Gratitude for the Goodness of God

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Neil AndersenDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

November 16, 2006
Elder Neil Andersen
Member of the Presidency of Seventy

I express my love to you and bring you the love of President Gordon B. Hinckley, the First Presidency and the members of the Twelve. We pray for you as we know you pray for us.

Next week in the United States we celebrate the wonderful holiday of Thanksgiving. This holiday has great meaning to us, and I want to talk to you about the most important lessons of Thanksgiving.

But first, as there are many international students attending BYU-Hawaii, I want to mention something that you may find a little unusual about our culture. We in the United States love turkeys. This began on the very first Thanksgiving when turkeys were a part of the bounteous feast of the pilgrims and the Indians. One of the founding fathers of our nation, Benjamin Franklin, even recommended that the turkey be our national bird, rather than the majestic bald eagle we now see displayed on our money and government seals.

This love for turkeys reaches its highest importance each Thanksgiving holiday. Many North Americans cannot imagine Thanksgiving without a large turkey, roasted, ready for carving, and proudly displayed in the center of the dining table.
In our family the turkey must not only taste deliciously like American turkey, but must look the part as well. This has at times become a concerning issue, as we have celebrated Thanksgiving in different parts of the world.

In the meat markets in France, after plucking all the feathers from all types of poultry, the butchers display the birds by hanging them upside down from the ceiling. You can pick out the bird you prefer. In our first year in France where we were serving a mission, my wife, Kathy approached the French butcher, and said in her best French, "J'ai besoin d'une dinde," ("I need a turkey"). He pointed to a bird hanging from the ceiling, "voila, une dinde," ("there's a turkey"). She looked puzzled. It did not look like an American turkey. Its neck was much too long; it's body much too small. It took a few visits, but after much effort from my industrious wife and the butcher, she found a bird that looked quite like an American turkey. Our local French grocer found one for us each year we lived there.

A few years later, we lived in Germany where a turkey is called a truthahn. Unfortunately, we found that most of the German turkeys came from France, and our issues started all over. After much investigation, we found an American turkey in Germany. But how surprising for us to learn that it was from a turkey farm in Utah. We ate a Utah turkey in Germany.

In recent years, we have lived in Brazil. Brazilians call a turkey un peru. They looked just like American turkeys. But to our dismay, while the Brazilian turkeys are delicious, they are seasoned differently than in America, and they do not taste the same. We finally settled for a smaller bird in Brazil that they call a "Chester." It looked like a miniature American turkey, tasted great, and served us just fine for four years.

Here in Hawaii it is hard to imagine turkeys. Somehow turkeys don't fit well in my mind with beaches, sunshine and a tropical paradise. Somehow I see them wearing Hawaiian shirts, riding surfboards.

For those of you who are not from the United States, let me give you a brief history of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving dates back to the 1620 when English settlers seeking religious liberty, sailed from Plymouth, England toward the northeastern United States. They arrived late in the fall, and the first year was very difficult for them. Many perished. However, in the year 1621, the Pilgrims, as they were called, were greatly blessed by the Lord. The Native American Indians taught them how to plant corn and other vegetables. In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims invited some 90 Native Americans for a three-day feast, and together they celebrated the goodness of God. That wonderful feast included animals from the forest, fish from the ocean, waterfowl in abundance, vegetables, including corn and pumpkins and, of course, wild turkeys.

What were they celebrating? They were celebrating their gratitude for the goodness of God in preserving them and in providing the essentials of life.
I would like to speak about the subject of gratitude for the goodness of God. I know that there is not a soul listening today who is not grateful. I thank you for your faith and devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that you are very thankful for the blessings of the Lord in your life.

I speak to you as fellow disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, committed to his kingdom and his restored gospel. With gratitude, it is not that you either have it or you don't. It is a divine principle that grows within us as our spiritual capacities expand.

First of all, gratitude is a commandment. Notice in this scripture how the Lord declares the commandment to be thankful among other very important commandments:

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it. Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things."
And this admonition:

"And ye must give thanks unto God for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with."

We are commanded to be grateful.

In addition to being a commandment, being thankful is a spiritual gift. It grows within us like faith and charity. Being grateful for the goodness of God is portable, and will go with us through the veil. It is a divine principle that will stay with us throughout eternity. It is not obtainable in one experience, but expands as we keep the commandments, worthily seek the gift of gratitude, and put it into practice in our daily lives. Gratitude is available in greater abundance to all of us.

The Savior is always our example. Think of His wonderful expressions of thanks to his Heavenly Father. As his disciples took away the stone where Lazarus had lain dead for four days, imagine the anticipation of the Savior, as he prepared to raise a dear friend from the dead. The Savior, however, did not move forward before expressing his gratefulness. The scripture says that he "lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me." He then declared those powerful words, "Lazarus, come forth," and Lazarus arose from the dead.

Another example of the Savior expressing thankfulness to His Father occurred at the last supper. The scripture records: "when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you." "And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it."

While visiting the Nephites he prayed, "Father, I thank thee that thou has given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen." Because Jesus was perfect in his qualities and character, he righteously expressed his gratitude for the goodness of God in all he did.

Much about gratitude for the goodness of God can be learned from a child. They innocently notice what we many times overlook. Speaking of their Heavenly Father, the Primary children sing, "He gave me my eyes that I might see the color of butterfly wings. He gave me my ears that I might hear the magical sound of things. He gave me my life, my mind, my heart: I thank him reverently for all his creations, of which I'm a part. Yes, I know Heavenly Father loves me."

As we develop the spiritual gift of gratitude for the goodness of God, we feel his goodness all around us. We recognize that the greatest gifts that are given to us are given to almost everyone. The fact that the gifts come to all of us does not diminish the magnificence of the gifts. The ability to see, to breathe, to touch, to smell. The ability to love and to do good, to choose—they all come from the goodness of God to us, his sons and daughters. King Benjamin taught it this way:

"Oh how you ought to thank your heavenly king (for) if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you,and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that you may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another— I say, if you should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants."

This is a feeling of gratitude that we all understand. Yet we understand it to different degrees. As a young university student, I remember more fully realizing what my parents had given to me. Our family wasn't perfect, but my parents brought me into mortality. They had given me the gospel. How much was that worth? I owed them greatly for the life I had been given and for so much more.

I can remember when I first began appreciating more profoundly that my fingers could move, that I could walk, breathe, and make moral choices. I was grateful for the goodness of God to me, independent of the fact that these qualities were given to so many others. We sometimes focus on the things that separate us as sons and daughters of God. Gratitude allows us to see that the greatest gifts of life come from God.

In the family of spiritual gifts, gratitude has a brother and a sister. Often they are found together. The sister's name is "humility" and the brother's name is "meekness." Can you see how these three work and play together? Listen to these three scriptures:

First, gratitude, "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things."

Next, humility, "Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answers to thy prayers."

Finally, meekness. Jesus said: "and blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

I saw this family of qualities at work together recently as I visited the Korea Busan Mission. The mission president is President Song, Pyung Jong and his wonderful wife Sister Yang, Gye Young Song. He joined the Church many years ago as a young man; his wife joined after meeting President Song in college. He has recently retired as a successful banker in Seoul. Her university degree was in French literature. Their three sons have all served missions.

When I asked him about his own successes, he talked about the perspective the Lord brought into his life that allowed him to see himself as a son of God. When I asked him about the prosperity and progress of South Korea, he spoke of the prophecies of President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Spencer W. Kimball, how Korea would prosper as the Church grew. When I asked about the future of South Korea, he spoke about the coming of the temple to Korea and the promises President Hinckley made at the temple dedication.

"And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments."

President Song sees the blessings in his own life, in the prosperity of his family and his country, and in the future before him all through the eyeglass of the goodness of God. He sees the Lord's hand in everything. Gratitude, humility, meekness—all are in the same family.

The family of gratitude also has a bitter foe: the foe is pride. And pride always surrounds himself with his nasty twin minions of self sufficiency and selfishness. President Ezra Taft Benson, speaking as the president of the Church, described the foe of pride:

"Most of us think of pride as self centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing. The central feature of pride is enmity: enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means "hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition." Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God's. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of 'my will and not thine be done.' As Paul said, 'they seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's' (Philippians 2:21).

This pride of "me" and "mine" harms our sense of gratitude and our dependence upon God. President Benson added: "The proud wish God would agree with them. They aren't interested in changing their opinions to agree with God's."

For followers of Christ, the beginnings of pride rarely show themselves in open and revolting rebellion to the commandments of God. Rather, it is much more subtle. One accepts the principles of the gospel, but hedges his commitment where he thinks the commandment is too strict, or one thinks that she knows herself well enough to dance on the edge of a commandment. Honesty in our school work, purity in our relationships, what we watch and listen to, modesty in our dress, and the sharing of our riches and talents with others are examples of where we could ask ourselves: "Do I wish God would agree with me, or am I willing to change my opinions to agree with God?" Those who are truly grateful for the goodness of God humbly kneel before their maker and pray, "Not my will, but thine, be done." Remember this admonition, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

The other element of pride that diminishes our gratitude comes when we attempt to elevate ourselves above others and diminish them. President Benson quotes the words of C.S. Lewis, "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest."

These foes of gratitude tell us that we are self sufficient—that we owe God and others little, that our gain is rightfully ours and we deserve it. Gratitude teaches us that all comes from God, and that we are stewards of his blessings upon the earth.

Here are the words of Abraham Lincoln written in 1863:

"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in number, wealth and power as no other Nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us."

President Joseph F. Smith, who loved this land of Hawaii so much, said the following:

"I believe that one of the greatest sins of which the inhabitants of the earth are guilty today is the sin of ingratitude, the want of acknowledgement, on their part, of God and his right to govern and control. We see a man raised up with extraordinary gifts, or with great intelligence.  He attributes his success to his own energies, labor and mental capacity. He does not acknowledge the hand of God in anything connected with his success, but ignores him altogether and takes the honor to himself. The world says, 'We have done it.' The individual says, 'I have done it,' and he gives no honor and credit to God. Now, I read in the revelations through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, that because of this, God is not pleased with the inhabitants of the earth but is angry with them because they will not acknowledge his hand in all things."

Our gratitude is sometimes tested when we suffer pain or difficulty. This too must be seen through the perspective of "confessing the Lord's hand in all things."
President John Taylor said:

"We have learned many things through suffering. We call it suffering. I call it a school of experience. I have never looked at these things in any other light than trials for the purpose of purifying the Saints of God that they may be, as the scriptures say, as gold that has been seven times purified by the fire."

Many times we come to understand gratitude better when we meet someone who has been given unusual difficulties or special challenges and yet see gratitude so developed in his or her spirit. I met such a person just a few weeks ago. Her name is Lora McPherson and I met her in the hospital. I felt of the mature spiritual gift of gratitude that she possesses.

Lora's family first learned of her genetic disorder, Neurofibromatosis, when she was three years old. This genetic mutation can result in the growth of nerve tumors anywhere in the body. Most people with this disorder live fairly normal lives, but some have very difficult complications. Lora is one of those. At age 7 she had tumors on her spinal cord which resulted in two surgeries six months apart. At age 12, she developed a brain tumor and at age 17 by a brain stem tumor that would not allow surgery, but required immense radiation. At age 21 a tumor grew on her forearm. At age 25, which was just last year, she had abdominal tumor surgery, removing tumors from her stomach. And finally, just recently, a tumor on her spinal cord requiring more surgery and radiation. Her very life is being challenged, and has been challenged throughout her 26 years. Yet she remains remarkably grateful for the goodness of God. She wrote to me recently:

"I trust that the Lord knows what is best for me. I can pray for cures, but I know that if I am not cured, He can still give blessings of strength and healing. I am thankful for my understanding of the bigger picture; that there is life after this life, when our trials will be put into proper perspective and we will comprehend the wisdom and love of God. I have developed gratitude for the small and simple things of life. I have more empathy for and less judgment of others who are going through trials. I have learned how to ask for help and receive it gratefully. I have a testimony that God still loves me and blesses me even when the trials are not taken away.

"When I was dealing with a great deal of pain this past spring, I was praying to Heavenly Father for understanding and help. I went to the scriptures in hopes that He would speak to me through them. The first scripture that touched my heart was Mosiah 3:19, (listen for the family of gratitude and the foe of pride) 'for the natural man is an enemy to God and, will be...unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit...and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him':

"Whether God's healing comes in this life or the next, I don't know; but I know He's watching over me and is giving me and those around me experiences that will help us best fill our purpose on earth and be able to prepare ourselves to come back to him."

As we keep the commandments and as we learn of the Savior, our gratitude for the goodness of God grows within us. We see our journey through mortality for what it is, and we realize nothing would be ours without He who is our Redeemer. We owe this very earth to him, our very existence. And more, we will owe our resurrection to him and our eternal lives. No suffering compares to the suffering endured by our Savior for each one of us. In our mortal condition, we can only begin to imagine the price he paid to bring about a victory over death and sin. He has described his suffering as: "[causing] myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit, and would that I might not drink the bitter cut, and shrink." Because of him, we will walk back into the presence of God, resurrected. And if we are true to the commandments, we will enter with purified spirits, clean and forgiven, to live with Him forever.

The debt of gratitude is impossible to fully give, yet as we grow spiritually, the Holy Ghost expands this great gift of gratitude and our actions more truly reflect our thankfulness.

I bear solemn witness of the goodness of God. How grateful I am to him. I know he lives. With unbelievable goodness he gave us a plan by which we could become more like him. He sent his Only Begotten Son. I cannot express my gratefulness for the goodness of our Savior. I know He lives. He is resurrected. He along with his Father appeared to the prophet Joseph. He guides this holy work today. How grateful I am for him, and for his priesthood which is upon the earth. I bear witness that he has given us prophets and apostles. Gordon B. Hinckley is his prophet today.

I close with this beautiful promise from the scriptures:

"And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more."