The Spirituality of Service
President Benson, who speaks for the Lord to all the world, has challenged us to “live by the Spirit and teach by the Spirit.” How many times have we heard him say, “It’s the Spirit that counts in this work”? Yes, the Lord’s work is spiritual work. It relates to changing lives, developing true values, and overcoming worldly influences.
Over the years, many people, especially youth, have asked me, “Elder Cuthbert, how can I become more spiritual?” My reply has always been the same: “You need to give more service.”
Service changes people. It refines, purifies, gives a finer perspective, and brings out the best in each one of us. It gets us looking outward instead of inward. It prompts us to consider others’ needs ahead of our own. Righteous service is the expression of true charity, such as the Savior showed.
How, then, does service increase our spirituality? May I share with you briefly ten aspects, from which you can choose those most applicable to your own situation?
First, service helps us establish true values and priorities by distinguishing between the worth of material things that pass, and those things of lasting, even eternal, value. Our beloved prophet counsels: “If you would find yourself, learn to deny yourself for the blessing of others. Forget yourself and find someone who needs your service, and you will discover the secret to the happy, fulfilled life.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1979, p. 34.) We have a lovely sister who is living by us who has been confined to a wheelchair for twenty-seven years; she truly forgets herself in service to others as she gives firesides and helps wherever she can, with a cheerful smile and a positive attitude.
Second, service helps us establish a righteous tradition. This is so necessary, particularly among young people. Wise parents will provide service opportunities in the home for their children from an early age. Growing up with this tradition will blossom into community service and Church service. It will develop a spirit of volunteerism in a world where people more often ask, “What’s in it for me?” The Lord has counseled: “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; …
“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:26–27.)
As I travel to stake conferences I am delighted to hear of youth service projects of various kinds, such as baptismal work in the temple, community cleanup efforts, and youth missions during vacation time. This is the way we shall save the rising generation from becoming a totally selfish, indulgent generation. We shall not save them by providing fun activities which are inward-looking.
Third, service helps us overcome selfishness and sin. Have you ever realized that all sin is selfish, whether it be lying, cheating, stealing, immorality, covetousness, or idleness? Sin is for one’s own ends, not another’s—certainly not for the Lord’s ends. Service, on the other hand, is unselfish and constitutes a positive power for good.
Anciently Isaiah lamented, “We have turned every one to his own way.” (Isa. 53:6.) In modern parlance, they “did their own thing,” whatever the adverse effect upon others. Even many of those who profess to understand free agency, or moral agency, turn liberty to license, as we can see all around us.
Fourth, not only does service overcome selfishness and sin, but it helps to recompense for sin. The prophet Ezekiel explained this when he declared, “None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right.” (Ezek. 33:16.) Again, James taught that to “save a soul … shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20.) We can express regret and feel remorse for things done wrong, but full repentance should include recompense, such as service gives.
Fifth, service helps us generate love and appreciation. We come to know people by serving them—their circumstances, their challenges, their hopes and aspirations. My wife and I have the privilege of visiting some widowed sisters who have become dear friends. What a blessing for us to learn of their missions and temple service and now family record extraction service unselfishly performed, despite many trials and heartaches.
Sixth, service is the principal way of showing gratitude to the Savior. We need to fill ourselves up with gratitude for His redeeming love, His infinite atoning sacrifice, His obedience to the will of the Father. As we become full of gratitude, it overflows into service, and “inasmuch as [we] have done it unto one of the least of these [his] brethren, [we] have done it unto [Him].” (Matt. 25:40.)
Seventh, service channels our desires and energies into righteous activity. Every son and daughter of God is a storehouse—even a powerhouse—of desires and energies, which may be used for good or evil. This great potential needs to be harnessed to bring blessings to others. I think of a group of young people who saw a film on famine in Africa and organized a charity concert to help those in need. I think of tens of thousands of Church members who responded to the First Presidency’s call for a special fast. This year’s famine and destitution is expected to be even worse in Africa, and again we need to prioritize the use of our resources in the Lord’s own way—not only for those in distant lands, but for the poor in our own communities.
Eighth, service helps us cleanse ourselves and become purified and sanctified. Not being perfect, are we not all sinners? Yes, we all need the redeeming and atoning blood of Christ to purge us of our sins. How is this accomplished? The way is through Christlike service, as expressed by the prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola, which I learned in my youth:
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds; …
To labor and not ask for any reward
Save that of knowing that we do Thy will.
(Prayer for Generosity, 1548, in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 14th ed., Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1968, p. 1806.)
Ninth, charitable service helps us do as the Savior did, for was not His whole ministry one of reaching out and helping, lifting and blessing, loving and caring? Jesus declares, “I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:27), and again, “For I will raise up unto myself a pure people, that will serve me in righteousness” (D&C 100:16). There are good people everywhere giving charitable service. Once, when we were visiting our missionaries and members in Nigeria, our vehicle broke down on a lonely road. Finally a car approached, and two young Nigerians got out. “The Lord told us to stop and help you,” they said. Help us they did, for they knew what the Lord would have them do. And so it should be with us.
Tenth, service helps us to get to know the Savior, for “how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served?” (Mosiah 5:13.) As we immerse ourselves in the service of others, we find our spiritual selves and come unto Him. I was impressed while visiting the California Sacramento Mission a few months ago to meet a young, blind missionary elder. He had completely immersed himself in missionary service, despite his special needs, and his spirit shone through.
In all of these ways, righteous service brings us nearer to Christ, increases our spirituality, and brings others likewise. Such service is helping to prepare a people worthy, in the Lord’s due time, to redeem Zion.
As some of you may know, just after last October general conference, it was discovered that I had been seriously stricken with cancer, which was in its last stage. May I express my love and gratitude for the prayers and blessings and loving concern on my behalf which have brought about a miracle of recovery. As I give thanks for each new day of life, I express gratitude for the opportunities of service—past, present and future.
The wonderful thing about service is that there is no end to it. As President Benson says, “Therefore, let us serve one another with brotherly love, never tiring of the demands upon us, being patient and persevering and generous.” (So Shall Ye Reap, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1960, pp. 173–74.)
Yes, as we give Christlike service, it helps us grow spiritually, “[put] off the natural man and [become] a saint” (Mosiah 3:19)—that is, one who is honestly trying to follow the Savior and doing what He would want us to do. What a marvelous feeling it is to have the Spirit of the Lord poured out more abundantly upon us as we bear one another’s burdens and share with and mourn with those in need. (See Mosiah 18:8–10.)
May this be our happy lot, I humbly pray, bearing my personal witness of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, His restored Church, and His living prophet, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.