Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 19: The Divine Nature of Service

“Chapter 19: The Divine Nature of Service,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (2011), 178–85

“Chapter 19,” Teachings: David O. McKay, 178–85

Chapter 19

The Divine Nature of Service

The noblest aim in life is to strive to live to make other lives better and happier.1


President David O. McKay frequently taught that service to others brings true happiness and that the Lord guides and blesses those who serve. In 1921, one such instance of the Lord guiding His servants occurred while Elder David O. McKay and Brother Hugh J. Cannon were fulfilling an assignment from the First Presidency to visit Church members throughout the world. One part of their assignment was to visit the members of the Church in Armenia. Because of the effects of World War I and difficult conditions in the region, little was known about the state of Church members there. Elder McKay recorded:

“In March 1921, we learned that on a special fast day, contributions in the amount of several thousand dollars had been made for relief of the destitute in Europe and the suffering Armenians in Asia. We learned, too, that the First Presidency contemplated sending a special messenger to Syria to render personal aid to our Armenian Saints.”

Because Elder McKay and Brother Cannon were not scheduled to visit the Church members in Armenia until much later in their trip, they continued their travels, visiting such areas as Australia, New Zealand, and many islands. For several months, they heard nothing about conditions in Armenia or whether anyone had been sent with the relief funds. Finally, on 2 November 1921, while in Jerusalem, they received word that a man named J. Wilford Booth had been sent by Church headquarters to meet them. However, no one knew his schedule or whereabouts. That day, Elder McKay recorded in his diary, “We have no idea where he is, but shall leave Jerusalem for Haifa, en route to Aleppo [Syria], tomorrow morning. Have concluded to go by auto through Samaria, visiting Bible scenes.” Before leaving, Elder McKay and Brother Cannon ascended the Mount of Olives, chose a secluded spot, and prayed that the Lord would guide them on their trip.

After the prayer, Elder McKay recalled, “Upon returning to the hotel, I felt strongly impressed that we should go by train and not auto to Haifa.” Brother Cannon agreed, and they continued their trip to Haifa, hoping to find Elder Booth there. Elder McKay recorded: “Our greatest desire as we neared this mission was to meet Elder Booth. Indeed, it seemed that our trip to Syria would be useless unless we should meet him. We were strangers. We knew no one. … We had some names and addresses; but we could not read them, since they were written in the Turkish language.”

When Elder McKay and Brother Cannon arrived at the train station, they were delayed in leaving the station as they tried to find information on a suitable hotel. After the delay, Elder McKay approached the station door just as another traveler did. The man touched him on the shoulder and said, “Isn’t this Brother McKay?”

Elder McKay recorded the results of the encounter as follows: “Astonished beyond expression to be thus addressed in so strange a town, I turned, and recognized Elder Wilford Booth, the one man above all others whom we were most desirous of meeting. We had met, too, at the most opportune time and place. … It could not have been better had we been planning it for weeks! As we recounted to each other our experiences, we had no doubt that our coming together was the result of divine interposition. … Indeed, had it not been for our having met at Haifa, our trip to the Armenian Mission would have been, so far as human wisdom can tell, a total failure. As it was, among many duties and experiences, we organized the Armenian Mission.”2

Teachings of David O. McKay

It is the Lord’s will that we serve one another.

The will of God is [that you] serve your fellowmen, benefiting them, making this world better for your having lived in it. Christ gave his all to teach us that principle. And he made the statement: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.) This is the message God has given to us. This Church is God’s Church, which is so perfectly organized that every man and every woman, every child, may have an opportunity to do something good for somebody else. It is the obligation of our priesthood members, it is the responsibility of the auxiliary organizations and of every member to serve and do God’s will. If we do, and the more we do it, the more we shall become convinced that it is the work of God, because we are testing it. Then, by doing the will of God, we get to know God and get close to him and to feel that life eternal is ours. We shall feel to love humanity everywhere, and we can cry out with the apostles of old, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (1 John 3:14.)3

It has been said that “the race of mankind would perish if they ceased to aid one another.” One man, from whom I quote, says that “from the time that the mother binds the child’s head until the moment that some kind assistant wipes the death-damp from the brow of the dying, we cannot exist without mutual help.” … The Church, with all its quorums and organizations, is God’s plan for rendering mutual aid.4

There come to mind some … to whom I wish to express gratitude. … They are the men and women throughout the entire Church who are contributing of their time and means to the advancement of the truth—not just in teaching, but in genuine service in many ways. Some of these are struggling to make their own living. Some of them are wealthy men and women who have retired and who count their wealth in millions. … God bless those who are rendering such service, and bless you all, for I think we can say for the Church, “We are striving to be one, Father, as thou and thy Son are one.”5

Are you willing to serve? Do you have the vision King Benjamin had when he said, “… when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God”? (Mosiah 2:17.) True Christianity is love in action. There is no better way to manifest love for God than to show an unselfish love for one’s fellowmen. …

… With faith, with kindness, let your heart be filled with the desire to serve all mankind. The spirit of the gospel comes from service in the good of others.6

Service brings happiness to the giver and the receiver.

Happiness is the end, really, of our existence. That happiness comes most effectively through service to our fellow men.7

All mankind desire happiness. Many also strive sincerely to make the most and best of themselves. Surprisingly few, however, realize that a sure guide to such achievement may be found in the following declaration by Jesus of Nazareth: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: And whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” [Matthew 16:25.] This significant passage contains a secret more worthy of possession than fame or dominion, something more valuable than all the wealth of the world.

It is a principle the application of which promises to supplant discouragement and gloom with hope and gladness; to fill life with contentment and peace everlasting. This being true its acceptance would indeed be a boon today to this distracted, depression-ridden world. Why, then, do men and nations ignore a thing so precious?

Is the truth in the paradoxical statement, losing one’s life to find it, so elusive that mankind cannot grasp it? Or is it so in conflict with the struggle for existence that men consider it impractical?

Even so, the fact remains that He who is “The Way, the Truth and the Life” [see John 14:6] has herein set forth an immutable law. …

Specifically stated, this law is, “We live our lives most completely when we strive to make the world better and happier.” The law of pure nature, survival of the fittest, is self-preservation at the sacrifice of all else; but in contrast to this the law of true spiritual life is, deny self for the good of others. …

With this end in view, [thousands of] men and women, serving willingly without salary, offer every week to [tens of thousands of] children and youth instruction and guidance in character building and spiritual growth. In addition to this army of officers and teachers, … men ordained to the priesthood have accepted the obligation to devote their time and talents as far as possible to the scattering of sunshine, joy, and peace among their fellowmen.8

There is more spirituality expressed in giving than in receiving. The greatest spiritual blessing comes from helping another. If you want to be miserable, just harbor hate for a brother, and if you want to hate, just do your brother some injury. But if you would be happy, render a kind service, make somebody else happy.9

Let sincere men and women the world over unite in earnest effort to supplant feelings of selfishness, hatred, animosity, greed, by the law of service to others, and thereby promote the peace and happiness of mankind.10

We need to follow the example of the Savior in rendering service.

When the Savior was about to leave his Apostles, he gave them a great example of service. You remember he girded himself with a towel and washed his disciples’ feet. Peter, feeling it was a menial work for a servant, said, “… dost thou wash my feet? … Thou shalt never wash my feet.”

The Savior answered “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.”

“Nay then,” said the chief Apostle, “Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”

“He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit.

“What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” [See John 13:6–10.]

And then he washed his feet, and those of the others also. Returning the basin to the side of the door, ungirding himself, and putting on his robe, he returned to his position with the Twelve, and said:

“Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.

“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” [John 13:13–14.]

What an example of service to those great servants, followers of the Christ! He that is greatest among you, let him be least. So we sense the obligation to be of greater service to the membership of the Church, to devote our lives to the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth.11

Just think! The only reason the world knows anything about them [Jesus’ Apostles] is because having met the Savior, they made Him their guide in life. If they hadn’t, nobody now would know that such men had ever lived. They would have lived and died and been forgotten just as thousands of other men in their day lived and died and nobody knows or cares anything about them; just as thousands and thousands are living today, wasting their time and energy in useless living, choosing the wrong kind of men for their ideals, turning their footsteps into the road of Pleasure and Indulgence instead of the road of Service. Soon they will reach the end of their journey in life, and nobody can say that the world is any better for their having lived in it. At the close of each day such men leave their pathway as barren as they found it—they plant no trees to give shade to others, nor rose-bushes to make the world sweeter and brighter to those who follow—no kind deeds, no noble service—just a barren, unfruitful, desert-like pathway, strewn, perhaps, with thorns and thistles.

Not so with the disciples who chose Jesus for their Guide. Their lives are like gardens of roses from which the world may pluck beautiful flowers forever.12

The most worthy calling in life … is that in which man can serve best his fellow man. … The noblest aim in life is to strive to live to make other lives better and happier.13

Suggestions for Study and Discussion

  • Why does the Lord command us to serve one another? (See pages 180–82.) What are some opportunities we have for service within the Church? What kinds of service can we render outside of formal Church callings?

  • The Lord taught that “whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). What does this scripture have to do with service? What eternal blessings come from selflessly serving others? What is the difference between serving because we are commanded to and serving because we want to? (See also D&C 58:26.)

  • What have you experienced as you have given of yourself in service to others? How are happiness and service connected? How does service help us overcome feelings of selfishness, unhappiness, or depression? (See pages 182–83.) How can service to others help us overcome unkind feelings toward them?

  • What impresses you about Jesus’ many examples of service? (See pages 183–84.) What can we learn from Him as we strive to serve others? Why is it important to seek divine guidance as we serve?

  • Why is it sometimes difficult to allow others to serve us? Why is it important to graciously accept service? How have you or your family been blessed by the service of others?

Related Scriptures: Matthew 25:40; Mark 8:35; Galatians 5:13; Mosiah 4:15; D&C 18:10, 15–16


  1. Two Contending Forces, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (18 May 1960), 7.

  2. See Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss, rev. ed. (1976), 101–4; paragraphing altered.

  3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1966, 137.

  4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1962, 119.

  5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1968, 143.

  6. In Conference Report, Oct. 1969, 88–89.

  7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 132.

  8. In Conference Report, Apr. 1936, 45–46; paragraphing altered.

  9. In Conference Report, Oct. 1936, 104–5.

  10. In Conference Report, Apr. 1936, 46.

  11. In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 158–59.

  12. Ancient Apostles (1918), 5–6.

  13. Two Contending Forces, 7.