"Drenched in Gratitude: Protection Against the Spirit of Entitlement"
Elder Kim B. Clark
President of BYU-Idaho
Brothers and sisters, I am happy to be with you on another great day at BYU-Idaho. It is a joy to welcome you to a new semester. Sister Clark and I love you very much. I pray that the Holy Ghost will be with us today that you and I may learn what the Lord would have us do to strengthen the spirit of gratitude in our lives.
I want to begin today with a personal story.
When I was a boy, I loved to visit my grandparents in Cannonville, Utah. They had a farm there, and I loved to ride the horses and the tractors and play in the barn.
On one visit when I was about 9 years old, I was playing in the barn just before supper. I saw an old pitchfork standing against the wall next to a few bales of hay. I grabbed that pitchfork and jammed it into the hay again and again, just like I had seen my grandpa do. I wanted to get more leverage and more power, so I braced my left foot on one of the bales. I lifted up the pitchfork as high as I could; and then, forgetting that my foot was in there, I stuck it down into the hay with everything I had. That pitchfork went through the hay, through the top of my black canvas sneakers, and right into my foot.
O, that hurt! But I was so embarrassed I went right into dinner and didn’t say a word to anyone about my injury. In fact, I didn’t say anything to anyone about it for a couple of days.
Now, you can imagine the kind of pathogens that lived on that old, rusty, heavily used barnyard pitchfork. But I didn’t think about those germs at all. I looked at my foot, and all I saw was a little puncture wound. I didn’t want to tell anyone about the stupid thing I had done, so I said not a word.
My leg started to hurt the next day. At first it just felt like a pulled muscle, and I hid it pretty well. But the second day was much worse. My friends and I went swimming in our favorite pond that second morning. As soon as I put my left foot into the cold pond water, the pain shot up my leg. I was miserable.
I tried to hide the pain, but my Dad saw me limping around and came over to find out what was wrong. I told him what happened in the barn two days before, and he immediately put me in the car and hurried to the hospital in Panguitch. When we got there, the doctor took one look at my foot and leg and said: “It looks like tetanus. You are lucky your Dad brought you in when he did. Any longer and this would have been really, really bad.”
The doctor disappeared for a moment and then returned with the biggest needle and syringe I had ever seen. He shot a large amount of penicillin into my left arm; it really hurt. My arm went stiff and I couldn’t lift it without pain for two weeks. But that’s what it took to kill the poison. And it worked.
When I walked into that hospital, there was poison in my foot and leg, poison that had begun to spread. If I had waited a few hours longer, my life would have been in danger. But the penicillin attacked the poisonous bacteria and worked with my own immune system to rid my body of that terrible threat.
When physical poisons enter the body, they disrupt the body’s systems and organs and can cause illness and even death.
There are also spiritual poisons that disrupt our capacity to discern spiritual feelings and impressions. In their most advanced and virulent forms, spiritual poisons cause the afflicted to “die as to things pertaining unto righteousness.”1
There are many kinds of spiritual poisons. Today, I would like to talk about a spiritual poison that hardens the heart and deadens the soul. I speak today of the spirit of entitlement.
Four years ago Elder David A. Bednar stood at this pulpit and warned us about the spirit of entitlement at BYU-Idaho and gave us a powerful promise:
In the authority of the holy Apostleship, I now raise a voice of warning and I make a solemn promise. If the day ever were to come that intellectual arrogance, a lack of appreciation, and a spirit of demanding entitlement take root on this campus—among the students, the faculty, the employees, the administration, or within the community of Rexburg—then in that day the Spirit of Ricks will be well on the way to being extinguished—and the heavenly influence and blessings that have prospered this institution and the people associated with it will be withdrawn. Conversely, as long as intellectual modesty, humility, gratitude, obedience, and frugality continue to characterize those who learn and serve at Brigham Young University-Idaho, then this university will shine forth ever brighter as a beacon of righteousness and of inspired educational innovation.2
Brothers and sisters, I know that our student body is full of young people who are humble and faithful and grateful to be here. I know that our faculty and staff are full of men and women who love the Lord and have consecrated their lives to His work. But we live in a society awash in the poisonous spirit of entitlement. All of us need to be aware of, prepared for, and protected against the awful effects of this deadly poison. As I speak today, please keep in mind my experience with the pitchfork. There are many parallels between the poison that infected my leg and the spiritual poison that endangers our souls.
The Poison of the Spirit of Entitlement
If you and I have the spirit of entitlement, it means we have an attitude and belief that the world owes us what we want. Like Laman and Lemuel, some who harbor the spirit of entitlement believe they have been shortchanged in life or aggrieved in some way and that they deserve more than they are getting. Often those who succumb to the spirit of entitlement feel superior to those around them, or believe certain rules should not apply to them, or that they should not be required to do what everyone else has to do. They believe they are entitled to special treatment and special privileges. They want something for nothing.
The spirit of entitlement has a history that goes back to the War in Heaven. Satan was full of pride and the spirit of entitlement when he rebelled and fought against the Father and the Son. He said to God, “I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.”3 Jesus, in contrast, said simply, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.”4
It is the law of heaven that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”5 But the blessing comes in God’s “own time, and in his own way.”6 Not only was Satan’s proposal contrary to God’s law and plan, but he demanded the blessing of God’s honor. Where Jesus was humble and submissive to the Father’s will, Satan was proud and entitled. Satan embraced the demanding spirit of entitlement in the pre-mortal realm and was “cast down.”7 Now he seeks to infect us with its deadly poison.
That infection often begins with small and simple feelings we might each encounter under certain circumstances; for example, a brother who was absent for several classes in the semester but claimed he should be treated differently because he was the head of a campus organization; or a sister who felt she had a right to an A in a class just because she had turned in all the assignments; or a brother who believed he had a right to park next to every classroom building.
Like the poison that was in my leg, if we do not recognize these feelings early and stop their effects, the spirit of entitlement can be deadly.
The spirit of entitlement is a poison that works on the spiritual heart. Our heart contains our deepest desires and commitments and our character and our will. It is to and in our heart that the Lord communicates spiritual truth and divine guidance.
Think of your spiritual heart full of receptors and sensors tuned to the Holy Ghost with capacity to receive the gifts of the Spirit. Imagine that righteous desires and the doctrines of salvation have found a place in your heart. Now think of the poison of the spirit of entitlement seeping into your heart, working its way into those delicate and soft receptors and sensors. Think of the poison twisting and shrinking your righteous desires.
Can you see in your mind’s eye the poison wounding and scarring your heart, making it tough and insensitive? This is what the prophets call a hard heart. As our hearts harden, the spirit of entitlement gives license to the desires of the natural man. It rationalizes sin and opens up a place in our heart for unrighteousness. For example, if the spirit of entitlement leads us to believe that we have already put in more than our fair share of service, we may decide to shirk our responsibility to home teach or visit teach. Or, we may justify plagiarizing a paper with the thought that we simply are getting what is our due.
When the spirit of entitlement gets into our hearts, we become overly concerned with measures of material success and preoccupied with indicators of rank and privilege. Greed creeps in, and we develop an attitude that we deserve to have our worldly wants and the desires of the natural man satisfied.
As Elder Dallin H. Oaks has warned:
The ancient evil of greed shows its face in the assertion of entitlement: I am entitled to this or that because of who I am—a son or a daughter, a citizen, a victim, or a member of some other group. Entitlement is generally selfish. It demands much, and it gives little or nothing.8
The scriptures warn us repeatedly that the spirit of entitlement leads us to anger and to fight against God and His eternal plan. In the Old Testament, for example, we have the story of Naaman, the Syrian captain who was afflicted with leprosy. He came to Elisha the prophet to be healed, but he came with a spirit of entitlement.
So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.
And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.9
The spirit of entitlement blinded Naaman. Believing that he was entitled to privileged treatment and a more noble remedy, he became angry when Elisha did not meet him. Because of his anger, he almost lost the opportunity to be healed. Fortunately, his servants persuaded him to humble himself and go to the Jordan. He went and was healed. When a humbled, grateful Naaman returned to Elisha, the prophet met him and blessed him. Naaman not only was healed of the leprosy, but his heart was healed as well.
Sometimes we may feel and act like Naaman before he was healed. We may feel entitled to more than we are getting or to special treatment, and we may bristle at people who don’t give us what we want. Our hearts may grow hard, and we may chafe at requirements and harbor feelings of rebellion against authority, even against God.
When this happens, we are on our way to becoming like the people the Lord described in the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants:
They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god.”10
Brothers and sisters, this is what the spirit of entitlement is and what it does. It separates us from God and makes us forget the Savior and our dependence on His mercy and grace. It is a deadly spiritual poison. But we can be like Naaman after he washed himself in the Jordan seven times. If we will turn to God, humble ourselves, and repent, the Lord Jesus Christ will take away the poison and heal and change our hearts.
Like physical pain and swelling, there are warning signs of the spirit of entitlement. And so, we need to search our hearts to see if we find any sign of the spirit of entitlement there. Here are some questions that may help in the search:
Are you overly critical of others? Do you look down on others?
Is the word “deserve” used frequently in your vocabulary—as in “I deserve” or “I don’t deserve” this or that?
Do you care too much about indicators of status and rank?
If you are not recognized, or accorded a privilege, or blessed immediately after doing something good —do you hear a voice inside saying “What about me?” or “That is not fair”?
Do you ever seek special treatment for yourself? Does it happen often?
The answers to these questions could be early warning signs that the spirit of entitlement is at work. If you or I ever feel these things or hear these things in our minds, we should not be like the little boy with the pitchfork wound in his foot. We should not foolishly wait for the poison to work. We should act in faith in Christ and repent—turn away from the spirit of entitlement and turn to the healing, redeeming power of the Lord.
The Healing Power of Christ
The process of healing and redemption is described in Matthew, chapter 11, verses 28-30:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.11
I love the image of the yoke. We come to Him and put our burdened hearts in His hands. We confess our sins and our weaknesses and seek His forgiveness and His healing power. He offers us His yoke—His name, His covenants, and His will. We take His yoke upon us and learn of Him by honoring His holy name, keeping His covenants, and doing His will. We stay yoked to Him by surrendering our hearts and submitting to His will through all the trials and tests of mortal probation.
When we come to the Savior, repent of our sins, and take upon us His yoke, we open our hearts to the sanctifying, healing power of the Holy Ghost. The poison stops and the change and healing starts when we give our hearts to the Lord. The change we need may be difficult. It may be like the medicine in my arm; it may hurt. It may take time. We may need to forsake sin and overcome addiction. We may need new attitudes. We may need new capacity for patience and kindness. But His promises are sure: if we stay yoked to Him, He will change our hearts, we will find “rest [to our] souls,”12 and He will protect us from the spirit of entitlement.
Gratitude: The Great Protection Against the Spirit of Entitlement
Elder Neal A. Maxwell has given us a key to obtaining that divine protection:
The lowly do not make high demands of life, though they have a high desire to serve. They are not drenched in an exaggerated sense of entitlement, but instead are drenched in gratitude over the marvelous basic blessings they have even in the midst of the disappointments of the day.”13
Brothers and sisters, gratitude is the great antidote, the great protection against the spirit of entitlement. What we need is deep gratitude for the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to be drenched in gratitude for Him so that we “confess . . . his hand in all things”14 and “live in thanksgiving daily for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon [us].” 15
I would like to close by suggesting three things we can do to engender a spirit of gratitude in our lives: pray with real intent, partake of the sacrament with our hearts and minds focused on the Savior, and worship in the temple with thanksgiving. These are gifts from the Savior. He has created them for us and taught us how to use them. They are opportunities to help us always remember Him and express our love and gratitude for Him.
When we humbly kneel in prayer, we approach the Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, totally dependent on the Savior’s merits, mercy, and grace. Prayer is an opportunity to remember what the Savior has done for us and to thank our Heavenly Father for specific blessings we have received. Prayer is also an opportunity to ask the Father to bless us with the spirit of gratitude. If we remember our Redeemer and clearly express our love and appreciation for Him in our prayers, feelings of gratitude will well up in us through the power of the Holy Ghost. When we pray in this way, everything we say in our prayers, including our humble petitions to the Throne of Grace, will be tinged with gratitude. That will not happen if our prayers are casual or routine. But if we pray morning and night in humility and faith with real intent, God will answer our prayers and the spirit of gratitude will grow in us through our prayers.
2. The Sacrament
Each Sunday when we take the sacrament bread and water, we have the opportunity to remember the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is a time to remember Him, to witness our willingness to take His name upon us, and to renew the covenants we have made with Him and with our Father in Heaven. It is a time to feel gratitude for the Atonement, its power in our lives, and the blessings and strength that are in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we partake of the sacrament with our hearts and minds focused on the Savior, the Spirit will “tell [us] in [our hearts]” 16 what the Lord wants us to do. As we listen and commit to act, the yoke of Christ will feel good to us, and we will rejoice in gratitude for the mercy and grace of the Savior. The sacrament is a time for the spirit of gratitude to grow.
3. The Temple
The temple is the house of the Lord. When we enter the temple, we enter into the presence of the Lord. The temple experience is both inspiring and humbling. We feel the majesty and power of God, and we receive supernal blessings. And we see and feel through the power of the Spirit that all of these things come to us because of the sacrifice of the Son of God.
Of temples, President Gordon B. Hinckley declared,
“These unique and wonderful buildings, and the ordinances administered therein, represent the ultimate in our worship.”17
Every ordinance, every covenant we make in the temple is an opportunity to express our love and reverence for the Father and the Son and our devotion and allegiance to Them. If we faithfully and consistently worship in the temple, the temple truly will be “a place of thanksgiving” 18 as the Lord commanded. He will bless us with His protection and power, and our gratitude for Him and His atoning sacrifice will grow.
If we pursue these three sacred opportunities with full purpose of heart, we will have the spirit of gratitude in our lives and we will be protected from the spirit of entitlement. We will feel like and be like the people at the temple at Bountiful when the Savior appeared to them. For just a moment, imagine what that scene must have been like. Imagine Jesus descending with power and glory, declaring His divine identity as the Savior and Redeemer. Imagine coming unto Him one-by-one and feeling His hands, His side, and His feet. Now listen carefully to what happened next:
And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:
Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.19
Later after He had taught them, Jesus invited all those “afflicted in any manner” 20 to come to Him. And they came and “he did heal them every one.”21 Then the scripture says:
And they did all, both they who had been healed and they who were whole, bow down at his feet, and did worship him . . . .22
Brothers and sisters, I pray this will be our personal experience. It is my hope that in our prayers, in the sacrament, and in the house of the Lord, we, too, will feel that same joyous gratitude for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Such a spirit of gratitude will be a great blessing to each one of us. Everything about our lives will be better. There will be more joy, happiness, and peace in our families, in our work, in our studies, and in our relationships. And we will keep the spirit of entitlement and its deadly poison out of our lives and out of this university.
In the words of Elder Bednar, we will learn and serve together with a spirit of “modesty, humility, gratitude, obedience, and frugality” 23 and “this university will shine forth ever brighter as a beacon of righteousness and of inspired educational innovation.” 24
And so, brothers and sisters, remember the little boy and the pitchfork; and don’t let the spirit of entitlement into your heart. Come unto Christ. He is the Living Son of the Living God. I bear witness of Him. He is the Savior and Redeemer. I know from my own experience of His redeeming love and healing power. I am grateful for Him. I pray that you will give your heart to Him, take His yoke upon you, and “live in thanksgiving daily.” 25 In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Alma 12:16
2 Elder David A. Bednar, “The Spirit and Purposes of Gathering,” Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional
October 31, 2006
3 Moses 4:1
4 Moses 4:2
5 D&C 130:21
6 D&C 88:68
7 Moses 4:3
8 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Unselfish Service,” Ensign, May 2009
9 2 Kings 5:9-11
10 D&C 1:16
11 Matt 11:28-30
12 Matt 11:29
13 Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly, 101.
14 D&C 59:21
15 Alma 34:38
16 D&C 8:2
17 President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of Missions, Temples, and Stewardship,” Ensign, Nov 1995, p 53
18 D&C 97:13
19 3 Nephi 11:16, 17
20 3 Nephi 17:7
21 3 Nephi 17:9
22 3 Nephi 17:10
23 Elder David A. Bednar, “The Spirit and Purposes of Gathering,” Brigham Young University–Idaho Devotional