Prospering in the Land — the Lord’s Plan for Abundance
Good morning brothers and sisters, it’s absolutely delightful to be here today. I just really feel touched already by those who might met, including my roommate for over 40 years ago, this was at the time that I was dating and met my wife. He came today, he’s been the managing director for temple for a long time now, just came over to support me, Tom thank you. I think about you every day, because I still have the little violin nail clippers that you gave me 40 years ago and they still work, so every day I look at those I see the little violin and I think about Tom Cover. And my bishop Blackwelder is here, who many of you know for his work here at the College.
We were here early enough that I could hear your choir rehearse which is a great relaxing feeling to me because these are my people, musicians, you know I just love them. And I met Tanner, I appreciate his music today, and I know your choir sang in conference last weekend – isn’t that right? – they were fantastic! This past of that choir which I think they did so well. I just feel surrounded by people today.
I’m grateful for being here today. And I’ve been in this hall many times as well, but with my orchestras performing on the stage not just to be speaking here, so this is a little bit new, however, I do feel a little bit sorry for you, the last time you heard people speaking from the podium was Sunday in Conference, this is what comes next after that, I’m just feeling a lot of pressure about that and feeling a little bit sorry for you, in retrospect about that and I appreciate all those that came here today, and I know this is the last one, last lap around the field. Yesterday, as I was with my students rehearsing, I looked up their faces and I thought, you know “you guys are cooked, you are done, you still moving but you’re kind of dead men walking, at this point and I understand how that feels and how it looks like.
In my work as a professor, I am engaged, even preoccupied, with decisions of what matters most to my students. I’m an orchestra conductor, and though you might think that job mainly lies in waving my arms around while musicians play, the truth really is that my job is mostly deciding every day, as we are rehearsing, what to fix, what to work on, what to stop for, in other words, what needs fixing the most at any one moment. Your days are probably much like mine, you are deciding at every given instant what is the most needful thing to do. Certainly also in our personal lives it behooves us to from time to time to take an inward look and make some assessments. Are we getting closer to our goals, do we still have the same goals, or the right goals, and judging from what we’ve been learning, knowing what we now know — are there things we should be adding to our studies, knowledge we should be seeking to either reach our goals or adapt to a new goal?
In light of these preliminary thoughts, I want to examine a topic which has given me much pause over the last few months — the topic of prosperity. What exactly is prosperity? How is it manifest in our lives? Who among us is prospering? How should we pursue it? Or should we? I would venture to say, each of you are clearly in the business of pursuing prosperity, being as you are, students or teachers in a business school. It’s pretty hard to avoid the topic when one reads the Book of Mormon. The cycle of rising and declining civilization is among the most frequently addressed issues found in this amazing book, and it starts early. Shortly after arriving in the promised land, father Lehi promised his posterity that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandment ye shall prosper in the land (2 Nephi 1:20).
Later on in the Book of Mormon, as Alma is preaching to the city of Ammonihah, he recounts this promise and reminds the people of the second half of the promise (Alma 9:13). We always remember the first part, but little notice is given to the second half of Lehi’s promise: but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.
I find this quite remarkable. Alma – reminds the people that the Lord promised prosperity to those who were faithful, but to those who were not the Lord would cut them off from His presence. This is a very interesting definition of prosperity. On the one hand, we think we get it when we prosper in the land. But, by Lehi’s definition, the opposite of prosperity, or the absence of prosperity is to be cut off from the Lord. Not the lack wealth.
Alma’s companion at the time, Amulek, continues this dialogue and describes his own early family history, which was rich in spiritual experiences, particularly with one of his forbearers. He told a story which was never told in other parts of the Book of Mormon, that he was a descendant of the man who interpreted the writing on the wall of the temple, which had been written by the finger of God. And apparently, everyone knew the story, but it hadn’t ever been mentioned before, or again, for that matter, in the Book of Mormon. He goes on to describe his life “And behold, I am a man of no small reputation among all those who know me; yeah, and behold, I have many kindred and friends, and I have also acquired much riches by the hand of my industry. He continues, I have seen much of his (the Lord’s) mysteries and his marvelous power, yea even in the preservation of the lives of this people. Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know” (Alma 10:4-6). In other words he was describing the realization of the second part of Lehi’s promise... He had lots of material things, and yet was in the process of being cut off from the Lord. His life was full of abundance and simultaneous declining prosperity.
This is the very subject of a recent New York Times best seller, by anthropologist James Suzman. Affluence without Abundance is the story of the Kalahari bushman tribes in Africa and the cultural shifts that growing western economic practices have played out on these indigenous tribes.
It is entirely possible, by Amulek’s description, and Alma’s, and James Suzman’s, to build a life of increasing abundance and decreasing prosperity. When Lehi promised his children that they would prosper in the land, he knew that there was more to prosperity than abundance of material possessions.
And there is another danger involved here as well. Perhaps unwittingly, we are sometimes tempted to equate material increase with spiritual increase. Let’s be careful not to assume that if hoped for financial prosperity is not yet achieved we are unworthy, or sinful. Worst of all, is the wrong assumption that our material success is deserved based on our higher spirituality. You can see that connecting the dots between spiritual increase and material increase is a fraught with complications.
So how is Lehi’s promise of prosperity to be understood? The answer lies in the definition of prosperity. The prosperity rubric must be measured first and foremost by prosperity in spiritual matters. One of the greatest lessons in defining and measuring prosperity, as an example of the relativity of prosperity, was given by the Savior himself in Mark (Mark 12:41-44):
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
This is a powerful definition of true abundance and prosperity.
One thing I know for sure is that my definition of prosperity has changed over the course of my life. When I was your age I pretty much thought of it in one way. Now, with many more experiences, in our family, in a career, and with a fair amount of my life now in the rearview mirror, I look at it much differently.
One interesting phenomena is that the older one gets, the fewer things matter. Albert Einstein is reputed to have written this phrase on his chalkboard at Princeton:
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
Whether this was by him, or George Pickering or Bruce Cameron, the concept behind this is the most relevant thought when determining what father Lehi meant when he promised his children prosperity.
One of the most influential members of our Utah society, Gail Miller, just published a book about her life, and explained this same balance this way:
The success and the money and the worldly things that we have are not where I count my wealth. My wealth is counted in relationships, being able to provide jobs for people where they can support their family and live good lives.
In the April 2013 General Conference, Elder John Dickson related his assignment in Africa with these memorable insights:
The gospel in Africa is going to a happy people, very unencumbered by the trappings that affect the lives of many in the West. They are not concerned about having endless material possessions. It has been said of Africans that they have very little of that which matters least and a great deal of that which matters most. They have little interest in enormous homes and the finest cars but great interest in knowing their Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and in having eternal families.
Is this, then, perhaps the best definition of prospering—acquiring more of what matters most, and perhaps at the same time, caring less about what matters least? Taken in that light, much of what we do takes on a different hue.
And here’s where the rubber might hit the road for some of you. In the working world, it’s not uncommon to confront a workplace where 60, 70 or even 80 hours a week of work is expected by employers. In some environments, this is even a badge of honor, and some professions are undoubtedly more susceptible to this than others, but if you take a step back and look at the personal cost this takes, one must ask themselves what they are giving up to meet these demands. If you are single, are you giving up the chance to meet someone? If you’re married, are you giving up meaningful time with your spouse? If you have children, are they giving up their parent? The toll on families under these conditions is enormous. What about time to serve in the Church? At a certain point, we start bending the definition of prosperity.
In the Bushman cultures of Africa, for thousands of years, there was such skill at hunting and gathering, that their workweek required only around 15 hours a week to maintain their lifestyle. You can say, well yes but they had very little, but the truth is that they wanted nothing more than what they had. They preferred to spend their time with their families, and in leisure, so they found a balance of work that allowed them the maximum amount of personal time and the minimum amount work time. It’s not a primitive concept, it’s positively Utopian. Many are seeking that same balance around the world. Here in the US we’re not doing so well at this balance. In a recent study, the US came in 30th out of 38 countries in measuring work-life balance. According to the research, 11% of us worked more than 50 hours a week, and 33% worked on weekends and holidays, are any of these sounding familiar? Some other surprising statistics of this imbalance are that in addition to the hours working each day, U.S. workers average an extra 3 ½ hours in work related activities per day, while averaging only about 1 hour a day eating, 30 minutes caring for household family members, 13 minutes caring for non-household people, 25 minutes in education, and around 18 minutes in civic/religious activities. It’s hard to argue that this is the profile of prosperity. Finding and creating a balance of work and more meaningful activities, is one of the primary challenges we face in crafting meaningful prosperity.
How do we proceed then, all the while being engulfed, as you are, at this stage of life, with the pursuit of knowledge, skills, and in anticipation of prosperity? Here are five suggestions I have for measuring and achieving prosperity in the Lord’s way. These are adapted to all people, and achievable in all places under every conceivable economic condition. And they are simple to grasp and to implement.
1. The Lord’s plan for prospering — Pay your tithing
It’s super simple, it’s super effective. It operates in the background of our lives — like your heart that keeps beating whether you give it any thought at all. Tithing will open the door to true prosperity, which is the Lord’s guidance in our lives.
Elder Sheldon Child shared this story in the April 2008 General Conference.
A mother (in West Africa) shared her testimony about tithing. She was a trader in a marketplace. Every day she would come home, count out her tithing, and put it in a special place. Then on Sunday she would faithfully take it to her bishop. She shared with us how her business had grown and how her family had been blessed with health and strength and enough food to eat. Then with tears in her eyes she said, “But the greatest blessings of all are that my children love the Lord and we are a forever family. This humble mother understood that one of the great blessings of being a full-tithe payer is the privilege of entering the house of the Lord and participating in the sacred ordinances that enable families to be together forever.”
Prosperity the one we are thinking about may well start with the temple.
Elder John A. Widtsoe clarified the true prosperity that paying tithing provides. He said:
“Obedience to the law of tithing … brings a deep, inward joy … that can be won in no other way. … The principles of truth become clearer. … Prayer becomes easier… The spiritual sense is sharpened [and] … man becomes more like his Father in Heaven.”
2. The Word of Wisdom – adapted to the weakest of the saints, like tithing
Simple rules, incredible results. You want to talk about return on investment? Which you sometimes do – I bet – in some of your classes. There never were two greater principles of prosperity with small investments that reaped fantastic return than tithing and the word of wisdom.
3. Read the Book of Mormon
Super easy. Super powerful. Another silent, quiet superpower in our lives. What is your superpower? Do you have 2, 3, 5, or 10 minutes a day to become a superhero? The words of our present day prophets-the General Authorities, have been greatly focused in recent years on reading the Book of Mormon. This is very important. The lessons of the Book of Mormon include accounts of the cycles of prosperity and the true definition of prosperity that inform us today. Without doubt, they are as accurate and relevant today as in any previous time or civilization.
4. Be Grateful
Being grateful for what we already have is in many ways analogous to being an optimist. Some are naturally given to this, but I believe that no truly prosperous person, in any sense of the word, is a pessimist. As Pres. Monson so memorably phrased it, cultivate and attitude of gratitude. And it is something that you can cultivate. It’s not that hard. Simply start each day with a prayer, and in the second step, where you offer thanks, be sure to thank the Lord for what you have, and try to enumerate the things for which you are grateful. This can be addictive. One recognized blessing often leads to recognizing another that’s similar or connected. For example, it’s easy to be grateful for your parents, and this is an amazing abundance in and of itself, but then doesn’t it come quite natural to recognize how grateful you also are for your siblings, and then how about those grandparents, and then other relatives in your family, and then the blessings of family history research and resources, and then by natural extension, the temple, and being sealed to them all, and by extension, the priesthood, which makes it possible, and by extension Joseph Smith, and the restoration, and then the succession of prophets, and then President Nelson, … and on and on. It’s not that hard to count our blessings, naming them one by one, to see what the Lord has done for us— and by doing so recognize the amazing prosperity already in our lives. Practice seeing the glass half full rather than half empty. Pretty soon, we’ll see our glass full to overflowing.
5. I’m going to add one more which is dear to my heart, and which has grown in its influence in my life, the longer I have lived. It’s the principle last outlined in the 13th article of Faith.
If there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Life advice for daily behavior. Unlike tithing, this principle operates on the desktop, not in the background. It’s like the car we drive to work. Or maybe like the socks you put on in the morning, or shoes you’re wearing. The relevant word for us is “to seek.” Seeking implies so many powerful attributes. Seeking beauty and wisdom is powerful because it turns us outward, and helps us appreciate others, and the world around us. It takes us away from only knowing what we already know.
Another context of seeking was described by Moroni:
And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own… (see Moroni 7:45).
This is a description of charity, but it’s also a clarification of seeking, the kind of seeking admonished in the 13th Article of Faith. Someone who “Seeketh not her own” is someone who is charitable. It might be easier to think of this of what the opposite also might be. Have you ever met someone who is only interested in themselves, you know, “enough about me, let’s talk about you. How do you feel about me?” You know that one? Someone who already has all the friends they need, knows all they need to know. If we stop seeking, the trajectory of our lives flattens out. Our prosperity becomes blocked. We have become the third example in the parable of the talents — those who take what they have been given and bury it. Seeking implies growing the gifts we’ve been given, and is a powerful way to increase our prosperity. That is to say, added closeness to the Lord, added peace and happiness in this life, and marvelous promises for the life to come. After all, isn’t the quality of life in the next life our number one priority.
My brothers and sisters, we’re all seeking prosperity in some way or another, and we know the Lord is anxious to bless us to find it. But he will bless us to prosper in His way. “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” I can promise you that if you use these five steps —pay your tithing, keep the Word of Wisdom, read the Book of Mormon, be grateful, and seek every virtuous, and lovely thing — your life will be rich and abundant. You will become more and more affluent in all the things that matter most, and you will prosper in the land. I pray we may all do so, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.