Delivered to the Orem Utah Canyon View 4th Ward
Approximately 3,462 years ago (1444 B.C.), the premortal Jesus Christ, following the instructions of Heavenly Father perfectly, as he always has and always will, visited our earth, out of all the worlds without number that he created, and wrote, with his own hands, 10 commandments that would help his younger brothers and sisters return to their heavenly home. The very last commandment he inscribed was: “Thou shalt not covet.”
What is Coveting?
What is coveting? In the March 1990 Ensign, Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, called it a “trap that can destroy any of us in our search for joy and happiness. It is that devious, sinister, evil influence that says, ‘What I have is not enough. I must have more.’” Gordon B. Hinckley, “Thou Shalt Not Covet,” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 2
When we choose to covet, we are essentially confessing, “I love money, and the things it can buy. My goal in life is to become so rich that I can have whatever I want.”
Now it’s easy to justify this desire with the words, “And just think of all the good that I can do with this wealth. If I’m independently wealthy, I’ll be able to volunteer more, serve more missions, and accomplish more good. Someday. But right now, I really do need a better boat. And my family really deserves at least one really spectacular vacation.”
Of course, riches, in and of themselves aren’t good or bad. Kind of like the Internet or nuclear technology. It is how they are used, that’s good or bad. It’s how much we love them. It’s how much they get in the way of the more important things of life. As President Hinckley said, “It is the obsession with riches that cankers and destroys.”
When the things of the world take priority over the things of heaven, then we have become worshippers of Mammon—the God of Riches, who is of course, Satan, the great swindler, who always has something to exchange for money.
The Lord has said: “Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (D&C 6:7)
He also said, “Now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness; they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness.” (D&C 68:31)
What’s the Cure?
So, what’s the cure for this greediness, this covetousness, this dysfunctional desiring disorder that damns our eternal progression? Well, there are many. The prophets have spoken about them for millennia. But the one that might work the quickest is the theme of our meeting today. In fact, it was the very first “Be” attitude that President Hinckley taught the youth in his November 2000 fireside address. Remember what he said 18 years ago? He said, “Be Grateful.”
Therefore, I propose that if we are grateful—genuinely grateful—for the many mercies and blessings which God has bestowed upon us, it is almost impossible to covet, or envy, or begrudge, or lust after those things that we don’t have, and thus obey the 10th Commandment, as well as ALL of the others.
So what is Gratitude?
One dictionary calls gratitude, “The state of being grateful; of having a warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor.” So what are the characteristics of a grateful person? I’ve identified eight great grateful characteristics, although there are many more.
Number 1: Grateful People Say “Thank-you”
Even for something as simple as holding a door open for you. President Hinckley says that this habit of saying “thanks” is the mark of an educated man or woman. That’s a perfect place to start developing a heart of gratitude.
The next President of the Church, Thomas Monson, repeatedly taught that we should have an attitude of gratitude. He said, “Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love.” (The Divine Gift of Gratitude, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/the-divine-gift-of-gratitude?lang=eng)
Our current President Nelson has said, “How much better it would be if all could be more aware of God’s providence and love and express that gratitude to him. Our degree of gratitude is a measure of our love for Him.” (Thanks Be to God, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/thanks-be-to-god?lang=eng)
So according to our prophets, voicing the words, “Thank You” to God and to his children, will help us feel more love and be more loving, and puts us squarely on the path of gratitude.
Number 2: Grateful People are Humble
During the last decade I traveled to Nigeria several times, where I was able to meet a number of wonderful teachers and trainers from all over that country. One of the customs I was introduced to was the way some of the West African people say thank-you. They bow their heads and touch their foreheads to the palm of their hands. Sometimes they use one hand, or if they are truly thankful, both hands. In some villages, the people fall down to the ground and touch their forehead to the ground in front of the person to whom they are grateful. Or, they just sit on the ground in front of someone’s hut for hours or even days. In some cases, the thankful person will even offer to be that person’s servant for a time—doing whatever needs to be done, no matter how unpleasant it may be.
These people are literally practicing what our theme scripture preached, when Amulek said to “humble yourselves even to the dust”.
Thus, a grateful person is a humble and submissive person. Someone who is willing to become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
Number 3: Grateful People Feel Indebted
A grateful person understands that he or she is a debtor. They owe their ease, comforts, conveniences, and liberties to other people. They know they owe more than they can possibly pay back. So they often feel a sense of obligation and indebtedness, which adds to their feelings of humility.
For example, in these days of war and rumors of war, it shouldn’t take us long to gratefully remember the people who have labored or are presently laboring to protect our way of life and enhance the way of life for others. We all are indebted to these great leaders and soldiers, like my uncle Kent, who was shot down in Europe during World War II.
I challenge you to look in history and think of the people to whom you are indebted. You will find that you are standing on the shoulders of hundreds of generations of men and women—your ancestors who made your life possible. These people, currently living on the other side of the veil, have bestowed upon you their talents and strengths and characteristics and values that make you who you are today. You are their greatest legacy. You are their pearl of great price. You are more precious to them and they are more precious to you than we presently realize.
And here’s one more piece of advice, when thinking about the people to whom you are indebted, please don’t forget about your Savior. Every single day think about how miserable you would be, how lost you would be, how hopeless you would be, how guilty you would feel—without the Son of God and his glorious atonement. There is nothing we can ever do that will repay our debt to him. We could live perfect lives from this day forward, and help to bring the work of salvation to thousands both living and dead, and be willing to do that for all eternity—and yet we would still be unable to repay him. But that’s okay. He has already forgiven our debt. We are free and will remain free as long as we always remember him and try to follow his instructions.
Number 4: Grateful People are Accountable
Grateful people recognize the need to account for their gifts, take care of that which they have been given, and utilize them properly. Their duty is to invest and multiply or magnify their talents and blessings and be profitable stewards. Just like the Savior commanded us to do.
If you have a gift for art, use that gift to create something that beautifies and inspires people to be better. If you have a talent for music, work on it, practice it, and use it to uplift others and create spiritual experiences. If you have the gift to teach, teach people about everything that is virtuous, lovely, and praiseworthy; and then teach them about the source of all that goodness.
Whatever your gift is, freely give it away, just as the little stream tells us to do. Then give and give and give some more until it hurts—which is when it becomes a true sacrifice. Seek out your patriarchal blessings for the specific gifts you have been given, and then use those to bring people nearer to Christ. Then you will be a profitable. Then you will be a wise steward.
Number 5: Grateful People Avoid Resentment
I think that an attitude of gratitude is the crucial difference between being a victim or a victor over the events of life. We cannot control what will happen to us in life. But we can control our response. When we face the inevitable tough times of life—and all of us do—we are free to choose our attitude.
A poor alternative is to choose the attitude of resentment—to decide to focus on the bad and ask angrily, “Why did this have to happen?” The far better alternative is simply to choose to be grateful. This involves thinking through every facet of an event and asking, “What is there here to be thankful for, and what can I use amid all this wreckage to build a better future?”
Number 6: Grateful People Pass Along Gratitude
I was born in the mid 60s. And I clearly remember the 1980’s shampoo commercial where Heather Locklear spouted the virtues of Fabergé Organics shampoo. She announced how great it was and then said “And I told two friends about it. Then they told two friends. And they told two friends. And so on. And so on. And so on…” Now a days, we call that “viral-marketing.”
Imagine what would happen if each of us showed an act of gratitude or did something nice towards two people today, and they both passed it along two others tomorrow, and so on, and so on. It would only take 34 days to do something nice to every person on the planet!
Someone who is truly grateful is not content just to receive, they feel compelled to pass along the gift. Like a new convert who is impressed to share the gospel with all of her friends from other faiths. Or the recently returned missionary who is compelled to call his family to repentance.
One of the men I worked with in Africa was a leper. On our last day together, he shared his life story with me. When he was six years old, he contracted the leprosy bacteria, and was immediately kicked out of his village and sent to a leper colony in Cameroon—one that was established by Albert Schweitzer many years ago.
There, he found a volunteer missionary, a teacher by profession. That teacher worked in that hot and humid colony for more than 20 years teaching its inmates how to read and write and better themselves—even though some of them might never leave the miserably colony. Well, to make a long story short, this boy eventually recovered as a young adult, though he was deeply scarred and permanently disfigured. But so thankful was he for his teacher, that he immediately went into the teaching profession and from that day forward, for the past 40 years, he refuses to be called by his own name. He simply wants to be called, “Teacher.” All he wanted to do was pass along the gift he had been given. Heaven is full of people like that.
Number 7: Grateful People are Charitable
In Africa, I was also able to witness with my own eyes the immense needs of others. In Africa’s largest city, Lagos Nigeria, there are more than 21 million people, but 66% of them live in slums and shacks and in the streets. I can’t express to you the feelings that I had as I saw thousands upon thousands of emaciated and maimed men, women, and children lining the streets, desperately begging for help. In Lagos alone, there are over 100,000 children, who have been abandoned by their parents and forced to live on the streets, where they have no choice but to do absolutely anything to live another day.
As we look at the immense needs of others, we will certainly become grateful for our own blessings. Oh, we are so blessed. Far more than we deserve, I’m afraid. And I’m convinced that one of our greatest challenges here in Utah County is to do something with these blessings and bless the lives of others. One of the ways we can do that is to live more simply, so that others less fortunate than us, can simply live.
After all, the poor will always be among us. We shouldn’t ever forget the Master’s words to one young righteous man who wanted to inherit eternal life: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
Number 8: Grateful People Are Motivated to Act
There’s a mighty large gap between our telestial world and the lofty celestial kingdom where God presides. We can never span the distance alone. Fortunately, we can grasp the lifeline offered by the Savior—that iron rod—that Word of God—and hold onto it for dear life.
We can’t just say, “Oh thank you for that wonderful iron rod that will save my life. I am grateful that the iron rod is straight and true.” No. We have to grasp, and pull, and lift up, and elevate our hearts and minds. Saying thanks is not enough—it requires effort and action.
We have been given lots of help to help us to this. Heavenly Father has provided lots of good examples. Not to be outdone, the Devil has provided lots of bad examples as well. That’s fine by me because it makes it easier to compare, contrast, and choose whom to follow.
I for one, am very thankful I’m surrounded by better-than-average neighbors, righteous local church leaders, noble prophets and apostles, holy temples, and of course the teachings and examples of the Son of God himself. We don’t have to blaze new trails or go at it alone. All we have to do is follow His footsteps.
In summary, gratitude is much more than saying, “Thanks.” It is much more than an expression. It is much more than a passing mood or attitude. It is a way of life. It is a life-style choice. It is a philosophy that compels us to action. It is a call to action.
Our Master stands at the door. He’s knocked. And is waiting for a reply. We heard the knock. Will we rise up from our comfy couches in front of our latest 4K big-screen TV? Will we walk—and walk quickly—to the door. Will we unfasten the spiritual and emotional locks we put on the door? Will we turn the doorknob? Will we pull the door open? Will we welcome the Savior in? And guide him into your house. And introduce him to your children?
Will we, in our newfound sense of humble gratitude, bathe his feet with our tears? I pray that we will, and not “just be thankful” but act on the feelings that that gratitude generates, and become men and women fit for the kingdom. A kingdom where no one is focused on themselves, where no one acts for themselves, where everyone is focused on other people. Where you do what you do for and in behalf of other people.
In conclusion, let me finish with the words of Amulek from the 34th chapter of Alma:
That ye contend no more against the Holy Ghost, but that ye receive it, and take upon you the name of Christ; that ye humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you. — Alma 34:38
May both you and I take the feelings we have felt during this season of Thanksgiving, and act on them, and become better disciples of the master. Exactly one month from today, we will celebrate his birth. Like the shepherds and wise men of old, may our gratitude force us to our knees as we worship him. And may we hear his magnificent voice whisper to our hearts and say, “Come follow me. Follow my footsteps. Learn of me, and listen to my word” (D&C 19:23). In the name of Jesus, our perfect example of gratitude, amen.