Question: Should we set our hearts on eternally important things rather than on the things of the world?
Answer: Turning away from the Lord often comes because of prosperity and pride. It can also work the other way, with those who are less fortunate feeling deprived and blaming others for their misfortune, and turning their hearts away from the Lord. We should not allow possessions, or the lack of possessions, to take the place of God in our lives.
13 And one of the company (a person in the crowd) said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
14 And he (Jesus) said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider (arbitrator) over you?
15 And he (Jesus) said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness (greed): for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth (worldly possessions are not what makes life worthwhile).
16 And he spake a parable (a story which teaches a certain lesson) unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully (grew very good crops):
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits (crops)?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down (tear down) my barns, and build greater (bigger ones); and there will I bestow (store) all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul (to myself), Soul (Self), thou hast much goods laid up for many years (you have enough to last for several years); take thine ease (relax, take it easy), eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee (tonight you will died): then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided (then who will all your stuff belong to)?
21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (So it is with people who allow their possessions to take the place of God in their lives.)
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Elder L. Tom Perry:
. . . I, too, will take my text from the Book of Mormon, that great and ancient record that offers us special perspective that comes only from studying what is roughly one thousand years of human history. We see the cycles of nations as they turn to and then away from righteousness. We see the unity that comes from a faith in God and a desire to build His kingdom. And we see the dissension that results when the hearts of the people turn to selfish wants and desires, to the pleasures of the flesh, to riches and worldly possessions.
One of the first warnings from the prophets in ancient America is found in the second chapter of the book of Jacob. Jacob denounces his people’s love of riches and the pride that has found a place in their hearts. He implores them to turn their hearts again to the Lord. He begins with these words:
“And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
“And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you” (Jacob 2:13–14).
Now, we see that often this turning away from the Lord comes with prosperity. Those who are more prosperous can become filled with pride, and they look down on their brothers and sisters who have less, thinking them inferior. Although Jacob does not say it, this process can also work the other way. Those who are less fortunate begin to feel deprived. They become consumed by what they do not have, blaming others for their predicament and blaming the Lord. They, also, turn their hearts away from Him.
The important point is that the Lord condemns both the preoccupation with worldly possessions and the lack of occupation with building His kingdom, whether it is a consequence of having too much or too little...
“But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
“And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good, to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted” (Jacob 2:18–19).
So often it is the order of things that is fundamental in the Lord’s instructions to us. The Lord is not telling us that we should not be prosperous. This would be inconsistent with the many records we have of Him blessing His people with prosperity. But He is telling us that we should seek prosperity only after we have sought and found Him. Then, because our hearts are right, because we love Him first and foremost, we will choose to invest the riches we obtain in building His kingdom.
As we have been told by our prophets, one of the important reasons the Book of Mormon record was kept, and through miraculous circumstances placed into the hands of Joseph Smith to be translated, was to serve as a warning to the people of this generation. Accordingly, we need to take Jacob’s counsel to heart. We should read this scripture as though it were written expressly for us in these days, because it was. His words should cause us to ask soul-searching questions of ourselves. Is the order of things right in our own lives? Are we investing, first and foremost, in the things that are eternal in nature? Do we have an eternal perspective? Or have we fallen into the trap of investing in the things of this world first and then forgetting the Lord? ...
As I travel throughout the Church I marvel at all the positive things that are occurring. Yet I never feel that we, as a people, are living up to our real potential. My sense is that we do not always work together, that we are still too much interested in aspirations for personal honors and success, and show too little interest in the common goal of building the kingdom of God.
When we look at all the Lord asks of us, it can sometimes seem overwhelming. Of course, where much has been given, much is expected. I believe it is helpful when faced with an enormous challenge to view it as a step-by-step process. We begin by taking the first step, then continue by taking one step at a time. I am certain that the Lord is pleased even with our small beginnings, because in His infinite wisdom He knows that small things often become great things.
The first step always involves a deepening of commitment to the Lord and His glorious work. Again, this is a commitment to consider His work first. Our subsequent steps are guided by this initial commitment, but can, of course, take several directions.
We can help by serving our brothers and sisters in the Church. We can go to those who have not yet received the gospel and convert them to its truths. We can go to the temple and perform this great redeeming work for the dead. As we engage in the work of the Lord, He will increase our capacity as we increase our desire. We will pull closer together as a people engaged in a common effort. Through sacrifices we make one for another and for Him, we will realize our potential as His children and prepare the way for His eventual, glorious return.
May each of us accept the challenge to seek the kingdom of God first, before and above all else, and by so doing draw closer together as a people, until we are all of one heart and one mind, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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Source: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 71; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 1, Volume 2, by David J. Ridges, 205; Excerpts from General Conference, April 1987, “United in Building the Kingdom of God,” by Elder L. Tom Perry.