of all. In it’s relationship to service, it is what the scriptures call “a more excellent way.”
Elder Oaks is talking about Charity, or the Pure love of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, the apostle Paul expands on the importance of Charity. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all the mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity never faileth.”
If our service is to truly be effective, it must be accomplished because we love God and we love his children, and we desire to bring God’s love to those who need it.
This is a high standard… to have our service motivated by only the pure love of Christ. If we have difficulty, we are counseled in Moroni 7:48 to “…pray unto the father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his son, Jesus Christ.”
When Elliott and I were living in Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to be in the same ward as my cousin Natalie. We became very good friends over the 3 years that we lived near each other. During that time, Elliott was working on getting his MBA, and also running a company he started with a couple of other guys. Although I was not working outside the home, I was stressed as I tried to care for a newborn and her two rambunctious brothers, along with teaching Gospel Doctrine and leading the Ward Choir each week. It’s true, I don’t handle stress well!
Natalie was a true example of Christ-like love.. Even though she was suffering from painful endometriosis at the time, she would have the boys and I over for dinner all the time, she would watch the kids for me so I could take a shower, and she even cleaned my house for me a couple of times. She did these things because she saw the need, and loved me enough to have a desire to serve me. I think I kept my sanity thanks to her help.
Luckily, the Lord has blessed us all with various talents. We are able to serve in the capacities he calls us to through the talents he has given us, and will continue to bless us with.
Former General Relief Society President Mary Ellen Smoot said, “Truly, we may each be an instrument in the hands of God. Happily, we need not all be the same kind of instrument. Just as the instruments in an orchestra differ in size, shape, and sound, we too are different from one another. We have different talents and inclinations, but just as the French horn cannot duplicate the sound of the piccolo, neither is it necessary for us to all serve the Lord in the same way. Our privilege and our responsibility as daughters of God and as sisters of Relief Society, then, is to become the most effective instruments we can be.”
Likewise, Elder Neal Maxwell said, “I know the celestial criteria measure service, not status; the use of our talents, not the relative size of our talent inventories. We, more than others, should carry jumper and tow cables not only in our cars, but in our hearts, by which means we can send the needed boost or charge of encouragement or added momentum to mortal neighbors. The significance of our service does not depend on its scale. We may feel underused, underwhelmed, and underappreciated, even as we ironically ignore unused opportunities for service which are all about us. Frequently, we busily search for group service projects, which are surely needed and commendable, when quiet, personal service is also urgently needed. There are so many times when genuine human service means giving graciously our little grain of sand, placing it reverently to build the beach of brotherhood. We get no receipt, and our little grain of sand carries no brand; its identity is lost, except to the Lord.”
May I challenge each of us to look at our motivations in serving our fellow men. May we pray to Heavenly Father that he will give us the strength to answer the calls he gives us to serve, whether through a church calling or the whisperings of the spirit. May we try to make our motivation one of the love of God and his children as we serve those around us.