There Is Purpose in Life


Spencer W. Kimball
This message was adapted from a talk President Kimball gave at the opening session of June Conference, 1974.

There Is Purpose in Life

A person who knows, or has faith, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on earth will want to perform even better in his or her assignment, whether it is in a family, in a Beehive classroom, in a deacons quorum, or on a Young Adult or Special Interest council. But when people do not care about God or man, then no amount of training or technique will help them very much.

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!

Not only do we “find” ourselves in terms of acknowledging guidance in our lives, but the more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways, the more substance there is to our soul. 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 more of us to find.

George McDonald observed that “it is by loving and not by being loved that one can come nearest to the soul of another.” Of course, we all need to be loved, but we must be giving and not always receiving if we want to have wholeness in our lives and a reinforced sense of purpose.

Sometimes the solution is not to change our circumstance but to change our attitude about that circumstance; difficulties are often opportunities for service. It has been said that hell “is to be frozen in self-pity.”

One of the Brethren has observed:

“If we are not careful, we can be injured by the frostbite of frustration; we can be frozen in place by the chill of unmet expectations. To avoid this we must—just as we would with arctic coldness—keep moving, keep serving, and keep reaching out so that our own immobility does not become our chief danger.”

We need to help those whom 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. Surely God our Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, who appeared to an Aaronic-Priesthood-age youth, Joseph Smith, to give that lad instructions for all mankind, did not simply make a random appearance to a person on this planet. Rather, the Lord says that this appearance that was precisely planned occurred because “I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments.” (D&C 1:17.)

God does nothing by chance but always by design as a loving father. You know his purpose. We have purpose also in our lives.

Surely such a loving Father in heaven, who gave commandments to prevent human misery, will not forget the needs of each of his children. William Law observed:

“It is said that the very hairs of your head are all numbered; is it not to teach us that nothing, not the smallest things imaginable, happen to us by chance? But if the smallest things we can conceive are declared to be under the divine direction, need we, or can we, be more plainly taught that the greatest things of life, such as the manner of our coming into the world, our parents, the time, and other circumstances of our birth and condition, are all according to the eternal purposes, direction, and appointment of Divine Providence?”

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.

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.

Nearly 25 years ago President Stephen L Richards said something that is challenging:

“In spite of the prosaic and commonplace aspects of this subject, I have long been convinced, my brethren and sisters, that the most challenging, dramatic, and vital thing in our lives is this ‘keeping the commandments.’ It tests every fiber of our beings. It is at once a demonstration of our intelligence, our knowledge, our character, and our wisdom.”

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

So often, however, what we need by way of encouragement to keep the commandments and to serve others is to simply be stirred in our memory by the Spirit concerning the things we already know rather than receiving new inspiration and revelation. It has been said that “memory is the stomach of the soul” in that it receives the truth, digests it, and nourishes us. The Holy Ghost stirs our memory as well as our understanding. We must, then, do what we already know is right—the simple things, the straightforward things, and the specific things. This is one of the reasons why we, as Latter-day Saints, must live in a worthy manner so that we can have the influence of the Holy Ghost and have his constant companionship to guide us, to direct us. His guidance is far more important than the learning techniques, although these can be helpful.

If you and I would be good leaders, we should reflect periodically on the qualities of those who have served, led, and taught us. If you were to select just two or three individuals in your life who have been most influential, what specifically did they do that was most helpful to you at critical or important times in your life? On reflecting for a few moments, you are apt to conclude that such a person really cared for you, that he or she took time for you, that he or she taught you something you needed to know. Reflect now upon your performance, as I do on my own, as to whether or not we now embody in our own ministry those same basic attributes. It is less likely in stirring through one’s memories that someone will be remembered because that individual was particularly influential because of a technique. Most often someone has served and helped us by giving us love and understanding, by taking time to assist us, and by showing us the way through the light of his own example. I cannot stress enough, therefore, the importance of our doing these same things for those who now depend upon us, just as we have depended upon others to serve us in the past.

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, 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.

In this connection we must never lose sight of Jesus Christ as our great example. Jesus said in his instructions to the Nephite disciples:

“Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do.” (3 Ne. 18:24.)

In that same instruction Jesus noted how he sought to draw men to him and how he permitted the Nephite multitude to “feel and see” his resurrected body. In a much less sacred sense, though still in a significant and firsthand way, the devoted, orthodox leader can permit those whom she or he seeks to serve to “feel and see” the power and authenticity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting to note that since Jesus is the light that we want to hold up, how many reminders of him have been placed appropriately before us—the name of the Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; the blessings on the sacrament; the baptismal prayer; the manner in which we pray, “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Because his name is so sacred, we need to be prudent and careful in the manner in which we use that name and make reference to it, but we should ever hold up our elder brother as the grand example, for this is his Church, and it bears his name, and it is also built upon his gospel.

Thus, we have gathered together out of a selfish world to speak of service. Some observers might wonder why we concern ourselves with such simple things 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.

We have been told that society in the last days would display some of the social symptoms that existed in the time of Noah. We have very few adjectives that describe Noah’s contemporaries, but his neighbors were apparently very disobedient to the commandments of God, and the earth was “corrupt,” and significantly, society then was “filled with violence.” (Gen. 6:11.) Violence and corruption usually occur because of selfishness. In a time like this how fitting it is that we focus on service to our fellowmen!

In our day those who keep the commandments will be set apart from the world, just as surely as Noah was by his seemingly strange act of building an ark even before the floods came. As we strive to serve by doing simple, mundane things, and as we strive to keep the commandments of God in our day, we will no doubt meet some of the same kind of ridicule that came to Noah and that party of eight—before it began to rain and kept on raining.

Noah’s neighbors simply could not understand the urgency of the task Noah had undertaken. Neither should we expect many others to understand our sense of urgency about simple things like family, chastity, and doing missionary work!

In the Church there are numerous young men who postpone marriage. One year follows another. There are many of them who are merely procrastinating. There are others who have found it easier to live alone without sharing responsibilities. There are others who are praying for a satisfactory marriage and doing little else about it. Then there are an increasing number of men, especially in the “world” who do not intend to ever marry, who insist they can have every satisfaction without marriage and that the single life is so much easier with so much less responsibility.

Now may I say to all our brethren: Marriage is honorable before God. We were placed on the earth not primarily to have fun, to satisfy our cravings for wealth and distinction, and to satisfy our passions in a life of selfishness.

The Lord, our Creator, says:

“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

“And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this new and everlasting covenant of marriage;

“And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.

“He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.” (D&C 131:1–4.)

“… if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.” (D&C 132:4.)

It seems to us that no amount of excusing oneself or rationalizing can nullify these truths.

Marriage is followed by the family; again the Lord makes it clear:

Wives are given unto men “… to multiply and replenish the earth … and to bear the souls of men … that he may be glorified.” (D&C 132:63.)

Therefore, let no single man excuse himself by rationalizing.

There are numerous young women who are worthy, attractive, educated, well-groomed, and appear to be most desirable. To them we say, We cannot supply you husbands as you might want. If you have had fewer opportunities, you need to evaluate yourselves carefully. Take a careful inventory of your habits, your speech, your appearance, your weight, and your eccentricities, if you have any. Take each item and analyze it. Can you make some sacrifices to be acceptable? You must be the judge.

Are you too talkative? Too withdrawn? Too quiet? If so, then school your thoughts and your expressions.

Are you in the wrong location? Could a move to a new location open up a new world to you?

Is your dress too old-fashioned, or too revealing, or too extreme? Are you too demanding? Do you have any eccentricities in speech, in tone, in subject matter? Do you laugh too loudly? Are you too demonstrative? Do you overdo? Are you selfish? Are you honorable in all things? Would you want a family? Would you be glad to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a good man every day? Would you keep your former friends close to you at the expense of your husband?

William James declared that the greatest revolution in his generation was the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.

The story is told of the hunchback prince who became straight and tall by standing each day before a statue of himself made straight.

Change comes by substituting good habits for less desirable ones. You mold your character and future by good thoughts and acts. Self-pity is most destructive. Do you feel sorry for yourselves?

What to do.

Have you made yourself attractive physically—well groomed, well-dressed—and attractive mentally—engaging, interesting? Are you well-read? If not, then change yourself.

My beloved folks, the Church is mindful of these situations, and even if we had a magic wand to cast over your problems and change them for you to your liking, that would not be good for you, for growth accompanies your own efforts.

I am reminded of one sister I knew who had married a prospective elder, and their life rolled along. She became conscious of some of her lady friends whose husbands always went with them to Church affairs, sang in the choir together, went to the temple together, and seemed to be happy and content with life. She began to nag her husband: “Why can’t you treat me like other men treat their wives? Why don’t you become more active in the Church?”

It happened that they lived in an active ward where fellowshiping was almost an obsession, and sure enough, the day came when this inactive man caught the total spirit and received much joy in his family and Church activity. The woman who had been so unhappy before was now unhappy with his new dedication and upbraided him: “Why do you have to give all your time and thought to Church work? Why can’t you be like other men are and treat me to a little fun and pleasure?” Her constant nagging finally wore him down, and he reverted again to the inactive status.

We say: Continue to make yourself attractive, physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and manage to find yourself in the places where you might be seen by the right people who might be attracted.

Are you in the right place, or have you pegged yourself? One young girl was getting into her mid-twenties and without opportunity. I urged her to move from the home that she shared with several older girls, leave the office as stenographer, and go to college where she would meet people of the right age. Sometime later I happened one day to be on that campus, and here she came to me, bubbling like a fresh new breeze, with a bright ribbon tying her hair and an optimistic and happy personality. A few months later I was invited to a temple marriage. It may not always work that well, but it did in this case.

While we are waiting for the propitious and ideal day to dawn, there are many things we can do to brighten others’ lives that will redound to ourselves.

[illustration] Illustrated by Howard Post