There is a scene in “Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration,” a movie depicting the life and legacy of the Mormon prophet (1805-1844), where Joseph and some of his brethren are sawing and splitting wood for an elderly widow lady, who comes to him and says, “Mr. Smith.” He stops splitting. She says, “I do not believe in your religion, Mr. Smith. But I do thank you for your kindness.” The prophet replies, “I might say, that is our religion, ma’am.”
That scene kept running through my mind on a recent Saturday morning when 17 men and boys showed up at my home with a power splitter, four mauls, an ax and a chainsaw to split dozens of rounds left by the tree cutters who took down my dead madronas, willows and a fir tree. In two hours these strong volunteers had done the splitting and loaded the firewood onto big trailers, which they then delivered to a widow and a single woman in the community who had need of the fuel.
I love those men who served me, a senior citizen, that day, and who go about serving others daily and weekly.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints certainly don’t have a corner on service to others, but my observation is that it is in our DNA to serve, perhaps encouraged by the belief that in so doing we are serving God. It is reflected in many ways, from our lay ministry, with dozens in each congregation accepting “callings” extended by the bishopric to minister as leaders, teachers, organists, home teachers and visiting teachers — all serving in each ward selflessly —to our force of over 80,000 missionaries who typically pay their own way to serve missions of a year or two wherever they are assigned in over 170 countries.
“Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work,” the Lord declared in an 1829 revelation still cited by each member and missionary. “And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work” (Doctrine and Covenants 4:3, 5).
Less than a third of our membership today are descendants of the courageous Mormon pioneers who were driven by mobs from their homes in 1840s America, and who crossed the plains to settle Salt Lake City and many other communities in the inter-mountain west. But all of our members share the heritage of those pioneers who gave so much for their faith. And while we are thankful for the religious tolerance of our day, we remember and honor the prophet Joseph Smith who gave his life, a martyr for his testimony of the living Christ, assassinated by a shameful mob with painted faces in Carthage, Illinois, at the age of 38. “Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah,” we sing, in a hymn written by a contemporary who knew personally the love and brotherly kindness of “Brother Joseph.”
I spoke of service — that hallmark of the Latter-day Saint religious lifestyle. We trust in the Lord Jesus Christ whom we serve and count it a privilege and blessing to pay forward the greatest example of service of all times: His atonement for all mankind.
Some have misread our intentions and falsely claimed that Latter-day Saints believe they are saved by works. We solemnly recognize that salvation and exaltation come only through the grace and power of Christ, who invites us to have faith in Him, repent, and receive His great gift of eternal life. But we try to show our faith, as the apostle James of the New Testament said, by our works, lest our faith be without works and therefore dead (See James 2:17-20).
We are not “earning” eternal life with God; we are “learning” eternal life. If we are to feel comfortable in a heavenly home with God who sent us here, we must learn godly traits by the way we live. “Remember,” says the revelation, “faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence” in our service to God and fellow man (D&C 4:6).
The glorious teachings of Jesus Christ, found in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon, spark a divine desire in the soul to make mighty changes and bring an abiding love of the Lord into our hearts.