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I have previously talked about the Lord’s program of gifts drawn from section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is brilliant—and the best roadmap for personal development.
Maybe the five points I have drawn from the section seem simple and obvious. Yet most of us have a hard time applying the principles in our own lives. Our habits of thinking and acting are too strong. We don’t change.
Those principles are so important that I would like to describe some of the ways we misapply the principles. Below I have listed the principles and ways to avoid the traps along the way.
1. “…To every [person] is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (v.11).
Often, we know that we have a particular gift, but we minimize its importance. “Yes. I am kind and patient, but I feel like a patsy. I want to be strong and capable.” “I am a very caring person, but I never know what to say to help people.”
We often diminish the sacred gifts God has given us. We dwell on our limitations rather than God’s purposes.
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. (D&C 88:33)
God proclaims that He gives a gift to every child. Have we discovered them, and do we value them?
When we first moved to Little Rock Ward, one of the people who impressed me most was Chris Webster. When it was time to sing in the opening exercises of priesthood meeting (back when we had opening exercises), someone would wheel Chris to the front of the chapel and turn him to face us. The prelude would play and then Chris would cock his gnarled hand. He directed us with jerks of his hand. His words were largely indistinguishable. He was not a traditional chorister. Yet I have never seen someone who radiated as Chris did. He shone! His body might be limited by cerebral palsy, but his spirit radiated and warmed us all.
Chris is an unusual case. Most of us have less conspicuous limitations. But most of us have abundant self-limitations. We think our gifts aren’t important. We wish we were like someone else.
God anticipated this problem when He taught us the second principle.
2. “To some is given one, and to some is given another . . . ” (v.12).
When I was a physics student at BYU, I had a class from Jae R. Ballif. He was a remarkable man—knowledgeable, dignified, respectful, and kind. I can’t think of anything I didn’t admire about Dr. Ballif.
At the same time, I was taking Dr. Ballif’s class, I was a fun-loving prankster who was more likely to be water fighting with roommates or putting limburger cheese in neighbors’ heating vents than studying in the library. When I watched Dr. Ballif teach, I hated myself for being such a goofball. I wished I were like him.
It took me more than a decade to understand what God was trying to teach me. Dr. Ballif was superb at dignity (and many other things). I had other gifts. I was fun loving and enthusiastic. Admittedly I make quite a mess sometimes. But I can also turn the ordinary sit-down into a salsa-dipping good time. I finally realized that God gave me different gifts and expects me to do different things than Jae R. Ballif did.
It has helped to think about gifts as kinds of food. If we asked people in a group to each name their very favorite food and then dumped a pound of that food into a commercial mixer, would we then have the ideal food? Nachos mixed with ice cream and pickles and fresh bread, and sponge cake. Yum! When we try to be everything sweet and savory and elegant, we simply become unpalatable.
God invites us to know our gifts and use them. Gladly. Joyously.
3. “And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God” (v.26).
Satan wants us to use our God-given gifts for ourselves. He encourages us to use them to satisfy our own desires, to impress people, or to have great power (See Satan’s temptations of Christ in Matthew 4 and Luke 4). We have all felt those temptations.
When Satan cannot get us to use our gifts for evil, he is quite glad to have us use them to hurt ourselves since “he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). So, Satan would have us use our sensitivity not to help other people but to find fault with ourselves. He would have us use our knowledge to weaken our own faith or resolve. He would have us use our time for distractions and pointless amusement.
God specifies one reason He gave us gifts: To bless His children. Jesus exemplified that use of gifts. From sunup to sundown, He looked at people, loved them, taught them, healed them. He was the perfect example of the consecrated life.
We will not be as faithful as Jesus. Yet we can enter every day with one question on our minds: “Father, how may I serve your children today?” We can offer a listening ear to those who are struggling. We can offer our time by helping people around us as God directs. We can offer words of kindness to everyone we meet.
We may feel that we don’t have time to be running here and there. The great truth is that, when we do God’s work first, He magnifies our ability to get our work done.
4. “Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given” (v.8).
While we should not try to be something we are not (I should not try to be Jae R. Ballif!), we can and should ask God for those added gifts that will help us bless His children. While I may never have Ballif’s dignity, I can ask for discernment and guidance that will help me use my enthusiasm in wise ways. I can ask God how to help me repent and be more in tune with His spirit. I can ask Him to help me be more in tune with the needs of those around me.
Whatever your strengths, God has a plan for you to help you add to those.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:30)
Our focus in enlarging our gifts should not be to be more impressive or powerful but to be more effective in blessing His children.
5. “Ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with” (v.32).
Imagine that someone thanks you for helping them. It is not wise to try to turn away their appreciation; it is productive to turn their praise toward God.
For example, if you have helped a family through your ministering, and they thank you profusely, you might say something like: “It is such a blessing to know your family!” “We are grateful for the opportunity God has given us to be a part of your lives.”
Even as we say those words to the people we serve, we can say within our hearts, “Father, thank You for this opportunity to be useful!”
Final Note: What do we do about our faults?
What about our faults? Do we simply ignore them? God gives a key in Ether 12:27:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Let me give you my interpretation of that important passage. I think Jesus is saying: “I have given you weakness that you will not overcome in mortality. I have a very important purpose for that inconvenient weakness! I want you to come to Me. I want you to call on My power. I can transform your weakness into holiness. I can make you perfect. But only if you call upon Me.
We should know and use our strengths. We should use them to bless His children. And we should always remember that He is the one—the only one—who can make us holy.
Those are the keys to God’s program of personal development.
What traps do you fall into? How will you use God’s counsel to fill the measure of your creation and serve as He has invited?
I recommend that you seek to become more aware of the gifts God has given you. You may be interested in a workbook my colleagues and I created at the University of Arkansas: Your Blueprint for Happiness: Five Principles for Building a Better Life, available free at: https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FCS813.pdf. You may also be interested in Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness.