A post in the Facebook group Latter-day Saint Ministering caught my attention not only because of the tremendous discussion it generated, but because of the careful questions it posed. The member was asking some philosophical questions about the nature of ministering to others. For example, “If I give all my time to ministering to others – What do I get from it?” She then challenged us with this: “I give and give, and give, and no one gives back to me. Is that fair?” Finally, she asked us what we think it means when Jesus said “Come, follow me.”
This first question, about what I get for all my efforts in ministering, really got me thinking. My carnal side has waged all out war with my holy side over the answers to this question. And there are many possible answers. I would like to explore a couple of points about this question.
Trying to understand Jesus
I don’t think I have a clue as to the true nature and power, and even the raw intellect of Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve never met anyone who could not be taught anything. Nor have I met someone who, even at age twelve, could sit with the wisest and most learned of his generation and spend at least two days teaching them about their own laws and way of life, as Jesus did in the Temple.
The revelatory power of Jesus would probably astound us. Even taking into account that it was he who, as Jehovah, revealed the law to Moses, who made the covenants we all cherish with Abraham and Sarah, and revealed himself to the brother of Jared, here he was, as a twelve year old, already teaching the intent behind the laws the Jews lived by. And he knew the law and its true intent better than any of the masters of the law who had studied it all their lives. Admittedly, they did not have the gift of the Holy Ghost, nor the priesthood power they needed to comprehend the law they studied. And it had been hundreds of years since a prophet had been seen in Jerusalem. But he was only a twelve year old, and he was teaching them doctrines they had never heard before, because they had lost the truth behind the law, and he had had the law revealed to him by God.
Imagine this, if you will. We all know that Jesus grew from grace to grace, growing in favor with God and man. But even at a young age he knew more about the law of Moses and its intent than anyone else living. I am stumped when I think about how he must have reacted the first time he watched the Passover sacrifices take place and realized that the lamb he was watching get its throat slit in sacrifice represented what would happen to him in a few years. Every time he looked at an innocent lamb it would remind him of the sacrifice he would personally have to make for these ungrateful people around him. And even as superior as he was, he still had no real idea as to how much he would have to sacrifice and give of himself in order to fulfill the will of his Father.
Time spent ministering
I have to believe that by the time Jesus started his official ministry, his spirit of service and his compassionate heart were already fully developed within him. I cannot even imagine him being a typical young person who focuses on worldly pursuits day and night, only to turn thirty and suddenly be saintly. Virtues just don’t get turned on one day, they have to be cultured and nurtured. We have to practice them day and night for many years to learn how to live that way. By the age of thirty, and I would guess, long before then, Jesus had already lived a life of such kindness and caring that all the godly virtues were fully developed within him.
That brings us to the first question. If Christ gave, and gave, and gave of himself day in and day out, what did he get out of it? Is there supposed to be a payoff for serving our fellowman? Are we supposed to expect to be paid in some way for the good we do? I believe that if we are thinking with our carnal mind, the answer is most definitely yes. In the world, those who give and give without getting anything out of it are considered foolish and unwise. This is the thinking of those who also believe such ideas as a scarcity of resources. This idea teaches us that if you don’t jump in and take all you can get from others then someone else will get it and you will be left with nothing. It really is a dog eat dog world.
On the other hand, we are taught in the scriptures that when we give of ourselves and our substance without reservation or judgment there will always be more generated, leaving everyone involved richer and more prosperous. The holy approach to life tells us that there is “enough and to spare.” The Lord tells us this in Doctrine and Covenants 104:17.
17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
Where faith comes in
The world tells us to grab, grasp, and clutch what we can as quickly as we can. The Lord teaches us to give, be generous, don’t expect payment for what we do, but to be free with all that we have, our substance, our time, our talents or abilities, and our love. He tells us that this is the celestial attitude and lifestyle we need to learn while still living in a telestial world.
Living a celestial lifestyle while still living in a telestial world takes great faith. I once wrote an article about the Sunday School lesson of Lot and his family in Sodom. I compared Lot pitching his tent in the plains outside Sodom with his door facing the city to buying a home outside a glitzy and glamorous amusement park full of wicked attractions. When you first move in you probably have no intention of ever participating in the sin across the street. But over time, perhaps over years of exposure, it becomes increasingly difficult to not pass off the glaring sins you have become so accustomed to witnessing, and even eventually enter the amusement park one day with the foolish thought that you will just look to see what is really going on in there.
Like the fictitious amusement park, we spend every day of our lives watching the ads and programming of those who would teach us the world’s beliefs. They are in our ear buds, speakers, televisions, movies, on our billboards, and in our politics and social programming all around us. Why do you think Abraham didn’t get sucked into Sodom? It was because he kept his family away from it so it didn’t have an undue influence on them. Lot, on the other hand, lost his entire family to the influences of Sodom. Lot started on the plains outside Sodom, then moved into town, then his children married with the people of Sodom. His unwise actions cost him all he held most dear.
When we don’t question and reject all that society tries to pass off as sensible and right, we passively, and eventually actively, accept what society teaches us. Make no mistake. In this dispensation, like all other dispensations, what the world teaches as right is contrary to what God teaches as right. We cannot serve God and the world, or Mammon. We have to make our choice between the two and reject everything that doesn’t please God.
What pleases God?
The big difference between the world’s way of thinking and the Lord’s way of thinking, is that God recognizes that eternity is pretty vast. There is no end to the resources, no end to the joy that comes from being ever kind, ever generous of thought and deed, and ever forgiving. In the world these virtues are incomprehensible. This is why it takes faith, and an eternal perspective to continue to live and serve, love and forgive, when all around you people are ungrateful, and unappreciative of your efforts.
The scriptures teach us that perfect love casts out all fear, and that charity, or the pure love of Christ never fails. If we believe that Christ’s love will always be ours, no matter what physical circumstance we may find ourselves in, and that through his love we can overcome all impediments and obstacles in our lives then is there really anything we cannot accomplish? Isn’t it that very love that makes it possible to serve, and serve, and serve without any outside reward? But is this true? Is it true that there really isn’t any reward?
It may be true that we don’t get rewarded by those whom we serve, but the Lord, who is our judge, and our example of what we need to do and to become in order to return to our Father in Heaven, he blesses us in ways humans couldn’t, even if they tried. God sends the Holy Ghost to teach us of his ways, to calm our souls, comfort us in times of trial, and teach us to look at life as part of eternity, not something that is temporary and without purpose. By expanding our views and teaching us to feel and behave in celestial ways, he prepares us to live with him and our Father again someday.
The second question
I give, and give, and give to others, but no one gives anything to me. Is that fair? This is painfully true. I have read so many posts in our Facebook group on ministering from people who are lonely, suffering greatly from physical and social problems. These people do all in their power to serve others, often because they realize how important ministering to others is. And it is because of their own intense needs that they know this. Yet no one comes to visit them. Nobody calls or offers to help them in any way. They are being ignored by the very saints who have made covenants to bind up their wounds, and lift the weary hands that hang down. Is this fair?
I don’t think this is the right question to ask. Of course this is not fair. That is so obviously not fair that they who try so hard to do good are often so ignored and put down by the very ones who are supposed to be giving them the succor they need, as Christ would do if he were here personally. So not fair. But this life isn’t about fairness. As your parents no doubt said to you at some point, “Who said life has to be fair?”
Let’s go back to the example of the Savior. Was anything that happened to him during his mortal life fair? NO! Did that stop him from loving others anyway? No. Did his superior capabilities, and his Godly status make him feel ill used and resentful because all the sinners around him were unappreciative and unwilling to recognize all his efforts to help us return to God, our Father? No.
Christ saw mortality as just a sliver of eternity. Mortality is just a tiny fraction of eternity where we don’t remember who we are or why we are where we are. Satan is doing all in his power to make us believe any reality except what is the true reality. If he can skew our perception in any way shape or form from what is the truth about mortality, he is all for it. For any untruth we accept is a victory for him. Jesus understood this. He knew he was walking in a world shrouded in spiritual darkness. The people he served had no idea who he was or who they were. It was like living among people who were all spiritually crippled. Instead of feeling resentful, insulted, or being offended by the awful behavior of those around him, he felt sorrow, forgiveness, charity, and an overwhelming desire to do all in his power to save them/us from Satan’s tricks and perversions.
The key to the Savior’s success, and ours as well, was and is to never take someone’s behavior toward us personally. Obviously, we would hope that if they truly understood what we were trying to do for them, chances are they would be grateful. And even though some would not be grateful even if they completely understood why we do what we do when we are kind to others, we just need to remember that God loves that child with a perfect love anyway. And he has a kingdom of glory already prepared for him or her so they can spend eternity in a place they can be happiest.
Come, follow me
I believe this is what Jesus meant when he said to follow him. He wants us to learn how to look at life as a sliver of eternity, to see that all of us walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We all live in varying states of ignorance of our true identity and purpose in mortality. He wants us to learn to look beyond the behavior of others and love them because we personally realize their eternal worth, just like God values them. It really doesn’t matter how others treat us. What matters most is how well we each come to understand why we follow the Savior. It is his example and continuing support that teaches us that we are always loved, that we have His support, and that when life on earth is over we will be better prepared to live with him again, because we saw past someone’s snarky comment about our efforts to be kind, or their flat refusal when we tried to help. Instead, we spent our time in mortality seeking to live a celestial lifestyle, and trying to see the plight of mortality as it truly is, and God’s love as the only way out of Satan’s many traps.