First Presidency Message

In Quest of the Abundant Life


Thomas S. Monson
In marriage—as in all relationships—happiness abounds when there is respect for each other. One must have a capacity to work out problems, a willingness to give and take, and a genuine unselfishness.

In Quest of the Abundant Life

What an exciting life is available for each one of us today! We may not be a John Cabot, sailing off into the blue with the king’s patent to discover new lands, nor a Captain James Cook, whose voyages of discovery carried him to the known ends of the earth. Captain Cook declared: “I had ambition not only to go farther than any man had ever been before, but as far as it was possible for a man to go.” But we can be explorers in spirit, with a mandate to make this world better by discovering improved ways of living and of doing things.

The spirit of exploration, whether it be of the surface of the earth, the vastness of space, or the principles of living greatly, includes developing the capacity to face trouble with courage; disappointment with cheerfulness; and triumph with humility.

God left the world unfinished for man to work his skill upon. He left the electricity in the cloud, the oil in the earth. He left the rivers unbridged and the forests unfelled and the cities unbuilt. God gives to man the challenge of raw materials, not the ease of finished things. He leaves the pictures unpainted and the music unsung and the problems unsolved, that man might know the joys and glories of creation.

Carl Sandberg described our possibilities: “I see [life] not in the setting sun of a black night of despair ahead of us. I see [life] in the crimson light of a rising sun, fresh from the burning creative hand of God. I see great days ahead, great days possible to men and women of will and vision.”

However, during the last half century, there has been a gradual but continual retreat from standards of excellence in many phases of our lives.

We observe business without morality; science without humanity; knowledge without character; worship without sacrifice; pleasure without conscience; politics without principle; and wealth without works.

Perhaps the renowned author Charles Dickens, without really realizing it, described our day when he spoke of a period two centuries ago. His classic A Tale of Two Cities begins:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”

To measure the goodness of life by its delights and pleasures and safety is to apply a false standard. The abundant life does not consist of a glut of luxury. It does not make itself content with commercially produced pleasure, the nightclub idea of what is a good time, mistaking it for joy and happiness.

On the contrary, obedience to law, respect for others, mastery of self, joy in service—these constitute the abundant life.

Perhaps we would understand these essentials best if we discussed them on an individual basis.

1. Obedience to Law

We turn at once to that revered and renowned code of conduct that has guided mankind through every conceivable turmoil. In so doing, we seem to hear the echo of the voice from Mt. Sinai speaking to us today:

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. …

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. …

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. …

“Honour thy father and thy mother. …

“Thou shalt not kill.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.

“Thou shalt not steal.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness. …

“Thou shalt not covet.” (Ex. 20:3–4, 7–8, 12–17.)

Cecil B. DeMille stated, after exhaustive research for the epic motion picture The Ten Commandments: “We cannot break the Ten Commandments. We can only break ourselves against them.” (Commencement Address, Brigham Young University, 31 May 1957, p. 3.)

Years after the law of Moses was given, there came the meridian of time, when a great endowment emerged—a power stronger than weapons, a wealth more lasting than the coins of Caesar; for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords stressed both the principles of law and the concept of love.

Do you remember the penetrating question of the inquiring lawyer? “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”

More important, do you recall the divine answer? “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 neighbor as thyself.” (Matt. 22:36–39.)

These are the laws of God. Violate them and we suffer lasting consequences. Obey them and we reap everlasting joy.

Let us not overlook obedience to the laws of the land. They do not restrict our conduct so much as they guarantee our freedom, provide us protection, and safeguard all that is dear to us.

In our time, when otherwise honorable men bend the law, twist the law, and wink at violations of the law, when crime goes unpunished, legally imposed sentences go unserved, and irresponsible and illegal conduct soars beyond previously recorded heights, there is a very real need to return to the basic justice that the laws provide when honest men sustain them.

Coming as I do from the world of business, I also mention obedience to the laws, not theories, of economics. One cannot continually spend more than he earns and remain solvent. This law applies to nations as well as to men. A worker cannot, in the long run, adhere to a philosophy of something for nothing as opposed to something for something. Nor can management dismiss as optional the necessity of an adequate corporate profit and a reasonable return to shareholders if an economy of free enterprise is to flourish.

When economic decisions are based on theory rather than law, we find the chaos experienced a number of years ago in Uruguay:

“Labor wanted higher wages; industrialists wanted bigger income; but nobody wanted to do any work. Citizens thought more of their rights than of their obligations. The country’s vast web of social legislation redistributed wealth but did not create it. … Nobody had the vision to see that what Uruguay needed was production.” (John Gunther, Uruguay—Utopia Gone Wild.)

One person of wisdom observed, “Laws are the rules by which the game of life is played.” In reality, they are much more; for obedience to law is an essential requirement if we are to be successful in our quest for the abundant life.

2. Respect for Others

Let us learn respect for others if we are to realize the abundant life. Man, by nature, is tempted to seek only his glory and not the glory of his neighbor or the glory of his God. None of us lives alone—in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor’s poverty.

It is an immutable law that the more you give away, the more you receive. You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.

As the Apostle Paul observed in his charge to the elders, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35.) This is a truth more profound than most of us realize. Furthermore, it is a very practical truth. Many of the problems of our times arise out of an excess of receiving.

In no uncertain terms, the Lord spoke to us in the parable of the rich fool:

“Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

“And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

“And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?

“And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

“And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

“But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

“So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15–21.)

Happiness abounds when there is genuine respect one for another. Particularly to those not yet married I counsel: Those who marry in the hope of forming a permanent partnership require certain skills and attitudes of mind. They must be skillful in adapting to each other; they need capacity to work out mutual problems; they need willingness to give and take in the search for harmony; and they need unselfishness of the highest sort—thought for their partners taking the place of desire for themselves. This is respect. It is part of our quest for the abundant life.

3. Mastery of Self

Perhaps the surest test of an individual’s integrity is his refusal to do or say anything that would damage his self-respect.

One teacher commented, “In the last analysis, I have to be true to myself; but it is a little tough to do that when I am being false to my students, because I’m a teacher not for my sake, but for the sake of my students. And if I do them any mental, physical, emotional, or social harm, then I drag them down with me into what ought to be, but cannot be, my own private purgatory.”

One of the requirements of life is to be able to make choices. In order to do so, one must know how to look at things and at oneself. One must also learn that to live means being able to cope with difficulties; problems are a normal part of life, and the great thing is to avoid being flattened by them.

The battle for self-mastery may leave a person a bit bruised and battered, but always a better man or woman. Self-mastery is a rigorous process at best; too many of us want it to be effortless and painless.

Some spurn effort and substitute an alibi. We hear the plea, “I was denied the advantages others had in their youth.” And then we remember the caption that Webster, the cartoonist, placed under a sketch of Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin: “Ill-housed, ill-fed, ill-clothed.”

Others say, “I am physically limited.” History is replete with people possessing physical limitations. Homer could have sat at the gates of Athens, being pitied and fed by coins from the rich. He, like Milton, the poet, and Prescott, the historian, had good alibis—they were blind. Demosthenes, greatest of all great orators, had a wonderful alibi—his lungs were weak, his voice hoarse and unmusical, and he stuttered. Beethoven was stone deaf at middle age. They all had good alibis—but they never used them.

Today’s world moves at an increasingly rapid pace. Scientific achievements are fantastic, advances in medicine are phenomenal, and the probings of the inner secrets of earth and the outer limits of space leave one amazed and in awe.

In our science-oriented age, we conquer space but cannot control self; hence, we forfeit peace.

Through modern science, man has been permitted to fly through space at great speeds and to silently and without effort cruise sixty days under water in nuclear-powered ships. Now that man can fly like a bird and swim like a fish, would that he could learn to walk on earth like a man.

Amazing as has been man’s exploration of space, his achievements on earth have been scarcely less remarkable. “The computer,” says Time magazine, “is in fact the largely unsung hero of the thrust into space. Computers carefully check out all systems before launch, keep track of the spacecraft’s position in the heavens, plot trajectories and issue precise commands to astronauts. These fabulous machines are changing the world of business, they have given new horizons to the fields of science and medicine, changed the techniques of education and improved the efficiency of government.”

Could it be that these machines that can add, multiply, divide, sort, eliminate, and remember will someday be able to think? The answer is definitely negative. While the computer is an advance in man’s thinking processes as radical as the invention of writing, it is neither the symbol of the Millennium nor a flawless rival of the human brain. There are limits to human genius. Man can devise the most complex machines, but he cannot give them life or bestow upon them the powers of reason and judgment.

Why? Because these are divine gifts, bestowed solely at God’s discretion.

God made a computer once, constructing it with infinite care and precision exceeding that of the efforts of all the scientists combined. Using clay for the main structure, he installed within it a system for the continuous intake of information of all kinds and descriptions, by sight, hearing, and feeling; a circulatory system to keep all channels constantly clean and serviceable; a digestive system to preserve its strength and vigor; and a nervous system to keep all parts in constant communication and coordination. It far surpassed the finest modern computer and was equally dead. It was equipped to memorize and calculate and work out the most complex equation, but there was something lacking.

Then God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Gen. 2:7.)

This is why man has powers no modern computer possesses or ever will possess. God gave man life and with it the power to think and reason and decide and love. With such power given to you and to me, mastery of self becomes a necessity if we are to have the abundant life.

4. Joy in Service

To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellowmen. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy.

Winston Churchill, as he addressed the people of the British Commonwealth as peace dawned on a weary world, said:

“The unconditional surrender of our enemies was a signal for the greatest outburst of joy in the history of mankind. The Second World War had indeed been fought to the bitter end in Europe. The vanquished as well as the victors felt inexpressible relief. But for us in Britain and the British Empire, who had alone been in the struggle from the first day to the last and staked our existence on the result, there was a sublime meaning behind it all. Weary and worn, impoverished but undaunted and now triumphant, we had a moment that was sublime. We gave thanks to God for the noblest of all His blessings—the sense that we had done our duty.”

Each of us can be a leader. We need to remember that the mantle of leadership is not the cloak of comfort, but the robe of responsibility. Perhaps our service is to youth. If so, I caution: “Youth needs fewer critics and more models.” One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of a car we drove, what kind of a house we lived in, how much we had in the bank account, nor what our clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better because we were important in the life of a boy or a girl.

Dr. Hans Selye wisely said: “Neither wealth, nor force, nor any other instrument of power can ever be more reliable in assuring our security and peace of mind than the knowledge of having inspired gratitude in a great many people.” (The Stress of Life, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1956, p. 287.)

This is the joy that comes through service.

Our training, our experience, our knowledge are tools to be skillfully used. They have been self-acquired. Our conscience, our love, our faith are delicate and precious instruments to guide our destiny. They have been God-given.

May each of us realize a full measure of success in his personal quest for the abundant life through obedience to law, respect for others, mastery of self, joy in service.

And in so doing, may the peace proffered by Jesus Christ, the author of the abundant life, ever be ours.

Ideas for Home Teachers

Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:

  1. 1.

    Some persons mistakenly measure the abundant life by its delights, pleasures, and luxury.

  2. 2.

    The joy and happiness of the truly abundant life are found in obedience to law, respect for others, mastery of self, and joy in service.

  3. 3.

    Living the principles discussed in this article can bring into our lives the peace promised by the Lord.

Discussion Helps

  1. 1.

    Relate your personal feelings about finding true joy and happiness in life.

  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 leader?

[photo] Photo by Craig Dimond