There lived in my neighborhood a noble, white-haired patriarch, Bryant S. Hinckley, who was loved by all and was famous for many things, not the least of which was his Sunday School class. This elderly gentleman had seen the wagon train trails become freeways and the oxcarts replaced by jets. He was an outstanding teacher and the father of Elder Gordon B. Hinckley.
He once said about service, “Service is the virtue that has distinguished the great of all times and which they will be remembered by. It places a mark of nobility upon its disciples. It is the dividing line which separates the two great groups of the world—those who help and those who hinder, those who lift and those who lean, those who contribute and those who only consume. How much better it is to give than to receive. Service in any form is comely and beautiful. To give encouragement, to impart sympathy, to show interest, to banish fear, to build self-confidence and awaken hope in the hearts of others, in short to love them and to show it is to render the most precious service.”
The greatest example, the one who served us all, our Savior Jesus Christ, was totally committed to serving us. His acts during his ministry were all designed to help and to lift other people. He was concerned not only for their spiritual needs but also their mundane, temporal necessities. Consider how at the time he fed the 5,000, his disciples urged him to send the people away so that they would not bother him; but Jesus would not send them away. Instead, with bread and fishes he took care of their temporal needs as an act of service.
In Doctor Hudson’s Secret Journal Lloyd C. Douglas said, “We love best those whom we most zealously serve.” Perhaps this is one reason why Christ’s love for us is so great. His love has given us everything, everything we have—our power to think, our power to move, our power to change, to grow, even eventually to dwell with him.
I love the Spanish translation of the Relief Society slogan (“Charity Never Faileth”), which says, “El amor nunca deja de ser.” “The love that never ceases to be.” This is the kind of love that Jesus has for us. And if we devote our whole lives to him, we cannot give him one thing that he doesn’t, in a sense, already own. It’s like C. S. Lewis’s explanation of a small child who came to his father and said, “Give me a dollar to buy you a birthday present.” The father does it and is pleased with the gift, but who would think that the father is a dollar richer for the transaction?
So it is in our lives: if there is no chance to give, there is no chance to love. And if we are to fulfill our destinies, then we must serve. We are a chosen people—chosen not for any high honor or special place in God’s kingdom, but chosen to serve. It is service that sanctifies. The Savior said it over and over again: “… when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17.) “… Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.) “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you. …” (John 13:34.)
You may have heard the familiar Christmas story, which is taken from a poem by Edwin Markham, about the cobbler or shoemaker whose name was Conrad.
As he slept, Christ appeared to him and said that he would visit him that day in his shop. So Conrad hastened to make ready. He scrubbed and washed his shop, polished every surface that he could find, went out and brought in green branches and sprigs of holly, and dressed his shop up to make it as beautiful as he could for his great guest. Then lovingly he set the table and prepared the food, and when all was in readiness he took his place at the work bench and sat there shaping and stitching shoes. Hours and hours went by. He thought about what he would do when the Savior came; how he would wash His feet and offer Him fresh water and drink. Finally, they would sit together and eat.
As the day wore on, it rained—a cold, driving rain—and as he was looking out the window waiting for the Savior to come, he noticed a beggar slowly making his way along the street. The poor man limped as though his feet were terribly sore. So, full of pity and being people-oriented, Conrad called to him and asked him in and made him a gift of a fine pair of shoes. The beggar then went away, walking more easily because of the fine new shoes.
A little later an old lady came by carrying a heavy load of firewood on her back. She looked weak and ill. Conrad stopped her and made her rest in his shop and gave her some of the food that he had prepared for his coming guest. Still later as the sun was going down, a small boy stood at Conrad’s door crying bitterly. He was lost and too frightened to find his way home. So, the good shoemaker took compassion on the child and took him across town to his home and left him safe in his mother’s arms. He hurried back fearful that he might have missed his great guest.
As night came, Conrad began to wonder if he had misinterpreted his dream, and he said, “‘Why is it, Lord, that your feet delay? Did you forget that this was the day?’ And then soft in the silence a voice he heard, ‘Lift up your heart for I kept my word. Three times I came to your friendly door, three times my shadow was on your floor. I was the beggar with bruised feet. I was the woman you gave to eat and I was the child on the homeless street.’”
It is interesting that this same story has been told by many other writers, and in all the versions of this story the person who longs for the closeness of God finds it in giving of himself in service to others. Most of us take a long time to realize that unselfish love does not come naturally to anybody. It is something that we have to develop, and it is the only way that we find happiness. Deep within everyone there is a need to make some kind of contribution to other people’s lives. We must be rendering service. If we don’t help, something seems to be lacking in life. We have a sense of emptiness.
But there is a secret about helping or serving. Lloyd C. Douglas wrote a book about it called the Magnificent Obsession. The secret is to help without reward and without publicity, without finding yourself in the Church News or in the New Era. Read carefully the sixth chapter of Matthew. Here you will see the Savior taught it to us also.
“Take heed that you do not bear your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
“That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. 6:1–4.)
To give alms is nothing unless you give a little thought also. In Psalms it doesn’t say blessed is he that feedeth the poor, but “blessed is he that considereth the poor.” (Ps. 41:1.) A little thought is often better than a great deal of money. The poor and the needy often resent charity because they recognize that beneath the giving lies a feeling of superiority, and that poisons the gift at the source. We must learn to serve and to give so that the recipient feels like he is doing us a favor.
Sidney Harris tells us of a tremendous example of this very thing in French history: “One of the loveliest examples is a note that Corot, the painter, sent to his friend, Daumier, who was nearly blind and facing eviction on his 65th birthday. ‘Friend, I have a little house at Valmondois which I could not for the life of me think what to do with. Suddenly, I thought to give it to you. Liking the idea, I have had your ownership legally confirmed. I had no idea of doing you a good turn. The whole scheme was carried out to annoy your landlord. Ever yours, Corot.’ And Daumier wrote gratefully in reply. ‘You are the only man from whom I could take such a present and not feel humiliated.’” We must always leave a person’s self-respect intact.
Much of our present-day, organized service lacks this essential person-to-person contact and, therefore, makes the people who receive our charity both greedy and sullen. The poor know that it is easier to give money than to give kindness. The gift must suit the person, be individualized, and the giver must be sensitive, tactful, and concerned. He must have empathy and a warm, affectionate approach.
The other part of the secret is that the real gift of service calls for sacrifice. To give something away that we no longer want is not a real act of service. To give from a sense of duty is doing the right thing for the wrong reason. To give something away that we care for and would like to keep for ourselves but that someone needs more than we do—that’s giving in the real, true sense. The finest gift of giving is of ourselves out of love. “The least disciple cannot say he hath no alms to give away if love be in his heart.”
C. S. Lewis uses an apt expression in speaking of the second coming of Christ: “When the author comes on the stage the play is over.” You young people may be the generation to applaud when the curtain comes down. The dean in Doctor Hudson’s Secret Journal said, “And if we are immortal at all, then we are immortal now,” and so when the curtain comes down, we can and will go on serving in God’s kingdom if that is the character trait that we have mastered here. And for those of us not so fortunate as to remain for the Savior’s coming, we should remember what Schweitzer said about serving: “No man needs to fear death. He need fear only that he may die without knowing the greatest power—the power of his free will to give his life for others.”
Service is a mainstay of the gospel, and much of the gospel is service in action. The priesthood is given to us as an administrative power to serve others. We are given that authority, delegated by God, to help others. And it is one of the beautiful compensations of life that you can’t help someone else without helping yourself. God in his wisdom and kindness wants us to return to him as much like Jesus as possible. Jesus set the example—an example of true and loving service. Follow him.