Missionaries get used to overcoming the same obstacles based on where they are called. Where I served, in Spain, one of the biggest challenges people had prior to baptism was to quit smoking. The only European country with more smokers than Spain was Russia.
I prepared for this eventual challenge by learning what other successful missionaries had done to help people quit. Funny thing is, I never had to use that knowledge. Instead, I had to rely on my gospel learning to help a man learn a very different, very critical lesson:
We, as children of God, have to work.
In the spring of 2005, I met an Englishman named Simeon who had come to Spain on a spiritual journey and wanted to be baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My companion and I were thrilled. This never happened! People didn’t just walk up to us in all sincerity and declare their desires to be baptized. It was great!
We taught him the lessons just to make sure he knew what he was committing himself to, and as we came to know Simeon, we quickly realized he was homeless. This was another common issue in Spain, a country with a massive illegal immigration problem. Many migrants sought out the missionaries thinking we had unlimited handouts for them, and baptism was the pathway to a free house and food.
Simeon’s case wasn’t like that, though. His desire to follow Christ was sincere, and as a citizen of the European Union, he had no legal roadblocks to residency in the country. He just wasn’t working. He wasn’t supporting himself beyond daily begging in the town square. In addition, not having a physical address would have made it difficult to keep track of his member records.
I had never had to explain this to anyone before, so I called the mission president, and he told me to study up on the gospel principle of work.
Often when we think of God’s commandments for us, we cover the basics: don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat on your spouse, don’t kill anybody. Be good, and you’ll get into heaven. (Obviously, there are details, but you get it.)
But it’s more likely that you’ll hear “Get a job!” from your earthly father than from your Heavenly Father. Right? And yet…
From the very beginning, when the mortal condition took root in our first human parents, the commandment to WORK was given. Adam and Eve were told that they would only feed and nourish themselves through the sweat of their brow.
This pattern continued and still continues to this day:
–Noah and Nephi were commanded to perform the physical labor of building ships.
–Moses had to do the legwork required to lead Israel out of Egypt.
–The Brother of Jared built boats and crafted stones before having his engineering questions answered by Jehovah.
–Joseph Smith had to protect the plates, translate a book, organize cities, and build temples.
–Russell M. Nelson has to manage the temporal affairs of a global church, much of which boils down to the same kind of work performed by company presidents, including the acquisition and management of real estate, finances, and more. It is a full-time job that only expires when he dies and he is ninety-four years old.
Every prophet we have on record was required to do physical and mental labor as part of their calling. And not just the prophets, but the followers of Christ too. This didn’t start when the pioneers crossed the plains; it goes back to the beginning.
God has given us skills and abilities and talents. He expects us to use them, first for our own support, and then if we can, for the support of our spiritual brethren.
Why is it so? Well, as with all truths, the answer is both spiritual and temporal. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that blessings are tied to laws and anytime we receive a blessing, it’s because we obeyed the law connected to it. (D&C 130:20-21)
This is a true principle for everyone on Earth, whether they are covenant members of Christ’s church or not. As we are commanded to work, if we do work, we receive the blessings for it. Often we think these blessings are merely monetary, due to the society we live in. That’s part of the picture, but not all of it. If we labor for something, we expect to be compensated–to build on what we have, and receive an increase.
The point is, we have to do the work in order to obtain that increase. We have to do what we are able to do. We cannot take what we have not earned, lest we be unprofitable servants. (This is also why debt is immoral, a topic I briefly covered here.)
Faith is shown by our works, and God blesses us according to our actions. No employer would give us a paycheck without us doing the work first. (Unless they were either stupid, dishonest, or unscrupulous, none of which describe God.) Likewise, we can’t expect God to rain down blessings on us without us doing our part first. We couldn’t gain a testimony without doing spiritual works, and we can’t gain temporal prosperity without physical works to the extent we are capable.
In Simeon’s case, he was capable–both physically and legally–of working to support himself. And while he wanted to make those covenants with God, there was a principle of the Gospel he did not yet understand. While I wasn’t able to baptize him while I was in that city, he did eventually bring his life fully in line with God’s will and joined the Church later that year.
Nothing eternal comes for free, brothers and sisters. Put your shoulder to the wheel and get your work done. God has given us tools, so let’s use them.
“The Principle of Work” – Elder F. David Stanley, April 1993
“Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing” – Elder David A. Bednar, April 2019
“The Laws of God” – Elder N. Eldon Tanner, October 1975