My wife loves animals, has studied Conservation and Zoo Biology at University and currently is in employment working with animals and teaching others about animals. It’s because of this frequent interaction with animals (having gone to a zoo or aquarium pretty much every holiday we’ve been on, including our honeymoon) that I have come to think about this topic in this way…
In the animal kingdom there have been studies into natural altruism between animals. Altruism, as defined by behavioural psychologists, is an incident where someone or some creature performs an action for another without any benefit. For example, wolves have been studied saving meat acquired from a hunt for other adult wolves that were not present for the hunt. Ravens have been spotted calling other ravens to a feast they have come across. Walruses have even been seen adopting a younger walrus whose parents have been caught by a predator. In all these incidents, the giver does not receive any return from that act – it is an altruistic act. Even if the person or animal does the deed with no thought for reward or gain, if they do receive a reward, it is not a completely altruistic act according to behavioural psychologists.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe that there are no completely altruistic acts.
Let me explain. When we serve (or minister) in this great work of salvation, we receive blessings. Of course, those blessings should never be our main motivator – nevertheless, we will receive blessings.
There are three areas in our lives that ministering to others has blessed me personally in, and can bless all of us if we elect to serve God with all our heart, might, mind and strength.
Me (The Giver)
As mentioned, there are a great number of individual blessings available to the soul who gives up, sacrifices, their time for the building of the Kingdom of God on the Earth. I will focus on the ultimate blessing we will receive – for we receive an outpouring of blessings – as we fulfil our covenant we make at baptism to ‘take upon ourselves the name of Christ’.
What does taking upon ourselves the name of Christ have to do with ministering? Everything! Christ was the ultimate Minister – He Himself said:
For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)
As such, when we promise and make the assurance we will be willing to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, we declare we intend to become like Him. Therefore, we MUST minister!
I wish to illustrate this briefly with a parable by the Master Teacher – the Parable of the Talents. This parable applies directly to this principle. We can recognise the Master in the Parable as our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are the servants. If we are not slothful but minister as the Saviour expects us to we produce results, or fruits (in the case of the parable, talents). Now, this is not to say that in order to be a successful minister we have to double the attendance in our Quorum, or double the number of people going to the Temple to worship – although that would be marvellous. The result of our efforts could simply be ourselves coming closer to the Lord and developing our own talents. When the two servants who received their talents, worked and were successful – note the response of their Master (imagine our Lord saying this to you):
Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (Matthew 25:21)
Notice the difference between the servant’s status before and after his work (or ministering). Before, he simply owned the talents for a season (or in our case this represents what we do with our time, talents, possessions etc. on the Earth) but then, he was made a ruler over many things – he became the owner, he gained dominion – what does this represent for us. It is eternal life, the greatest of all gifts of God (see D&C 14:7).
I love my wife eternally. There is no one who I would rather spend time with. She is my eternal companion, the spectacular mother of our children and my best friend. However, when I minister as an Elders Quorum President, that takes away time I get to spend with her. So, how can ministering in the Kingdom possibly strengthen my marriage, or indeed any marriages of devout members who minister?
Allow me to illustrate this, this time with an example from our own marriage. Early on in our marriage I was serving as the Young Men’s President in our Ward whilst my wife was serving as the Primary President in our Ward (…we didn’t have any young children demanding our time at this point as you may have guessed). As such, we were required to be ministering in either calling most evenings in the week. On top of this Chrissie was working through her final year of University while I was adapting to my first year of University. For a young couple who had only recently been married a few months before, surely this demand on our time would not be a benefit to us in strengthening our marriage? However, it was. As my wife and I came away from our ministering to our home, we were filled with the Spirit. We supported each other in our calls and we saw each other grow and develop.
Even now with two young children, we are finding ways of ministering together. This recently has been accomplished mainly through our Family History efforts – over the past two weeks my dear wife has discovered 62 individuals who have been submitted for baptism (I can’t help but praise her at every opportunity). Through this ministering we have found our marriage relationship enhanced – I firmly believe and testify that as couples find ways to serve and minister they are blessed. It may be difficult, but for now, and the eternities, it will strengthen your relationship and increase your happiness as you invite the third companion of your marriage through your service – Jesus Christ.
Finally, ministering in the Gospel can strengthen your family. Again, some might question this considering that ministering takes you away from your family. When I leave my two children, how am I strengthening my relationship with them? However, as with marriage relationships, family relationships can be strengthened.
The scriptures are brimming with examples of this – Lehi->Nephi (I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father… 1 Nephi 2:16), Abraham->Isaac (Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. Genesis 22:9), Jacob->Enos (the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. Enos 1:3) and many more!
I, however, could not make mention of being examples of ministering without mentioning my upbringing. My Dad served as a Stake President between when I was the age of 11 and 21 – the formative years of my Gospel life for me personally. Let me say this now – there were not many evenings I got to see my Dad: Monday was FHE (good), Tuesday meant Stake Councils in some form or another, on Wednesday my brother and I were at Youth and Dad was the Taxi service, Thursday’s were Institute and Interviews night, Fridays and Saturdays depended very much on the week (sometimes there were activities or Stake events that required attendance) and Sundays probably one in four Sundays Dad would be home in the evening (after being out at 7am in the morning and returning home at around 3pm…and the one Sunday evening a month I would be at a Youth Fireside)…
However, my Dad remains to this day as one of my inspirations in my life. Why? I barely got to see him at home…there can be only one answer – his example as a disciple of Christ. Notice I did not say “his example as a Stake President, or a Priesthood Leader, or even as a very busy man”. It was not his calling that inspired me, but his willingness to serve and minister. In his case, it just so happened to be as a Stake President. But for anyone, it may be a case of being a dedicated home teacher for a family who a struggling to be self-reliant spiritually. Your calling does not affect the impact you can have on your family; you have to simply be an example. Ministering to others (in whatever shape or form we do) strengthens our family. As mentioned in the scriptural examples, it is the example we set of a disciple of Christ, and seeing the joy it brings us.