Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sufficient For Our Needs

I once asked a good friend, a pastor actually, what she believed the ideal society would look like.  I really liked her response: “In a perfect world everyone would have what they needed.”  I like this response because it coincides with what I read in scripture concerning God’s vision of the perfect world.  In the Torah, God told the people, “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, italics added) It seems the God too desires that all people in the world have sufficient for their needs.  He also desires that we who have greater abundance should open our hands wide unto them.  This requires us to recognize when we have sufficient for our needs and use the surplus to impart unto others.

In latter-day scripture the Lord established the Law of Consecration in which an individual was made to be a “steward” over his own property, “as much as is sufficient for himself and family.”  The “residue”, or that which was more than needful for the needs of his family was to be used “to administer to those who have not, from time to time, that every man who has need may be amply supplied and receive according to his wants.” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:32-33) In a later revelation this residue was called a “surplus”. (Doctrine and Covenants 119) We learn an interesting story about this later revelation from Brigham Young in a talk he gave some years later:

When the revelation which I have read was given in 1838, I was present, and recollect the feelings of the brethren. A number of revelations were given on the same day. The brethren wished me to go among the Churches and find out what surplus property the people had, with which to forward the building of the Temple we were commencing at Far West. I accordingly went from place to place through the country. Before I started, I asked brother Joseph, "Who shall be the judge of what is surplus property?" Said he, "Let them be the judge themselves, for I care not if they do not give a single dime. So far as I am concerned, I do not want anything they have.  

Then I replied, "I will go and ask them for their surplus property;" and I did so; I found the people said they were willing to do about as they were counselled, but, upon asking them about their surplus property, most of the men who owned land and cattle would say, "I have got so many hundred acres of land, and I have got so many boys, and I want each one of them to have eighty acres, therefore this is not surplus property." Again, "I have got so many girls, and I do not believe I shall be able to give them more than forty acres each." "Well, you have got two or three hundred acres left." "Yes, but I have a brother−in−law coming on, and he will depend on me for a living; my wife's nephew is also coming on, he is poor, and I shall have to furnish him a farm after he arrives here." I would go on to the next one, and he would have more land and cattle than he could make use of to advantage. It is a laughable idea but is nevertheless true, men would tell me they were young and beginning the world, and would say, "We have no children, but our prospects are good, and we think we shall have a family of children, and if we do, we want to give them eighty acres of land each; we have no surplus property." "How many cattle have you?" "So many." "How many horses, &c?" "So many, but I have made provisions for all these, and I have use for every thing I have got.” [1]

The system worked fine until it came time for people judge at what point they had sufficient for their needs.  And it could only rely on the individuals themselves to make that judgment.  The way of the Lord was not a forced redistribution but a society of love and concern for the other.

Beyond the benefit we can offer to others through our own surplus there is a great peace and happiness that comes from recognizing when we have sufficient for our needs.  We live in a materialistic society, always moving forward to the next big thing: the next iPhone, the next car model, the next style of clothing.  We rush around frantically to accumulate more money to buy all of these things without considering the things we already have.  And always the comparisons.  What do the neighbors have that we don’t?  How can I compete in the workforce?  There is no time, no peace.  What we need is to slow down.

Brigham Young was a great organizer and built the economy of Utah from the ground up.  He recognized the material needs of the Saints.  But he also cautioned against the pursuit of wealth for its own sake.  He consistently warned the Saints not to run off after gold during the California Gold Rush.  And he recognized the wisdom in trusting in the Lord to take care of us:

This is the counsel I have for the Latter−day Saints to−day. Stop, do not be in a hurry. I do not know that I could find a man in our community but what wishes wealth, would like to have everything in his possession that would conduce to his comfort and convenience. Do you know how to get it? "Well," replies one, "If I do not, I wish I did; but I do not seem to be exactly fortunate − fortune is somewhat against me." I will tell you the reason of this − you are in too much of a hurry; you do not go to meeting enough, you do not pray enough, you do not read the Scriptures enough, you do not meditate enough, you are all the time on the wing, and in such a hurry that you do not know what to do first. This is not the way to get rich. I merely use the term "rich" to lead the mind along, until we obtain eternal riches in the celestial kingdom of God. Here we wish for riches in a comparative sense, we wish for the comforts of life. If we desire them let us take a course to get them. Let me reduce this to a simple saying − one of the most simple and homely that can be used − "Keep your dish right side up," so that when the shower of porridge does come, you can catch your dish full. [2]

We should not be so concerned about trying to fill up our own dish as much as just preparing to receive the blessings that the Lord will provide and trusting that he will do so—“Keep your dish right side up”.

Jesus was very nonchalant about material things.  “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” Well that’s very nice but what are we supposed to do then?  Jesus says, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?  Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?  And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?  Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?  (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:25-24)

I love this passage of scripture.  It’s so beautiful.  Look at nature and they way the rains provide water and the sun provides energy.  God takes care of the world and He will take care of us.  I especially love the line, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” or in perhaps a clearer translation, “today’s trouble is enough for today.”  Just take things one day at a time and don’t worry so much.  Trust in God.

Before saying all of this Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) “Mammon” means riches or wealth.  The point of this whole discourse is clear—you cannot serve in Kingdom of God if you are worried about material things.  This is very important.  Satan wishes for us to be preoccupied all the time about not having enough.  He will always put the thought in our ear—“Have you any money?”  “You can by anything in this world with money.”

This is the condition of our time.  The prophet Mormon saw our day and he didn’t seem particularly impressed: “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.  For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” (Mormon 8:36-37) It is clear that Mormon compiled the records in the Book of Mormon he felt were most relevant to us and to our problems.  He saw our materialism and our disregard for the poor, a loss of perspective on the things that are most important.

Paul also warned Timothy of people who would teach, “that gain is godliness”.  Paul said further: “But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.  But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:3-10) After we have food and raiment we may be content.  And the Lord has promised that the Father will provide these things if we trust in him.  Just keep your dish right side up.

There is great peace in being content with our basic needs.  Life is beautiful in it’s basic simplicity—love, family, friends, memories.  The earth is beautiful, not for it’s resources but for it’s own sake.  If we take time to slow down, as Brigham Young said, to pray and to meditate we can find that we already have much of what we need.  And to those who do not have sufficient for their needs we can be a blessing to others.  We can bring more people into our circle of friends by helping them.  The Lord has asked us to care for one another and to give of our surplus to those who are lacking.  But first we must recognize when we have a surplus.  We will be tempted to neglect the needs of others, distracted by expensive toys and clothing.  But the wise and proper response has always been the same—we have sufficient for needs.


1.  Journal of Discourses 2:306-307
2.  Journal of Discourses 15:36-37

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