The Purpose of Life

June 7, 1981

Speech link copied

Despite the fact that we are living in a troublesome period, we are living in the dispensation of the fullness of times, a most wonderful period in the history of the world—yes, in a new era of growth and development. In my judgment, opportunities today, for young and old, exceed those of any other age. We should be truly grateful to live at this particular time when the Spirit of the Lord is being poured out upon the people of the earth so abundantly.

A universal question in the hearts and minds of men and women in all parts of the world is, What is the purpose of life?

The restored gospel of Jesus Christ answers the questions, Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after this life? With this knowledge, we are in a preferred position to accomplish worthwhile objectives through short-range and long-range goals.

I would like to discuss with you the purpose of life, how each of us is endowed with talents, and how, through proper work habits, being honest and patient, each can accomplish worthwhile objectives.

It is not unusual to hear a religious leader, a philosopher, or a poet refer to mortal beings as having a divine spark within them. Such characterizations imply that we possess great abilities and potentialities.

What does it mean to have a divine spark within you? Presumably it means that you have a certain relationship with God. From time to time, throughout the history of the world, God has made known to us what this relationship is.

The scriptures teach that God is a personal being in whose image we were created and that God the Father is the literal Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the Father of the spirits of all of us. Because of this relationship, we inherit divine attributes. This thought was beautifully stated when Job of old explained that: “There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). Further, the apostle John testified that Jesus was “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). In this dispensation, President Joseph F. Smith bore witness to this same truth that the light of Christ, the Spirit of truth, lighteth everyone who is born into the world (see Gospel Doctrine, p. 67–68).

This simple doctrine as taught by Christ gave way to human theories and dogmas throughout the hundreds of years of apostasy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims to the world that the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness and simplicity has been restored through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

We assert that God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and that Christ’s church has been reestablished on the earth. Thus, through modern revelation, God’s relationship to his children has again been clarified. I ask you to seriously consider the fact that the life of your earthly body is your spirit, and that God the Eternal Father is the Father of your spirit.

With this relationship we are thus blessed with many talents and possess great potentialities. The Savior set our greatest goal for us when he said: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

To become perfect requires growth and development, and as we contemplate perfection, we recognize that growth is the greatest phenomenon of this existence.

The Church teaches the value and possibility of eternal progression. We progressed in the preexistence, and we have the opportunity to progress in this estate and throughout all eternity.

During his earthly ministry, the Savior gave a beautiful parable dealing with the requirement that we develop the talents with which we are endowed.

The talent was an ancient weight and money unit. The dictionary defines talent as “the abilities, powers, and gifts bestowed upon a person; natural endowments, thought of as a divine trust; a natural capability or gift.”

The parable of the entrusted talents told of a man who was about to leave on a long trip, and who therefore called his servants together and gave them his goods. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one. To each man he gave according to his ability.

While the master was away, the one who received five talents put them to use and made five more talents, the man who received two talents put them to use and made two more, but the one who received one talent hid it in the ground.

After a period of time, the master returned and asked for an accounting. Unto each of the servants who had doubled his talents the master said:

Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. [Matthew 25:23]

The master called the servant who hid his talent and did not multiply it a slothful servant and said that he would take the one talent from him and give it to the servant who had ten talents.

From the man endowed with many talents, more was expected than from the men with lesser talents, yet all were expected to multiply such talents as they were given. Good use of what he was given by the man given one talent was just as important and necessary as by the men given two and five talents.

In this dispensation, the Lord has been equally direct in his charge to his children. He has told us that he has given us many things “for the benefit of the Church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent, that every man may gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold (D&C 82:18). He has admonished us that “of him unto whom much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3).

And then he also said:

But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of men. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them.

And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have. [D&C 60:2–3]

And then we are charged:

Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known. [D&C 60:13]

These scriptures clearly emphasize our obligations to use and develop the gifts and talents we have been blessed with—let us say, to develop the spark of divinity that is within us. Human experience confirms the soundness of this doctrine.

How to Develop Talents

Each of us then should be concerned about how best to develop our gifts and our talents. First, we should recognize our talents and make up our minds to pay the price necessary to develop them. The price to be paid in developing talents includes, among other things, faith, work, study, persistence, and patience.

In developing faith, we must never overlook the fact that we are spirit children of God the Eternal Father, and that our Father in Heaven will assist us in developing our talents as we do our part. One way in which he will assist us is to open up opportunities for us to use our talents.

Fear—A Negative Influence

Some recognize their talents, but we are told they do not use them because of the fear of men. Fear destroys faith and deprives us of many blessings. This fact was clearly brought out in a revelation when the Lord said:

Ye endeavored to believe that ye should receive the blessing which was offered unto you; but behold, verily I say unto you there were fears in your hearts, and verily this is the reason that ye did not receive.[D&C 67:3]

We must, therefore, overcome fear. The Lord has told us that if we are prepared we shall not fear (see D&C 38:30).


Preparation involves study, and we are counseled to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118). Eternal progress involves continual study. Increased learning gives us confidence, confidence engenders faith, and faith banishes fear.

The Lord has told us that “the glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36), and that “it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6).


Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.

And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. [D&C 130:18–19]

An American businessmen had this to say about his study of the Bible:

What most impresses me, as I look backward, is the immense application I have made of Bible truths in my daily life. From the lack of education, I relied on the Bible as my textbook, in every conceivable problem that arose. Only when I deviated from this teaching did I fail.

He who does not live daily in its guidance is foolish, for he is rejecting the greatest source of personal profit that exists in the world. The Bible is the greatest how-to-do-it book ever compiled, and it covers every fundamental that anyone really needs to know.

Let us be honest with ourselves and get into the habit of reading and studying the Bible and the other standard works of the Church as a guide to a rich and rewarding life.

Use Talents

We should also appreciate that talents are developed by use, and they will not grow and multiply unless they are used. This principle was clearly taught in the Savior’s parables. As we develop our talents, we should develop the spirit of sharing or giving, not only with those who are closest to us, but with all of God’s children. Remember the words of King Benjamin:

When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God. [Mosiah 2:17]

One of the most important and distinguishing features of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that its affairs are administered by lay members of the Church rather than by a paid clergy. Talents may be developed in many areas of teaching, speaking, missionary work, music, drama, dancing, athletics of many kinds, Scout work, genealogical and temple work, welfare programs, compassionate service, and many other fields that might be mentioned—all contributing to the development of talents and leadership.

May I encourage you, therefore, to accept every opportunity presented to you to serve with enthusiasm, not as a burden, but as a great blessing. Organize your time by putting first things first, and perform each assignment well. As you do so, the divine spark within you will be magnified, and your talents will be increased.


Utah is known as the Beehive State. The early settlers, under the leadership of Brigham Young, named this area “Deseret,” meaning honey bee. Therefore, the state motto is “Industry.” Each of us is entitled to immortality through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, but in order to enjoy eternal life, or exaltation in the celestial kingdom, we must work out our salvation day by day.

A wise man said: “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come, but today is here.” This same impressive theme is woven into our beautiful hymn entitled “Today While the Sun Shines”:

Today, while the sun shines, work with a will;

Today all your duties with patience fulfill; . . .

Today, today, work while you may.

There is no tomorrow, but only today.

[Evans Stephens, Hymns, no. 216]

When Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden, he was told,

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken. [Genesis 3:19]

What a marvelous philosophy—the gospel of work, combined with the challenge to perform willingly today’s work today! President McKay said: “Let us . . . realize that the privilege to work is a gift, that thepower to work is a blessing, that the love to work is success.” (CR, October 1909, p. 94). How true this is! Yet today, as in earlier times, many misguided individuals embrace the philosophy of idleness, feeling that the world owes them a living. Many have a desire to destroy the establishment that has been built upon productive effort.

In this dispensation, the Lord has many times confirmed the eternal principle of work. We have been told:

The idler shall not have place in the church, except he repent and mend his ways. [D&C 75:29]


He that is idle shall not eat the bread or wear the garments of the laborer. [D&C 42:42]

Ever since its organization, the Church has encouraged its members to establish and maintain their economic independence. It has encouraged thrift and fostered the establishment of employment-creating industries.

At the time the present welfare program of the Church was established, the First Presidency explained that the primary purpose was to

set up . . . a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift, and self-respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership. [Heber J. Grant, CR, October 1936, p. 3]

These are eternal principles and are as applicable to us today as they were when they were given. They do not mean that we do not recognize the need for change. Nothing is static! All things change! We accept the law of change; this is the law of progression.

The gospel of work brings change and progression. The Savior continually emphasized the doctrine of unselfishness and sacrifice, and it is apparent that there is no real success or happiness in being self-centered and selfish.

Let me suggest, therefore, the advisability of engaging in some work that involves service to our fellowmen and some sacrifice of our time, our talents, and our means. In this type of work one can easily develop a love of work as well as a love of people. Success in these areas almost always manifests itself in growth and change in the lives of all the persons involved.

Coupled with worthwhile objectives, we must learn to work compatibly with people. Some seem to be born with this talent, and others have to acquire it. Fortunately, this love of people and work can be developed.

Another essential factor to consider at this point is loyalty. Being loyal to an employer or to a cause for which one is working is a key step in developing a love of work and in achieving success. A great merchandiser once said: “We would rather have one man or woman working with us than three merely working for us.”

The desire for superior achievement comes from our Heavenly Father. However, too many people are imbued with the spirit of “just getting by.” This spirit comes from the evil one. Let us avoid the habit of “just getting by” as it will rob us of the choicest rewards. Whether our work is mainly mental or physical or a combination of both, we should learn to do it well.

In searching for ways to develop a love of work, we must not overlook the matter of relaxation. Although work is absolutely essential to achievement, relaxation and proper rest are likewise necessary. The power to pace oneself is an important factor in developing a love of work. The Lord expects each of us to work out a proper balance between work and relaxation, as well as the physical and spiritual aspects of life.

It will be to our eternal advantage to recognize that work is the secret of growth, progress, and happiness in both temporal and spiritual fields. Good work habits include such qualities as dependability, loyalty to employer, willingness to go the extra mile, and he ability to find happiness and purpose in your work.

I encourage you to set worthwhile and realistic objectives and to be satisfied only with superior achievement.

The philosophy of work, of going the extra mile, is a sound philosophy. It is a vital part of the gospel of Jesus Christ which will lead us to eternal life. Accept every opportunity to serve in building the kingdom of God, and I bear you my witness that as you do your part, the Lord will make you equal to every task that you are called upon to perform.


The story of most men and women who obtain a degree of greatness and achievement is generally the story of a person’s overcoming handicaps. It appears that there are some lessons in life that can be learned only through the overcoming of obstacles.

I am told that over the entrance to a great European university campus there is an inscription that reads:

Nothing worthwhile ever comes to a person except by the anguish of his soul, and the sweat of his brow.

Although it is not customary for one to seek out difficult or unpleasant experiences, it is true that the trials and tribulations of life which stand in the way of our growth and development become stepping stones by which we climb to great heights, providing, of course, that we do not permit them to destroy us.

Two of the most interesting and trying experiences of this dispensation were those of Zion’s Camp and Liberty Jail, both of which not only influenced the lives of great men but also greatly affected the history of the Church.

Zion’s Camp

When the members of the Church in Missouri were being persecuted, the Prophet Joseph Smith made their tribulation a matter of prayer and received a revelation on 24 February 1834. The Lord instructed the prophet to assemble at least 100 young men and middle-aged men and go to the land of Zion or Missouri (see D&C 103:19–20, 34).

Zion’s Camp, a group of approximately 150 men, gathered at Kirtland, Ohio, in the spring of 1834 and marched to western Missouri. By the time they reached Missouri, the camp had increased to approximately 200 men.

The purpose of the trek was to join the Saints in Missouri, to buy lands in Jackson County and surrounding counties, and to retrieve those lands taken by mobs who had dispossessed the Missouri Saints of considerable portions of their property.

When they reached Missouri, after extensive negotiations with Governor Dunklin failed to produce desired results, it was felt advisable to disband Zion’s Camp and await some future opportunity for the redemption of Zion.

Most of those who had formed Zion’s Camp returned to Kirtland which was, at that time, the center of ecclesiastical activity.

The “journey to Zion’s Camp” was regarded by many as an unprofitable and unsuccessful episode. A brother in Kirtland who did not go with the camp, meeting Brigham Young on his return, said to him: “Well, what did you gain on this useless journey to Missouri with Joseph Smith?”

“All we went for!” replied Brigham Young. “I would not exchange the experience I gained on the expedition for all the wealth in Geauga County.”

The journey covered more than 1,000 miles, and there were dissentions from within and hostile demonstrations from without. There were hardships and disappointments, but these experiences had real value because from this group many became the leaders in the exodus of 12,000 people from Missouri to Nauvoo, and then later many became leaders in the great western exodus from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley.

In February 1835, the brethren who had accompanied the Prophet Joseph to Missouri as members of Zion’s Camp were called together, and from their numbers the Quorum of the Twelve and the Seventies were chosen. The Prophet explained that the trials and tribulations endured by the members of Zion’s Camp were not in vain, and it was the will of God

that those who went to Zion, with a determination to lay down their lives, if necessary, should be ordained to the ministry, and go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time. [HC 2:182]

In the light of these events, it is evident that Zion’s Camp experiences were of immense value both to the individuals involved and to the Church.

Liberty Jail

One of the darkest periods in the history of the Church was the winter of 1838–39. The Saints had been persecuted, robbed, and murdered. The Prophet and his associates had been betrayed and were imprisoned in Liberty Jail. Dissention and apostasy were rampant, and the Church appeared to be faced with disintegration and ruin. But emerging from this dark period were the men who led the Church through trying experiences as well as amazing growth and development. But this was not all: It was during these dark days that the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, while in Liberty Jail, a great revelation. Liberty Jail for a time became a center of instruction.

Elder B. H. Roberts, in the Comprehensive History of the Church, had this to say:

The eyes of the saints were turned to it [Liberty Jail] as the place whence would come encouragement, counsel—the word of the Lord. It was more temple than prison, so long as the Prophet was there. It was a place of meditation and prayer. A temple, first of all, is a place of prayer; and prayer is communion with God. It is the “infinite in man seeking the infinite in God.” Where they find each other, there is holy sanctuary—a temple. Joseph Smith sought God in this rude prison, and found him. Out of the midst of his tribulations he called upon God in passionate earnestness. [HC, 1:526]

The answer came as God replied:

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high. [D&C 121:7–8; emphasis added]

The Prophet Joseph Smith was told that if great tribulation should beset him and even if

the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou great than he? [D&C 122:7–8]

We know that one of the important purposes of this life is to be proved, tried, and tested. Both the Zion’s Camp and Liberty Jail experiences truly constituted a refiner’s fire for those who participated in them, and both emphasize the necessity of experiencing difficult and complex situations in life in order to develop properly and to draw close to our Heavenly Father. These experiences certainly give us a better understanding and appreciation of the greatness of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the early leaders of the Church.

But what can we learn from the Zion’s Camp and Liberty Jail experiences that will be helpful to us? Certainly two impressive truths are apparent: First, it is important to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and loyalty to our leaders and to the Church; second, we must endure to the end, regardless of how many difficulties we have to surmount.


The apostle Paul, in writing to the Roman Saints, said:

We glory in tribulation . . . knowing that tribulation worketh patience;

And patience, experience, and experience, hope. [Romans 5:3–4]

In 1828, the Lord, in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, said:

Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength. [D&C 10:4]

By exercising patience, we will not be inclined to run faster or labor more than our strength justifies. In this regard, an adage which has been particularly helpful and inspirational to me is: “Survey large fields, but cultivate small ones.” Often, we want to cultivate large fields before we are properly prepared and equipped to do so. It is not unusual for one to develop the idea that the grass on the other side of the fence is greener. But in every aspect of life, we should realize that a “rolling stone gathers no moss.” Assuming that “moss” in this axiom means the better things of life, patience, or staying on the job, or magnifying one’s calling, will bring these better things to us. Then to develop patience, “don’t expect too much too soon.” Make the most of what you have.

And so our trials and tribulations, as we meet them with patience, give us valuable experience and prepare us for challenges that lie ahead. I encourage you to develop patience in your daily lives and to enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishment, free from many of the customary pressures and strains incident to modern living.

We should exert our best efforts to accomplish our righteous objectives, utilizing every legitimate means but not permitting ourselves to commit a wrong in our quest for the right. It is better to lose than to win an unjust or dishonest cause. Each of us is endowed with the right to choose good or evil, and we should recognize that we do not succeed, neither are we destroyed by other people or by conditions, but rather by our own decisions.

Purpose of Life

What, then is the purpose of life? To be proved, to grow, to develop in accordance with the principles of the gospel, and to prepare ourselves for the next estate. Each of us has the capacity to achieve worthwhile objectives, and we should never forget that we are actually spirit children of our Father in Heaven and that every person is given a gift by the Spirit of God (see D&C 46:11).

Organize your time by putting first things first, and perform each assignment well. By so doing, you will be magnified, and your talents will be increased as the Lord has said, “Yea, even an hundred fold” (D&C 82:18). The Lord has indicated that it is his work and glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (see Moses 1:39). What a great work! And we can help him by living in accordance with gospel principles.

I am grateful that my spirit has been reserved to come to earth in this, the dispensation of the fullness of times. I bear my witness that God lives; that Jesus is the Christ, our Redeemer and Savior; and that Joseph Smith was, and is, one of the greatest prophets of all time. The Holy Ghost has borne witness to me that the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith restored the gospel in its fullness, restored the power to act in the name of God, and reestablished his church on the earth. As a result, we have today a great prophet at the head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, our beloved Spencer W. Kimball. I, like you, love and sustain our great prophet and leader.

Brigham Young once said:

You cannot find a compass on earth that points so directly, as the Gospel plan of salvation. It has a place for everything, and puts everything in its place. [JD 3:96]

How true this is! The gospel explains the purpose of life. Living the gospel principles brings peace, happiness, joy, contentment, growth, and development. I bear you this witness in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

© Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Franklin D. Richards

Franklin D. Richards was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this fireside address was given at Brigham Young University on 7 June 1981.