On one occasion an inquiring lawyer came to the Savior and asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” The Savior responded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”1
How do we demonstrate to our Heavenly Father that we love Him? When Sister Monson and I were university students, there was a popular song that had words something like these: “It’s easy to say I love you, easy to say I’ll be true; easy to say these foolish things, but prove it by the things you do.” We have a responsibility to prove to our Heavenly Father, by the things we do, that we love Him.
We demonstrate our love by how well we serve our God. Remember when the Prophet Joseph Smith went to John E. Page and said to him, “Brother Page, you have been called on a mission to Canada.”
Brother Page, struggling for an excuse, said, “Brother Joseph, I can’t go to Canada. I don’t have a coat to wear.”
The Prophet took off his own coat, handed it to John Page, and said, “Wear this, and the Lord will bless you.”
John Page went on his mission to Canada. In two years he walked something like 5,000 miles and baptized 600 converts.2 He was successful because he responded to an opportunity to serve his God.
We had a missionary in our mission who was particularly devoted and obedient. I said to him one time, “Elder, what is the source of your motivation?”
“Brother Monson,” he replied, “I slept in one morning. As I did so, my mind turned to thoughts of my mother and my father, who are operating a little cleaning establishment, working around the clock to earn sufficient money to support me on a mission. As I thought of my parents performing that strenuous work in my behalf, all signs of laziness left me; and I determined that I had an opportunity to serve the Lord in my behalf and in behalf of my own mother and my own father.”
Harry Emerson Fosdick said: “Until willingness overflows obligation, men fight as conscripts rather than following the flag as patriots. Duty is never worthily performed until it is performed by one who would gladly do more if only he could.”3
In short, we need to extend ourselves in service to our Heavenly Father if we are to demonstrate our love for Him.
I often think of the quiet manner in which President Spencer W. Kimball served God, without a lot of pomp and ceremony. No one really ever knew all that he did in serving his Heavenly Father, for he did it in the true spirit of the Savior, many times not letting the right hand know what the left was doing. He was the type of man who was willing to put forth any effort the kingdom of God required.
I think also of an account I read about a sweet lady, the wife of one of our early pioneers. Her name was Catharine Curtis Spencer. She was married to Orson Spencer, a sensitive, well-educated man. Catharine had been reared in Boston and was cultured and refined. She had six children. Her delicate health declined from exposure and hardships after her family was forced to leave Nauvoo. Elder Spencer wrote to her parents and asked if she could return to live with them while he established a home for his family in the West. Their reply: “Let her renounce her degrading faith, and she can come back—but never until she does.” Sister Spencer would not renounce her faith. When her parents’ letter was read to her, she asked her husband to get his Bible and read to her from the book of Ruth as follows: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”4 Outside the storm raged, the wagon covers leaked, and friends held milk pans over Sister Spencer’s head to keep her dry. In these conditions, and without a word of complaint, she closed her eyes for the last time.
This is the spirit of serving God. This is the spirit of putting Him first in our lives. Though we may not necessarily forfeit our lives in service to our God, we can certainly demonstrate our love for Him by how well we serve Him. He who hears our silent prayers, He who observes our unheralded acts will reward us openly when the need comes.
Another example is a family in the mission over which I presided, a family by the name of Agnew. They were difficult people to convert. William Agnew, particularly, would not listen to the missionaries, but finally he consented to attend our Sunday School with his wife, three children, and the two missionaries. However, when the missionaries came on Sunday morning to escort the family to the chapel, there had been a little disagreement in their home. Brother Agnew had insisted, “I will not go to the Mormon Sunday School.”
His wife replied, “But you promised, Bill. You promised these young men that you would go.”
“I’m not going, and that’s that!” he said. He became rather angry, but somewhat reluctantly he permitted his wife and children to go to Sunday School. He later told me of the events of that morning. He said, “When my wife and children shut the door and left me alone in the living room, I had nothing good to say about the Mormon faith. I was about as angry a man as one could imagine. I picked up the morning newspaper to see if I could read about the problems of the world and get my mind off religion, but it was to no avail. I kept thinking, my wife and my children have gone to meet with the Mormons. I then went into my daughter Isabel’s bedroom. I thought that perhaps I could turn on the news and hear something different. As I turned on the little radio on her nightstand, what do you think I heard? The Mormon Tabernacle Choir! What message do you think I heard? Richard L. Evans spoke on the subject ‘Let Not the Sun Go Down on Thy Wrath.’5 I felt as though the Lord were talking to me personally. I got down upon my knees and promised my Heavenly Father that I would no longer rail against Him—that I would do what these young missionaries had taught me to do.”
When his wife and children returned from Sunday School, they found a new husband and a new father. They couldn’t understand why he was in such a pleasant mood. Finally they asked him what had happened to change his attitude.
He said: “I’ll tell you. I was so upset when you left that I read the paper in an attempt to get my mind off all of you. No success. Then I went to Isabel’s bedroom and turned on the radio to hear the news, and of all things, I heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This man, Richard L. Evans, spoke to me and said, ‘Don’t let the sun go down on thy wrath.’ I felt closer to God at that moment than I have ever felt in my life. I am ready to go with you to the meetings. I am ready to pursue a diligent study with the missionaries.”
Isabel said, “Dad, that’s a wonderful story—if only it were true.”
Her father said, “Isabel, it’s true.”
She said, “No, Dad. Did you say that you turned on the radio on my nightstand?”
He replied, “That’s the one—the little white one.”
“Dad,” she said, “that radio hasn’t worked for several weeks. I think the tubes are burned out.”
“Isabel,” he said, “that radio works. Come with me.” He led his family into Isabel’s bedroom, walked over to the nightstand next to her bed, and turned on the radio as he had done just one hour earlier, but no sound came forth. That radio did not work! But when our Heavenly Father needed to communicate a message to an honest seeker after truth, that radio not only worked, but it tuned him into the very program and to the very message he needed to bring him to a recognition of the truth. Little wonder that he later became the bishop of that ward. Little wonder that all three of his children are active in the Church and continue to fill positions of responsibility.
When we serve our God, when we love Him, He knows it, and He will take us by the hand and give us answers to our prayers.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Who is my neighbor? Someone asked that question, then answered it: “I don’t know his name, but his dog tramples down my flowers. His boy honks the horn and keeps me awake at night, and his children make so much noise I can’t enjoy life. But yesterday I noticed some black crepe at his window, and I knew that someone had passed away. I decided it was time I became acquainted with my neighbor.”
Let us not wait for that type of event before we become acquainted with our neighbor and show love for him or for her.
Each of us has opportunities for Church assignments. This opportunity of serving in the Church enables us to demonstrate a love of God and a love of our neighbor. It was King Benjamin who said: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”6 There is no finer way to demonstrate love of God than by serving Him in the positions to which we may be called. Occasionally, the reward for that service will be prompt, and we’ll see the light in the eyes of the person whom we have helped. Other times, however, the Lord will let us wait a little while and let our reward come another way. Many are in the process of helping less-active people. It is important never to give up, but forever press on in our efforts to help them. The best way to help people to become fully active in the Church is to love them into that activity.
A letter was given to me, written by a young man whose twin brother had been killed while on an activity in Big Cottonwood Canyon east of Salt Lake City. His quorum leader grieved over the loss of one of his boys whom he had been called to serve, to teach, to inspire, and to motivate. He received comfort, as an adviser, in the help our Heavenly Father provided him in the answers to his prayers. He was asked to speak at the funeral of the deceased boy. It was a difficult assignment, but he fulfilled it. Then he received a letter from the surviving twin. The letter is the finest letter he has ever received in mortality. With his permission, I’ll share it:
“Dear Brother Cannegieter:
“I’d like to thank you for the talk you gave at Brian’s funeral. You told about all those wonderful times we had with Brian that I had almost forgotten. Brian and I both thought you were the best adviser and the best teacher we ever had, because you really cared about us and gave us your time. You taught us very important lessons and provided us advice from your own experience in life.
“We are going to miss Brian very much, and we will never forget the example of living life to its fullest and of courage and of dedication that he gave to us.
“I love you, Brother Cannegieter, and I hope I can be as smart and understanding and caring as you are. I hope I will really listen and get to know people like you do.
“I’d like to thank you for everything you have done for us.”
This is the comfort that comes to the heart of a person who loves his neighbor as himself. The same comfort will come to the heart of the person who loves God.
I attended a stake conference some time ago in Modesto, California, where I was to divide the stake. As I was preparing to do so on Sunday morning, I let my mind go back 10 or 15 years. I remembered that I had previously attended a conference in that area. At that time it was called the Stockton Stake, and Modesto was a unit in that stake. I thought to myself, “What was the name of the stake president?” Then it came to me; his name was Rooker—Clifton Rooker. I asked the stake presidency as they sat on the stand, “Is this the same stake over which Clifton Rooker presided?”
The brethren said, “Yes, it is. He was our former president.”
“It’s been many years since I was last here,” I said. “Is Brother Rooker here today?”
“Yes, we saw him this morning.”
Then I asked, “Where is he seated?”
“We don’t rightly know,” they replied.
I stepped to the pulpit and asked, “Is Clifton Rooker in the audience?” There he was—way back in the cultural hall. I felt the inspiration to say to him publicly, “Brother Rooker, we have a place for you on the stand. Would you please come forward?” With every eye watching him, Clifton Rooker made that long walk up to the stand and sat by my side. It became my opportunity to call upon him, one of the pioneers of that stake, to bear his testimony—to give him the privilege of telling the people, whom he loved, that he was the real beneficiary of the service he had rendered his Heavenly Father and that he had provided the stake members.
After the session was concluded I said, “Brother Rooker, how would you like to come with me into the high council room and help me set apart the new presidencies of these two stakes?”
He said, “That would be the highlight of my life.”
We went into the high council room and, with his hands joining my hands on the head of each person, set apart the two new stake presidencies. We embraced one another as he said good-bye and went to his home.
Can you imagine the shock I received the next morning when I received a telephone call from his son, who said, “Brother Monson, I’d like to tell you about my dad. He passed away this morning, but before he did so, he said that yesterday was the happiest day of his entire life.” As I heard that message, I thanked God for the inspiration that came to me in the twinkling of an eye to invite this good man to come forward and receive the plaudits of his stake members, whom he had served, while he was yet alive and able to enjoy them.
As we love our God, as we love our neighbor, we can be the recipients of our Heavenly Father’s love. Of all the blessings I have had in my life, one of the sweetest is that feeling the Lord provides when I know that He has answered the prayer of another person through me. As we love the Lord, as we love our neighbor, we discover that our Heavenly Father will answer the prayers of others through our ministry.
Some Points of Emphasis
You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussions:
We have a responsibility to prove to our Heavenly Father that we love Him.
We demonstrate our love of God by how well we extend ourselves in our service to Him.
There is no finer way to demonstrate our love of God than by serving Him well in the Church assignments to which we may be called.
When we serve God, when we love Him, He knows it, and He will take us by the hand and give us answers to our prayers and give needed comfort.
As we love the Lord, as we love our neighbor, we discover that Heavenly Father will answer the prayers of others through our ministry.
Relate your feelings about the blessings that come to us through serving the Lord and others.
Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
Would this discussion be better after a previsit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the bishop or quorum leader?