The Joy of Service

Today we have a Guest Post from my Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho) Professor, David Ward. He instilled in me the love of language when I was a young college student, for which I will always be thankful. Bro. Ward and his wife will be serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand for the next 2 years, and he wrote up some thoughts on service to share. Hope you enjoy.

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Given the truth that we are more happy and may experience joy if we serve, why don’t we serve more often than we do—and with deeper purpose?

Why do we resist opportunities to serve? Why don’t we seek them out?

Why do we live too often hunkering down in our personal sorrow, our personal sadness, our private darkness, our individual frustrations, our favorite funks?

Let me remind you of what Jesus taught about losing our lives for His and the gospel’s sake:

Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; or whosoever will save his life, shall be willing to lay it down for my sake; and if he is not willing to lay it down for my sake, he shall lose it.

But whosoever shall be willing to lose his life for my sake, and the gospel, the same shall save it.  (Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 8:37-38)

Lose ourselves

Of course the life Jesus is encouraging us to lose is our lesser, fallen life in favor of taking on the greater redeemed life. So why don’t we lose our lesser life in favor of the greater life Christ promises us?

It’s because lesser though it may be, the life we are living now is the life we understand; it’s the life we know; it’s the life we identify with. Giving it up is a supreme sacrifice.

It may be easier to die for the cause of Christ than to live for it.

Because living for Jesus requires us to give up our lives piece meal: habit by habit, tendency upon tendency, inclination upon inclination, wish upon wish. Dying for Christ, on the other hand, would require giving our life up all at once: one immense effort, then it would all be over. In a way, living for Christ is harder. It requires line-upon-line sacrifice: the willingness to sacrifice everything about us that stands in our way of being able to live true to God and Christ with total and complete obedience.

This takes time. God asks us to sacrifice our time, talents, and everything he has or will bless us with to the building of His kingdom on earth. Interestingly, the building He has most in mind is the building up of each other through service rendered by the power of the Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ.

This kind of service is implied in the exhortation the Lord gave Fredrick G. Williams when he was called to serve as councilor to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency of the Church. The Savior said:

Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.

And if thou art faithful unto the end thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father.

Behold, and lo, these are the words of Alpha and Omega, even Jesus Christ. Amen. (D&C 81:3-7)

Would it surprise you to learn that this promise applies to you and me? In fact everything the Lord promised President Williams, he promises you and me. These promises, however, are dependent upon our being willing to seek the Lord and serve His children in the way the Lord commands Pres. Williams.

“Succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”

This is the Lord’s command to all of us. It is the command at the heart of all service we render to others in the name of the Lord.

But to do this appropriately, to do it in a manner that lends itself to the joy of service, we need to make sure that our hands are not hanging down, and our knees are not feeble to the task at hand.

This may sound odd. We seldom hear the phrases “lift up the hands that hang down,” and “strengthen the feeble knees” as referring to ourselves. But Paul teaches this very thing in Hebrews in connection with the correction and chastisement we must be willing to receive from the Lord if we are to become like Him:

Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;

And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:11-13)

Everyone of us lives our lives at times happy for the good things that are happening to us and for the successful things we accomplish. But we also are challenged to be optimistic and faithful during times in which the Lord is chastising us to overcome weaknesses that must become strengths: weaknesses due to our natural fallen condition: weaknesses that persist due to failure we’re not learning from, and sins we continue to commit.

At times of divine chastening it is natural to become despondent, withdrawn, overly ashamed, unduly burdened.

God understands.

To help us, He exhorts us to lift up our hands that tend to naturally hang down and use them to lift the hands of others.

In essence, He commands us to choose to live against the grain, to stand up strait, stop slumping and dragging our feet in self-pity and go strengthen the feeble knees and flagging resolve of others to claim their divine privileges. He encourages us to make our path straight, not to be side-tracked, to assist others, that Christ may change us through His graceful empowerment.

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God commands us this way knowing all too well that a despondent, depressed, self-consumed attitude makes us susceptible to the misuse of social media and on-line entertainment, not to mention the old standbys of TV, DVDs, and movies. To those stuck in themselves, these influences enable people to connect with others across the world while ignoring those in their homes and in their neighborhoods.

When we’re self-concerned, we are less sensitive to the Spirit than we otherwise can be. We are less inclined to go out of our way to serve others, being withdrawn into our own worries, our own concerns, justifying our complacency by convincing ourselves that when we figure out how to solve our own problems, we’ll be happy to help others solve theirs.

But the fact is, there is never a time when we won’t have our own problems to deal with during the times that others need our help and service.

So what do we do?

What can we do in order to find joy through the service we could render if we would?

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I am discovering that the joy we’re talking about is not to be found through a continual examination and reexamination of our own lives to the exclusion of others, nor is it to be found in self-centered entertainment. It is only to be found through appropriate evaluation of our status before God while serving our brothers and sisters in the name of Christ.

Let me explain this through sharing the challenges I’ve faced when endeavoring to live a life of joyful service.

The two attitudes that constantly trip me up are WORRY and CONCERN—both are self-centered, and both are defense mechanisms against pain, embarrassment, disappointment, and suffering at the hands of others. Interestingly enough, they are both attitudes that counterfeit productive thinking.

WORRY makes us think we’re doing something about the problem at hand, when all the while we’re just keeping our thoughts and feelings active while spinning our wheels.

But being concerned about significant matters is essential to solving problems and living our lives in faithful, productive ways. And yet, if we’re not careful, we can become so CONCERNED about personal matters that we don’t give others the attention God needs from us, nor can we receive the revelation we need from Him to grow in faith.

Let’s consider each of these in turn.

WORRY

A few years back I learned first hand that worry is not part of faith. I was taught this in the temple while prayerfully worrying about one of our children. Our child was making some wrong choices, and my wife and I were worried as to what to do. During the time we waited, I rehearsed one scenario after another in my mind, trying to figure out what council we should give to this son to help him get back on the strait and narrow path. In the midst of my worrisome contemplation, I was interrupted with an impression that presented itself as though it were a voice speaking in my mind.

“David,” it began, “when did you learn that worrying is a part of exercising faith?

Put so bluntly, my reaction was to defend myself by contending that I knew better. “I know that worrying is the opposite of hope. I don’t think that worry is a part of faith.” And yet, as I attempted my defense, I knew deep within that I had been in the thick of worrying in the hope that God would look compassionately upon my suffering and give me revelation or change my kid.

Then came the next revelation: “Don’t you think I’m doing everything in the universe for your son?”

There was nothing to argue over. Of course God loves my son. He’s God’s son more than he’s mine. Of course Heavenly Father is active in serving Him, in suffering for, and with, Him.

I then had a question: “If I’m not to worry, what is my part in living faithfully—doing my part?”

The answer came quickly, “Do what I inspire you to do; say what I inspire you to say; feel what I inspire you to feel—and serve your son.”

I’m here to testify that my wife and I did this—we’re still doing this for our son and the rest of our children, grandchildren, extended family and friends, as we try to serve them the way the Savior hopes we will. We’re not perfect at this—nobody is. But we live to keep the end in mind, and we are quick to repent when we sense ourselves slipping into self-defeating, hope-depleting, worry.

CONCERN

This is more mature than worrying. Everyone must be concerned in order to plan appropriately in their lives.

How does concern keep us from serving each other the way the Savior hopes we will?

I came to understand this while I was wrestling with a variety of legitimate concerns. How should I care for an aging father? How should we best schedule our time to pack appropriately and prepare for our mission? Who will buy our car? When push comes to shove, will our possessions fit in the storage unit we’re renting for the next two years? When is best to schedule my release from serving in the temple? How should we prepare our children for our departure—concerns like these. I think we can all agree that these are legitimate concerns: concerns I’m tempted to run from, but know that I need to address them—and in faith.

But I wasn’t feeling hope during my considerations. I was among those whom Jesus calls to come unto Him, because I was laboring, but the result of my labor—my faithful labor I assumed—was to become “heavy laden,” not hopeful or directed (See (Matthew 11:28).

One morning during scripture study, I was lead to Philippians 4:6. I was astounded at what I read: “Be careful for nothing . . .” Paul teaches.

I knew this wasn’t the end of the verse. But I was inclined to stop to think on what I had just read. It seemed to be the answer to my prayer as to why I was feeling heavily burdened, and what I could do about it. But Paul’s odd language left me wondering. My confusion became untangled as I looked at the footnote. There I read the translation from the Greek:

“Be not unduly concerned over anything.”

This made more sense.

But what thrilled me with relief was Paul’s unqualified teaching that I wasn’t to be concerned unduly about anything—nothing: not even one of the dozen concerns that weighed upon my mind—not even the most important one!

I felt that Paul was giving me permission to “let my concerns go”—not in the sense that Elsa sings in Frozen, nor in the sense of Timon and Pumbaa’s Hakuna Matata—but in the sense of laying my concerns at the feet of the Savior. Paul seemed to be saying that the Savior will not look at me with disappointment in His eyes for laying my concerns at His feet. He won’t subtly chastise me for not being more adult: for trying to shirk my responsibility by foisting it upon Jesus.

If I lay my undue concern at the feet of the Savior, He will accept it—happily, even gratefully, knowing that for this purpose He came into the world.

I felt liberated! In seconds I was free and unshackled from the burdens of my life!

In my excitement I read on:

Be not unduly concerned about anything, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

This is what I was experiencing: a peace I couldn’t understand, but which was real and tangible. I realized that instead of bearing the burden of undue concerns, if I would reach out to God in prayer and supplication, sharing my concerns and honestly making my requests made known to Him, He would bless me to live in hope to do His will through a peace that would lift my burden even while I was bearing it.

But there was something more. “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me,” Jesus taught. “For I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

I needed not only to lay my undue concerns at the feet of Christ, but I needed to then take Christ’s yoke upon me. But this yoke was not the full burden that only Christ, Himself, has the power to bear. It is the burden that Christ would give back to me to bear along with Him. In a sense, it would be the concern I should and could bear—my stewardship of concern, as it were—gifted back to me. It would be a burden that is light, as He promises; it would be a yoke that is easy, as He affirms, because I would bear it with, and through, Christ. I would not live trying to bear undue burdens, Atlas-like, assuming I was doing so through faith. Christ would allocate just the right degree of burden to me, just the proper weight of concern, that would enable me to become stronger, while supporting me to shoulder it with success.

This I have done. And I stand as a witness that the peace of God that passes all understanding has been mine, and can be ours. It has been a miracle to me—and continues to be, if not at present, then surely through remembrance and anticipation for it in the future.

For the truth is, the last two days have been very difficult. I’ve felt blind-sided by concern. I’m not sure if these have been undue concerns or if I’m at that stage in my education where the miracle must pass in order for me to learn greater truths. I wonder if the Lord allowed this to happen so that I know that it isn’t by habit that we can enjoy the peace Paul promises; it’s by Jesus’s grace. It’s by His mercy.

The truth is that when we feel the blessings flagging, when the peace of God or the confidence we’ve previously felt from heaven seems distant, God is dealing with us the way He dealt with Jacob’s people. Jacob records that in his day, the people were able to move trees, mountains, and the sea by their faith. He then qualifies their capacity by observing:

Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things (Jacob 4:7).

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It may be that the Lord has been showing me that the peace I’ve been experiencing over the last two weeks isn’t a cheap peace, nor a casual grace, but a peace and grace purchased by the life-blood of Jesus through the miracle of His redeeming atonement. This peace has been, and will continue to be possible, through His grace and His great condescensions extended to me, and to us, as we seek to “look unto Christ in every thought; doubting not, fearing not” in times of trouble and in seasons of peace (See D&C 6:36).

It shouldn’t surprise us that there must be peaks and troughs associated with our journey to become godly. For every miraculous experience, for every blessing of insight or revelation, there must come troublesome experiences and confusion, even times when God feels like He’s abandoned us or is, at least, more concerned with others than He is with us.

This opposition makes it possible for us to choose, once again, to live true to God, rather than to deny Him; to seek Christ all the more, rather than give up on Him. Only within the challenge of real oppositions can our choice to believe once again, and live by faith in Christ, all the more, be eternally significant.

This we must understand if we are to lay at the feet of Christ our undue concerns; if we are to make our heart-felt yearnings known to God through prayer and supplication; if we are to receive gladly from Christ the burden He will surely bear with us. These things we must learn and always bear in mind, if we are to live to serve God and Christ through service thankfully rendered to each other.

May we live to do so more faithfully each day, is my prayer for us all.

 

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