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Devotionals

Elder Spencer J. Condie

Less Feelings of Entitlement

Thank you, BC Voices. Your voices are so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes. And you have something in common with me, or I have something in common with you: people cry when they hear me sing.

I’m grateful to be here with President Richards, my good friend, and I think I don’t have to have a funeral now.

Several years ago as the Christmas season drew near, our student ward members were invited to participate in a Sub for Santa program designed to help a large needy family celebrate a wonderful Christmas. We were given the names and ages of seven children in the family, and beside each name was a brief list of items that would satisfy their hearts’ desires.

The little girls, of course, wanted a doll house and baby dolls and some stuffed animals, coloring books, and card games. And the young boys wanted windup cars, a baseball mitt, a basketball, and some puzzles. Though our ward consisted of financially struggling students, these young members generously gave of their means and their time in purchasing various items and then wrapping them as attractive gifts.

On Christmas Eve, a small delegation of members loaded all the presents in a car, and we drove to a modest little home in a neighboring town. You can imagine the joy in the faces of those parents as we began to unpack a car full of Christmas presents. We went over the list of items with the excited parents, but alas, our vicarious joy was short-lived. As the mother surveyed the mounds of Christmas presents, she then asked rather indignantly, “But where is the bicycle?”

The reaction of this mother illustrates the principle that “the greater the distance between the giver and the receiver, the more the receiver develops a sense of entitlement.”[1] Elder Dale G. Renlund introduced this concept in general conference last April. He and Elder Wilford Andersen had been serving in an area presidency in Africa, and they observed that those who were not close to their local Church leaders had greater expectations for assistance than the humble, faithful members who knew their leaders well and were grateful for even the smallest form of help.

The family members we had showered with Christmas presents were completely unknown to us, and we were anonymous to them. Thus, their gratitude was overshadowed by their high expectations and their feelings of entitlement.

The late President James E. Faust once said, I have so many blessings I don’t deserve, “but then, I have arthritis, and I don’t deserve that either.”[2] Well, welcome to planet earth, where we do not always get what we want or ask for and we sometimes inherit challenges we can scarcely manage.

The Lord’s introduction of the United Order to the early members of the Church was a great barometer in measuring the degree to which the Saints would be able to live the law of consecration and avoid unrighteous feelings of entitlement. In February of 1831, the Lord revealed that “inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and . . . every man shall . . . [retain] as much as is sufficient for himself and his family.”[3]

Three months later, Bishop Edward Partridge and others were assigned to appoint unto this people their portions, every family equal according to their circumstances and wants and needs. In subsequent revelations, the Lord revealed that “inasmuch as they receive more than is needful for their necessities and their wants, it shall be given into my storehouse.”[4]

“. . . And [the Saints] have equal claims on the properties, . . . every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just.”[5]

Differing individual perceptions of wants and needs eventually led to the unraveling of the United Order. You see, some Saints had a much greater sense of entitlement concerning wants and needs than others, and the Order was eventually disbanded when the storehouse became empty by those feelings of entitlement.

We now have tithing and fast offerings, welfare and humanitarian contributions, the Perpetual Education Fund, the Temple Patron Assistance Fund, the ward and General Missionary Fund, and other contributions which enable each one of us to determine what is sufficient for our needs and what proportion of our income we should contribute to the Church for the blessing of others.

There is a great trap that Satan sets to destroy our sense of inner peace and joy in life, and that is the inclination to compare our lot in life with others. In the Savior’s parable of the laborers,[6] the master of the vineyard initially found that the laborers whom he hired at different times of the day were perfectly content with the wages they had agreed upon. Those hired early in the day only became dissatisfied when they became aware they had received the same reward as those hired during the later hours in the day. The early laborers felt entitled to receive a greater reward.

Recent convert to the Church are entitled to all the blessings of the restored gospel, including the blessings of the temple, which descendants of the pioneers also claimed. These blessings are contingent upon their faithful obedience, not upon the length of their membership in the Church.

Throughout the world’s history, there have been numerous disasters resulting in great loss of lives from floods, fires, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, and the sinking of large vessels on stormy seas. One of these tragedies maintains a prominent place in our collective memory, and even in our popular culture. This event was the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912.

One reason for perpetuating the details of this tragic event is that although 1,500 people lost their lives, the tragedy was compounded by the fact that 500 more people could have been saved if those already in the lifeboats had ensured that each boat was filled to capacity.

As the Titanic set sail from Southampton, England, there were 2,200 passengers and crew members aboard ship. Unfortunately, there were fewer than 1,200 spaces in lifeboats. But the real tragedy was that when the ship began to sink, only 59% of the lifeboat spaces were filled. Of the 20 lifeboats lowered into the icy ocean, only four of them were filled to near capacity. It was a travesty when lifeboat number one, which had a capacity of 40, departed from the sinking ship with only 7 crew members and 5 passengers on board.

Other lifeboats were only half filled with self-centered passengers who felt entitled to their place on the lifeboat with little regard to saving others. Though protocol dictated that women and children should board the lifeboats first, the sad fact and reality is that more third-class women and children perished than did men traveling first class.

The sinking of the Titanic can serve as a haunting metaphor in our lives. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in a land of plenty, we have safely secured a place on what President Brigham Young called “the Old Ship Zion.”[7] Are we now entitled to feel completely secure while ignoring those drowning in the icy waters? Or are we inclined to follow President Monson’s counsel and to rescue them and to lift them aboard and welcome them, and warm them up with the message of the restored gospel?[8] Surely, each and every one of them is entitled to hear this marvelous message.

After Oliver Cowdery had served for a time as Joseph Smith’s scribe in translating the Book of Mormon, Oliver felt an entitlement to have the gift of translation. And the Lord promised him that “you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred; and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.”[9]

But alas, as Oliver tried his hand at translating, he was unsuccessful, and he learned an important lesson which each of us could take to heart. The Lord gently chastened him by saying, “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.”[10]

There may be times in our lives when, like Oliver, we feel entitled to receive certain privileges and blessings without paying the proper price of proper preparation, and without exercising faith and patience and accepting the Lord’s timetable in our lives.

Fifteen years ago, we had some wonderful neighbors—Garth and Nordith Geddes. He had been a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, and he was just grateful to be alive. When he retired from the military, he and his wife became faithful temple ordinance workers in the Jordan River Utah Temple. Garth was a congenial, distinguished-looking man with a well-trimmed bushy mustache.

Then came the day when the First Presidency sent a letter to temple presidents stating that all male temple workers would be required to shave off beards and mustaches if they wished to continue serving in the temple. Upon hearing that directive from the Brethren, Garth immediately went home and shaved off his mustache. When we saw him a little later, we were shocked as we readily observed that his mustache had previously covered a severely disfigured upper lip.

When he was a newly-born infant, plastic surgery was not accessible in the small town in which he was born. So the attending physician did the best he could to suture closed a cleft lip with which he had been born.

I asked Garth one day why he did not ask the temple president for an exception to the clean-shaven policy, for if anyone deserved an exemption, certainly it would be he. Garth humbly replied, “I support and sustain the Brethren in all they ask me to do.” For him, obedience was far more important than any entitlement to an exception to policy.

Many years ago, while Sister Condie and I were living in Vienna, Austria, we arranged for Dr. Viktor Frankl to speak to a group of young single students. His name may be familiar to you as the author of Man’s Search for Meaning, which includes an account of his experiences as a Jewish inmate in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.  As a psychiatrist, Dr. Frankl had spent his professional career helping his patients find meaning in their empty lives.

He observed that many people live in an existential vacuum in which their lives seem to have no purpose or sense of direction or fulfillment. He asserted that empty lives have to be filled with something, and that the three most common symptoms of an empty life are aggression, depression, and addiction. A cursory reading of any daily newspaper will readily confirm that manifestations of aggression, depression, and addiction have reached epidemic proportions in our society.

Frankl then taught these young adults the solution to an empty life. His counsel was surprising, considering the fact that he himself was Jewish. He said, “The solution to finding meaning in our lives is found in the Master’s teachings in Matthew 10:39—‘He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.’”

He then illustrated the wisdom of the Savior’s counsel with some real-life vignettes. Time will permit just one example. There was a West German garbage man by the name of Fritz. Back in the day, there were no automated garbage trucks as there are today, so the garbage men manually emptied the foul-smelling contents of garbage cans into the back of their trucks. Some might consider this to be one of the least desirable job in any city, but such was not the case with Fritz.

Each day he would encounter a broken tricycle, or a punctured soccer ball, or a little doll with a missing arm, or a pool toy with missing wheels. He would then place these discarded items inside the cab of his truck, and then at the end of the day, he would take these damaged treasures home where he would first sanitize them and then repair them.

After repairing and repainting all the toys, he would periodically take them to social service agencies in charge of assisting needy families with young children. For Fritz, Christmas came several times each year, and the job of garbage man was the best job in the world because it gave him access to valuable resources, and all for free.

After handling garbage all day long, Fritz could have felt entitled to go to a beer hall each night and drink with the boys. But he found greater meaning in his life as he spent his leisure hours serving others and making them happy.

There are thousands of older Latter-day Saints, many of whom could feel a sense of entitlement to remain in their comfort zones during their retirement years. However, they accept multiple mission calls and various Church service assignments, and find great joy in wearing out their lives in the service of others. The closer they are to their Heavenly Father, the less is their feeling of entitlement to all of His blessings in their lives.

In King Benjamin’s benedictory address given him by an angel of the Lord, King Benjamin does not use the term entitlement, but he does discuss the implications of entitlement in several different ways. Without boasting, he reminded his followers that, as their king, “I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes.”[11] He taught the great lesson that to lead is to serve, and that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”[12]

In stark contrast to Benjamin, there were other kings in the Book of Mormon, such as King Noah, who had a great sense of entitlement. “I am the king; this entitles me to squander the wealth of my subjects, and to satisfy my own selfish desires.”

King Benjamin proceeded to teach his faithful followers that service to God and their other brothers and sisters does not entitle them to any special privileges and blessings. Said Benjamin, “If ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath . . . —I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.”[13]

I’ve known a few returned missionaries who were diligent and obedient throughout their missions, and they experienced a certain measure of success. But when they returned home, instead of perceiving themselves as unprofitable servants, they see themselves as having done the Lord a great favor in bringing some of His children into His fold. And since they were so successful on their missions, they rationalize that they are now entitled to some exemptions in keeping certain commandments.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed that some people expect life’s journeys on earth to consist of a successive string of green traffic lights with a free parking place at the end.[14] Because we have tried to obey all of the commandments and sought to serve those around us, we sometimes feel entitled to go through life without any tinge of suffering or sorrow. In the face of a tragedy, it is well to recall that during the Savior’s mortal ministry, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”[15]

The scriptures are replete with examples of righteous men and women whose hearts were wrenched by disappointments and adversity. Several righteous women—Sara, Rachel, and Hannah, to name but a few—were objects of reproach and bitter disappointment because they were childless.

The prophet Jeremiah was a mighty man of God who experienced great sorrow from persecution and seeming lack of success in his unrelenting labors. The experience of Alma and Amulek mirrored that of Jeremiah, as the people mocked them and locked them in prison without food, water, or clothing.

And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound. . . .

And the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain. . . .

And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ.[16]

Even prophets can sometimes feel entitled to a brief respite from persecution. In this latter dispensation, the suffering of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brethren in the dark, dank, Liberty Jail for several months caused Joseph to cry out in despair, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”[17]

The walls of the Liberty Jail did not crumble and set the prisoners free. But the voice of the Lord came to the Prophet Joseph:

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shalt exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.[18]

Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He?[19]

Sometimes the Master calms the stormy seas, and other times he calms the sailors. We are all entitled to heavenly help, but we are not entitled to determine when or how that help will be manifest in our lives. Nor are we entitled to a life free from trials, disappointments, and pain. Annie Johnson Flint captured this well in her poem, “What God Hath Promised.”

God hath not promised skies always blue,

Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;

God hath not promised sun without rain,

Joy without sorrow, peace without pain

 

But God hath promised strength for the day,

Rest for the labor, light for the way.

Grace for the trials, help from above,

Unfailing kindness, undying love.[20]

 

Elder Kevin R. Duncan has observed,

There is not a soul alive who will not, at one time or another, be the victim to someone else’s careless actions, hurtful conduct, or even sinful behavior. That is one thing we all have in common.

Gratefully, God, in His love and mercy for His children, has . . . provided an escape for all who fall victim to the misdeeds of others. He has taught us that we can forgive! Even though we may be a victim once, we need not be a victim twice by carrying the burden of hate, bitterness, pain, resentment, or even revenge. We can forgive, and we can be free![21]

When I was a young lad in southern Idaho, our nearest neighbor to the south lived half a mile away. This family consisted of a mother and four small children who lived in a very modest home. I assumed the mother to be a widow, but no one ever spoke of her husband.

In order to support her family, this devoted mother worked as a seamstress at the local clothing store. As the children increased in age, they were able to find odd jobs to help with the family income, and they all grew up to become responsible citizens and faithful members of the Church.

All of the children eventually left home and established families of their own. As their mother finally reached retirement age, she was entitled to receive a modest pension. One day, as she was home alone, she heard a knock at the door, and to her astonishment, there stood her husband whom she had not seen for forty years.

He had struggled during the Great Depression to support his family, and they had fallen on hard times. In discouragement and despair, he suddenly dropped out of sight for four decades, leaving his wife with the sole responsibility of supporting the family.

After several awkward moments, this prodigal husband finally broke the silence. “My dear, I’m very ill. Would you please take care of me?”

Because of her forgiving nature and her disposition to do good continually, she flung open the door wide and quickly replied, “Of course I’ll take care of you. Please come in.”

This saintly, angelic woman continually cared for her wayward husband for the final six months of his life on earth. Now, some of her friends and relatives were absolutely astounded that she would take back this prodigal husband after his long absence from home when she and the children needed him most. But those who criticized her did not understand the Savior’s Atonement the way she did.

When the Savior taught the Lord’s Prayer, He included the phrase, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”[22] Then after concluding the prayer, He taught them further, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”[23]

In this last dispensation, the Lord also declared, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”[24]

Though they had been separated for forty years, they were not divorced. So the wayward husband felt entitled to his wife’s nurturing care. And she, who had been neglected for so long, did not feel entitled to reject his plea for help, for she knew in her heart that “inasmuch as ye [do] it unto . . . the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”[25]

In Doctrine and Covenants section 82, the Lord revealed, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.”[26] To this rising generation, President Ezra Taft Benson declared:

God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the Second Coming of the Lord. . . . God has saved for the final [days] some of his strongest children, who will help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly. And that is where you come in, for you are the generation that must be prepared to meet your God.

All through the ages the prophets have looked down through the corridors of time to our day. Billions of the deceased and those yet to be born have their eyes on us. Make no mistake about it—you are a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of [you].[27]

The scriptures are replete with reassurances of the Lord’s promised blessings to those who obediently keep their covenants with Him and realize that if we have any entitlement to these blessings it is because it is “by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”[28]

The scriptures, both ancient and modern, describe the blessings of keeping the Sabbath day holy and the rewards of fasting with full purpose of heart. Extraordinary promises are made to those who pray in faith, to those who keep the Word of Wisdom, and to those who faithfully live the law of tithing. Those who receive the ordinances of the holy temple and faithfully keep their covenants will be entitled to the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ that “all that my Father hath shall be given unto [them]”[29] throughout all eternity. The Lord’s celestial storehouse will never become empty.

In the closing pages of the Book of Mormon, Moroni includes an epistle from his father, Mormon, underscoring the indispensable need for charity, which Mormon defines as “the pure love of Christ.”[30] He concludes by teaching us how to obtain the pure love of Christ by exhorting us to “pray . . . with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love.”[31]

When we pray with all the energy of heart, we can indeed be filled with the love of Christ. A heart filled with love has no more room for doubt, or fear, or envy, or contention, or hatred, or resentment, or discouragement—because a heart full of love is full.

Time will not permit an exhaustive review of all the promised blessings contained in holy writ. But we are all entitled to receive these blessings if we have continued to be faithful and obedient, for the Lord has said, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”[32]

I pray that each time we renew our covenants with the Lord as we partake of the sacrament and worship in His holy temple, the promises inherent in these covenants will be “written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”[33]

After all our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, have done for us, surely They are entitled to receive of our love for Them as manifest by our obedience to all Their commandments, and by the way we treat all Their other children through our kindness, patience, mercy, longsuffering, and forgiveness.

Elder Dale R. Renlund teaches us that “the closer we are to Jesus Christ in the thoughts and intents of our hearts, the more we appreciate His innocent suffering, the more grateful we are for grace and forgiveness, and the more we want to repent and become like Him.”[34]

It is my prayer that each of us will humbly and gratefully acknowledge the hand of the Lord in our lives each and every day, and that we will faithfully strive to be of service to those around us and to be a blessing to our Heavenly Father’s other children, that at the judgment day we may hear the words, “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 the Lord.”[35] I so humbly pray and testify it’s all true, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

[1] Dale G. Renlund, “‘That I Might Draw All Men unto Me,’” Apr. 2016 General Conference.

[2] Jack Benny quoted by James E. Faust, “President James E. Faust dies at age 87,” Deseret Morning News, Aug. 10, 2007.

[3] D&C 42:31–32.

[4] D&C 70:7.

[5] D&C 82:17.

[6] See Matthew 20:1–15.

[7] Brigham Young, “Chapter 12: Preventing Personal Apostasy,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997). Quoted in M. Russell Ballard, “Stay in the Boat and Hold On!” Oct. 2014 General Conference and in M. Russell Ballard, “Gold Is at the Helm,” Oct. 2015 General Conference.

[8] For example, see Thomas S. Monson, “To the Rescue,” Apr. 2001 General Conference.

[9] D&C 8:11.

[10] D&C 9:7.

[11] Mosiah 2:14.

[12] Mosiah 2:17.

[13] Mosiah 2:21.

[14] See Neal A. Maxwell, “Murmur Not,” Oct. 1989 General Conference.

[15] Hebrews 5:8.

[16] Alma 14:26–28.

[17] D&C 121:1.

[18] D&C 121:7–8.

[19] D&C 122:7–8.

[20] Annie Johnson Flint, “What God Hath Promised,” Hymnary.org.

[21] Kevin R. Duncan, “The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness,” Apr. 2016 General Conference.

[22] Matthew 6:12.

[23] Matthew 6:14–15.

[24] D&C 64:10.

[25] Matthew 25:40.

[26] D&C 82:3.

[27] Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” BYU Speeches, Mar. 4, 1979.

[28] 2 Nephi 25:23.

[29] D&C 84:38.

[30] Moroni 7:47.

[31] Moroni 7:48.

[32] D&C 82:10

[33] 2 Corinthians 3:3.

[34] Dale G. Renlund, “That I Might Draw All Men unto Me,” Apr. 2016 General Conference.

[35] Matthew 25:21.

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