“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Ensign, Dec. 1988, 2
As we commence this Christmas season, a season of giving and receiving, I would like to discuss a few of the many gifts we have received from our Lord, Jesus Christ, and what we in turn might give to Him.
First, He gave us the perfect model—Himself—after which we are to pattern our lives. He said “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13.) Not only did He set for us the perfect example of earthly living, but for our sake He willingly gave His life. He went through agony both in body and spirit, which we cannot comprehend, to give to us the glorious blessings of the Atonement and the Resurrection. (See D&C 19:15–19.)
Some men are willing to die for their faith, but they are not willing to fully live for it. Christ both lived and died for us. Through His atonement and by walking in His steps, we can gain the greatest gift of all—eternal life, which is that kind of life of the great Eternal One—our Father in Heaven.
Christ asked the question, “What manner of men ought [we] to be?” He then answered by saying we ought to be even as He is. (3 Ne. 27:27.)
That man is greatest and most blessed and joyful whose life most closely approaches the pattern of the Christ. This has nothing to do with earthly wealth, power, or prestige. The only true test of greatness, blessedness, joyfulness is how close a life can come to being like the Master, Jesus Christ. He is the right way, the full truth, and the abundant life.
The constant and most recurring question in our minds, touching every thought and deed of our lives, should be, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6.) The answer to that question comes only through the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost. Fortunate are those who so live that their being is filled with both.
We have a work to do—to follow Him:
Who does God’s work will get God’s pay,
However long may be the day,
He does not pay as others pay
In gold or land or raiment gay.
In goods that perish or decay,
But God’s high wisdom knows the way,
And this is sure let come what may—
Who does God’s work will get God’s pay.
I testify to you that His pay for His work is the best pay you can receive in this world or any other.
Second, in addition to the gift of the life of Christ, is the gift of His Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—“the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” (D&C 1:30.) There is no salvation or exaltation for us outside of the Church. Through it we receive baptism, priesthood, celestial marriage, and other vital ordinances. The Church is the organized means which God uses to establish and expand His work. We must work with it and in it, build it up, and move it forward.
We should be willing to generously give of our time, talents, and means to the Church. No matter what happens to the world, the Church will grow in strength and will be intact when the Lord comes again.
God has assured us that the Church will never again be taken from the earth because of apostasy. He has said that He is pleased with the Church, speaking collectively and not individually. (See D&C 1:30.)
The Church is true. Keep its laws, attend its meetings, sustain its leaders, accept its callings, enjoy its blessings.
Third, in addition to the gifts of the life of Christ and His Church, is the gift of scripture, particularly the Book of Mormon.
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that “the Book of Mormon [is] the most correct book of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.” He said that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (History of the Church, 4:461.)
The Book of Mormon was written for our day. Mormon, who compiled it, saw us in vision and was directed to put into the book those things God felt we would especially need in our time. We therefore should know the Book of Mormon better than any other book. Not only should we know what history and faith-promoting stories it contains, but we should understand its teachings. If we really do our homework and approach the Book of Mormon doctrinally, we can expose the errors and find the truths to combat many of the current false theories and philosophies of men.
I have noted within the Church a difference in discernment, insight, conviction, and spirit between those who know and love the Book of Mormon and those who do not. That book is a great sifter.
Now, Christ’s life, His Church, and the Book of Mormon are but a few of the gifts of Christ that bless us, not only at this Christmas season but throughout our lives.
So I ask you, what can we possibly give to the Lord this Christmastime? Considering all that He has done and is doing for us, there is something that we might give Him in return.
Christ’s great gift to us was His life and sacrifice. Should that not then be our small gift to Him—our lives and sacrifices, not only now but in the future? A few years ago my colleague Elder Boyd K. Packer said this: “I’m not ashamed to say that … I want to be good. And I’ve found in my life that it has been critically important [to establish this intention] between me and the Lord so that I knew that he knew which way I committed my agency. I went before Him and said, ‘I’m not neutral, and you can do with me what you want. If you need my vote, it’s there. I don’t care what you do with me, and you don’t have to take anything from me because I give it to you—everything, all I own, all I am—,’ and that makes the difference.” (“To Those Who Teach in Troubled Times,” address delivered at seminary and institute conference, Summer 1970, Salt Lake City.)
Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life.
Sacrifice is truly the crowning test of the gospel. Men are tried and tested in this mortal probation to see if they will put first in their lives the kingdom of God. (See Matt. 6:33.) To gain eternal life, they must be willing, if called upon, to sacrifice all things for the gospel. “If thou wilt be perfect,” Jesus said to the rich young man, “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matt. 19:21.)
Hearing this injunction, Peter said, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?”
To this query, our Lord replied, “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:27, 29; see also D&C 132:55.)
Joseph Smith said this about sacrifice: “For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor, and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also—counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ—requires more than mere belief or supposition that he is doing the will of God; but actual knowledge, realizing that, when these sufferings are ended, he will enter into eternal rest, and be a partaker of the glory of God. …
“A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power proficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.” (Lectures on Faith, comp. N. B. Lundwall, Salt Lake City: N. B. Lundwall, n.d., p. 58.)
Elder Bruce McConkie said, “Sacrifice pertains to mortality; in the eternal sense there is none. Sacrifice involves giving up the things of this world because of the promises of blessings to be gained in a better world. In the eternal perspective there is no sacrifice in giving up all things—even including the laying down of one’s life—if eternal life is gained through such a course. (D&C 98:13–15.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 664.)
But just as when one loses his life in the service of God, he really finds the abundant life, so also when one sacrifices all to God, then God in return shares all that He has with him.
Try as you may, you cannot put the Lord in your debt. For every time you try to do His will, He simply pours out more blessings upon you. Sometimes the blessings may seem to be a little slow in coming—perhaps this tests your faith—but come they will, and abundantly. It has been said, “Cast your bread upon the waters and after a while it shall come back to you toasted and buttered.”
Said President Brigham Young, “I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ’s sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes I have compared it a great many times, in my feelings and before congregations, to a man wearing an old, worn-out, tattered and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I have suffered for the Gospel’s sake—I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. by John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, p. 348.)
The Saints never suffer as the sinners do.
“As to trials,” said Brother Brigham, “the man or woman who enjoys the spirit of our religion has no trials; but the man or woman who tries to live according to the Gospel of the Son of God, and at the same time clings to the spirit of the world, has trials and sorrows acute and keen, and that, too, continually.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 348.)
Do you know one reason why righteous mothers love their children so much? Because they sacrifice so much for them. We love what we sacrifice for and we sacrifice for what we love.
But when you give little, you receive little.
Said the poet:
I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;
For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any way I had asked of Life,
Life would have paid.
(“My Wage,” by Jessie B. Rittenhouse, in The Best Loved Poems of the American People, sel. Hazel Felleman, Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Co., 1936, p. 122.)
Why don’t we go all the way with the Lord—not part way? Why don’t we sacrifice all of our sins—not some of them?
She was a young girl. She had sacrificed her worldly plans to spend long, tedious hours at work in order to provide for and raise her younger orphan brother, but now she lay on her bed dying of a sickness.
She called her bishop, and as she talked to him in her last moments he held her rough, hard, work-calloused hand in his. Then she asked the question, “How will God know that I am His?”
Gently he raised her wrist and answered, “Show Him your hands.”
Some day we may see that pair of hands that sacrificed so much for us. Are our hands clean, and do they show the signs of being in His service? Are our hearts pure and filled with His thoughts?
Each week we make a solemn covenant to be like Him, to always remember Him in everything, and to keep all of His commandments. In return, He promises to give us His spirit.
We once knew well our Elder Brother and His and our Father in Heaven. We rejoiced at the prospects of earth life that could make it possible for us to have a fulness of joy. We could hardly wait to demonstrate to our Father and our Brother, the Lord, how much we loved them and how we would be obedient to them in spite of the earthly opposition of the evil one.
Now we are here. Our memories are veiled. We are showing God and ourselves what we can do. Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us.
God loves us. He is watching us. He wants us to succeed. We will know some day that He has not left one thing undone for the eternal welfare of each of us. If we only knew it, heavenly hosts are pulling for us—friends in heaven that we cannot now remember who yearn for our victory. This is our day to show what we can do—what life and sacrifice we can daily, hourly, instantly make for God. If we give our all, we will get His all from the greatest of all.
Give God your best, and His best will come back to you.
May God be with you this season and always.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
The Lord has given us the perfect model—Himself—after which we are to pattern our lives.
The Lord has given us a great gift by giving us his church, for there is no exaltation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, are another of the Lord’s great gifts.
Considering all that the Lord has done and is doing for us, we should find it a joy to offer to him in return our lives and our sacrifices.
God loves us, is watching us, and wants us to succeed. We will know some day that He has not left one thing undone for our eternal welfare.
Relate your feelings about the gifts the Lord has given us. Ask family members to share their feelings on this theme.
Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?