Note: My wife and I were asked to give talks today in our ward’s sacrament meeting on the topic of thanksgiving and gratitude. The following is the text of my talk.
One of the greatest blessings promised in the scriptures, and one which has always captivated me in its power and truth, is found in the last book of the Old Testament. In Malachi chapter 3 the Lord says through his prophet:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings…
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:8, 10)
The commandment to live the law of tithing is perhaps unique in that it comes with an explicit test of its truth – “prove me now,” says our Heavenly Father. Do this and see. Prove me, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour out blessings so great that you won’t even have room enough to receive them into your life. What greater blessings could there be? My wife and I have been witnesses to these blessings in our lives.
I have always thought this promise was special in the extent and abundance of blessings promised by faithful obedience to a single law. But I recently came across another similar promise in the scriptures, based upon obedience to another single commandment. On March 1, 1832, while the Prophet Joseph was in Kirtland Ohio, this revelation was given:
And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. (D&C 78:19)
The commandment is to be thankful for all things in your life, all things that you receive, the good and the bad. And if we do this we are promised by God that we will be made glorious and that the things of the earth shall be added to us, even an hundred fold and more! You can see the similarity to the promise made in Malachi regarding tithing. If we are grateful for what we have, even through the struggles and trials of life, we will have many more things given to us, even hundreds of times that which the earth has to offer, which can be mind boggling to think about.
It is interesting that this same law of thanksgiving and the abundant blessings which follow can be found in a number of ancient societies and other religious texts, which is yet another witness of the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that truth has been revealed in other times and places. Muhammad is quoted as saying, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue.” In ancient times there was a sort of spiritual law that the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you. In Islamic scripture, the Quran, it says:
If you are grateful, I shall most certainly give you more and more. (Ibrahim 14:7)
But is thanksgiving and being grateful really a commandment? In a revelation given to the Prophet in 1831 the Lord reiterated the greatest commandments to the Saints of this dispensation. After recalling the first commandment to love the Lord thy God, and the second, to love thy neighbor as thyself (and its related commandments), in the very next verse the Lord declared the following:
Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. (D&C 59:7)
So great is the Lord’s concern for this commandment of gratitude, that he has even expressed his offence when it is not followed:
And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. (D&C 59:21)
In our world today where consumerism and materialism reign supreme unfortunately we seem to rarely see acts of regular thanksgiving, of sincere gratitude for what we have. It seems to be more important to people to express their wants and desires, their wish lists, and do everything in their power to secure them through their daily work. How ironic is that we have the holiday of Thanksgiving on one day, wherein we celebrate everything that we have in our lives and how richly blessed we’ve been, and the very next day, even within a few hours, we primarily concern ourselves with getting as many material things as possible which we don’t yet have? How often do we “buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like” (Clive Hamilton, Growth Fetish)? As the temple teaches us, having sufficient for our needs is enough. Having more than that can lead to pride and ingratitude.
President Joseph F. Smith once said this about ingratitude:
I believe that one of the greatest sins of which the inhabitants of the earth are guilty today is the sin of ingratitude, the want of acknowledgment, on their part, of God and his right to govern and control. We see a man raised up with extraordinary gifts, or with great intelligence, and he is instrumental in developing some great principle. He and the world ascribe this great genius and wisdom to himself. He attributes his success to his own energies, labor and mental capacity. He does not acknowledge the hand of God in anything connected with his success, but ignores him altogether and takes the honor to himself; this will apply to almost all the world. In all great modern discoveries in science, in the arts, in mechanics, and in all the material advancement of our age, the world says, ‘We have done it.’ The individual says, ‘I have done it,’ and he gives no honor and credit to God. Now, I read in the revelations through Joseph Smith, the prophet, that because of this, God is not pleased with the inhabitants of the earth but is angry with them because they will not acknowledge his hand in all things. (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, pp. 270–71.)
The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once wisely taught,
He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.
In other words, satisfaction for those things that come into our lives is dependent first upon our gratitude for that which we already have. Put still another way, if you’re not happy with what you’ve got, you won’t be happy with what you get. My mother used to like to repeat the old adage, “Fix it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” How much do we waste when we believe what we have is not good enough?
In a talk on gratitude given by President Henry B. Eyring in 1989, when he was a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, he quoted a poem which highlights “how different” our perspectives can be:
Some murmur when the sky is clear
And wholly bright to view,
If one small speck of dark appear
In their great heaven of blue:
And some with thankful love are filled,
If but one streak of light,
One ray of God’s good mercy, gild
The darkness of their night.
The greed and pride which accompanies those who are not grateful for what they have is quite clear in contrast with those who acknowledge the tender mercies of the Lord in the smallest of things.
Controlling our wants and increasing our gratitude and generosity are changes we need to make, said President Eyring. “Someday,” he said, “in our families and as a people, we will live as one, seeking each other’s good.” Of course, President Eyring is referring to a Zion people, such as the city of Enoch, where “they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).
We too are striving to become a Zion people, to become even as the city of Enoch, something which we sometimes might forget. President Eyring recalled:
Not long ago a man asked me, “Does your church still believe that when Christ comes you will be living as one, the way they did in the city of Enoch?” He put a spin on the word still, as if we might not believe such a thing anymore. I said, “Yes, we do.” And then he said, “You are the people who could do it.”
I do not know why he thought that, but I know why he was right. He was right because this is the kingdom of God.
If you remember Church history, you will note how Zion was to be built in Jackson County, Missouri. There was to be a massive temple complex built there, in Independence, and that is where we were to build the New Jerusalem, to receive Christ when he comes again. But it didn’t happen. The Saints were driven out of that place. Why? Revelation given in Doctrine & Covenants section 105 tells us that the Saints were not obedient to the law which God had given them, specifically the law of consecration, they were not humble and grateful for that which they had, imparting of their substance to the poor and needy, and therefore they were not united as one people. Consequently the Lord said that the Saints needed to be chastened until we could learn to obey God’s law, become more faithful, prayerful, and humble, and that we would need to wait for the redemption of Zion.
President Lorenzo Snow taught that the Saints were “not justified in anticipating the privilege of returning to build up the center stake of Zion, until we shall have shown obedience to the law of consecration.” Furthermore, the Saints are not “permitted to enter the land from whence we were expelled, till our hearts are prepared to honor this law, and we become sanctified through the practice of the truth” (Lorenzo Snow, Journal of Discourses, 16:276). And so we are like the ancient Israelites, wandering in the wilderness, until we can enter the promised land.
Until we are grateful for that which we have, and with thanksgiving acknowledge everything that the Lord has blessed us with, how will we be able to impart of what we have to those around us, to the poor and needy, so that we may be united as required by the law of consecration? As President Eyring noted in his talk, we still “are going to need that change.” We are still learning obedience to God’s commandments, specifically how to be full of gratitude for the things which we have, which all come from God, and to be content with what is sufficient for our needs, so that we may give of our surplus to others who are in need. Only this will bring us to the unity of being of one heart and one mind, even a Zion people.
President Eyring relates a story about Orderville, a town established in 1870 in southern Utah, which attempted to live the law of consecration, sometimes called the united firm or united order. They did pretty well, at first. They were completely self-sufficient, producing everything they needed, and more, which they sold as surplus to neighboring towns to purchase more land and equipment. One key factor that aided them in living the law was the fact that many of the families came from the mission called Muddy River, where they had nearly starved. They were essentially destitute. President Eyring notes their gratitude when they established Orderville:
Their having almost nothing provided a basis for future comparison that might have guaranteed gratitude: any food or clothing or housing that came to them in Orderville would be treasure compared to their privation on the Muddy mission.
Unfortunately, over time they forgot their previous condition, as life became more comfortable and they were prosperous. They began to covet the things that people had in neighboring towns, and instead of feeling a great sense of gratitude for what they already had, they began to feel deprived and old-fashioned, and began to change the way they lived so they could have the latest and greatest, even when they didn’t need them.
President Eyring noted that ingratitude resulted from not remembering:
You know that isn’t a happy ending. There were many challenges Orderville faced in the ten years they lived the order there. One of them they never really conquered. It was the problem of not remembering. That is a problem we must solve, too.
Just as they forgot poverty on the Muddy, we so easily forget that we came into life with nothing. Whatever we get soon seems our natural right, not a gift. And we forget the giver. Then our gaze shifts from what we have been given to what we don’t have yet.
Forgetting who has given us all things can lead us to ingratitude for what we have, and that leads us away from Zion.
Abraham Lincoln also noted the challenges that spring from forgetting:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in number, wealth, and power as no other Nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us.
It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our … sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. (John Wesley Hill, Abraham Lincoln, Man of God, 4th ed., New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, p. 391.)
How do we find gratitude? President Eyring taught that it can come through prayer:
You could have an experience with the gift of the Holy Ghost today. You could begin a private prayer with thanks. You could start to count your blessings, and then pause for a moment. If you exercise faith, and with the gift of the Holy Ghost, you will find that memories of other blessings will flood into your mind. If you begin to express gratitude for each of them, your prayer may take a little longer than usual. Remembrance will come. And so will gratitude.
President Eyring also taught that keeping a journal, also called a book of remembrance, leads to gratitude:
As you start to write, you could ask yourself, “How did God bless me today?” If you do that long enough and with faith, you will find yourself remembering blessings. And sometimes, you will have gifts brought to your mind which you failed to notice during the day, but which you will then know were a touch of God’s hand in your life.
President Eyring also noted that the sacrament helps us to remember what we’ve been given, especially and most importantly, that we will “always remember him,” our Savior Jesus Christ, and the atonement which he has given us, the opportunity to repent and be better.
Remembrance is the seed of gratitude which is the seed of generosity. Gratitude for the remission of sins is the seed of charity, the pure love of Christ.
I pray that this Thanksgiving we will remember all that we have in our lives is a gift from God. This gratitude will be a seed of giving of our substance to others who are in need, which will help bring us closer to Zion.