“Investing for Eternity,” Ensign, Apr. 1986, 68
I would like to speak about the importance of wise investing. I remember hearing that one wise investment is worth a lifetime of work. In terms of dollar returns, I’m sure that could be proven true. Who hasn’t heard of the investor who put several thousands of dollars in IBM many years ago and now is a millionaire? Who hasn’t had thoughts of getting into a small company, “on the ground floor,” in hopes of duplicating that success?
But then there is the other side. How many bought silver or gold or other earthly goods at high prices and have frustratingly watched them slide to very low prices?
Some say, “Well, you can always trust real estate, if you find a good location. That’s always a sure investment.” Yes, unless the zoning changes or the taxes increase or growth stops or floods or natural disasters or wars come.
Of course, there is a place for wise investments, but generally temporal investments are at the mercy of forces beyond our control—the death or defection of a key executive or salesman, the patenting of a new invention that replaces our company’s product, the sudden change in the price of oil, the unexpected shift in interest rates, the fraud or embezzlement of a trusted partner, or the precipitous fall of the stock market.
With this much uncertainty in investing, why even talk about it? True, earthly investments do not last, even when they are successful for a time. But I want to talk about another kind of investment. This investment has no risk whatsoever, and it pays handsome returns on a continuing basis. I speak of investment of time, of spiritual investments—investments in character, obedience, service, kindness.
The Lord has told us:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon 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.” (Matt. 6:19–20.)
I remember when I attended business school at BYU many years ago one of my professors gave three rules for good investing. He said, “First, you should invest in things that you know something about or have had some experience in, so you can tell whether the promises or prospects are reasonable or way out of line. Second, you should invest in things close to home, where you can see them. Third, you should invest with people you personally know and with whom you have had experience and whom you trust.”
I am not sure if all of those rules still apply today, but they have been good guides in my life. And they apply perfectly to investments of time, to spiritual investments.
The resources of the earth are distributed unevenly when it comes to financial investments. Some people have much more money to work with; some have much less. On the other hand, we all have an equal amount of time to invest. Twenty-four hours each day is allotted to each person. How we invest that time is of utmost importance to our happiness now and forever.
Let me give two specific examples—first, investing time in service, and second, investing time in kindness.
Come with me for a moment to the small island of Lifuka in the South Pacific. The year is 1956. I was serving a mission in Tonga and had recently been appointed district president of the Ha’apai District, which had its headquarters on this island of Lifuka. The district covered seventeen islands. Since our only means of transportation was by sailboat, I needed some experienced, seaworthy counselors. The Lord provided, and two fine local men were chosen.
One of these was Brother Vea. He had a beautifully kept thatched home and a lovely, clean yard. To earn money he was a peanut vendor (selling peanuts he grew himself), and most evenings you could see him out with his cart selling peanuts and a few other items his wife had made.
I don’t know how many times we had to have presidency meetings on the night a big social or game or fair was going on, but never do I recall him saying, “I can’t come tonight,” even though such nights were the best for his business.
Very often our schedule called for us to go to another island for a conference or for tracting or for other Church business, and often we’d have to leave during a major rugby match or other large gathering. But never once did I hear Brother Vea complain or suggest we change our schedule. He chose to invest in obedience and in service to others—often at the expense of some immediate worldly gain.
Now let’s follow that particular investment through. About fifteen years later, as a Regional Representative, I was given an assignment to the South Pacific. I had the responsibility of holding some meetings in California and then moving on to Honolulu and to the islands farther south. We had two meetings scheduled in California—one in the evening and one the next morning—involving a few stake presidents. As we went through the agenda that evening, I found myself feeling that we ought to finish the whole agenda and not stay on the next morning. Accordingly, we combined meetings and completed the entire agenda that evening, even though it was late.
Since we had originally scheduled to meet until noon the next day, I didn’t have an airplane reservation until the early afternoon. I wondered, “What am I going to do with these several extra hours I have?”
I got up early the next morning and, as any of you would do, prayed fervently to know if there was something I ought to do. I didn’t have any especially strong feelings, but I thought, “Well, I’d better check.” So I called the airport and said, “I have a reservation on this particular plane this afternoon. Do you have anything leaving before then?”
The man said, “We have one leaving in forty-five minutes.”
I said, “Let me give it a try.” So I quickly gathered up everything, threw it in the suitcase, and charged off to the airport. As it turned out, I went straight to the gate and was the last person on the plane, but I did get on.
I arrived in Honolulu four or five hours earlier than expected, so there was no one to pick me up for several hours. What should I do now?
Just a few minutes later I ran into a young man I had known in the mission field. He said, “Did you hear that just the other night Brother Vea flew in from Tonga? He has some kind of disease, and he is over at the Queens Hospital. I was just going to visit him. If you have a few minutes, would you like to come?”
I said, “Sure.”
When we saw Brother Vea, his whole body was yellow with jaundice because of a very serious kidney problem. His eyes were closed. I could tell he was in great pain.
I went over to him and said, “Brother Vea, I’ve come to visit you.”
He suddenly opened his eyes. They were about as yellow as anything I have ever seen. Then he said, “Oh, thank you for coming. I knew that you were scheduled for a conference in Tonga and that you would be coming through Honolulu. All last night I prayed as fervently as I could that some way or another you would visit me. Would you please give me a blessing?”
We administered to him, and, as I began to seal the anointing, I thought that everything would be just fine. With his kind of faith, how could it be otherwise? But, as is so often the case, that wasn’t what the Lord had in mind.
I won’t go into detail, but, basically, I had the opportunity of telling him that very shortly he would be performing a certain service on the other side that was badly needed. In a way it was a shock to me, but the Spirit was so strong there was no question as to the Lord’s will. When we concluded, he looked up at me and simply said, “Thank you. Thank you very much. I really wanted to live here, but more than that I want to do my Heavenly Father’s will. I’m grateful I now know what it is.”
After a while, we left. Hours before I was originally scheduled to arrive in Honolulu, Brother Vea was transferred from this sphere of existence to his next assignment. He went with a great peace and calm in his heart. An investment in time and unselfish service paid off in a quiet, yet stunningly impressive, way. This investment in service had paid great dividends of joy all through those years and will continue to pay increasing dividends throughout all eternity.
Invest in service? What greater, what surer investment can we make?
Let me talk about investments in kindness. Being kind is often like making a deposit in a bank. We have blood banks and financial banks that we put into and draw from. We understand these banks and how they work. I would suggest that just by being kind to other people and by eliminating anger, we move our kindness into a bank—a kindness bank, if you will—which is available to help us and other people.
In that same mission to Tonga, my first assignment was with a native companion on a very small island of only about seven hundred people. We were extremely frustrated in tracting, for no one seemed to want to let us in. Some people would invite us to eat with them, but they would say, “We’ll let you eat something as long as you don’t talk about your church or talk religion to us.” We were grateful for the food and their hospitality and would ask if we could at least say a blessing. Sometimes we would say a ten-minute blessing to get a few points of doctrine in!
One village seemed particularly antagonistic. Many days we would tract all day and not get into a single home. Then one day we did get into a home. The family seemed nice and invited us back. We returned again and again. When we gave them the fourth discussion, they had lots of questions, and it was quite late at night before we finished.
This family’s house was right on the edge of a jungle area, and our house was on the other side of it, two miles away. There was a small trail through the bush that we usually took on our way home.
We had gone about a hundred feet from the door to where the bush started when a group of eight or ten tough young Tongan men suddenly emerged from behind the trees. They had clubs, stones, and broken bottles and were obviously drunk. They formed a sort of semicircle and began to close in. As they moved closer, my native companion—just like a mother hen—pushed me behind him and said, “Now here’s what we’ll do. I’m going to count to three. When I say, ‘Three,’ I’ll yell as loud as I can and charge right into the middle of them. Then you turn and run as fast as you can through the bush toward home. It is dark, and they won’t know you’re gone until you’re halfway home.”
“I can’t do that,” I said (even though maybe I wanted to).
He replied, “Look, I’m the senior companion. You do what I say. There is no sense in both of us getting hurt.” Then he started, “One … , two …”
Fortunately, he didn’t get to three, and I didn’t have to make that decision. For on the count of two there came a huge crash from behind us, and out of the bush came the man that everyone on the island feared more than anyone else. He was the toughest of them all.
My first impression was, “We’ve had it now—sealed off from in front and behind.”
But he walked right past us and stood in front of us. He glared at those eight or ten young men and said, “These men are under my protection. Anyone who touches them or even says anything bad about them will answer to me.”
Have you ever watched a cube of butter placed in a hot frying pan? It just melts away. Well, that’s what happened. In no time at all that crowd melted into the darkness as quietly as they had appeared from it.
As we walked to our home with our protector, we asked him, “Why did you do that? Why did you help us?”
“Well,” he explained, “someone—a minister, I think—called us together tonight and gave us some free home brew and suggested that we take care of the Mormon missionaries and see that they didn’t come back to town. I attended that meeting,” he said, “and when I heard the name Mormon, something stirred deep inside me.”
He then told the following story: “I didn’t know my real parents. I was reared by some relatives. I was picked on a lot. It seemed that no one really wanted me. When I was about ten I went down to Vava’u. There I met two young men who were teaching a school in English. They wore white shirts and ties. Everyone else kicked me around, but they didn’t. They asked me if I would like to come to their school. They shared love and concern for me, something I hadn’t felt much in my life before.
“Shortly after that I came back to this island and had no further association with the Church. There weren’t any missionaries here, nor were there any members that I knew of. So, over a period of years, I seemed to forget about it. But when the minister spoke of Mormon missionaries, it all came back to me: ‘Mormon missionaries aren’t bad people; they are good people. They loved me. They helped me. They were kind to me.’ I wondered what to do. Then I thought, ‘I’ll just sit by the house and protect them.’”
And that is what he did. When our safety had come to that critical point, he had jumped out; and we didn’t have any more problems with any of those people because they knew we were under his protection.
Now, I want to ask, “What would have happened had those two missionaries twenty years earlier not been kind?” I don’t even know who they were. I don’t know their names or anything about them other than that they showed love and kindness to a little orphan boy who was kicked around by others. I know that the love and kindness they showed him went into this eternal kindness bank and came out with interest later—twenty years later—to help us.
Can you see how doing a kind deed continues on forever and pays eternal dividends and blesses countless people?
Oh, how we need to draw on this bank—and how we need to put into it also, for ourselves and for others. No act of kindness is ever lost. It is always there and available.
Now you might say, “Yes, but there are so many things to do. How can we choose the best place to invest our time?” Certainly, we will want to invest our time in helping others, in being kind rather than selfish. And we will want to follow the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord in doing this.
But how do you know when the Spirit is prompting you? Here is a short list, modified from a Seminary outline, of some ways to know. Of course, all the items won’t apply all the time. We each have our ups and downs. But as general guides, you will find the list helpful.
When You Have the Spirit
When You Do Not Have the Spirit
1. You generally feel happy and calm.
You may feel unhappy, depressed, confused, frustrated most of the time.
2. You feel full of light.
You may feel heavy, full of darkness.
3. Your mind is clear.
Your mind may be muddled.
4. You feel love for the Lord and others.
You may feel empty, hollow, cold inside.
5. You feel generous.
You may feel selfish, possessive, self-centered.
6. Nobody can offend you.
You may be offended easily.
7. You are very forgiving and kind.
You may usually be on the defensive.
8. You feel confident in what you do.
You may become discouraged easily.
9. You don’t mind others seeing what you are doing.
You may become secretive, evasive.
10. You want to be with those who love you—especially family members.
You may want to be alone most of the time. You avoid others—especially family members.
11. You are glad when others succeed.
You may be envious almost constantly of what others do and what they have.
12. You want to help others be happy, even those opposed to you.
You may want to get even and show others up.
13. You willingly perform Church work.
You may feel hesitant, unworthy, and unwilling to perform Church ordinances.
14. You feel like praying and reading the scriptures.
You may not want to pray or read scriptures.
15. You wish you could keep all the Lord’s commandments.
You may find the commandments of God and rules of the family bothersome, restricting, or senseless.
16. You usually control your appetites and emotions. You are calm and control your speech; you feel no anger.
You may be a slave to your appetites. You give way to strong anger and outspokenness.
17. You generally feel a deep desire to help others—usually in a way no one else will know about.
When you help others, your main desire may be to have your actions noticed.
18. You speak and think good about others.
You are critical of others, especially family members and those in authority.
19. You feel sorrow when others have problems and sincerely desire to help them.
You may often question others’ motives and secretly delight in others’ problems.
20. You realize that your thoughts and your actions are open to God.
You may feel that what you do and think is only your business and no one else knows or cares.
I pray that all of us will invest our time as the Spirit directs us. The opportunities for service and kindness are all around us.
President Kimball has said, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” (Ensign, July 1978, p. 4.)
Just stop and think for a moment of the whole world, the whole universe, literally filled with pleas for help. Hearing those cries is like listening to a radio. Most of us listen to the close-range familiar FM bands. The sound we hear is bright, clear, and familiar, and we can listen with little effort. Most of us prefer to listen to such stations.
It seems to be our nature to try to shield ourselves from things different. How desperately we attempt to move in the circles of familiarity, expending little or no effort, lulled into the security of sensing no need for change as the big sound we are used to comes through so clearly.
But we must begin to listen to our “short-wave radio.” When we turn to a short-wave radio, we hear static and distant voices, fading music, foreign tongues, strange sounds, dots and dashes, low-pitched hums and high-pitched squeals. We can no longer relax with effortless familiarity, but must painstakingly tune the dial and carefully, with much effort, attune our hearing and focus our attention. We must attempt to understand those unclear sounds and unfamiliar languages.
Like listening to a short-wave radio, we must spend effort to hear the cry of others—those unborn, those untaught, those unhappy, those unbaptized, those unwell, those unsealed. We must even strain to comprehend what is being requested, what is needed, and how we can best fill that need. We must, in fact, move into the unknown, become a full partner with God, and attune our souls to the hearing and answering of those pleas. It will always present a challenge. All growth requires effort.
I testify from personal experience and deep assurance that, in all situations and at all times, the best investment we can make will be to do what we know is right and to follow the promptings of the Spirit. My brothers and sisters, let’s make wise investments! Let’s serve willingly. Let’s forgive readily. Let’s be kind, consistently. God will help us. We can eliminate anger from our lives. We can substitute love. We can develop love in our hearts. We can be kind to one another.
I testify to you that our Father in Heaven loves us with all his heart. Jesus loves us with all his heart. They live and are available to help us. They are the greatest investment counselors anywhere.
After reading “Investing for Eternity,” individually or as a family, you may wish to consider some of the following questions during a family home evening or study time.
What is meant by the term spiritual investments?
Elder Groberg points out that we all have an equal allotment of time to invest. What are some of the best ways we can invest our time?
Think of times in your life when you have made an investment of service or kindness. How did the investment make you feel? What blessings resulted from that investment?
Discuss times you have been blessed as others have made spiritual investments that benefited you.
Discuss specific ways in which you and your family can develop the ability to consistently invest your time in spiritual, rather than temporal, things.