When the prophet Alma heard that that group of people called the Zoramites were “perverting the ways of the Lord,” he assembled a team of missionaries to visit them and preach the gospel. When they arrived, their first stop was a worship service. Alma was horrified at what he saw: rich people gathering to congratulate themselves on their good fortune at the expense of the poor.
The prayer which they recited, one by one, on a tall stand in the middle of their house of worship, is full of thanksgiving. Here is part of that prayer:
thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen (Alma 31:17-18).
This prayer of thanks served one purpose: to perpetuate the status quo. It allowed the elite to congratulate themselves on their good fortune while justifying their lack of care for those less fortunate than themselves:
Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner (Alma 31:23).
Alma was horrified by this inappropriate expression of gratitude. After observing this same prayer offered repetitively, Alma offered his own prayer, pleading on behalf of these misguided people:
Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world.
Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish….
O Lord God, how long wilt thou suffer that such wickedness and infidelity shall be among this people? O Lord, wilt thou give me strength, that I may bear with mine infirmities. For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people doth pain my soul (Alma 31:27-28, 30).
Alma was so bothered by this that he later warned his son Shiblon against expressing gratitude in this way. Speaking privately to Shiblon after the mission was over, Alma said:
Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom.
Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times (Alma 38:13-14).
In contrast, consider the words of gratitude offered just a few years earlier by the king of the Lamanites, as he challenged his people to make a covenant of pacifism:
I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren, the Nephites, unto us to preach unto us, and to convince us of the traditions of our wicked fathers.
And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.
And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.
And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son (Alma 24:7-10).
From these two stories, I have learned the following two principles about proper expressions of gratitude:
- True gratitude is humble. It assumes that gifts are undeserved.
- True gratitude leads to commitment and repentance, not complacency and continuation of the status quo.
Today, I will strive to follow the example of the king of the Lamanites as I express gratitude to God. I will recognize God’s kindness in bestowing undeserved blessings upon me and those I love, and I will express gratitude in a way that leads to accountability and action, not to smugness and stasis.