The “Little Things” and Eternal Life
October 1981

The “Little Things” and Eternal Life

One extremely hot afternoon I was crossing the green agricultural lands of the Pampas in Argentina. The sun was scorching the highway to the point that the heat waves became visible. Nevertheless, I was confident and comfortable because I had just purchased a brand-new car, fresh from the factory, with a big motor and plenty of power to conquer the elements and allow me to travel briskly in air-conditioned comfort.

Suddenly, I noticed that the temperature in my new car had begun to climb and the big motor began to show signs of strain. When the temperature gauge got to the danger point, I pulled the car over to the side of the road in the hope that with my very limited knowledge of mechanics I could discover what was wrong with the car. I must admit I was rather disgusted to think that something could stop my big new car. It wasn’t long after I had lifted the hood that I discovered, to my amazement, that a myriad of colorful little butterflies had collected on the radiator, choked off the cooling process, and stopped the car. I was then struck with the realization of how a few hundred little butterflies, in their collective strength, could master the immense horsepower of the motor. No, it wasn’t an eagle, a hawk, or anything else more or less justifiable, but just a couple hundred little butterflies.

This incident made me think about what often happens in our own lives. I thought about the tremendous potential that exists in each one of us, potential that can direct us to eternal life.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said:

“Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. …

“… [You] shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, pp. 346–47.)

How many times do we allow little “butterflies” to reduce, restrain, or restrict our immense potential from guiding us to exaltation?

Proportionately they are relatively few, those who are detained in their journey by the so-called grave or serious sins, like those we might find in the newspaper headlines. Generally, it is not the mighty eagle that defeats us, but the tiny little “butterflies.”

To better illustrate this concept, I would like to mention some of those “road hazards” that become obstacles in our marvelous journey to the celestial kingdom.

Have we thought about the tremendous spiritual deterioration that results from not keeping the Sabbath day holy? This commandment involves much more than just resting from our labors. Keeping the Sabbath day holy inherently builds spiritual character and prepares us for what is to come. By observing this commandment, we will have power over evil; we will be more capable of keeping the commandments of the Lord and maintaining ourselves unspotted from the sins of the world. (See D&C 59:9.)

More specifically, speaking about the Sabbath day, have we thought about the spiritual malnourishment that results from not attending our sacrament meetings, or attending them with a wrong attitude? The sacred covenant made by the members of the Church at baptism should be the prevailing thought and feeling in our hearts and minds as we partake of the sacrament. If we can achieve this, we will always have the Spirit of the Lord with us.

No member of the Church can ignore or simply put aside the weekly renewal of this covenant and pretend to maintain the Spirit. If we really understand the purpose of our sacrament meetings, we will attend them not just to hear someone speak, which is of course important, but to renew the sacred covenants made with our Father in Heaven in the name of his son, Jesus Christ. Those who make a habit of not attending this weekly service, and fail to repent, put in great danger their spiritual stability and welfare.

Have we ever stopped to think what it means to our salvation when we neglect prayer, or don’t develop daily from our prayers repeatedly gratifying experiences? We are continually referring to the “power of prayer,”. but are we always willing to pay the price so that the promise we find in 3 Nephi 18:18–20 may be fulfilled?

“Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.

“Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;

“And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.”

Another example: do we realize that every time that we sustain the leaders of the Church we are duty bound to support them? The raised hand becomes a symbol of the covenant we make to support them. Each time we criticize or condemn them, we become literally covenant breakers. President Joseph F. Smith made the following comment about this problem:

“The moment a man says he will not submit to the legally constituted authority of the Church, whether it be the teachers, the bishopric, the high council, his quorum, or the First Presidency, and in his heart confirms it and carries it out, that moment he cuts himself off from the privileges and blessings of the Priesthood and Church, and severs himself from the people of God, for he ignores the authority that the Lord has instituted in his Church.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 45.)

I have had innumerable experiences listening to the reasons people have for not paying their tithing, most of which are just cases of a simple lack of faith.

I remember once in 1957, while I was acting as a new president of a branch in Argentina, I decided to interview the members with respect to the importance of paying tithing. I found myself talking with one good brother of the branch whose name was Jose, who had difficulty paying his tithing. I asked him bluntly, “Brother Jose, why don’t you pay your tithing?” I’m sure Jose didn’t expect me to be so direct.

After a moment of silence he responded: “As you know, President, I have two children. The wage of a laborer is very low. This month I have to buy my children shoes to go to school; and, mathematically, I just don’t have enough money.”

In an instant response, I said, “Jose, I promise you that if you pay your tithing faithfully, your children will have their shoes to go to school, and you will be able to pay for all the needs of your home. I don’t know how he will do it, but the Lord always keeps his promises. Besides that,” I added, “If you still find that you don’t have enough money, I will give you back what you paid in tithing from my own pocket.”

On the way home, I wondered if what I had done was the right thing. Here I was, recently married, just getting started in my career, and faced with my own economic problems. I began to worry about my own shoes, let alone those of Jose’s family! Even though when I got home my dear wife wholeheartedly supported me and reassured me that everything would be all right, I must say that that night nobody prayed harder for Brother Jose’s economic welfare than I did.

One month later, I once again sat down with Jose. Though the tears in his eyes almost made it impossible for him to speak, he said: “President, it is incredible. I paid my tithing; I was able to meet all of my obligations, and I even purchased the new shoes for my children, all without an increase in my wage. I know that the Lord keeps his promises!”

Jose remains to this day a faithful tithe payer.

Up until now, I have mentioned only a few of the problems arising from the little “butterflies” that we find in our eternal pathway. Of course, there are many more. We could mention, for example, the lack of self-control that leads many people to break the Word of Wisdom; the various excuses for not complying with the program of personal and family preparedness; the lack of encouragement and the apathy with regard to our genealogical responsibilities; the failure to return often to the temples of the Lord to do the necessary work for our kindred dead; in some cases the lack of interest, in other cases the fear, that precludes many from participating in missionary work. These are only examples of a list that goes on and on.

It is highly probable that we will never lose our status as members of the Church simply for not adhering to one or more of the aforementioned commandments. Nevertheless, whether individually or collectively, these little “butterflies” affect our spiritual development and, fundamentally, the real capability of each individual.

“For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” (D&C 58:28.)

The Lord hasn’t sent us to the world to fail. We have been invested with all of the talents and abilities necessary for the journey to arrive, to be once again in His presence. Our greatest challenge is to use faithfully and decidedly all that He has given us to reach our exaltation. If such is our accomplishment—if we “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:44)—at the end of our journey we will once again be part of a glorious experience such as we had at the start, when “all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (Job 38:7.)

I know that the Lord has made this possible and that he blesses us and will continue to bless us as we progress to our glorious destination. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.