First Presidency Message

In Search of an Abundant Life


Thomas S. Monson

In Search of an Abundant Life

What an exciting life is available for each one of us today! We may not be like the navigators and explorers of old whose voyages of discovery carried them to the known ends of the earth. But we can be explorers in spirit, and follow the desire 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 uncut, and the cities unbuilt. God gives to man the challenge of raw materials, not the ease and comfort 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.

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

We see examples of 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 English 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 never ending luxury. It does not make itself content with commercially produced pleasure, mistaking it for joy and happiness.

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

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

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 Mount 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. (See Ex. 20:3–4, 7–8, 12–17.)

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 added to the principles of law the concept of love.

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

More importantly, 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 neighbour 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 overlook violations of the law, when crime is unpunished, legally imposed sentences go unserved, and irresponsible and illegal conduct surpasses anything previously recorded, there is a very real need to return to the basic justice that the laws provide when honest men sustain them.

With my experience in the business world, I should also mention obedience to the laws of economics. Neither individuals nor companies can continually spend more than they earn and remain financially sound and be able to pay their debts. This law applies to nations as well as to men. And when economic decisions are based on theory rather than law, we find chaos.

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 search for the abundant life.

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 unchangeable 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.

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.)

Our lives are blessed with happiness 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 search for the abundant life.

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 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 deal with difficulties; problems are a normal part of life, and the great thing is to avoid being overcome 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.

Instead of making an effort, some people make excuses for not doing what they could be doing. We hear the argument, “I was denied the advantages others had in their youth.” Others say, “I am physically handicapped.” But history is full of examples of people with physical handicaps who went on to greatness. The Greek poet Homer, the English poet John Milton, and the American historian William Prescott, had good excuses—they were blind. Athenian Demosthenes, greatest of all great orators, had a wonderful excuse—his lungs were weak, his voice was hoarse and unmusical, and he stuttered. The great German composer Ludwig van Beethoven continued to compose even after he became totally deaf. They all had good excuses for not doing anything—but they never used those excuses.

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 give up our inner peace.

Through modern science, man can fly through space at great speeds and silently and without effort cruise under water in nuclear-powered ships. Now that man can fly like a bird and swim like a fish, I wish 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. For example, computers, says Time magazine, “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 no. While the computer is an advance in man’s thinking processes, it is neither the symbol of the Millennium nor a serious contestant of the human brain. 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 only 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 gathering 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. Lying there on the ground in the Garden of Eden, 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 missing.

Then God drew near and “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.

Joy in Service

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

Perhaps our service is to youth. If so, I caution: “Youth needs fewer critics and more good examples.” One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of a house we lived in, how much we may have had in a 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 which 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 search for the abundant life through obedience to law, respect for others, mastery of self, and 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. Some persons mistakenly measure the abundant life by its delights, pleasures, and luxury.

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

Discussion Helps

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

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

3. Would this discussion be better after talking with the head of the household before the visit? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?

[illustration] Illustrated by Harry Anderson

[illustration] Moses, by Ted Henninger

[illustration] The Apostle Paul, by Guido Reni; photo © Three Lions, New York, used by permission.

[illustration] Portrait of Beethoven, by Joseph Karl Stieler, taken from “The Changing Image of Beethoven,” © 1987 by Alessandra Comini.

[illustration] The Good Samaritan, by Del Parson