“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). What does that mean?
It means to do what he says in a way that makes him look supremely valuable in himself.
It means to submit to him in a way that makes him look thrilling.
There are ways to submit to God that only make him look threatening, not thrilling. There are ways to do what he says that only call attention to the fact that he is an authority, not a treasure.
That kind of service is not the service God commands.
What’s the difference?
The difference is that God has told us not to serve him as though he needed anything.
“Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
“God is seen as glorious when all our serving is moment-by-moment receiving from God’s supply.”
Both these texts put all the emphasis on God’s giving to us when we serve.
So the kind of service that makes God look valuable and thrilling is the kind that serves God by constantly receiving from God. The key text to describe this is 1 Peter 4:11 —
“Whoever serves, [let it be] as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
God is seen as glorious when all our serving is moment-by-moment receiving from God’s supply.
We receive this supply by faith. That is, we trust moment by moment that what we need, in serving him, he will supply (“life, breath, and everything”). This is the opposite of being anxious. Such serving is happy. And it makes God look no less authoritative, but infinitely more desirable. This is the glory he means to have. The giver gets the glory.
Therefore, “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2).
As children of God strive to become more like their Heavenly Father, the Holy Ghost can guide them in giving meaningful service to one another. True service is free of all selfishness and fosters Christlike love.
“It is only when we love God and Christ with all of our hearts, souls, and minds that we are able to share this love with our neighbors,” says Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. And we demonstrate that love “through acts of kindness and service—the way that the Savior would love and serve all of us if He were among us today.”
He notes that when an individual is filled with charity, that individual’s thoughts, feelings, and actions become more like those of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as motivations and desires fall in line with divine will.
Like other prophets and apostles, Elder Ballard counsels us that “in all of our service, we need to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.” He says that “the still, small voice will let us know who needs our help and what we can do to help them.”
Serving by Preserving a Memory
President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, tells of a time he felt prompted by the Holy Ghost to write down an example of service he witnessed:
"I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father in law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property,” President Eyring recalls.
"He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: 'I'm not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.'
"I went inside. I didn't go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn't have to do what he was doing for us. . . . But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it."
Skipping Lunch Because of Love
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles tells of a time when he was a boy and his mother came very close to death due to cancer surgery. It was painful for his mother to use her right arm because much of her neck and shoulder tissue was removed.
“One morning about a year after the surgery, my father took Mother to an appliance store and asked the manager to show her how to use a machine he had for ironing clothes,” Elder Christofferson says.
The machine operated by pressing pedals with one’s knees to lower a roller against a heated metal surface while feeding in articles of clothing. The machine made ironing easier for the mother of five boys.
“Mother was shocked when Dad told the manager they would buy the machine and then paid cash for it. Despite my father’s good income as a veterinarian, Mother’s surgery and medications had left them in a difficult financial situation, Elder Christofferson says.
“On the way home, my mother was upset: ‘How can we afford it? Where did the money come from? How will we get along now?’ Finally Dad told her that he had gone without lunches for nearly a year to save enough money. ‘Now when you iron,’ he said, ‘you won’t have to stop and go into the bedroom and cry until the pain in your arm stops.’ She didn’t know he knew about that. I was not aware of my father’s sacrifice and act of love for my mother at the time, but now that I know, I say to myself, ‘There is a man.’”
Saying “Thank You” with Carpet and Paint
President Thomas S. Monson repeats what the Savior said—that in order to find purpose in life, lose yourself in the service of others.
“Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives," he says.
President Monson further teaches this doctrine by telling how individuals in one group found purpose in their lives by serving their neighbors.
In a letter President Monson received, Sister Mori Farmer explained that her family had experienced difficult financial times. One week, the Farmers attended a family reunion, and when they returned they found a letter taped to the garage door. The note read: “We hope you had a great family reunion. While you were gone, we and about 50 of our friends had a great party at your house. We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the years of unselfish service you both have given to us. You have been Christlike examples of untiring service to others. We can never repay you for that—but just thought we’d like to say thanks. Signed, your home teachers.”
The Farmer family was shocked as they entered their house.
“Our home teachers had decided that they would fix our carpet while we were away. They had moved the furniture out into the front yard so the carpet could get stretched and finished. One man in the ward stopped and asked what was going on. He returned later with several hundred dollars’ worth of paint and said, ‘We might as well paint the house while everything is out.’ Others saw the cars out front and stopped to see what was going on, and by week’s end 50 people were busy repairing, painting, cleaning, and sewing.
“Our friends and fellow ward members had fixed our poorly laid carpet, painted the entire house, repaired holes in the drywall, oiled and varnished our kitchen cabinets, put curtains on three windows in the kitchen and family room, did all the laundry, cleaned every room in the house, had the carpets cleaned, fixed broken door latches, and on and on. … All of this had been accomplished between Wednesday and our return on Sunday.”
Those who served the Farmer family said they felt spiritually uplifted and humbled as they demonstrated the pure love of Christ by serving those who had unselfishly served others for years.
“We learn from D&C 4:2 that it is not enough to serve God with all of our might and strength,” says Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “He who looks into our hearts and knows our minds demands more than this. In order to stand blameless before God at the last day, we must also serve him with all our heart and mind.
“Service with all of our heart and mind is a high challenge for all of us. Such service must be free of selfish ambition. It must be motivated only by the pure love of Christ.”