Life Is God’s Gift to Man. What We Do with It Is Our Gift to God.
I was baptized when I was nineteen years of age, and the last forty-nine years have been wonderful. And so in my earlier life, I didn’t have the benefit of the gospel of Jesus Christ to let me get a vision of potential and possibility. I remember at college, in the first year in a class of 32, I was first in English and Geography. In the second year, I was 31st out of 32 in English and Geography. In the third year, I was first in English and Geography. It was the teacher, I concluded. Not so. I had not learned yet that I was responsible for my destiny, that I had the capacity to become what I righteously desired to become. And thus, I blamed others for my poor performance. The gospel of Jesus Christ opened my eyes to other possibilities, and that’s the wonder of this gospel and the great plan of happiness.
I remember when I started as a printing apprentice, and I went along to this big print shop. I had to spend five years as an apprentice after three years at college. I thought I’d be running the big printing presses and I thought I could do anything and everything. You know what it’s like. When I arrived at this big press—a two-colored Miehle letter-press printer—and we don’t do very much letter-press printing, now it’s almost obsolete. When I met the experienced printer, he said, “I’ll show you what your job is.” What I did day after day after day for six months, I simply put paper into the feeder so the printing press could print. They were taking advantage of me. I thought, how dare they? With all my talents and my abilities and my skills, they would simply have me putting paper into a printing press? I learned that until I was able to develop that skill, I could never be a great printer. And to this day, if they have challenges at Church Offices with a photocopier, they say, “Get Elder Johnson.” I know how to handle paper. You have to learn fundamental skills in order to progress with the greater opportunities of life.
Don’t look at simple things and say, “Why am I doing this?” Recognize that in those simple things, you gain a capacity that will be so essential as you progress through life and in your career. A statement by President Harold B. Lee really stirred my soul. He said, “Life is God’s gift to man. What we do with it is our gift to God.”
I did not know that. I did not know that I was a son of God. When I went on in my studies, I was not doing well. Two and a half years through my studies, an instructor came to me and said, “Johnson, you’re wasting your time here.”
I said, “Yes, but I’d rather play football or soccer”. I used to love playing football. And I played with a band—but I’ve repented of all of that. But I was distracted from my studies. And then I met a young lady. She was beautiful. Really. She’s more beautiful now, but she was beautiful.
I remember that first dance with her, she said, “I’m a Mormon.” I thought, “I wonder if it’s contagious.” I have learned that it is. But I’d never heard of that name, that title, that expression. I went back to my friends—with whom I played soccer and played in the band together, seventeen of us—and said, “What’s a Mormon?”
And they said, “That’s great! You can have as many wives as you like.” I thought, that can’t be true. I went back to the girl, and I asked her for dates, and you know what it’s like when you ask girls for dates. You do ask, don’t you? Well, eventually, I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on the 16th of August 1959. I had not known that I was a child of God.
When that was revealed to me, as it teaches in Romans, for “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God”. When I received that witness, it transformed me. I had a different view of life, of myself, of the purpose of life. Two and a half years later, I gained a distinction in my college course and was invited back to be the instructor.
What had happened to me? I realized that life was God’s gift to man. What we do with it is our gift to God. I realized I had something to give and something to do to show gratitude for this great life and this great plan and these wonderful opportunities. I look back to those days and those moments and the transformation that occurred in my life—a complete change of vision, of possibility, of opportunity.
I love the scriptures. I love them dearly. I love a tremendous insight that comes from the Pearl of Great Price, from the book of Moses. This resonates with my soul. We read here, in verse 4 of Moses 1, the Lord speaking to Moses: “Behold, thou art my son. ” Those words, thou art my daughter, thou art a child of God. Think of what that means. Think of who we are. Think of what we can accomplish.
And then in verse 6: “I have a work for thee, Moses, my son.”
And this revelation of our divine destiny in verse 7:
“And now, behold, this one thing I show unto thee, Moses, my son, for thou art in the world, and now I show it unto thee.
“And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.
“And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself.”
Until I realized that I was a son of God, I was left unto myself. I was running under my own intellect and my own energy and my own feelings. When I learned that I was a son of God, I realized there were greater possibilities than previously I had known, and my life went upward and onward.
I remember being in a zone conference in Leeds, England. We were touring the mission back in 1995. I was sitting by the mission president, and the mission president said, “This young man who is about to share his testimony is a remarkable young man.” I did not say anything in response; it was too sacred a moment. But afterward, I turned to the president and I said, “Why did you say that this was a remarkable young man?”
He said, “He had been a member of the Church for one year and few weeks when he was called to serve a full-time mission. He went out with his trainer—many of you have had that experience—and they were in a home, and they knelt on the floor. The family knelt with them, and his senior companion put a piece of paper on the floor and did a diagram—premortal existence, birth, mortality, death, resurrection, eternal life—and began to explain the great plan of happiness. This new young missionary leapt to his feet, and pointing down to the diagram said, ‘We believe this?!?’
“His companion said, ‘Well, yes.’ And the young missionary began to dance around the room; he was so excited.”
And so the mission president looked for my response. I said, Is that unusual? I dance around the room every day. I leap out of bed every morning, don’t you? My wife worries, at my age. But I leap out of bed every morning and I dance around the bedroom, when I think about the great plan of happiness. It’s wonderful. It’s exciting. It’s elevating. That’s what the gospel has done for me—ignited like a fire burning within my bones, as it says in Jeremiah 20:9. It gets brighter every day.
I don’t understand people who say they get burned out in church service. You can only get fired up if you have the Holy Spirit. The fire does not burn you out, it fires you up to greater achievement, greater accomplishment. You look at the prophets; you look at the Brethren. It will make you better. It will fill your heart with desire and fire, if you have the Spirit with you in all that you do. That’s the gospel I know. That’s the transformation that occurred in my life, and I’m so grateful.
There was one error in the introduction; I have a granddaughter, not a grandson. And she’s delightful. Girls are—girls—whatever age or size, they’re wonderful. Our son, when we were called in 1990, we had to leave him in England. So I appointed him a partner in my insurance brokerage. And for three years life moved on and then President Monson called me into his office and said, “We’re transferring you to the First Quorum of the Seventy.” I was called for five years originally. It was interesting—when President Hinckley called me, he said, “Initially, for five years.” I said to Pam, “Why would he say ‘Initially’?” I found out in the interview with President Monson. So I met with our son. I said, “Son, do you enjoy the business?” You know, I started it from nothing. I had six thousand clients when I was called. I’d built it up; it was magnificent. I said, “Do you enjoy it, son?”
He said, “Do you want the truth?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “No.”
I said, “You don’t enjoy it? But I love it!”
He said, “You might do, Dad, but I’m doing this for you.”
I said, “Son, I want you to do what you want to do. What do you want to do?”
He said, “You know, when I was a missionary, I loved training. I loved training the other missionaries. I’d love to get into training.”
I said, “What would that mean?”
He said, “I need to get some qualifications.”
I said, “Do you know what they are?”
He had this piece of paper with all the information, and said, “These are the qualification.”
“How much will it cost?” And he told me. I said, “Okay, I’ll sponsor your training for you.” And so he got the qualifications and thought he could step out into the world and replace Steve Covey and Hyrum Smith and everyone else in the world of training. But nobody wanted to know. We were assigned to the Philippines at this time, and every weekend he would phone me and he would have a list of companies that were advertising placements in the world of training. He would read the names of the companies to me. One week he was reading the names, and I said, “Kevin, that’s the company!”
He said, “Which one?”
I said, “Read them again.”
He read them again. On Track International. I said, “That’s the company, phone them. Send them a letter. Contact them. Do something.”
Well, he sent a letter and got no response. He phoned me and said, “Dad, there’s no response. ”
I said, “Phone them.”
So he phoned and the owner of the company said, “Come over tomorrow; we’ll see you then.” So he drove 64 miles from Norwich to Cambridge and when he got there, the man had forgotten to write the appointment down. He wasn’t available , and he went home. In his weekly telephone call, he reported what had happened.
I said, “Phone him tomorrow.”
Before he could do so, the man called and said, “I apologize. If you will come today, I will reimburse you for yesterday’s expenses and today’s expenses.”
So the next day he drove back to Cambridge, walked into the owner of the company’s office. The man didn’t say, “Good morning; lovely day,” he just said, “You are too young.”
Our son responded, “You haven’t seen what I can do.”
The owner of the company replied, “I beg your pardon?”
Our son responded, “You haven’t seen what I can do.”
The owner said, “I like that.” He called the directors into his office and said, “Show us what you can do. You give us a presentation for 45 minutes on this subject.” And he did. The man said, “Would you leave the room please?” After a while he was invited back into the office and the company owner said, “ We want to ask you some questions.” The questions came from different directors.
One of them said to him, “Young man, what’s the most important thing in your life?”
He responded without hesitation, “My relationship with my Heavenly Father.”
The owner of the company said, “Leave the room.” He left, and thought, “Well, there will be other jobs.” After a while he was invited back into the office to be greeted with these words, “We are so impressed. Not only with your skill, but that a young man at such a moment would say what you said. That tells us so much about you. We would like to give you some training opportunities.”
They paid him a meager 300 pounds a day. I mean, it’s peanuts, I know. He did this for six months and then the owner of the company said, “You have been marvelous. We want to offer you a position. This is the salary we will pay you.”
He said, “No.”
The owner said “We’ll give this salary, and we’ll contribute 3,600 pounds a year into a pension fund.”
Our son said no.
“Okay. We’ll give you that salary and we’ll give you that pension, and a blue Mercedes car.”
Our son said, “When do I start?” They could have saved themselves a lot of money if they’d have said the car first. That would have been it. They had four trainers at that time—they now have over 80 . Kevin is the CEO and owns part of the company. I believe, when we give our allegiance to God first, then come the blessings.
In my business I was successful, not because of any talent of my own, but because of my faith in God. I remember my business plan. If you’re studying business plans, you’ll probably think this is quite foolish. But my business plan was that I could feed and clothe and house my family, number one. Number two, that I could acquire a motor vehicle that would be able to get the branch members to and from the temple. The car that one of the brethren had would only get us to the temple. We had to find other ways of getting back. And number three was that, at the age of sixty, Pamela and I would serve a mission. I was not invited to serve a mission. As a young man, they were not calling young men in England when I was 19. Or if they were, they didn’t call me. The plan worked. We lived very comfortably and were blessed in many ways. I had a car that could go further than the temple and back. The Brethren intervened so that I did not fulfill the third part. At forty-nine I was called as a General Authority for twenty-one years, so I didn’t get to serve a two year mission.
But that was my business plan. It was based on the spiritual. My business was more of a missionary training center than it was an insurance brokerage, because I would employ young men, they would get qualified, go on a mission, and be replaced by another young man and so on. The wonder of that was the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Life is God’s gift to man; what we do with it is our gift to God.
You have something precious. You’re at a moment in your lives when you can take what you have and make something significant from it. You have two creators: first, our Father in Heaven, and then yourself. It’s what we make of ourselves that will really make a difference to us. In my observation the greatest quest of human endeavor is not to outperform other people but to overcome our own self-imposed limitations.
We are not limited when we realize we are children of God, when we have a vision of life as it is, when we remain positive and happy in challenging moments. I have found in my life the greatest revelations have come in the most difficult circumstances. When things look bleak and things don’t look good, look up. That’s when revelation will flood unto us, because we are more attuned for it, not because God loves us more. But when we recognize how dependent we are on our Father in Heaven then marvelous things happen to us.
Remember in the Book of Moses in verse 10, “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man.” We are not limited to what we see. We have greater powers and possibilities than we think we have. In the hands of God, we can rise up to such heights that we will amaze ourselves and others.
Let me give you a warning. If we take the credit, we lose the Spirit. If we take the credit for our accomplishments, we lose the support of heaven, and come crumbling down. “We are left unto ourselves.” That wasn’t the reason Moses had this experience, “Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.”
We are nothing, in reality, by comparison with the divine. But in the hands of the divine, we have such glorious possibilities. Don’t anyone within the sound of my voice think that you are limited. We are not here to outperform other people. We’re here to overcome our own self-imposed limitations. We’re all blessed with beauty. We’re all blessed with character. We’re all blessed with wonderful gifts, because we’re divinely created.
As we move forward, don’t let the things of the world distract you from the things of lasting worth. Have an eternal perspective. Recognize the power in yourself and the strength in your life. The poet R.L. Sharpe expressed it in an interesting manner. He said:
Isn’t it strange how princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people like you and me
Are builders for eternity?
To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass and a book of rules.
And each will build, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block or a stepping stone.
What will I make of my life? Will I make something magnificent—not to boast of any personal achievement, but to boast of my God. What are you going to be? What are you going to do? What will you become in this great journey of life?
In his book As A Man Thinketh, James Allen said, “Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.” According to our ideals.” What are your ideals? What are you looking upward toward? Are you looking down or sideways or upward? This is a glorious opportunity for you, and still for me. Life gets more exciting as you get a little older. It never stops being exciting. I still leap out of bed in the morning. I still enjoy the wondrous experiences that I have.
We have been asked by the Brethren to serve all over this planet, and everywhere I’ve been I’ve met faith-filled people that have strengthened my testimony and blessed my life. I think of people in Papua New Guinea. Have you been to Papua New Guinea? You have? You go to these countries and you say, “What opportunities do these young people have?”
When they send you to Papua New Guinea, the Brethren say, “Don’t take your wife with you. It ’s too dangerous. They meet you with a car ahead of you a car in the middle and a car behind. You take off your rings for if the rascals see them they’ll take your fingers to get the rings. I mean, it’s exciting. It really is. I went to Daru. It’s a remote island. You get on this little aircraft, I think 25 people. After 2 ½ hours the mission president said, “We’ re going to land any minute.”
I said, “Where? Where’s the airport?”
He said, “Well, you see that grass?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Well, that’s the airport.” So the aircraft descends and we land.
I say, “Where’s the terminal?”
And he says, “You see that tree?” We stand under that tree until they come and pick us up. You know. That’s living—that is. We got in the car with the missionaries. They had a car. The missionaries were driving. We drove a few feet and there’s a big red barrel, and they got a plastic tube out of the car and put it in the barrel and started to suck the gas. I said, “What are you doing? You can’ t steal that.”
The missionary responded, “You buy a barrel, and then you siphon it into your car.” I thought they were stealing it. I didn’t realize that that was the only way to ref uel a car in Daru.
We went to meetings with the missionaries and the district president said, “Could we have a meeting?”
I said, “Well, of course we can have a meeting.” I thought he meant with the district presidency.
But he said, “Would you give us twenty minutes?” We’re in this native construction—straw and wood chapel—and in 20 minutes 453 people came out of the jungle. They had been waiting by the trees and the bushes to see if we were going to have a meeting. I thought, “What do I do now? I don’t speak pigeon English.” So I said, “Let them ask questions, and you tell me what the questions are, and I’ll tell you how to respond.”
And so the first six questions were submitted. Remember the millennium? Remember Y2K? They said, “Well, we’ve arranged with the government to have us shipped out of here when it comes.”
I said, “I beg your pardon?”
They said, “Well, the Navy are coming and they are going to take us away from here when it arrives.”
I said, “When what arrives?”
They said, “This big storm.”
I said, “Big storm?”
They said, “Yes, the millennial storm—Y2K. We’ve heard about it.”
I said, “Does anybody here have electricity?”
They said, “No. What’s that?”
I said—well, I knew they didn’t have running water, because the missionaries said, “Let us know when you want to wash, Elder Johnson, and we’ll man the pump and the rain water will be pumped up for you to wash.”
I said, “Does anybody have a computer here?”
They said, “What’s a computer?”
I said, “You’re the most blessed people on this planet. Y2K is a computer virus; it’s not a storm.”
These poor people thought that there was going to be a great storm that would wash them away. I thought how foolish we are, because we look at life and we draw conclusions that are far from reality.
I remember as a young boy, nine years of age, my brother and I used to go to the movies—you know, black and white, they were silent, but they were great. Before leaving the home, we would stop and kiss mother—we always kissed mother before we left home. On this occasion, she was ironing, as she often was, and my brother went up and kissed her on the cheek and walked away. When I kissed her, wow! I was thrown back across the room.
My brother said, “What’s wrong with you?”
I said, “When I kissed Mother, something happened.” I mean, kissing your mother?
He said, “You’re joking.”
I said, “You try it.” He kissed her and nothing happened. So that restored my confidence, so I went back and kissed her again. Wow, I was thrown across the room. We worked out that each time I kissed her she was holding the electric iron in her hand. There was a short in the circuit and pow! Can you imagine if I thought that’s what kissing was like, what I would be like?
And so we make decisions based on experience instead of “things as they really are.” Life is God’s gift to man. What we do with it is our gift to God.
I love this insight, as we come to the close of this devotional. I’ m considering 2 Peter 1, commencing in verse 4: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises.” I cannot convey to you how I feel about the covenants. Everything that is precious to me is bound by covenant. If Pamela were not with me, there would be no heaven. The covenants, the promises. Keep the covenants. “ The Lord [is] bound when [you] do.”
“…That by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.” I hope everything we do, every show that we watch, every activity we engage in is a reflection of the divine nature. Let that be preeminent in your life. Make a decision that everything that you do will be in accord with the divine nature.
“…Having escaped a corruption that is in the world through lust.” We may have a very challenging world to live in, but never has the Lord poured out His Spirit more on the righteous to be safe in such a situation.
As a young student, I blamed the teacher for poor results. It was me. We cannot blame anybody else in the world for the decisions we make and the situations that we entertain.
“…And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge.” I have come to know—faith and virtue precede knowledge. Because the knowledge we’re talking about, even though it will complement your studies here, is from the Holy Spirit. When you “treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.” Even in your studies, as you have faith, you’ll be blessed to be brought to your remembrance that which you need to know to attain the status that is necessary for your career.
“…And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
“…And to godliness brotherly kindness.” Love one another. You can do that. It’s a gift from God, as taught in Preach My Gospel and stated in Moroni 7:48. It’s the love that will bind a couple together for eternity. We are not capable of such love unless the Holy Spirit God gives us that gift, because we have qualified for it. It’s not a passing feeling. It is not simply a physical attraction. It is an eternal union that comes as a gift from God.
“…And to brotherly kindness charity,” which is that love. “For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I testify that the gospel is true. I bear my witness of Jesus Christ, that He lives, that He loves you, each one individually, that He directs this work and this Church through Thomas Spencer Monson at this time. Your future is secure as you follow the prophets. Your life will be radiant and full as you listen to the Spirit, as you respond to the promptings that come. I know. I know that we are children of God, and that elevating principle has lifted me from a very ordinary young man to one with a very extraordinary responsibility, of which I never sought, which I never thought would come, which I never thought possible even when the call was extended. But even that isn’t the ultimate of the blessings I have. The ultimate is that I’m a husband and I’m a father and I’m a grandfather.
Now, if someone within the sound of my voice feels they’ve been overlooked in that regard, I promise you in the name of the Lord that if you live as you should live, that blessing will come. For He keeps His promises.
May you be blessed with the companionship of the Holy Spirit. As you are, you will never go off course, or engage in activity or behavior that will stop your eternal progression.
Life is God’s gift to man. What we do with it is our gift to God. Lord bless you to give the greatest gift that you can give back to Him who has given the greatest gift that we could receive. The Lord loves you. He wants to bless you. I pray that you will claim every blessing that He has prepared for each one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.