The Prophet Joseph taught, "A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race" (The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 174).
Service is at the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Service extends from the Pre-existence and creation of the world to the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the restoration of priesthood keys in this last dispensation. Everything that is part of our Father in Heaven's plan is provided as a service to His children to learn, grow, and progress towards eternal life. An understanding of what service is and why it is important is essential to our eternal progression in a very personal way.
The natural man is selfish, ambitious, and strives to excel one above another. We have been counseled to put God first in our lives, to overcome the natural man, and to consider others as our self. We are all children of our Heavenly Father and each of us has a need and a responsibility to serve. For when we serve others--within our families, the Church, or across the world--we are only serving God. (Mosiah 2:17)
The story is told of Jesus coming to Bethany and visiting in the house of Simon the leper. While he was sitting at dinner, Mary came into the house with an alabaster box of expensive ointment. She opened the box and poured the ointment upon the head of Jesus. There was in the house one who was upset with her, and with Jesus, for allowing her to do this. Judas Iscariot cried, "Why was this waste of the ointment made?" He declared that it could have been sold for "three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor" (Mark 14: 4-5; John 12:3-5). The Lord's reply was "ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always" (Mark 14:7). This story brings up two different aspects of service. First, Jesus allowed Mary to serve Him by anointing His head with ointment. The second deals with the responsibility of caring for the poor.
This story also begs the question of why must we "have the poor" with us always? Perhaps it has to do with a loving Father in Heaven providing us the opportunity to learn and grow through service. "For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me" (Matthew 25:35-36). The righteous will ask when did we do all this service? The answer will be, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).
But what about those who fit into the categories of hungered, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, or prisoner? Must they always be the recipients of service, and never the givers of service? How do they "learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17)?
The story that follows might help us understand service from a different viewpoint. It will perhaps help us step aside and look at it from a different perspective. It is shared with us by Sister Arlene Jacobson Crump Rowberry.
"I had the privilege of being one of the nurses for President Ezra Taft Benson and for his wife Flora during their last years of life. It was in their home that I attended to their needs. One afternoon while taking care of Sister Benson, I had an enlightening spiritual experience about the meaning of service.
"Sister Benson had experienced a stroke and required total care. One day as she was sleeping, I was sitting near her bed, reading from the book Ezra Taft Benson, absorbing all of the things that this woman had done and had been, and all of the service that she had given. As I looked at Sister Benson, unable to do any of the things she enjoyed doing, my heart ached for her. And then I thought about myself growing old, and I said a silent prayer; 'Oh Heavenly Father, if I have to grow old like sister Benson, please let me have good health so that I can keep serving to the end of my days'. Immediately I felt a feeling of chastisement come over me and into my mind came the understanding 'She is serving! She is serving you...for if it were not for her health condition you would not have the privilege of being here in her home.' I suddenly understood a whole new area of service that I had never before recognized. There is more to service than doing for others. Having to endure infirmities while others take care of us, is a service. This was new insight to me.
"I shared that experience with her, and at a later time with President Benson. They both had tears fill their eyes, and I knew that the spirit had born witness to each of them that they were still serving" (Personal experience of Arlene Jacobson Crump Rowberry).
Instead of feeling wonderful and proud of ourselves for serving the "hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, or prisoner," perhaps we should be expressing gratitude for the service they perform by giving us the opportunity to learn how to serve them—unconditionally.
Are we grateful for the fast-food employees who provide us a meal after a long day and we are too tired to fix a family meal? Do they recognize the service they provide us? What about those who serve to protect us from fire and crime? Are we grateful to those whose talents and skills work in health care, do research, or motivate us to be better? Are they grateful for the opportunity to serve others by making our life a little better?
We need to be grateful to those who give us the opportunity to learn service and forgiveness, and to learn the meaning of righteous judgment. Perhaps one of the hardest experiences to look at as service is when someone hurts us and causes us pain. While extremely difficult, we need to be grateful for those who give us the opportunity to learn to be more Christ like. Perhaps those who bring us the greatest pain and sorrow are really giving us the greatest opportunities for learning about service. Maybe without them, or us, realizing it, they are serving their "fellow beings" in a “learning opportunity” way.
We have been taught that the family is the most important unit in society. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "Now for a man to consecrate his property, wife and children, to the Lord, is nothing more nor less than to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the widow and fatherless, the sick and afflicted, and do all he can to administer to their relief in their afflictions, and for him and his house to serve the Lord" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 127).
The Lord reminds us in Doctrine and Covenants 75:28, “And again, verily I say unto you, that every man who is obliged to provide for his own family, let him provide, and he shall in nowise lose his crown”—a reward for serving his family with food, clothing, and fellowship which extends from love.
Service really does begin at home with a husband and wife serving each other and their children in love. Aging parents, children, and other extended family members are on the front line of service as we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who need our love and friendship and support, and administer to those who are sick and afflicted. We must also serve our families by teaching "them to walk in the ways of truth . . . to love one another, and to serve one another" (Mosiah 4:15).
So next time a baby cries at 2:00 am, give thanks that your baby is giving you the opportunity to serve. If your family is blessed with a special needs child, give thanks that your child is giving you the opportunity to serve. If your teenager is struggling with lifestyle challenges, give thanks for the opportunity to serve and to learn Christ-like love and patience. The next time you have the opportunity to buy a child clothes, or help them smile, or spend a little time with them, give thanks for the service they are providing you.
"For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God" (Mosiah 4:19)