Unprofitable Servants



For many years I wrestled with how to take a compliment. I don’t know how many hundreds of talks or lessons I’ve given over the last thirty years, but it’s been a lot. And more than once people have come to the front of the room to thank me afterward. Those compliments have been as varied as the personalities of the people themselves. Some simply say, “Good job” or “Great talk” or “I really enjoyed your message.” The more thoughtful compliments take the form of follow-up questions, requested clarifications, or an eagerness to get a reference or source of a thought or quotation. As a speaker or teacher, I appreciate the fact that they would make the effort to provide feedback.

For the longest time, however, I just didn’t handle such compliments properly. I would often say something like, “Well, not really; I thought it was sort of mediocre” or “Thanks, but I only got through half of my material.” My wife, Shauna, noticed my discomfort and suggested that I might take a different approach: I might try saying, “Thank you.” It actually works quite well.

In recent years, I have discovered another way to handle compliments, even gushy ones about how wonderful and inspiring I am. I find myself saying things like, “Thank you. It was a great evening, wasn’t it? The Lord was good to us” or “There was a sweet Spirit in our midst. I’m grateful I was here.” Those aren’t just handy homilies to me, nor are they insincere. The longer I live and the more I experience, the more clearly I perceive the workings of the Lord; if we have an inspiring experience together, all the glory and honor and thanks ought to go to God.

I can still remember very distinctly the words of President Joseph Fielding Smith at the April 1970 conference, in which he was sustained as the tenth President of the Church. “I desire to say that no man of himself can lead this church,” President Smith affirmed. “It is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ; he is at the head. The Church bears his name, has his priesthood, administers his gospel, preaches his doctrine, and does his work.

“He chooses men and calls them to be instruments in his hands to accomplish his purposes, and he guides and directs them in their labors. But men are only instruments in the Lord’s hands, and the honor and glory for all his servants accomplish is and should be ascribed unto him forever” (in Conference Report, April 1970, 113).

Such words should create feelings of profound humility, feelings of gratitude, of reverence, of resounding praise to Him who holds all things in his power and is the Source of our strength and very being. Elder Gerald N. Lund pointed out that “focusing on the word profit will help us better understand the concept of unprofitable servants. The word implies personal gain or benefit. Profit means an increase in assets or status or benefits.

“That is the crux of the concept of man being an unprofitable servant. God is perfect—in knowledge, power, influence, and attributes. He is the Creator of all things! What could any person—or all people together for that matter—do to bring profit (that is, an increase in assets, status, or benefits) to God? . . .

“That we are his children and he loves us is undeniable, and that situation puts us in a status far above any of his other creations. But we must somehow disabuse ourselves of any notion that we can bring personal profit to God by our actions. That would make God indebted to men, which is unthinkable” (Jesus Christ, Key to the Plan of Salvation, 120–21; emphasis added).

To the extent that we realize who we are, Whose we are, what we can do, and what we can never do for ourselves, our Heavenly Father and his Beloved Son will do everything in their power to forgive us, equip us, empower us, transform us, and ultimately glorify us. We may not have “arrived” yet, but we’re well on the way when we begin to acknowledge our limitations, confess his goodness and mercy and strength, and learn to embody an attitude of gratitude. In the language of the revelation, we are to “thank the Lord [our] God in all things” (D&C 59:7; see also v. 21). In weakness there is strength (see 2 Corinthians 12:9–10; Ether 12:27). In submission and surrender, there is power and victory. Thanks be to God, who grants us that victory through the mediation of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:57).

Wow! Ten Years!

POSTED BY: holzapfel


We are now in our tenth year of publishing the Religious Educator (TRE). When Robert L. Millet (then dean of Religious Education at BYU) asked me to take the lead in this new venture, it forced me to think about the niche TRE might fill. Over the years, I found that it was important to recruit specific authors to prepare contributions to enhance the regular submissions.

Last year, as we approached our tenth year of publication, I decided it might be good to identify some of the best articles in TRE and republish them in a paperback volume. First, it could introduce a new audience to TRE, and second, it would allow those most-requested articles to see the light of day without people having to pay a lot of money to obtain out-of-print back issues of TRE.

Eventually I decided on two separate volumes, the first (Teach One Another Words of Wisdom: Selections from the Religious Educator; published February 2009) focusing on devotional and teaching articles, and the second (By Study and by Faith: Selections from the Religious Educator; published March 2009) focusing on doctrinal, historical, and scriptural content.

This second volume was released this past week. As is my tradition, I took the time to thumb through it, and when I was done about an hour later, I said out loud, “Wow! This is a great volume.” I was surprised at both the quality and quantity of excellent and thoughtful articles that had appeared in TRE over the years. Some of them have become classics, and this new publication will highlight others.

Elders David A. Bednar, D. Todd Christofferson, Jay E. Jensen, and Neil A. Maxwell have given us some things to consider. My colleagues Richard E. Bennett, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Kent P. Jackson, Frank F. Judd Jr., Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet, Kerry Muhlestein, Paul H. Peterson, Dana M. Pike, David R. Seely, and Thomas A. Wayment have given us some thoughtful things to think about that will certainly expand our understanding of the things of God.

I am going to use some of these articles in my classes. For example, Kent P. Jackson, Frank E. Judd Jr., and David R. Seely have provided us a wonderful resource that every person who reads the King James Bible will certainly want to read, “Chapters, Verses, Punctuation, Spelling, and Italics in the King James Version” (203–30). This may be one of the most important helps any student of the KJV could read to help them understand the printed word. In the end, entering into dialogue with these authors can help us appreciate the scriptures and Restoration in new ways and, more importantly, inspire us to greater discipleship.