Viewpoint: Give Selfless Service

Contributed By From the Church News

  • 23 March 2014

“A selfless person displays a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to purge from his or her mind and heart personal wants, and needs, and feelings. Instead of reaching for and requiring praise and recognition for himself, or gratification of his or her own wants, the selfless person will meet these very human needs for others.” —Elder H. Burke Peterson

Article Highlights

  • Selflessness, taught the late Elder H. Burke Peterson of the Seventy, is a divine attribute that produces individuals who are happy in their relationships with others and at peace with themselves.

A farmer was once approached by another farmer with a proposal that would help them both “save a few bucks.”

The second farmer, a longtime friend, suggested that the two men go in equally on the purchase of some needed farming equipment.

It seemed a logical proposal. Raising crops for a living is risky business—and a frugal farmer welcomes almost any opportunity to cut costs and expand slim profit margins. Plus, the new equipment offered both farmers the potential of increasing their respective yields.

But after much consideration the first farmer declined his friend’s offer. Yes, he agreed, the divided costs would ease their operating expenses—but the shared equipment carried a seed of conflict. What if both farmers’ fields were ripe for harvest on the same day? What if their respective irrigation turns arrived simultaneously? Each farmer could become selfish and would insist he needed the equipment most, jeopardizing both the harvests and a valued friendship.

That wise farmer proved an adroit observer of human nature—and, perhaps, of his own self. He understood that the limits of cooperation are often realized the moment one is asked to give something up at his or her own personal expense.

Selflessness is a rare attribute in a world where “looking out for number 1” often seems the safest decision. Still, placing the needs of another above one’s own remains an anchoring principle of Christianity.

Consider two other landowners—Abram and Lot—from ancient days. The 13th chapter of Genesis describes Abram (who would become Abraham) as “very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (verse 2). He was also a respected patriarch, presiding over a large extended family that included his nephew Lot.

The two men owned sizable (and evidently profitable) portions of land in Canaan. “And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together” (Genesis 13:6).

The Bible cites the growing hostility between the respective herdsmen of Abram and Lot. Their situation demanded a resolution. The customs of the day placed Abram in a position of essentially absolute power in any land negotiation between him and his nephew. As the family patriarch, it was his right to divide the property at his pleasure and to his advantage. His decision would be final.

But Uncle Abram cared more for his relationship with Lot than any commercial asset.

“And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren.

“Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8–9).

Lot would choose the “well watered” plain of Jordan, leaving his family leader with perhaps the less desirable portion in the land in Canaan. Self-interest fueled Lot’s decision, yet Abram bore him no grudge. Remember, it was Abram who would later save Lot’s life prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Abram placed another above himself and, in so doing, proved to be a true follower of Christ. He remains one of the anchors of Bible study—a blessed prophet who found timeless favor from God. His actions, compared to those of his nephew Lot, call to memory the words of Wendell Phillips: “How prudently most men sink into nameless graves, while now and then a few forget themselves into immortality” (as quoted by William Jennings Bryan, in “The Prince of Peace” [1925]).

Selflessness, taught the late Elder H. Burke Peterson of the Seventy, is a divine attribute that produces individuals who are, in Abram-like fashion, happy in their relationships with others and at peace with themselves.

In an April 1985 general conference address, Elder Peterson said: “A selfless person is one who is more concerned about the happiness and well-being of another than about his or her own convenience or comfort, one who is willing to serve another when it is neither sought for nor appreciated, or one who is willing to serve even those whom he or she dislikes. A selfless person displays a willingness to sacrifice, a willingness to purge from his or her mind and heart personal wants, and needs, and feelings. Instead of reaching for and requiring praise and recognition for himself, or gratification of his or her own wants, the selfless person will meet these very human needs for others. Remember the words of the Savior as he taught his disciples on an occasion when personal recognition was being sought: ‘But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, … whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:42–45) ” (“Selflessness: A Pattern for Happiness”).

Recently a 16-year-old priest accepted an assignment to teach the lesson in his Sunday priesthood quorum meeting. The young man was understandably nervous. His students that day included a classroom filled with his peers—along with the bishop and several other veteran advisers.

The priest would deliver a humble, heartfelt lesson on developing Christlike attributes. A few days later a letter arrived at the boy’s mailbox. Inside the envelope was a brief, handwritten message from one of the adult class members thanking the boy for his lesson and testimony.

It was a simple and selfless gesture that required little more than a 43-cent stamp and a few moments from a man’s busy day. But that letter increased that young priest’s confidence and enthusiasm to serve in his quorum.

Blessed are the world’s men and women, declared President Gordon B. Hinckley, “who love the Lord, who understand His eternal plan, who are imbued with a selflessness that prompts dedicated service without expectation of thanks or reward” (“Rejoice in This Great Era of Temple Building,” October 1985 general conference).