Contributing to a greater cause is fulfilling, but it requires us to set aside our ego, be modest in our expectations, and recognize the contributions of others.
Alma was so committed to bring others to Christ that he wrote, “O that I were an angel!” He wanted to “speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth.” The overall objective was good, but the desire for a bigger, more visible pulpit was not. “I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me,” he said. God gives everyone many opportunities to accept Him. He allows us to participate in that process, including by extending invitations to others. When those invitations aren’t well-received, we might wish we were more persuasive. But the reality is that we are just playing a small role in a very large work. It is God’s work, and we can be grateful that we can play a role in it. “Seeing that I know these things,” Alma concluded, “why should I desire more than to perform the work to which I have been called?” (Alma 29:1-6).
When Joseph Smith was called to translate the Book of Mormon, that was his only calling. The Lord said to him:
And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.Doctrine and Covenants 5:4
Subsequently, he was given many other assignments, including to organize the church shortly after the Book of Mormon was published. But while he was translating, that was his only assignment, and he needed to focus on it in order to complete it successfully.
Oliver Cowdery had other roles to fulfill. His communication skills, which the Lord called “the gift of Aaron,” enabled him to be an effective scribe for Joseph Smith. The Lord warned him not to take this gift and this responsibility for granted: “Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:6-10).
After the publication of the Book of Mormon, Oliver was instructed to build up the Savior’s church, “[relying] upon the things which are written” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:3-5). In response to this assignment, Oliver wrote a document which he called “Articles of the Church of Christ.” The document was intended to function as a handbook for the new church, which had yet to be established, and it drew heavily on texts taken from the Book of Mormon. (See Jeffrey G. Cannon, “Build Up My Church,” Revelations in Context on churchofjesuschrist.org.)
Oliver’s articles were subsequently superseded by a revelation received by Joseph Smith, called “Articles and Covenants,” which later evolved into Doctrine and Covenants 20. Some of the content in Oliver’s original document was included in the new revelation, and many additional details were added. Oliver had a hard time accepting this new document at first. Nevertheless, he wrote the revelation as dictated by the prophet, voted to sustain it in the first church conference in June 1830, signed his name to the document as Second Elder of the Church, and then read the document to the congregation at the September 1830 conference. (See Scott H. Faulring, “An Examination of the 1829 ‘Articles of the Church of Christ’ in Relation to Section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants,” BYU Studies Quarterly 43:4.) Oliver’s role in building up the church was important, but it was only part of the whole.
On one occasion when we were living in Boston, I came out of a church meeting feeling inspired and enthusiastic about contributing to the work of the Lord. Approaching our stake president, I said, “I’m ready to get to work. Give me an assignment!” With a smile, he replied, “I already have.” His words immediately brought me back down to earth. Like Alma, I realized that I needed to channel my energy to accomplish the work I had already been given to do.
Today, I will do “the work to which I have been called.” I will focus on the assignments I have been given and the work which I must do today. However enthusiastic I may be about outcomes, I will not be distracted by activities which are not part of my current responsibilities. I will remember that, even though my contributions may be small, they are a part of a work greater than myself.