Chapter 8: Selfless Service

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, (2006), 79–88


As we lose ourselves in service to others, we find greater spirituality and happiness.

From the Life of Spencer W. Kimball

President Spencer W. Kimball urged Latter-day Saints to engage in “simple acts of service” that would bless others’ lives as well as their own.1 He often found opportunities to offer such service himself, as the following account shows:

Even small kindnesses can yield far-reaching effects.

President Kimball’s simple act of kindness in a Chicago airport had far-reaching effects.

“A young mother on an overnight flight with a two-year-old daughter was stranded by bad weather in Chicago airport without food or clean clothing for the child and without money. She was … pregnant and threatened with miscarriage, so she was under doctor’s instructions not to carry the child unless it was essential. Hour after hour she stood in one line after another, trying to get a flight to Michigan. The terminal was noisy, full of tired, frustrated, grumpy passengers, and she heard critical references to her crying child and to her sliding her child along the floor with her foot as the line moved forward. No one offered to help with the soaked, hungry, exhausted child.

“Then, the woman later reported, ‘someone came towards us and with a kindly smile said, “Is there something I could do to help you?” With a grateful sigh I accepted his offer. He lifted my sobbing little daughter from the cold floor and lovingly held her to him while he patted her gently on the back. He asked if she could chew a piece of gum. When she was settled down, he carried her with him and said something kindly to the others in the line ahead of me, about how I needed their help. They seemed to agree and then he went up to the ticket counter [at the front of the line] and made arrangements with the clerk for me to be put on a flight leaving shortly. He walked with us to a bench, where we chatted a moment, until he was assured that I would be fine. He went on his way. About a week later I saw a picture of Apostle Spencer W. Kimball and recognized him as the stranger in the airport.’”2

Several years later, President Kimball received a letter that read, in part:

“Dear President Kimball:

“I am a student at Brigham Young University. I have just returned from my mission in Munich, West Germany. I had a lovely mission and learned much. …

“I was sitting in priesthood meeting last week, when a story was told of a loving service which you performed some twenty-one years ago in the Chicago airport. The story told of how you met a young pregnant mother with a … screaming child, in … distress, waiting in a long line for her tickets. She was threatening miscarriage and therefore couldn’t lift her child to comfort her. She had experienced four previous miscarriages, which gave added reason for the doctor’s orders not to bend or lift.

“You comforted the crying child and explained the dilemma to the other passengers in line. This act of love took the strain and tension off my mother. I was born a few months later in Flint, Michigan.

“I just want to thank you for your love. Thank you for your example!”3

Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball

We should follow the Savior’s example of selfless service.

[The Savior] gave himself for his followers. … He was ever conscious of doing what was right and of meeting the real and true needs of those he served.4

He put himself and his own needs second and ministered to others beyond the call of duty, tirelessly, lovingly, effectively. So many of the problems in the world today spring from selfishness and self-centeredness in which too many make harsh demands of life and others in order to meet their demands.5

The more we understand what really happened in the life of Jesus of Nazareth in Gethsemane and on Calvary, the better able we will be to understand the importance of sacrifice and selflessness in our lives.6

If we follow in [the Savior’s] footsteps, we can live by faith rather than by fear. If we can share his perspective about people, we can love them, serve them, and reach out to them—rather than feeling anxious and threatened by others.7

God often meets others’ needs through our small acts of service.

We need to help those we seek to serve to know for themselves that God not only loves them, but he is ever mindful of them and of their needs. …

God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. The people of the Church need each other’s strength, support, and leadership in a community of believers as an enclave of disciples. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read about how important it is to “… succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” (D&C 81:5.) So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds! …

If we focus on simple principles and simple acts of service, we will see that organizational lines soon lose some of their significance. Too often in the past, organizational lines in the Church have become walls that have kept us from reaching out to individuals as completely as we should. We will also find as we become less concerned with getting organizational or individual credit that we will become more concerned with serving the one whom we are charged to reach. We will also find ourselves becoming less concerned with our organizational identity and more concerned with our true and ultimate identity as a son or daughter of our Father in heaven and helping others to achieve the same sense of belonging.8

We should use our talents and abilities to serve others.

None of us should become so busy in our formal Church assignments that there is no room left for quiet Christian service to our neighbors.9

It is easy for us to fit into the old established programs, to do the things that we are required to do, to put in a certain number of hours, to sing so many times and pray so many times, but you remember the Lord said it is a slothful servant that waits to be commanded in all things [see D&C 58:26].10

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27.)

All men have been given special powers and within certain limitations should develop those powers, give vent to their own imaginations, and not become rubber stamps. They should develop their own talents and abilities and capacities to their limit and use them to build up the kingdom.11

The Church member who has the attitude of leaving it to others will have much to answer for. There are many who say: “My wife does the Church work!” Others say: “I’m just not the religious kind,” as though it does not take effort for most people to serve and do their duty. But God has endowed us with talents and time, with latent abilities and with opportunities to use and develop them in his service. He therefore expects much of us, his privileged children.12

In the account of the barren fig tree (see Matt. 21:19) the unproductive tree was cursed for its barrenness. What a loss to the individual and to humanity if the vine does not grow, the tree does not bear fruit, the soul does not expand through service! One must live, not only exist; he must do, not merely be; he must grow, not just vegetate. We must use our talents in behalf of our fellowmen, rather than burying them in the tomb of a self-centered life.13

Some observers might wonder why we concern ourselves with such simple things as service to others in a world surrounded by such dramatic problems. Yet, one of the advantages of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it gives us perspective about the people on this planet, including ourselves, so that we can see the things that truly matter and avoid getting caught up in the multiplicity of lesser causes that vie for the attention of mankind. …

May I counsel you that when you select causes for which you give your time and talents and treasure in service to others, be careful to select good causes. There are so many of these causes to which you can give yourself fully and freely and which will produce much joy and happiness for you and for those you serve. There are other causes, from time to time, which may seem more fashionable and which may produce the applause of the world, but these are usually more selfish in nature. These latter causes tend to arise out of what the scriptures call “the commandments of men” [Matthew 15:9] rather than the commandments of God. Such causes have some virtues and some usefulness, but they are not as important as those causes which grow out of keeping the commandments of God.14

Youth will thrive on opportunities to give meaningful service.

We should not be afraid to ask our youth to render service to their fellowmen or to sacrifice for the kingdom. Our youth have a sense of intrinsic idealism, and we need have no fear in appealing to that idealism when we call them to serve.15

Selfless service leads to the abundant life.

“We should not be afraid to ask our youth to render service to their fellowmen or to sacrifice for the kingdom.”

As we read of delinquency and crime, … and as we note many are committed by girls and boys, we ask ourselves what is the cause and what are the cures? In an adequate survey it was learned that a majority of youth wish responsibility and will thrive on it.

“What can we do?” [the youth] ask. …

Do the shopping, work in the hospital, help the neighbors … , wash dishes, vacuum the floors, make the beds, get the meals, learn to sew.

Read good books, repair the furniture, make something needed in the home, clean the house, press your clothes, rake the leaves, shovel the snow.16

We are concerned … with our need to provide continually significant opportunities for our young men to stretch their souls in service. Young men do not usually become inactive in the Church because they are given too many significant things to do. No young man who has really witnessed for himself that the gospel works in the lives of the people will walk away from his duties in the kingdom and leave them undone.17

I hope our young women of the Church will establish early in their lives a habit of Christian service. When we help other people with their problems, it puts ours in fresh perspective. We encourage the sisters of the Church—young and older—to be “anxiously engaged” [D&C 58:27] in quiet acts of service for friends and neighbors. Every principle of the gospel carries within itself its own witness that it is true. So it is that acts of service help not only the beneficiaries of the service, but they enlarge the giver.18

Giving selfless service leads us to the abundant life.

Service to others deepens and sweetens this life while we are preparing to live in a better world. It is by serving that we learn how to serve. When we are engaged in the service of our fellowmen, not only do our deeds assist them, but we put our own problems in a fresher perspective. When we concern ourselves more with others, there is less time to be concerned with ourselves! In the midst of the miracle of serving, there is the promise of Jesus that by losing ourselves, we find ourselves! [See Matthew 10:39.]

Not only do we “find” ourselves in terms of acknowledging divine guidance in our lives, but the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our souls. We become more significant individuals as we serve others. We become more substantive as we serve others—indeed, it is easier to “find” ourselves because there is so much more of us to find! …

… The abundant life noted in the scriptures [see John 10:10] is the spiritual sum that is arrived at by the multiplying of our service to others and by investing our talents in service to God and to man. Jesus said, you will recall, that on the first two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, and those two commandments involve developing our love of God, of self, of our neighbors, and of all men [see Matthew 22:36–40]. There can be no real abundance in life that is not connected with the keeping and the carrying out of those two great commandments.

Unless the way we live draws us closer to our Heavenly Father and to our fellowmen, there will be an enormous emptiness in our lives. It is frightening for me to see, for instance, how the life-style of so many today causes them to disengage from their families and their friends and their peers toward a heedless pursuit of pleasure or materialism. So often loyalty to family, to community, and to country is pushed aside in favor of other pursuits which are wrongly thought to be productive of happiness when, in fact, selfishness is so often the pursuit of questionable pleasure which passes so quickly. One of the differences between true joy and mere pleasure is that certain pleasures are realized only at the cost of someone else’s pain. Joy, on the other hand, springs out of selflessness and service, and it benefits rather than hurts others.19

I know a man whose every thought through three quarters of a century had been for and of himself. … He had sought to keep his life for himself, and to gather all the good things of life for his own development and enjoyment. Strangely enough, trying to keep his life for himself, … he has shrunk, has lost his friends, and his own people shun him as a bore.

And now, as life is ebbing out gradually, he finds himself standing alone, forsaken, bitter, unloved, and unsung; and with self-pity, he can still think of only one person, himself. He has sought to save for himself his time, talents, and his means. He has lost the abundant life.

On the other hand, I know another man who has never given thought to himself. His every desire was for the protection and pleasure of those about him. No task was too great, no sacrifice too much for him to make for his fellowmen. His means brought relief from physical suffering; his kind work and thoughtfulness brought comfort and cheer and courage. Wherever people were in distress, he was on hand, cheering the discouraged, burying the dead, comforting the bereaved, and proving himself a friend in need. His time, his means, and his energies were lavished upon those needing assistance. Having given himself freely, by that same act he has added to his mental, physical, and moral stature until today he stands in his declining years a power for good, an example and an inspiration to many. He has developed and grown until he is everywhere acclaimed, loved, and appreciated. He has given life and in a real way has truly found the abundant life.20

As the contrasts between the ways of the world and the ways of God become sharpened by circumstance, the faith of the members of the Church will be tried even more severely. One of the most vital things we can do is to express our testimonies through service, which will, in turn, produce spiritual growth, greater commitment, and a greater capacity to keep the commandments. …

There is great security in spirituality, and we cannot have spirituality without service!21

If we seek true happiness, we must expend our energies for purposes larger than our own self-interests. Let us ponder prayerfully how we may effectively and lovingly give service to our families, neighbors, and fellow Saints.22

Suggestions for Study and Teaching

Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.

  • Review the story on pages 79–81. Consider the effects of President Kimball’s simple act of kindness. What can we learn from the manner in which he provided the service?

  • How would you describe the way in which the Savior served others? (For some examples, see page 81.) What can we do to follow His example?

  • Read the first paragraph on page 82. When has God met your needs through other people? What can we do to be ready to meet the needs of others?

  • Briefly review pages 82–84, looking for obstacles that can hinder us from giving selfless service. How can we overcome these obstacles?

  • President Kimball taught that youth need opportunities to serve (pages 84–85). Why is this so? What can parents and Church leaders do to provide youth with significant opportunities to serve?

  • What do you think it means to have “the abundant life”? (For some examples, see pages 85–87.) Why does selfless service lead to the abundant life?

Related Scriptures: Matthew 25:40; James 1:27; Mosiah 2:17; 4:14–16; D&C 88:123

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    See “Small Acts of Service,” Ensign, Dec. 1974, 7.

  2.   2.

    Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball (1977), 334.

  3.   3.

    In Gordon B. Hinckley, “Do Ye Even So to Them,” Ensign, Dec. 1991, 5.

  4.   4.

    Regional representatives’ seminar, Mar. 30, 1979, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 3.

  5.   5.

    “Jesus: The Perfect Leader,” Ensign, Aug. 1979, 6.

  6.   6.

    “The Abundant Life,” Ensign, July 1978, 7.

  7.   7.

    Ensign, July 1978, 5–6.

  8.   8.

    Ensign, Dec. 1974, 4, 5, 7.

  9.   9.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 71; or Ensign, May 1976, 47.

  10.   10.

    The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 257.

  11.   11.

    “How to Evaluate Your Performance,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1969, 16.

  12.   12.

    The Miracle of Forgiveness (1969), 100.

  13.   13.

    “President Kimball Speaks Out on Service to Others,” New Era, Mar. 1981, 49.

  14.   14.

    Ensign, July 1978, 4, 5.

  15.   15.

    “President Kimball Speaks Out on Being a Missionary,” New Era, May 1981, 48.

  16.   16.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1963, 38–39; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1963, 1073.

  17.   17.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1976, 68–69; or Ensign, May 1976, 45.

  18.   18.

    “Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, 104.

  19.   19.

    Ensign, July 1978, 3, 4.

  20.   20.

    The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 250–51.

  21.   21.

    Ensign, Dec. 1974, 5.

  22.   22.

    “Seek Learning, Even by Study and Also by Faith,” Ensign, Sept. 1983, 6.