There are many special times during the year that are commemorated by getting and giving gifts. It is good at all times to remember a few of the many gifts we have received from our Lord, Jesus Christ, and to think of what we in turn might give to him.
First, he gave us the perfect model—himself—after which we are to pattern our lives. He said that “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.) Not only did he lay down before us the perfect example for earthly living, but for our sake he willingly gave up his life. He went through an agony both in body and spirit, which we cannot comprehend, to bring to us the glorious blessing of the atonement and the resurrection. (See D&C 19:15–19.)
Some men are willing to die for their faith but will not fully live for it. Christ both lived and died for us. By walking in his steps, and through his atonement, we can gain the greatest gift of all—eternal life—which is that kind of life lived by the great Eternal One—our Father in heaven.
Christ asked the question as to what manner of men we ought to be. He answered by saying we ought to be even as he is. (See 3 Ne. 27:27.)
That man is greatest and most blessed and joyful whose life most closely fits the pattern of the Christ. This has nothing to do with earthly wealth, power, or prestige. The only true test of greatness, blessedness, and joyfulness is how close a life can come to being like that of the Master, Jesus Christ. He is the right way, the full truth, and the abundant life.
The constant and most recurring question in our minds, touching every thought and deed of our lives, should be, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6.) The answer to that question can come through the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost. We have a work to do, to follow him, and I testify to you that his pay for his work is the best pay that you can get in this world or any other.
Secondly, in addition to Christ providing us the gift of his life as a model, he has provided us the gift of a prophet. Of all mortal men, we should keep our eyes most firmly fixed on the captain, the prophet, seer, and revelator, and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the man who stands closest to the fountain of living waters. There are some heavenly instructions for us that we can only receive through the prophet. A good way to measure your standing with the Lord is to see how you feel about, and act upon, the inspired words of his earthly representative, the prophet-president. The inspired words of the president are not to be trifled with. All men are entitled to inspiration, and various men are entitled to revelation for their particular assignment. But only one man stands as the Lord’s spokesman to the Church and the world and he is the president of the Church. The word of all other men should be weighed against his inspired words.
Though his prophet is mortal, God will not let him lead his church astray. (See Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 212–13.) God knows all things, the end from the beginning, and no man becomes president of the church of Jesus Christ by accident, or remains there by chance, or dies by happenstance.
The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one who is living in our day and age. This is the prophet who has today’s instructions from God to us. God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the ark. Every generation has need of the ancient scripture, plus the current scripture from the living prophet. Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering that you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece. That is why it is essential that you have access to and carefully read his words in Church periodicals.
Yes, we thank thee, O God, for a prophet to guide us in these latter days.
Thirdly, in addition to the gifts of the life of Christ and his prophet is the gift of his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “the only true and living Church upon the face of the whole earth.” (D&C 1:30.) There is no salvation nor exaltation for us outside the Church. Through it we receive baptism, priesthood, celestial marriage, and other sealing powers. It is the organized means that God is using to establish and expand his work. We must work with it and in it, build it up, and move it forward.
We should be willing to give generously of our time, talents, and means for the Church. No matter what happens to the world, the Church will grow in strength and will be intact when the Lord comes again.
God has assured us that the Church will never again be taken from the earth because of apostasy. He has said that he is pleased with the Church, speaking collectively and not individually. (See D&C 1:30.) This means that certain individuals within the Church may go astray and even fall away. This may happen even to a person in the Church who is in a position of some influence and authority. It has happened in the past. It will happen in the future. If our faith is in Jesus Christ and not in the arm of flesh, then we will know that we are members of the church of Jesus Christ and not the church of men.
If you see some individuals in the Church doing things that disturb you, or you feel the Church is not doing things the way you think they could or should be done, the following principles might be helpful.
God has to work through mortals of varying degrees of Spiritual progress. Sometimes he temporarily grants to men their unwise requests in order that they might learn from their own sad experiences. Some refer to this as the “Samuel principle.” The children of Israel wanted a king like all the other nations. The prophet Samuel was displeased and prayed to the Lord about it. The Lord responded by saying, Samuel, “they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” The Lord told Samuel to warn the people of the consequences if they had a king. Samuel gave them the warning. But they still insisted on their king. So God gave them a king and let them suffer. They learned the hard way. God wanted it to be otherwise, but within certain bounds he grants unto men according to their desires. Bad experiences are an expensive school that only fools keep going to. (See 1 Sam. 8.)
Sometimes in our attempts to mimic the world, and contrary to the prophet’s counsel, we pursue the world’s false educational, political, musical, and dress ideas. New worldly standards take over, a gradual breakdown occurs, and finally, after much suffering, a humble people are ready to be taught once again a higher law.
Now during all this gradual lowering of standards, the righteous people should be living up to the highest personal standards they can, not forcing those standards on others, but preparing for and awaiting a better day, which surely must come.
This leads me to another principle, and that is that a leader cannot lead without followers. If better standards are to be observed, there must be a better people to do it.
The Book of Mormon talks about clearing away the branches “which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish.”
“… wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad.” (Jacob 5:65–66.)
Only a Zion people can bring in a Zion society. And as the Zion people increase, so we will be able to incorporate more of the principles of Zion until we have a people prepared to receive the Lord.
This means that in due time there will be an increasing number of textbooks written by inspired men of the Church. There will be less and less of a tendency to subscribe to the false teachings of men. There will be more and more a tendency to first lay the groundwork of the gospel truth in every subject and then, if necessary, show where the world may fall short of that standard.
In due time there will be increased teaching by the Spirit of God, but that can only take place if there is a decreased promotion of the precepts of men.
We seek that which is praiseworthy, lovely, virtuous, and of good report, and we salute Beethoven, Shakespeare, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo. In due time we will also have more of our own giants—particularly great father-patriarchs and noble companions and mothers of men. Certain music heard and art seen and clothes worn must pass away—not because the styles change, but because our standards will be improved.
When individual actions of some Church members disturb you, here’s another principle to consider. And this is the principle of stewardship. As the kingdom grows larger, more and more responsibilities have to be delegated and stewardships assigned. Men respond in different degrees of valiancy to their stewardships. God is very patient as he waits for some of us to rise to our responsibilities. He usually gives a man a long enough rope and a long enough time to either pull himself up to the presence of God or drop off somewhere below. But while God is patient, no puny arm of man in his stewardship can long impede or pervert the work of the Lord. The mills of God’s justice grind slowly, but they grind ever so finely.
Because God has given men their agency, there will always be those who will misuse it. The gospel net draws in the good and the bad, the best and the worst. The worst because the devil, before the final cleansing, put some of his followers within the kingdom in order to try and destroy it. We have some of them within the kingdom today, and in due course their number shall be known. Time has a way of taking care of all things, of elevating the good and bringing down the bad. If we see things going on within the kingdom that disturb us, we might first resolve, if the matter falls within our stewardship, to go to the person or people involved. If it is of such a nature that we think it should be called to the attention of higher authority, then we can, in a kindly and quiet manner, take the necessary steps at the proper level.
To publish differences we may think we have with the leaders of the Church, to create strife and division, is a sure road to apostasy. Our task is to stick with the kingdom, to not let anything or anybody disaffect or sour us toward that great gift that Christ has given us—his church.
The Church is true. Keep its laws; attend its meetings; sustain its leaders; accept its callings; get a temple recommend; enjoy its blessings.
Fourthly, in addition to the gifts of the life of Christ, his prophet, and his church is the gift of scripture, particularly the Book of Mormon.
In his dedicatory prayer for the Washington Temple, President Kimball referred to the Book of Mormon, as did the Prophet Joseph, as the most correct book. The Prophet Joseph Smith also called it the keystone of our religion. He said that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding its precepts than any other book.” (History of the Church, 4:461.) That book was written for our day. Mormon, who compiled it, saw us in vision and was directed to put into the book those things God felt we would especially need in our time. There was inspiration in making the Book of Mormon a required religion class at Brigham Young University. The faculty and student-body there and members of the Church everywhere should know the Book of Mormon better than any other book. Not only should we know what history and faith-promoting stories it contains, but we should understand its teachings. If we really did our homework and approached the Book of Mormon doctrinally, we could expose the errors and find the truths to combat many of the current false theories and philosophies of men, including socialism, humanism, organic evolution, and others.
I have noted within the Church the difference in discernment, in insight, conviction, and spirit between those who know and love the Book of Mormon and those who do not. That book is a great sifter.
Now, Christ’s life, his prophet, his Church, and the Book of Mormon, are but a few of the gifts of Christ that bless us throughout our lives.
And now, my friends, what can we possibly give to the Lord? Considering all that he has done and is doing for us, there is something that we might give him in return.
Christ’s great gift to us was his life and sacrifice. Should that not then be our small gift to him—our lives and sacrifices, not only now, but in the future? A few years ago my colleague, Elder Boyd Packer, said this: “I’m not ashamed to say that … I want to be good. And I’ve found in my life that it has been critically important that this was established between me and the Lord so that I knew that He knew which way I committed my agency. I went before Him and said, ‘I’m not neutral, and you can do with me what you want. If you need my vote, it’s there. I don’t care what you do with me, and you don’t have to take anything from me, because I give it to you—everything, all I own, all I am.’ And that makes the difference.” (Seminary and Institute Conference, Summer 1970.)
Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life to God will find he has eternal life.
And now I will mention our sacrifice to him. Yes, sacrifice is the crowning test of the gospel. Men are tried and tested in this mortal probation to see if they will put first into their lives the things of the kingdom of God. (See Matt. 6:33.) To gain eternal life they must be willing, if called upon, to sacrifice all things for the gospel. “If thou wilt be perfect,” Jesus said to the rich young man, “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
Hearing this injunction, Peter said, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?”
To this query our Lord replied, “Everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:16–29; D&C 132:55.)
Joseph Smith said this about sacrifice: “For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his life—counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ—requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God; but actual knowledge, he realizes that, when these sufferings are ended he will enter into eternal rest; and be a partaker of the glory of God. … A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.” (Lectures on Faith, pp. 58–60.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Sacrifice pertains to mortality; in the eternal sense there is no sacrifice. Sacrifice involves giving up the things of this world because of the promises of blessings to be gained in a better world. In the eternal perspective there is no sacrifice in giving up all things—even including the laying down of one’s life—if eternal life is gained through such a course.” (See D&C 93:13–15; Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft 1966, p. 664.)
But just as when one loses his life to God, he really finds the abundant life, so also when one sacrifices all to God, then God in return shares all that he has with him.
Try as you may, you cannot make the Lord indebted to you for every time you try to do his will, he simply pours out more blessings upon you. Sometimes the blessings may seem to you to be a little slow in coming—perhaps this tests your faith—but come they will and abundantly. And it has been said, cast your bread upon the waters and after a while it comes back made into a delicious pastry.
Said President Brigham Young, “I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ’s sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes, I have compared it a great many times in my feelings and before congregations to a man wearing an old, worn-out, tattered, and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole, and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I’ve suffered for the gospel’s sake—I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 348.)
The saints never suffer as the sinners do.
“As to trials,” said Brother Brigham, “why bless your hearts, the man or woman who enjoys the spirit of our religion has no trials; but the man or woman who tries to live according to the gospel of the Son of God, and at the same time clings to the spirit of the world, has trials and sorrows acute and keen, and that, too, continually.
“Cast off the yoke of the enemy and put on the yoke of Christ and you will say that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. This I know by experience.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 348.)
Do you know one reason why righteous mothers love their children so much—it’s because they sacrifice so much for them. We love what we sacrifice for and we sacrifice for what we love.
But when you give little, you receive little.
Why don’t we go all the way with the Lord, not part way. Why don’t we sacrifice all of our sins, not some of them.
There was a young girl. She had sacrificed her worldly plans to spend long, tedious hours in work in order to provide for and raise her younger orphan brother; but now she lay on her bed, dying of a sickness. She called for her bishop, and as she talked to him in her last moments, he held her rough, hard, work-calloused hand in his. Then she asked the question, “How will God know that I am his?” Gently he raised her wrist and answered, “Show him your hands.”
Some day we may see that pair of hands that sacrificed so much for us. Are our hands clean, and do they show the signs of being in his service? Are our hearts pure and filled with his thoughts?
Each week we make a solemn covenant to be like him and take him for our leader, to always remember him in everything and keep all of his commandments. In return he promises to give us his Spirit.
A few years ago we knew our Elder Brother in the pre-existence Jesus well, and we knew his, and our, Father in heaven. We rejoiced at the upcoming opportunity for earth life that would make it possible for us to have a fullness of joy like they had. We could hardly wait to demonstrate to our Father and our Brother, the Lord, how much we loved them and how we would be obedient to them in spite of the earthly opposition of the evil one. And now we’re here—our memories are veiled—and we’re showing God and ourselves what we can do. And nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar his face is to us. And then, President Young said, we’re going to wonder why we were so stupid while on earth.
God loves us; he’s watching us; he wants us to succeed; and we’ll know someday that he has not left one thing undone for the eternal welfare of each of us. If we only knew it, there are heavenly hosts pulling for us—friends in heaven we can’t remember now, who yearn for our victory. This is our day to show what we can do—what life and sacrifice we can daily, hourly, instantly bring to God. If we give our all, we will get his all from the greatest of all.
Give God your best; His best will come back to you.
May God be with you always, I pray.