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The Reluctant Gift: Putting Our Time on the Altar


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It was a demanding day. Many projects. With some luck I might complete the essential tasks by the end of the day. I put my fingers to the keyboard just as a colleague stuck his head in my doorway. “Do you have a minute?”

My mind raced. How much time could I sacrifice and still meet the deadline? Should I suggest a time tomorrow?

“Sure! Come in.” We swapped pleasantries. Then halting words hinted at difficult issues. The natural man in me squirmed: “I don’t have time for this.” I turned to the “better angels of my nature” for counsel: “When God sends an opportunity to serve, welcome it with a warm embrace. Be sure to thank heaven for the opportunity.”

After most of the morning was invested in offering an ear and a word of encouragement, I should have felt panicked about pressing projects delayed. Instead I felt serene. “Thank you, Father, for the opportunity to deliver a heavenly message of hope.” In spite of less time and less energy, somehow the project was completed on schedule.

Turning ourselves over to Him

I have always been amazed how much gets done when I do things the Lord’s way. I am surprised that, when I release my stranglehold on my life and turn my time and energy over to Him, my life is not only richer but also more productive.

I love a story from pioneer Joseph Millett’s journal. “One of my children came in, said that Brother Newton Hall’s folks were out of bread. Had none that day. I put . . . our flour in sack to send up to Brother Hall’s. Just then Brother Hall came in. Says I, ‘Brother Hall, how are you out for flour?’ ‘Brother Millett, we have none.’ ‘Well, Brother Hall, there is some in that sack. I have divided it and was going to send it to you. Your children told mine that you were out.’ Brother Hall began to cry. Said he had tried others. Could not get any. Went to the cedars and prayed to the Lord and the Lord told him to go to Joseph Millett. ‘Well, Brother Hall, you needn’t bring this back if the Lord sent you for it. You don’t owe me for it.’ You can’t tell how good it made me feel to know that the Lord knew that there was such a person as Joseph Millett” (See England, Eugene. BYU Studies 2,148).

When God sends opportunity to us, what is our attitude? Do we demand proof that it is from God? Do we give grudgingly, reluctantly, sparingly? Or do we, as Joseph Millett, thank heaven for the opportunity to be useful to divine purposes?

“For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him” (D&C 3:4).

He will magnify us

I remember when I started my first job as a university faculty member, a colleague was assigned to show me around. As he described the expectations for success in my new job, I felt increasingly overwhelmed. I felt very sure that I could not do all that was expected. I wondered how many months I could work there before I was found to be inadequate and was unceremoniously fired. The gloom grew. After a few weeks I felt fully depressed.

But desperation can be useful for God’s purposes. I finally concluded that I probably could not meet the expectations but I would use whatever time I had to do some good. I accepted opportunities to teach, to write, to collaborate. I limped along doing what I could to be useful. Yet I was often amazed at the ways God found to use me. After five years on the job, I submitted my vita for promotion and tenure. My department head, already familiar with my work, studied the document. She came to my office one day shaking her head, “How do you accomplish so much?”

My soul knew the answer. Early on, when I despaired of my ability, I had stopped trying to do Wally’s bidding and started trying to do God’s bidding. I had decided that I would try to do a little good if I could while not worrying about the glory.

Getting out of his way

For mortals, the accomplishment of great things is often blocked by vain ambition. Those who carefully build an empire build in vain. Those of us who jealousy guard our time misunderstand who owns our time.

The opposite danger is that we will abdicate our responsibility to do what we can. At the beginning of each day we can put our time and talents on the altar. We should not turn our lives over to God and sit on a rock waiting for instructions.

Following the example of the brother of Jared (Ether 3), I say to Him every day, “I am encompassed about by a flood of demands from inside me and around me. Do not be angry because of my weakness. I am unworthy and I know it. As a traveler in this fallen world, my nature has become evil continually. Please look upon me in pity. Turn away Thine anger. Thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens. Thou are merciful. Thou hast all power and can do whatever Thou wilt. Thou hast commanded that we call upon Thee. So I come. I ask that Thou take my weak will, my imperfect plans, my faltering capacity and fill them with Thy perfect purposes.”

We begin each day with some ideas of what may be expected. We make sensible plans. But we do not claim ownership of our day. We ask for His inspiration to do those things we feel we should do. If He has plans for us other than those we have made, we follow gladly.

Mere shepherds

In our lives, we are as shepherds. It is not we but He who owns the sheep. Yet we are responsible to care for and protect those sheep. We shepherd those minutes and opportunities for the growth of his flock.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Our hours, our resources, even our thoughts and feelings are to be put in His service.

As a young missionary I learned a verse that still blesses me today.

“Father, where shall I serve today?”
And my love flowed warm and free
And He pointed me out a tiny spot
And said, “Tend that for me.”
I answered quickly,
“Oh, no! Not that!
Why no one will ever see.
No matter how well my work was done,
Not that little place for me.”
The word He spoke,
It was not stern.
And He answered me tenderly,
“Ah, little one, search that heart of thine.
Art thou working for thee or me?”
Nazareth was a little place.
And so was Galilee.”

When we are tempted to impose our preferences and preconceptions—even seemingly righteous ones—on God’s plan, we can say with Alma: “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me” (Alma 29:3).

Letting him govern

We may feel that we should make lots of money in order to build the kingdom. God may call us to build the kingdom with humble ministering rather than cash. We may wish to have the exemplary family.

God may call us to learn patience by the things which we suffer. We may want to make big differences through our callings or in our communities. God may invite us to do a few good things for his most unnoticed children.

As President Benson reminded us, “men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can” (“Jesus Christ, Gifts and Expectations,” Christmas Devotional, 7 December 1986; Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 361).

Most of the time God does not ask us to do some great thing—to sell our house or to lay down our lives. He meets us in our day-to-day decisions. He invites us to partner with Him in the great and humble work of redemption. The great evidence of our faith is not the one great sacrifice we make but the millions of moments given to Him. May we trust Him with our time, our talents, and everything we have.

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