For several years I was president of a theater that presented live productions, and I met many famous entertainers. Most of these people had fame and fortune in this life, but very little, if any, internal and spiritual sense of well-being. It seemed to me that the most important thing in their lives was the size of the audience and the amount of money earned through the sale of tickets, since this was the primary measure to them of their personal success. In contrast to this, I would often greet happy LDS families, some from humble homes, who would save their money to attend the Saturday matinee. I could not help noticing the inner glow and warmth that they shared. During these years, I began to realize how important it is for us to understand that the greatest treasure in this world is not fame or wealth, but rather, a sense of well-being and the inner peace that living the teachings of the gospel can give to us.
The Prophet Joseph Smith received this instruction from the Lord for his brother Hyrum: “Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (D&C 11:7.)
Among the friends I made in the theater business was a fine man who was a great success as the star of his own network television show. He was also an outstanding business man. Through our association over the years, we had many interesting experiences. One special experience stands out in my mind as a personal example to me that what the Lord said to Hyrum really does apply today.
It is most important that every one of us in the Church always remember this eternal advice from the Lord.
This story began when my friend and I had an occasion to fly to Mexico with two very wealthy friends of his in a private, executive jet that was owned by one of the two men. The arrangements were that I was to fly from Salt Lake City to join the others at the Los Angeles Airport. I boarded their jet, and we began our flight to Mexico. On board I was introduced to a man who is reported to be one of the most wealthy men in the world. His personal net worth was estimated at that time to be in excess of 2 billion dollars! The seating arrangement within the executive jet was such that four seats were grouped in one compartment, and we were invited to sit with this wealthy man. As I look back on this experience, it is somewhat amusing to me that in my humble circumstances I would have been sitting with two millionaires and one billionaire.
As the jet took off from the Los Angeles International Airport, the conversation became most interesting to me. These three wealthy executives spent the first little while talking about the various multi-million dollar business deals in which they had recently been involved. I must admit that I sat in wonderment as I listened to their conversation, but as time went on, it became progressively more apparent to me that the most important thing in the life of the billionaire was his desire to make and accumulate more and more money. I studied very carefully the billionaire’s attitude and philosophy of life as he talked to us. He seemed to me to have found great power with his wealth, and money was certainly the center of everything that was important to him. He discussed his vast, worldwide financial empire and earthly possessions.
By the time we landed at our destination, it had become abundantly clear to me that the billionaire, with all of his wealth, was really a most unhappy and spiritually deprived man. During the conversation I had learned that he had no children of his own. He had no definite faith in God and no positive assurance of hope for a life after death. He seemed to me to epitomize the words of the Savior when He said:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:19–21.)
We completed our business in Mexico and again boarded the jet to return to Los Angeles. Upon our arrival I bade these three men good-bye and boarded a commercial flight to return to my home in Salt Lake City. During the flight I had time to ponder what had taken place during the past two days. When I walked into my home, my wife Barbara greeted me, and her first question to me was, “How did the meetings go?” My response to her question was, “Honey, we may not have very much money, but I do know this—of the four men aboard that plane, I was by far the richest man of them all because I was the only one who knew where I came from, why I am here on this earth, and where I can go in the eternities to come if I am faithful.”
My wife and I discussed this experience, and as we did, again the words of the Lord seemed to ring clearly in my mind. He said:
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:24–25, 33.)
The billionaire, with all of his hundreds of millions of dollars, cannot buy what comes to members of the Church freely when we accept and live the teachings of the gospel. How blessed we are as a people! How rich we are individually because of our knowledge that we, in fact, do possess the eternal truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just imagine—the most valuable treasure a man can have in this life comes freely, without monetary price, to all men everywhere when they embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ and live its teachings.
I am grateful for this unusual experience because I now understand more clearly than ever before that the most important asset one can have in this life is the personal, inner peace and positive assurance that come in knowing that the purpose of this life is for men to learn how to prepare for eternal living in the presence of our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. The billionaire will not take one cent of his wealth with him when he dies, and perhaps only then will he realize that the greatest possession a man can obtain is the knowledge that humble service to our fellowmen, love of family, and knowledge of eternal truths make a man rich. As the Lord said to Hyrum, “Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” [D&C 11:7]
May each of us be more grateful than ever for the glorious opportunities that can be ours throughout the eternities because of our priceless possession of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.