The focus of today’s lesson is joy, specifically the joy Jesus felt in ministering to the Nephites. But we need to ask ourselves why he found such joy in what he did, and also look at what brings us the greatest joy.

This article is the first day’s lesson from the Come, Follow Me manual for weeks 40/41 on 3 Nephi 17-19. I have separated it from the rest of the lessons because I felt it deserved to have more said about the topic.

We know that whatever it was Jesus was doing in this chapter brought him joy, because it directly states that his joy was full. What we need to consider is what caused him to experience this overflowing sense of happiness. We would also do well to liken these verses to ourselves and try to identify what brings us the greatest sense of joy in life. After all, if we don’t know why these experiences brought Jesus a fulness of joy, what makes us believe we can figure out what will bring us a fulness of joy?

Defining ministering

Below is a list of some of what ministering is and what it is not. Please suspend your judgment about individual statements until you have had time to include in your thinking both sides of this coin, for ministering is neither just about what it is, nor about what it is not, but about both. As you think about or evaluate each statement, consider the Savior and his behavior. If I state that ministering is about a certain thing, and you feel a little uncomfortable about that, because you feel there are exceptions or limitations to my statement, please consider the case of the Savior. If our Redeemer embraced your perceived limitations or exceptions, would he have been able to do what he did for each and every one of us in order to provide us with salvation?

The following lists are not comprehensive. They are a starting point. As you contemplate what I have included, the Spirit will likely prompt you with other insights of your own. I encourage you to write them down, as they are unique to your needs and your understanding. These insights will help you serve better and with greater joy.

Finally, before you dive into the lists, please keep in mind that ministering is individual. Each person has varying capacities for service at different times of their life. If you are living in dire circumstances right now, your opportunities or ways of serving others may be more limited in some ways, but vastly improved in others. If you are retired and financially comfortable right now, you may find that your opportunities are completely different than what you experienced in your newly married days. This is not a stagnant playing field. Our opportunities and capabilities are constantly shifting. The question is, what are you doing with the opportunities and abilities you have today? I really think that is all our Father and Savior really care about – whether we have little or much, what are we willing to do with what we have?

What ministering is

  • Ministering is all about the needs of the one. Those needs may appear to be just physical on the surface, but true service needs to ultimately help them fulfill their eternal needs. You can see this fulfilled in the nature of the welfare program of the Church. Self sufficiency is taught so that the person can become independent in as many ways as possible. The Church teaches independence in physical care of our own needs, social independence through learning leadership, job skills, and through the arts, spiritual independence through learning how to study the scriptures, pray and fast, and seek personal answers from the Lord through pondering and study from the words of the prophets and leaders of the church, as well as from good books.
  • Ministering often is simple, but just as often requires great sacrifice, effort, time, money, and the personal investment of all our abilities.
  • Ministering cannot be time sensitive. Many times our efforts must extend over many days, months, or even years. Ministering lasts until the need is no longer there.
  • The nature of the ministering act is always centered in goodness, kindness, and love. True, there may need to be some sternness at times, but the motive is always focused on the advancement, or uplifting of the other person.
  • Ministering is always about someone other than self. True ministering has a selfless quality that doesn’t consider the size of the sacrifice required. This selfless quality includes the time needed for the service, the effort required, the expense, appearance to others, or social stigma that might be attached to the deed. Because true ministering is all about the betterment of the other person, the cost to self is unimportant, for true love is selfless.
  • Ministering is able to be done to many at one time, while meeting the needs of individuals. This is because ministering seeks for inclusion, understanding, compassion, and emotional intimacy. The nature of goodness is that it is pervasive. Goodness seeks for betterment of the individual, a lifting and progression of each person it touches. It is the nature of goodness that one good act can have ripples or echoes of itself that can affect the lives of others for eternity. God can see and follow those ripples from person to person and from generation to generation, whereas we cannot comprehend such a vast network of effects.
  • True ministering is not just about mortal needs, for ministering to be Christlike in its nature it must see into the eternities. This means we don’t just think of someone we are helping as what they need today, but what will bring them to Christ, what will ennoble their character, what will teach them to see and feel the love of God in their life, and what will move them closer to Him. This eternal vision must be at the root of our motivation for service, for we are serving eternal beings.
  • Ministering runs the gamut of involvement with others. It may be as simple as a look of approval that comforts or motivates another person, or it may be as comprehensive as caring for the needs of someone crippled for life who needs 24/7 care. We can never really know where our initial kindness will take us, or what it may evolve into in the future. Some acts of kindness, though simple and brief enough to begin with, change our lives and alter our course forever.

What ministering is not

  • Ministering is often not convenient. Simple service may be quick and easy, but often what is really needed takes a lot of time, and more importantly, it takes sustained commitment to another person or set of people. Yes, this means we must be willing to become involved in other people’s lives. That means taking on their quirks, their oddities, their habits, their needs, as well as their joys, their kindnesses, and their nobleness of character. It is a package deal. Remember, they are getting all of you in this exchange as well, that isn’t always all good either, but we give what we can and commit ourselves to the cause, whatever that entails. And may the Lord have mercy on all our souls.
  • Ministering is not usually efficient. The world would have things done only if it serves the greatest number of people at once with the least amount of expense or effort. That is counter to the way the Lord works. Though there is wisdom in being efficient when possible, ministering isn’t about saving a penny for the bottom line, it is about saving a soul in the kingdom of God. Those two goals are most often at odds with each other. It is true that the Brethren and our local leaders serve us as congregations and as general church members. But the ministering that matters most is that service that touches a person’s heart and converts a soul. It is uplifting someone who is feeling down, comforting a person or family who has just experienced loss, or about teaching someone a skill that will benefit them for the rest of their life. True ministering, though possible to the masses, like the atoning sacrifice of the Savior, is experienced to greatest effect when applied to an individual life, again, like the atoning sacrifice of the Savior.
  • The focus of ministering is not on the ease of the interaction. Some service can be quick and simple, but the most needed and most effective service is generally not convenient, easy, nor is it quick. Case in point – I write these articles when I feel the need or when I feel urged to do so. At the moment it is 3:30 a.m., and I have been writing since 2:00 a.m. I would much prefer to be asleep, but whatever compels me to do this drove me from my bed at this unearthly hour. We never know ahead of time what might be required of us when we take on a service challenge. But joy is not something that comes only through ease. Most joy also requires experiencing suffering, sacrifice, and sorrow. It is all part of the opposition in all things father Lehi taught to his children.
  • I am guessing you might be able to find other things ministering is not. Understanding something from both sides of the coin is important. But I prefer to look at the side that brings me greatest joy, and just live with the part that requires hardship and sacrifice. These things pass, and what we are left with is the joy they teach us. So I am not really sure this counts as a negative of ministering.

The Savior’s example

Now we are ready to dive into 3 Nephi 17. As you read about the interaction of the Savior with the Nephites, look for the nature of his ministering to them. How often does he tailor his comments or actions to their capacity on that day? How often does he try to prepare them for something better to come? Can you find any indications that he is seeking his own comfort or convenience? How much of his interaction with the Nephites is all about them, and only them? Are the Savior’s teachings about just what they need today, or is he teaching them how to find happiness and joy in the future? These are the kind of questions we need to ask and think about if we are going to liken his example to our own lives and circumstances.

perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time.

Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.

In verses 2 and 3 Jesus recognizes that their capacity to understand, process, and use what he has taught is not where it needs to be yet. He teaches them how to understand better, how to process new spiritual information, and tells them that if they will do what he has told them to do, ponder and talk to God, our Father, that when they come back tomorrow they will be better prepared for what is to come.

Christ was under commandment from the Father to teach these things to the Nephites. He could have just spilled his message and left, having fulfilled his assignment. But that is not who Christ is. He is our perfect example of what it means to minister, to love another person. Christ’s focus is on the needs of the one, and if they all need the same thing, then it is on the many.

The sermon was over. Jesus had told them what they needed to do. He had obeyed the commandments given him from his Father. But his natural compassion for his brothers and sisters taught him that they needed more than what he was commanded to give them. They wanted him, Christ. They wanted his time, to feel more of his love, to be in his presence a little longer, but no one dared to speak those desires out loud. This is where his personal sensitivity to the needs of others told him to stay.

And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them.

And he said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you.

Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.

For I perceive that ye desire that I should show unto you what I have done unto your brethren at Jerusalem, for I see that your faith is sufficient that I should heal you.

And it came to pass that when he had thus spoken, all the multitude, with one accord, did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him.

This is why this is one of my favorite chapters in all the scriptures. Jesus wanted nothing more than to be a blessing to everyone who was there. He took the time – and remember there were more than 2,500 people there, to personally heal and bless every single person who asked for his help. That had to be very time consuming, and if he were mortal, would have been extremely physically taxing to bless that many people. Note that he did not just efficiently wave his hand and they were all healed. The nature of the priesthood is such that hands must be laid on each individual. It says, “and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him.” That’s ministering to the needs of the one. Each of us may feel we are just one of the masses in this life, but to Christ we are the one he seeks to heal and bind up, to uplift and exalt. We are all important to him.

Jesus loves the children

After he had blessed all who were brought to him, he turned his attention specifically to the children.

11 And it came to pass that he commanded that their little children should be brought.

This is an interesting part of the narrative. I’m not sure what his goal was in having the children gathered around him. What happens next is a very special part of their experience. My question is why did Jesus want the children to be front and center? He had something to teach in this, but I have not divined the whole lesson. If you have any insights as to why he waited to pray for the people until their children were in front of all their parents, and at his feet, please leave a comment below.

Jesus prays and blesses the children

14 And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.

15 And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.

This is Jesus being the great intercessor. This is part of how the atonement of Christ works. Because of his personal merit, his purity and personal righteousness, he was able to pay for our sins. When we pray to God we do it in the name of Jesus. It is Jesus who approaches the throne of God and asks that our prayers be answered, not because of anything we have done, but because of his personal worthiness to ask on our behalf. Our prayers are answered only because Jesus pleads on our behalf to our Father in Heaven. Because of Christ’s personal worthiness before the throne of God, our Father grants our petitions offered up in His Son’s name. What Jesus says to God when he pleads for us is only ever recorded as being so marvelous as to be unable to be written in any of the tongues of men. When prophets write the things of this sacred a nature they have to be taught to write them in an unknown language (an example of this can be found in Ether 3:22-24). Someday we will have those writings to read for ourselves.

16 And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;

17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.

18 And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome.

19 And it came to pass that Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise.

20 And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.

21 And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them.

22 And when he had done this he wept again;

Since we are talking about ministering, did you notice that the people did nothing for him, except exercise faith in him. But he continued to serve them and bless them. Was he wearied because of all the effort he was required to put forth on their behalf? No. Was he tired of having to spend so much time trying to bless them? No. The more he did for them the happier it made him. Finally, he had people who accepted him for who he really was. He was able to bless them in a way he was not able to bless the Jews in Jerusalem, because they wouldn’t exercise faith in him. He wanted to, but couldn’t. Some of his love can only be demonstrated after an exercise of faith on our part. Being able to show them the full extent (or at least fuller extent) of his love towards them filled Jesus with great joy, even to causing joy to overflow in weeping.

Because of the people’s faith in him, his personal blessings to them were increased exponentially. He was able to demonstrate his personal ability to bless them by having angels come down from heaven and individually minister to each of their children.

23 And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.

24 And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.

25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.

Final Thoughts

Ministering is indeed one of the hardest things you can ever do that promises to not only increase your ability to love, but to feel love for others and to be loved as well. Ministering is the great equalizer. It teaches us in practical ways just how alike we all are. We learn to appreciate that our sorrows and burdens are shared by others we wouldn’t have imagined could have the same hardships we face.

The Lord wants us to learn that the unity required of those who live in the celestial kingdom is only learned through the experience of serving each other here in mortality. It is here, in our most vulnerable state in all of eternity, that we can be taught that the true power of godliness is actually to be found in the humility of service to others.

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Ministering, the Hardest Thing You Will Ever Love to Do

(3 Nephi 17)