“A Vision of Service,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 10
I was alone and away from home in San Francisco many years ago when I decided to read the Book of Mormon over the weekend. Once immersed in that epic, I lost all desire to eat and sleep, reading until I finished. Then I fell upon the hotel bed and into a deep sleep. Shortly, I awakened and was again alert to the panorama I had experienced by reading the book in a short time. It was as if I were there, looking in one view over the entire period from the beginning of Lehi’s courageous journey to Moroni’s lonely vigil and departing promise. I wrote down my thoughts to capture my impressions about God’s love, his plan for us, charity and service, and discipleship, savoring the wholeness of my understanding. Then I rested. I have never been the same since that day. I have continued to learn from that experience, having new understanding open to my mind.
As I approached this opportunity to share some thoughts about service, my mind went back to that remarkable experience in San Francisco. One of the things the Book of Mormon has taught me is that the principle of service is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ and is best grasped by understanding how God is trying to prepare us for eternal life.
Our Savior, whose humble birth we celebrate at this Christmas season, came to earth to dedicate His whole life as an example of service to others. If we are wise, we will take Him as our model.
Service involves us in a process of growth. We learn how to be effective servants step by step over time, even as the mortal Savior’s youthful development was described as grace upon grace (see D&C 93:11–14). My own very first memory is of imperfectly helping my mother by taking her a fresh diaper to use with our new baby. That was a beginning, although I can see now that I was outrunning my brother, Max, to get the diaper first and win Mother’s praise. My early home teaching was with my uncle, Charles Lybbert; we did it regularly, but I suspect I sometimes went to avoid embarrassment from failing to do my duty. Learning to serve for the right reason is a vital part of our individual spiritual progress.
The doctrine of service gives us vision and perspective. The grand message of the Book of Mormon is not only in its subtitle, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” but also in its text. There we are taught that faith is to accept Jesus as the Christ, believing Him and accepting His commandments, love, and mercy. Each of us has been disobedient, so standing alone we are unworthy of God’s presence. We obtain our hope of salvation through accepting the Savior’s invitation to enter into a partnership with Him by ordinance and covenant, thereby obtaining the benefit of His Atonement and His righteousness. Within this covenant relationship we gain hope as we live obediently. Alma wrote of this truth: “Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest” (Alma 13:29; see also Moro. 10:32).
From faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with justified hope in our hearts, comes appreciation for what the Savior has done for us. This brings the spirit of charity—a love for God and a desire to participate in the great work of serving His children. Moroni proclaims: “Wherefore, there must be faith; and if there must be faith there must also be hope; and if there must be hope there must also be charity” (Moro. 10:20).
As I saw the message of the Book of Mormon, I realized that throughout those 1,000 years, when a people had faith they received hope. With divine hope, their hearts turned to others. It happened to Lehi, Alma, Enos, Mormon—and to all of the Nephites and Lamanites who had faith.
Charity is not just works or gift giving, but a condition of the soul, a quality of our character. The gift of charity flows from God as He reveals His love for us, and from our reciprocating—feeling love for God, His work, and His children. That is why Alma could prophesy, “And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works” (Alma 7:24). Pride is the opposite of charity. Selfishness, indifference, and indolence are enemies of charity.
Devoted service and discipleship are the same. Alma told prospective members at the waters of Mormon that those who are baptized are to be “willing to bear one another’s burdens,” “to mourn with those that mourn,” and to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9). King Benjamin asked how someone can know a master he has not served (see Mosiah 5:13). We come to know our Master through having faith, hope, and charity; this combination is the doctrinal fountain from which flow service, discipleship, and eternal life.
The tradition of service by disciples of Christ is a pattern portrayed over and over in the Book of Mormon. Jesus Christ is the model servant. As he prepared to enter into mortality, the Messiah pledged, “On the morrow come I into the world, to show the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets” (3 Ne. 1:13)—to fulfill His ancient and ageless covenant of service and sacrifice for mankind. The resurrected Savior’s example of service was very personal, for “he came down and stood in the midst of them” (3 Ne. 11:8). He spent time with them one-on-one, taught them, prayed for and with them. He blessed the sick, lame, maimed, deaf, blind, and dumb. He blessed and prayed in behalf of the little children with such tenderness and spiritual impact that His words could not even be written. The Savior organized His Church, inviting the people to meet together often and to serve one another. Such was the legacy left by the Lord. (See 3 Ne. 11–20.)
Some prophets have performed unparalleled acts of service, frequently portrayed in our lessons and stories, that are well beyond the responsibility of most of us in mortality. These include Lehi’s leading his family to the promised land, Abinadi’s proclaiming the gospel to wicked King Noah before suffering a fiery death, Ammon’s converting the antagonistic Lamanites, and Mormon’s leading his country’s armies. However, the Book of Mormon in its grand sweep also shows that inspired leaders established a heritage of service through contributions like those that you and I can and must make. For example:
Father Lehi taught his family about his personal spiritual experiences: “For, behold, said he, I have seen a vision …” (2 Ne. 1:4). As we apply Lehi’s example to our lives, we will hold family home evenings, teach our family the gospel, share with them our own spiritual experiences, and prepare them for sacred ordinances.
Nephi provided for his family: “And it came to pass that … I did obtain food for our families” (see 1 Ne. 16:30–31). Likewise, we serve our families by caring for their temporal needs, working hard, living unpretentiously, and contributing to their safe environment.
Alma the elder prayed for his wayward son: “And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of … thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth” (Mosiah 27:14). We can serve similarly by having regular private and family prayer and by responding to the special care and attention required by family members.
The people of Ammon cared for the poor: “They did receive all the poor of the Zoramites that came over unto them; and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance; and they did administer unto them according to their wants” (Alma 35:9). We serve the poor and needy in our day by paying fast offerings; by giving attention to special needs of the sick, elderly, and infirm as we are able; and by participating in appropriate community service.
Alma traveled to teach the gospel and build the Church: “He began to establish a church; … and he did baptize” (Alma 5:3). We should be worthy and willing to serve as we are called, should be available for full-time missions as appropriate, should give temple service, and should open our mouths to invite less-active and prospective members to receive blessings from Church membership.
In addition to the recorded acts of faithful leaders, our legacy also comes through the unheralded service of the millions who are nameless in the scriptures—wives, children, laborers, soldiers, fathers and mothers, the bedrock sons and daughters of God. Like them, we do not require great worldly means or high office to serve. We serve according to the circumstances and seasons of our lives, even as we speak well of others, teach a class, express gratitude, share good thoughts, bear testimony, refuse gossip, remember people’s names, and pray for others. Consistent with the heritage of service portrayed in the Book of Mormon, these also are the essence of authentic charity.
As we are converted and our lives are truly aligned with the teachings of Christ, we find opportunities to serve, take initiative, accept and magnify callings, and eagerly engage in good works, not always being commanded (see D&C 58:26–29).
This legacy of service is one evidence of Christ’s true and living Church, even His holy mark upon us as a people.
Service is at the heart of eternal life and our personal destinies. The basic test in this life is what we choose to do and become. The Savior has told us what to do: “For the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do” (3 Ne. 27:21). He has said what we should become: “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27). By choosing to do His work we become like Him.
In this dispensation, service in the gospel involves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is the institutional embodiment of righteous service. As with the Church in all ages, the Restoration brought a system of service according to our callings and responsibilities. For us, these responsibilities include home and visiting teaching, missionary efforts, priesthood and auxiliary callings, and individual progress reporting.
We serve as called within the Church to support its divinely appointed activities: teaching pure doctrine and correct principles, inviting all to come unto Christ and into His Church, providing sacred ordinances for the living and the dead, and supporting members in keeping their sacred covenants. All service given in our Church callings should focus on inviting, encouraging, and supporting individuals in their spiritual progress.
The spiritual growth gained through our Church service is added to the ongoing influence in our lives from the Holy Ghost. We serve within families, teaching, preparing, and supporting each other in our development. We also labor in communities to create a positive environment for spiritual things.
Service is obviously shaped by our gender. Motherhood naturally can help one put another’s needs before her own. Service accompanies priesthood, teaching its holders how to bless others. Calls to serve in the Church are not sought after, but accepted gratefully and magnified diligently.
These different kinds of service are part of the Lord’s plan for nurturing our individual spiritual progress toward eternal life.
Our destiny of service extends beyond mortality and into the spirit world, where we may still be called to serve. Alma spoke of the work of angels (see Alma 13:24–26), and Mormon taught of the “office of their ministry” (Moro. 7:31; see Moro. 7:29–32). We learn through revelation that “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” (D&C 130:5). In 1918 President Joseph F. Smith had a vision of the spirit world in which he beheld the Savior serving there, organizing those called to labor among the disobedient spirits. He saw that “the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, … in the great world of the spirits of the dead” (D&C 138:57). We are taught that our service during the Millennium might involve rearing children who died in infancy and will include also much temple work (see Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 453–57; Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 116, 401). One revelation on postmortal life speaks of angels in the celestial kingdom who will be “ministering servants” (D&C 132:16).
The future of service extends throughout eternity. The fulness of the gospel that permeates the Book of Mormon carries the promise of eternal life (see 2 Ne. 31:20). In 1832 the Savior repeated that promise in these words:
“For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
“And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
“And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:36–38).
There is nothing left for us to gain on our own if we receive and possess all that the Father has. He is the sole source of all authentic gifts, acquisitions, powers, and satisfactions. As we obtain all that it is possible to obtain through the Father’s promised blessings, the only option for more joy is to bless others with caring service. Once we have the gift of charity, once we have received all ordinances, and once we have claim on all blessings and all things from the Father, our only possible work and glory is to serve and bless others. To serve is our ultimate and eternal destiny.
We should be most grateful that in this life and beyond “God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings” (Mosiah 8:18).
With this view of our own service, we are able to glimpse the majestic vision of God’s character and His joy as He describes His own mission: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
I am thankful for the overarching vision from the Book of Mormon that provides, with divine clarity, our formula for becoming a happy and joyful people, communities of Saints, faithful stakes of Zion, the children of God—even citizens of the household of faith, which leads us to eternal life (see Eph. 2:19; D&C 121:45–46).
Of this truth I am a personal witness. I thank those who have blessed me, my family, and the Church through their devoted service. I am overwhelmed by the love of God manifested in my life. I thank God that I am able to serve those whom I have come to love with all of my heart. I thank my Father for sending His Son, our great Exemplar of service, whose birth we celebrate at this time of year.
The extended vision of the Book of Mormon and its message of the doctrine, legacy, and destiny of service have blessed my soul.
In speaking of Jesus Christ, President Gordon B. Hinckley focused on the quality of our own lives—what we who profess to follow the Savior should be: “As His followers, we cannot do a mean or shoddy or ungracious thing without tarnishing His image. Nor can we do a good and gracious and generous act without burnishing more brightly the symbol of Him whose name we have taken upon ourselves.
“Our lives must become a symbol of meaningful expression, the symbol of our declaration of our testimony of the living Christ, the Eternal Son of the living God.
“It is that simple, my brethren and sisters. It is that profound, and we should never forget it” (Ensign, Apr. 1994, 5).
This article may furnish material for a family home evening discussion or for personal consideration. You might consider questions such as:
How can I personally advance the work of God—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life” of my brothers and sisters?
As I evaluate myself, with the help of my Heavenly Father, what strengths do I see that I could be sharing with others through service?
How can I best apply the lessons of Jesus Christ’s life of service in my own situation and circumstances?