What Does It Mean to Serve Others “According to Their Wants?”

After King Benjamin’s people received a forgiveness of their sins, he taught them what they should do to retain that forgiveness:

I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants (Mosiah 4:26).

About 20 years earlier, when Alma organized the church at the waters of Mormon, he taught the people to share with one another.

And they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants (Mosiah 18:29).

Years later, when the converts among the Zoramites were forced to leave their homes, the people of Ammon in Jershon took them in. They ignored the threats from the refugees’ attackers,

…and they did nourish them, and did clothe them, and did give unto them lands for their inheritance; and they did administer unto them according to their wants (Alma 35:9).

The noun “want” in English has two meanings:

  1. A lack or deficiency
  2. A desire

(Oxford English Dictionary)

These disciples of Christ saw a deficiency and provided what was needed. Whether the need was for food, clothing, medical aid, or companionship, they were there to help. The assistance they provided was both spiritual and temporal: not just things, but also emotional support, listening, counseling, encouraging, and uplifting.

I usually read the word “wants” in these passages to mean “needs.” But one of the three passages speaks of both “needs” and “wants.” Do the recipient’s desires also play a role in determining the assistance we provide?

I love the following guidance from President Russell M. Nelson:

Everyone has pain somewhere, and our challenge is to find out where the pain is. Usually it’s not physical pain but comes in the stress of living. The patient is always the expert. This is what we try to teach the missionaries. When you meet someone, find out how we can help them. The Church literally has the capacity to help people no matter what their problem is. The gospel exists to help people (quoted in Sheri Dew, Insights from a Prophet’s Life, p. 189).

Today, I will strive to understand the “wants” of the people around me. I will remember that the patient is the expert, that their perceptions and preferences matter. I will be grateful that the gospel and the Church provide me with opportunities to serve other people according to their needs and their wants.

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