Sunday, December 9, 2012

Because I Have Been Given Much

Around 86 B.C. the prophet Alma resigned his elected post as the leader of his country and, as the prophet at the time, effectively called himself on a mission. He would serve 2-3 years in the cities of Zarahemla and Gideon before taking a brief pause and calling himself to serve five more years in Mulek and Ammonihah.

While in Gideon however, Alma speaks of a tender mercy he received from the Lord. Referring to his first area, Zarahemla, he exclaims, 'Blessed be the name of God, that he hath given me to know, yea, hath given unto me the exceedingly great joy of knowing that they [in Zarahemla] are established again in the way of his righteousness.'

Most of us can probably relate to how Alma must've felt at the time. Zarahemla was the nation's capital. It was the city where he had grown up as the son of the prophet, where he and the king's sons had caused trouble as youth, where he was converted by the power of God, and where he had lived and worked as the nation's leader. He must have known many of those he taught. Some may have been family or friends. He cared for the welfare of the people and the city. He had worked hard to help individuals and families make better, more faith-filled decisions, and now he had somehow learned that it was all paying off. The people of Zarahemla were choosing to live righteous, happy, prosperous lives. Just as any of us would thrill to see a wayward friend or relative returning to the gospel path, the progress of the people in Zarahemla brought Alma 'exceedingly great joy' .

Alma doesn't say how he knew that the people of Zarahemla were righteous again. He wasn't in the city at the time. Perhaps he ran into someone in Gideon or got a letter from home or simply felt the peace of the Holy Ghost teaching him it was so. What he does say is that the knowledge of Zarahemla's righteousness was given to him from God.

Several years ago I was privileged to hear an MTC devotional given by Elder Bednar. At the time I was a recently returned missionary reveling in the stories he shared from the field. Among other topics in his talk, Elder Bednar took a few moments to address why some missionaries had success almost in spite of themselves while others, even those who worked very hard, did not seem to enjoy the same success in finding, teaching and baptizing new members of the Church. This is a question every struggling missionary has wondered about. Certainly I did.

Elder Bednar answered by turning to Alma 26:22. It reads:

Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing--unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance...

Elder Bednar then shared what I have learned to be a wonderful truth with the 2600 missionaries gathered at that devotional. The point of the verse, he said, was not that there is some magic formula for convert baptisms. We may qualify for blessings but there is not a point where we either earn them or deserve them. At the end of the day, success in the mission field is given. Missionary success is a gift from God that, like all gifts, comes at the timing and discretion of the Giver.

There are more than 280 references in the standard works of things that are 'given' from the Lord to his children on earth. These include: dominion, kingdoms, flocks, herds, children, manna, priesthood, Christ, wisdom, signs, responsibility, stewardship, lands, inheritances, freedom, rest, laws, spouses, companions, kings, cities, rain, hearts to perceive, eyes to see, ears to hear, answers to prayers, the shield of salvation, deliverance, frost, banners, travails, the tongue of the learned, cleanness of teeth, understanding, counsel, commandments, life, witnesses, a Sabbath, rewards, gifts, horsepower, heritage, meat, food, the reward of our hands, knowledge, might, blessings, revelation, promises, the name of Christ, Church organization and government, what to say or write, ability, mysteries, spiritual gifts, life missions, power to command water, direction, scripture, visions, callings, living water, thanks or blessings, names, the Holy Ghost, grace, hair, assurances, the words of Christ, authority, a thorn in our flesh, added days, faith, suffering, everlasting consolation, good hope, judgement, inspiration, love, doctrine, records, and a sound mind. The list grows if we consider things that he 'gives' or 'gave' or things we 'receive', 'are blessed with' or 'get'.

Looking through the list I realized that I was the too often ungrateful recipient of most of the gifts referenced in scripture. I enjoy the Sabbath, a full head of hair, freedom, a calling, an abundance of food to eat and the grace of God in more ways than I comprehend or know. As I see other blessings I enjoy and consider still more not listed explicitly in scripture, I begin to feel the joy that Alma felt for his friends in Zarahemla.

It is wonderful that we can feel the joy of gratitude, particularly through the holiday season. We must also remember that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48, D&C 82:3). Moses taught the Israelites that 'every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee' (Deuteronomy 16:17).

Our feelings of gratitude are best expressed through our actions. To say we are grateful is nice; to show we are grateful by serving and giving to others is sanctifying. The Lord admonished us:

And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church. For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby (D&C 46:10-12).

Everything the Lord has given us is designed to bless our lives and the lives of those around us. Though we may strive to live worthy and do much good of our own free will, we simply cannot do enough to earn or deserve the many gifts the Lord gives us each day. The air we breathe, our spouses and children, the senses through which we experience life and the continuation of life itself are some of these most precious gifts.

There is no magic formula to receiving many of these gifts, but the Lord has told us how we can express our gratitude. The poet said it best:

Because I have been given much, I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live
I shall divide my gifts from thee
With ev'ry brother that I see
Who has the need of help from me.

Because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care,
I cannot see another's lack and I not share
My glowing fire, my loaf of bread,
My roof's safe shelter overhead,
That he too may be comforted.

Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord,
I'll share thy love again, according to thy word.
I shall give love to those in need;
I'll show that love by word and deed:
Thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.

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