As a child, Gordon B. Hinckley learned principles of self-reliance while he worked with his parents and siblings. He later recalled:
“We lived in what I thought was a large home. … There was a big lawn, with many trees that shed millions of leaves, and an immense amount of work to be done constantly.
“… We had a stove in the kitchen and a stove in the dining room. A furnace was later installed, and what a wonderful thing that was. But it had a voracious appetite for coal, and there was no automatic stoker. The coal had to be shoveled into the furnace and carefully banked each night.
“I learned a great lesson from that monster of a furnace: if you wanted to keep warm, you had to work the shovel.
“My father had an idea that his boys ought to learn to work, in the summer as well as in the winter, and so he bought a five-acre farm [about 20,000 square meters], which eventually grew to include more than thirty acres. We lived there in the summer and returned to the city when school started.
“We had a large orchard, and the trees had to be pruned each spring. Father took us to pruning demonstrations put on by experts from the agriculture college. We learned a great truth—that you could pretty well determine the kind of fruit you would pick in September by the way you pruned in February.”1
With these truths as part of his personal foundation, President Hinckley often taught practical lessons of gospel living. He testified of the blessings that come through hard work, and he encouraged Latter-day Saints to live within their means and prepare themselves for calamities that could come in the future.
In addition to teaching these principles, President Hinckley helped provide ways for the Saints to follow them. For example, in April 2001 he introduced the Perpetual Education Fund, which he said was inspired by the Lord.2 Through this program, people could donate to a fund that would provide short-term loans to help qualified Church members, mostly returned missionaries, gain education or vocational training that would lead to meaningful employment. When people repaid those loans, that money would be included in the fund to help future participants. The Perpetual Education Fund has helped tens of thousands of people become self-reliant. It provides, as President Hinckley once said, a “bright ray of hope.”3
I believe in the gospel of work. There is no substitute under the heavens for productive labor. It is the process by which dreams become realities. It is the process by which idle visions become dynamic achievements.4
A little play and a little loafing are good. But it is work that spells the difference in the life of a man or woman. It is work that provides the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the homes in which we live. We cannot deny the need for work with skilled hands and educated minds if we are to grow and prosper individually and collectively.5
I have discovered that life is not a series of great heroic acts. Life at its best is a matter of consistent goodness and decency, doing without fanfare that which needed to be done when it needed to be done. I have observed that it is not the geniuses that make the difference in this world. I have observed that the work of the world is done largely by men and women of ordinary talent who have worked in an extraordinary manner.6
Children need to work with their parents—to wash dishes with them, to mop floors with them, to mow lawns, to prune trees and shrubbery, to paint and fix up and clean up and do a hundred other things where they will learn that labor is the price of cleanliness and progress and prosperity.7
The great genius of this Church is work. Everybody works. You do not grow unless you work. Faith, testimony of the truth, is just like the muscle of my arm. If you use it, it grows strong. If you put it in a sling, it grows weak and flabby. We put people to work. We expect great things of them, and the marvelous and wonderful thing is they come through. They produce.8
Nothing happens in this Church unless you work. It is like a wheelbarrow. It doesn’t move until you get ahold of the two handles and push. Hard work moves the work of the Lord forward, and if you have learned to work with real integrity it will bless your lives forever. I mean that with all my heart. It will bless your lives forever.9
There is an old saying that if you give a man a fish, he will have a meal for a day. But if you teach him how to fish, he will eat for the remainder of his life. …
May the Lord grant us vision and understanding to do those things which will help our members not only spiritually but also temporally. We have resting upon us a very serious obligation. President Joseph F. Smith said … that a religion which will not help a man in this life will not likely do much for him in the life to come (see “The Truth about Mormonism,” Out West magazine, Sept. 1905, 242).
Where there is widespread poverty among our people, we must do all we can to help them to lift themselves, to establish their lives upon a foundation of self-reliance that can come of training. Education is the key to opportunity. …
It is our solemn obligation … to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). We must help them to become self-reliant and successful.
I believe the Lord does not wish to see His people condemned to live in poverty. I believe He would have the faithful enjoy the good things of the earth. He would have us do these things to help them.10
The individual, as we teach, ought to do for himself all that he can. When he has exhausted his resources, he ought to turn to his family to assist him. When the family can’t do it, the Church takes over. And when the Church takes over, our great desire is to first take care of his immediate needs and then to help him for so long as he needs to be helped, but in that process to assist him in training, in securing employment, in finding some way of getting on his feet again. That’s the whole objective of [the Church’s] great welfare program.11
Those who have participated as the recipients of this program have been spared “the curse of idleness and the evils of the dole.” Their dignity and self-respect have been preserved. And those myriads of men and women who have not been direct recipients, but who have participated in the growing and processing of food and in scores of associated undertakings, bear testimony of the joy to be found in unselfish service to others.
No one witnessing this program in its vast implications and in its tremendous consequences can reasonably doubt the spirit of revelation that brought it about and that has enlarged its practical power for good.12
We shall go on in this work. There will always be a need. Hunger and want and catastrophes will ever be with us. And there will always be those whose hearts have been touched by the light of the gospel who will be willing to serve and work and lift the needy of the earth.
As a correlated effort we have established the Perpetual Education Fund. It has come about through your generous contributions. … Loans are extended to worthy young men and women for education. Otherwise, they would be trapped in the stagnated poverty their parents and forebears have known for generations. …
The Spirit of the Lord guides this work. This welfare activity is secular activity, expressing itself in terms of rice and beans, of blankets and tents, of clothing and medicine, of employment and education for better employment. But this so-called secular work is but an outward expression of an inward spirit—the Spirit of the Lord, of whom it was said, He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).13
We teach self-reliance as a principle of life, that we ought to provide for ourselves and take care of our own needs. And so we encourage our people to have something, to plan ahead, keep … food on hand, to establish a savings account, if possible, against a rainy day. Catastrophes come to people sometimes when least expected—unemployment, sickness, things of that kind.14
This old world is no stranger to calamities and catastrophes. Those of us who read and believe the scriptures are aware of the warnings of prophets concerning catastrophes that have come to pass and are yet to come to pass. …
How portentous are the words of revelation found in the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants concerning the calamities that should befall after the testimonies of the elders. The Lord says:
“For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.
“And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
“And all things shall be in commotion; and surely, men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (D&C 88:89–91). …
… Just as there have been calamities in the past, we expect more in the future. What do we do?
Someone has said it was not raining when Noah built the ark. But he built it, and the rains came.
The Lord has said, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).
The primary preparation is also set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, wherein it says, “Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come” (D&C 87:8). …
We can so live that we can call upon the Lord for His protection and guidance. This is a first priority. We cannot expect His help if we are unwilling to keep His commandments. We in this Church have evidence enough of the penalties of disobedience in the examples of both the Jaredite and the Nephite nations. Each went from glory to utter destruction because of wickedness.
We know, of course, that the rain falls on the just as well as the unjust (see Matthew 5:45). But even though the just die they are not lost, but are saved through the Atonement of the Redeemer. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord” (Romans 14:8). …
Our people … have been counseled and encouraged to make such preparation as will assure survival should a calamity come.
We can set aside some water, basic food, medicine, and clothing to keep us warm. We ought to have a little money laid aside in case of a rainy day.15
We have a great welfare program with facilities for such things as grain storage in various areas. It is important that we do this. But the best place to have some food set aside is within our homes, together with a little money in savings. The best welfare program is our own welfare program. Five or six cans of wheat in the home are better than a bushel in the welfare granary. …
We can begin ever so modestly. We can begin with a one week’s food supply and gradually build it to a month, and then to three months. I am speaking now of food to cover basic needs. As all of you recognize, this counsel is not new. But I fear that so many feel that a long-term food supply is so far beyond their reach that they make no effort at all.
Begin in a small way … and gradually build toward a reasonable objective. Save a little money regularly, and you will be surprised how it accumulates.16
We have been counseled again and again concerning self-reliance, concerning debt, concerning thrift. So many of our people are heavily in debt for things that are not entirely necessary. … I urge you as members of this Church to get free of debt where possible and to have a little laid aside against a rainy day.17
The time has come to get our houses in order. …
President J. Reuben Clark Jr., in the priesthood meeting of the conference in 1938, [said]: “Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1938, 103).
I recognize that it may be necessary to borrow to get a home, of course. But let us buy a home that we can afford and thus ease the payments which will constantly hang over our heads without mercy or respite. …
Since the beginnings of the Church, the Lord has spoken on this matter of debt. To Martin Harris through revelation He said: “Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage” (D&C 19:35).
President Heber J. Grant spoke repeatedly on this matter. … He said: “If there is any one thing that will bring peace and contentment into the human heart, and into the family, it is to live within our means. And if there is any one thing that is grinding and discouraging and disheartening, it is to have debts and obligations that one cannot meet” (Gospel Standards, comp. G. Homer Durham , 111).
We are carrying a message of self-reliance throughout the Church. Self-reliance cannot obtain when there is serious debt hanging over a household. One has neither independence nor freedom from bondage when he is obligated to others.
In managing the affairs of the Church, we have tried to set an example. We have, as a matter of policy, stringently followed the practice of setting aside each year a percentage of the income of the Church against a possible day of need.
I am grateful to be able to say that the Church in all its operations, in all its undertakings, in all of its departments, is able to function without borrowed money. If we cannot get along, we will curtail our programs. We will shrink expenditures to fit the income. We will not borrow. …
What a wonderful feeling it is to be free of debt, to have a little money against a day of emergency put away where it can be retrieved when necessary. …
I urge you … to look to the condition of your finances. I urge you to be modest in your expenditures; discipline yourselves in your purchases to avoid debt to the extent possible. Pay off debt as quickly as you can, and free yourselves from bondage.
This is a part of the temporal gospel in which we believe. May the Lord bless you … to set your houses in order. If you have paid your debts, if you have a reserve, even though it be small, then should storms howl about your head, you will have shelter for your [family] and peace in your hearts.18
President Hinckley taught that “there is no substitute … for productive labor” (section 1). How has work been a blessing in your life? What have you learned through hard work? How can parents help their children learn to work?
What are our responsibilities toward those who have temporal needs? (See section 2.) How can we help others become self-reliant? How has your life been influenced by service you have given and received?
Review the preparations that President Hinckley counseled us to make for times of need (see section 3). When have you seen the importance of preparing for times of need? What are some small, gradual things we can do to prepare ourselves?
Review President Hinckley’s counsel about debt and thrift (see section 4). Why is it important to be disciplined in the way we spend money? How can debt affect us temporally and spiritually? How can parents teach their children to use money wisely?
“Be careful not to end good discussions too soon in an attempt to present all the material you have prepared. Although it is important to cover the material, it is more important to help learners feel the influence of the Spirit, resolve their questions, increase their understanding of the gospel, and deepen their commitment to keep the commandments” (Teaching, No Greater Call , 64).