First Presidency Message

Formula for Success


Thomas S. Monson

Formula for Success

During the meridian of time the apostle Peter declared: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). This is the destiny of every Latter-day Saint if he or she will live for the fulfillment of that destiny.

When the Savior was upon the earth, he taught with the use of parables. Remember the parable of the wise and the foolish virgins who were instructed to fill their precious lamps with oil; you will recall that five prepared properly and five did not prepare. Then came the day when the bridegroom appeared, and there was not additional oil to fill the lamps of those who were unprepared. Do you recall the rebuke of the Master on that occasion? “Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Matt. 25:12). A great lesson in preparation.

We recall also the parable of the talents. One was given five talents, another was given two, and another was given one. How pleased was the master with those individuals who had multiplied their talents and had put them to good use. How unhappy he was with the person who had but one talent and who, out of fear of losing that one talent, buried it in the ground. We know his words: “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30).

And we remember the parable of the fig tree. The fig tree had leaves, but produced no fruit; and the tree was commanded never to produce again. Remember the particular rebuke: “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.” Then came the response of those who observed the fulfillment of this command: “How soon is the fig tree withered away!” (Matt. 21:19–20.)

From those parables I would like to suggest that if we are really to be a chosen generation, we have the responsibility to be prepared, to be productive, to be faithful, and to be fruitful as well. What we need, as we journey along through this period known as mortality, is a compass to chart our course, a map to guide our footsteps, and a pattern whereby we might mold and shape our very lives. May I share with you a formula that in my judgment will help you and help me to journey well through mortality and to that great reward of exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our Heavenly Father.

First, fill your mind with truth; second, fill your life with service; and third, fill your heart with love.

Let’s talk about each one of the parts of the formula and see if each does not find lodgment within the human heart. First, fill your mind with truth. I’d like to suggest that when we search for truth, we search among those books and in those places where truth is most likely to be found. I’ve often referred to a simple couplet: “You do not find truth groveling through error. You find truth by searching the holy word of God.” There are those who for direction and inspiration turn to the philosophies of man. There a smattering of truth may be found, but not the entire spectrum. Sometimes the truth of such philosophies is based upon a shallow foundation. I think of the story of the monkey who was in a cage situated on the flight pattern near a large airport. The monkey became terrified initially as a plane would fly overhead, and in his fright he would rattle the bars of his cage. Soon he realized that as he rattled the bars of his cage, the airplane would fly away, and he would be safe. The monkey no doubt felt that the rattling of the bars of the cage caused the airplane, out of fright of him, to pass beyond and leave him alone. Of course the rattling of the bars of the cage had nothing to do with the departure of the airplane, and so it is with some of man’s philosophies. We need to turn to the truth of God.

I like the words of Louisa May Alcott, author of that all-time classic Little Women, who wrote:

I do not ask for any crown
But that which all may win;
Nor try to conquer any world
Except the one within.

You and I have the responsibility to learn the word of God, to understand the word of God, and then to live his word. By so doing, we will find that we have learned and accepted the truth. The Prophet Joseph Smith provided direct counsel. He said, “I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it.” 1

David M. Kennedy, a former special representative of the First Presidency, made a significant statement when he was called to be the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States. In an interview with the press, he was asked by a reporter if he believed in prayer. He boldly answered, “I believe in prayer, and I pray,” teaching the entire world that truth can come when one seeks help from his Heavenly Father.

This is a day when time is precious. This is a time when we cannot afford not to be engaged in an earnest search for truth. May we fill our minds with truth.

The second part of the formula is: Fill your life with service. From the Book of Mormon we learn, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). Missionaries particularly have a wonderful opportunity to give of their full time in sharing with all the world that commodity of such priceless value—a testimony of the gospel. To missionaries I declare that you have been called of God by prophecy and are divinely commissioned and sent forth in your sacred calling.

For a number of years it was my opportunity to serve as a member of the Missionary Executive Committee and to profit from the leadership of President Spencer W. Kimball, who was chairman of the committee. On one occasion I remember having read the detail on a particular missionary candidate, and President Kimball indicated that the young man would go, I believe, to London, England. Then he said, “No. That is not correct. Send the young man to the Denmark Copenhagen Mission.” I looked on the form and noticed that I had overlooked reading a very important statement from the stake president. I said, “President Kimball, have you ever seen this particular form before?” “No,” he replied. “Look at what the stake president has written,” I continued. “‘The grandfather of this missionary candidate is an immigrant from the land of Denmark. He is our stake patriarch. The missionary candidate was promised in his patriarchal blessing that if he lived true and faithful he would return to the land of his forebears, that he might preach the gospel in that particular land.’” President Kimball nodded his approval and said, “The Lord’s will has been made known today.”

Missionaries should go forward knowing that they are in the service of God, that they are going to share that most precious commodity—their testimonies. Remember, a testimony is perishable. That which you selfishly keep, you lose; that which you willingly share, you keep. All of us benefit when we remember to magnify our callings.

Our third part of the formula is: Fill your heart with love. I remember watching on television a very exciting baseball game between evenly matched teams. One of the teams had one of the greatest home run hitters of all time. After the game a reporter interviewed him. He didn’t talk too much about home runs or runs batted in. He talked about his father. The ball player was Hank Aaron. He did not have very much of this world’s goods when he was a young boy, but he loved baseball. It consumed his life. He said that he and his father used to sit in an old, abandoned car that was in the rear of their lot and talk for hour after hour. One day Hank said to his dad, “I’m going to quit school, Dad. I’m going to go to work so I can play baseball.” And Herbert Aaron said to his son, “My boy, I quit school because I had to, but you’re not going to quit school. Every morning of your young life I’ve put fifty cents on the table, that you might buy your lunch that day. And I take twenty-five cents with me, that I might buy my lunch. Your education means more to me than my lunch. I want you to have what I never had.” Hank Aaron said that every time he thought about that fifty-cent piece that his father put on the table every day, he thought how much that fifty cents meant to his father. It conveyed to him how much his schooling meant to his father. Hank Aaron said, “I never had too much difficulty staying in school when I reflected upon the love my father had for me. As a result of reflecting upon the love of my father, I obtained my schooling and played a lot of baseball.” That was putting it mildly from the greatest home run threat that ever stepped up to a baseball diamond—Henry Aaron.

Let us turn to a news release I once read from Los Angeles: “A blind father rescued his tiny daughter from drowning in the new swimming pool that had been installed in the neighborhood.” Then the story went on to describe just how this had been accomplished. The blind father had heard a splash when his little girl, who could not swim, fell into the pool. He was frantic and wondered how he might help her. It was evening, and she was the only one in the pool. He got upon his hands and knees and crawled around the outside edge of the pool and listened for the air bubbles that came from that little girl, as she was actually in the process of drowning. Then, with a heightened sense of hearing, he followed carefully the sound of those air bubbles and, in one desperate attempt, with love in his heart and a prayer within his soul, he jumped into the pool and grasped his precious daughter and brought her to the side and to safety. Love prompts such miracles.

When I think of love, I think of Abraham Lincoln, one of the outstanding presidents of the United States. He was also one of the nation’s greatest writers and orators. I have seldom read words that better characterize the love that a man can have for others than the love he described as he penned a letter to a mother who had lost all her sons in the Civil War. It is known as the Lydia Bixby Letter. Note carefully the words of Abraham Lincoln and see if you don’t feel within your heart the love that filled his:

Dear Madam:

I have just been shown, in the files of the War Department, a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming, but I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully, A. Lincoln

In our sacrament meetings we frequently sing the hymn:

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died. …
I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt!
Such mercy, such love, and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat,
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.

(Hymns, 1985, no. 193)

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me and the love Jesus offers you. I think of the love he provided in Gethsemane. I think of the love he provided in the wilderness. I think of the love he provided at the tomb of Lazarus; of the love he demonstrated on Golgotha’s hill, at the open tomb, and, yes, when he appeared in that sacred grove with his Father and spoke those memorable words to Joseph Smith. I thank God for his love in sharing his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, even Jesus Christ, for you and me. I thank the Lord for the love he demonstrated by providing his life, that we might have life eternal.

Jesus is more than a teacher. Jesus is the Savior of the world. He is the Redeemer of all mankind. He is the Son of God. He showed the way. You may recall that Jesus filled his mind with truth; Jesus filled his life with service; Jesus filled his heart with love. When we follow that example, we shall never hear those words of rebuke that came from the parables. We shall never find that we have empty lamps. We shall never be considered unprofitable servants. We shall never determine that we have been found unfruitful in the kingdom of God. Rather, when you and I follow carefully the parts of this formula and literally fill our minds with truth, fill our lives with service, and fill our hearts with love, we may qualify to hear one day that statement of our Savior, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21).

My prayer is that we may so conduct ourselves that we may merit that plaudit from our Lord and Savior. I pray that each one of us may so live as to qualify for the blessing of the Lord when he declared: “I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.

“Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory” (D&C 76:5–6).

Ideas for Home Teachers

Some Points of Emphasis

You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussions:

  1. 1.

    As we journey through mortality, we need a pattern whereby we can shape our lives to obtain the reward of exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

  2. 2.

    This formula will give us success:

    • —Fill our minds with truth.

    • —Fill our lives with service.

    • —Fill our hearts with love.

  3. 3.

    Jesus showed the way by filling his mind with truth, his life with service, his heart with love.

Discussion Helps

  1. 1.

    Relate your feelings about the impact in our lives of truth, service, and love.

  2. 2.

    Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?

  3. 3.

    Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum president?

[photos] Photography by Jerry Garns

[illustration] Detail from The Crucifixion, by Harry Anderson

Show References

    Note

  1.   1.

    History of the Church, 2:170.