There is one resource for this lesson in Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, Chapter 4. This can be found by going to the new “lds.org” then click on “Go to Classic LDS.org” (lower left corner), then click on “Gospel Library” then “Lessons” then “Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society.” The manuals are all found at the bottom of this page.
Again, the new website for the Church “lds.org” is helpful. On the first page, there is a link in the upper right-hand corner, “Search all LDS.org” where, if you type in “talent” you will find some useful resources.
We All Have Different Talents and Abilities
The first sentence in this section reads, “We all have special gifts, talents, and abilities given to us by our Heavenly Father” (p. 197). Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of the Seventies Quorum, wrote a terrific article concerning Jesus’ parable of the talents for the Ensign. In it he taught:
Every one of us has been blessed with many marvelous capabilities, and one of the great objectives of our journey through mortality is to improve upon them (Ensign, Aug. 2003, 32).
Elder Rasband, whose article is quoted above, also gave a talk at BYU-Idaho on “Increasing Talents.” In it he stated:
Each of you has been blessed with divine talents by our Father in Heaven. He is waiting for you to identify, develop and magnify those talents He has blessed you with. We must never forget or stop acknowledging that all talents and abilities come from God. Some were given before birth, while others have been acquired as we have developed. However, in both cases, they are gifts from a benevolent Heavenly Father, whose gracious blessings are also the means for improving (Church News, Jan. 29, 2001, 4).
D&C 46:8-11, 32 will also be helpful to understanding this section.
The next sentence in this paragraph reads, “When we were born, we brought these gifts, talents, and abilities with us (see chapter 2 in this book)” (p. 197). From Chapter 2 of this blog we repeat a terrific quote from Elder Joseph Fielding Smith:
The spirits of men were created with different dispositions and likes and talents. Some evidently were mechanically inclined, from them have come our inventors. Some loved music and hence they have become great musicians. We evidently brought to this world some if not all of the inclinations and talents that we had there (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:138).
In his article, Elder Rasband quotes Elder Bruce R. McConkie as declaring:
Each person in this life is endowed with those talents and capacities which his pre-earth life entitle him to receive. Some by obedience to law acquired one talent and some another (Ensign, Aug. 2003, 32).
We Should Use and Improve Our Talents
The first sentence in this section reads, “We have a responsibility to develop the talents we have been given” (p. 197).
In the Ensign article earlier discussed by Elder Rasband, he instructed:
The Lord made it clear that it is not good enough for us simply to return to Him the talents He has given us. We are to improve upon and add to our talents. He has promised that if we multiply our talents we will receive eternal joy (Ensign, Aug. 2003, 32).
In this section it states, “Sometimes we think we do not have many talents or that other people have been blessed with more abilities than we possess” (p. 197). President Heber J. Grant declared:
I believe that we can accomplish any object that we make up our minds to, and no boy or girl ought to sit down and say, because they cannot do as well as somebody else, that they will not do anything. God has given to some people ten talents; to others, he has given one; but they who improve the one talent will live to see the day when they will far outshine those who have ten talents but fail to improve them (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 36).
President Grant also had a personal experience that illustrates this idea:
President Heber J. Grant wrote about his experience in first reading the Book of Mormon:
“I can remember very distinctly when Uncle Anthony Ivins . . . said to me and to his son, Anthony C. Ivins:
“‘Heber, Anthony, have you read the Book of Mormon?'
“We answered, ‘No.’
“He said, ‘I want you to read it. I want you to pledge to me that you will not skip a word, and to the one who reads it first, I will give a pair of ten dollar buckskin gloves with beaver tops.’
“Any boy of fourteen who had a pair of those gloves thought he was ‘it.’ I remember that my mother had urged me to read systematically the Book of Mormon, but I had not done it. I determined to read the book, say, twenty-five pages a day and get the benefit of its contents. I believed its contents were true because my mother and many others had told me so; and because of the testimony of the teacher of the class that Richard W. Young and I attended, I thought that to win the gloves I would have to read the book so rapidly that I would get no benefit; and therefore decided to let Anthony win the gloves.
“I met my cousin, Anthony C., the next morning, and he asked, ‘How many pages have you read?’
“I said: ‘I have read twenty-five pages.’
“He said: ‘I have read over one hundred and fifty. I sat up until after midnight.’
“I said: ‘Good-bye gloves.’
“I went on reading twenty-five pages a day and occasionally I got so interested that I read fifty or seventy-five pages, and, lo and behold, I got through first and got the gloves. He got such a good start he did not bother to read any more until after I got through with the book” (The Presidents of the Church Institute Manual, 114-5).
In this section we also read, “Sometimes we think we do not have many talents or that other people have been blessed with more abilities than we possess” (p. 197). Concerning this, in his first talk as an apostle, Elder Quentin L. Cook taught:
A third area of distraction that can destroy joy is comparing our talents and blessings with others. The growth in our own talents is the best measure of personal progress. In recent years the concept of “personal best” has become widely accepted. This has great merit. Remember we usually judge others at their best and ourselves at our worst. In the parable of the talents, the servants who received five talents and two talents were praised by the Lord for increasing their talents and told to “enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” The servant who was rebuked was the servant who buried the talent given him. (See Matt. 25:14-30.) Comparing blessings is almost certain to drive out joy. We cannot be grateful and envious at the same time. If we truly want to have the Spirit of the Lord and experience joy and happiness, we should rejoice in our blessings and be grateful (Ensign, Nov 1996, 28).
In his talk at BYU-Idaho, Elder Rasband also explained:
Sometimes we have fear of using our talents. We use excuses such as “I know I can’t do that,” or “Someone else can do it much better than I,” or “Those listening to me, or watching me, will criticize and judge me” (Church News, January 29, 2011, 4).
A wonderful article, entitled “I don’t have any talents. I can’t play an instrument, sing, dance, or draw. And I’m not a very good student. We have lessons about how we should develop our talents, but what if you don’t have any?” and complete with answers from teenage members is found in New Era, Jan. 1996, 17.
In this section we read, “Sometimes we do not use our talents because we are afraid…” (p. 197).
This “fear” is mentioned in the parable of the talents:
…I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth… (Matthew 25:25).
A discussion about how to get help in conquering our fears may be helpful. The 3rd verse of Hymn 85 (“How Firm a Foundation”) gives wonderful ideas for this help.
In this section we read:
We should evaluate ourselves to find our strengths and abilities. Our family and friends can help us do this (p. 197).
In his talk at BYU-Idaho, Elder Rasband added:
Siblings, aunts, uncles, extended family members; we all have many opportunities to help others identify their talents… The successes in life of those we assist, sponsor, mentor and lift as they pursue their own talents can bring us great joy and satisfaction (Church News, January 29, 2011, 4).
From the wonderful suggestions in this section we read, “First, we must discover our talents (p. 197). In the Ensign article by Elder Rasband, he gave three principles concerning the wise use of talents. The first is:
Seek earnestly to discover the talents the Lord has given you. The talents God has given us first become apparent in the interests we pursue. If you are wondering about your talents, make a list of the things you like to do. Include all the activities you enjoy from different dimensions of your life—spiritual, musical, dramatic, academic, athletic, and so on. Study and ponder your patriarchal blessing for insights and inspiration. Consult family members, trusted friends, teachers, and leaders; others often can see in us what we find difficult to see in ourselves.
I remember a wonderful Primary teacher who frequently invited me to read the scriptures in front of the class. She told me what a nice reading voice I had and how well I read. What she said and the way she encouraged me helped me gain confidence and realize a talent from the Lord at an early age.
As a 19-year-old missionary, I yearned to know if I had been blessed with any helpful missionary-related talents. I felt a great desire to know how I could magnify whatever gifts I had so that I could be a more effective servant of the Lord. As I studied the scriptures and my patriarchal blessing, prayed fervently, and had various missionary experiences, several of my talents were made known to me (Ensign, Aug. 2003, 32).
Also in the first of these suggestions we read, “We should evaluate ourselves to find our strengths and abilities. Our family and friends can help us do this. We should also ask our Heavenly Father to help us learn about our talents” (p. 197-8). While the following from the life of President Heber J. Grant fits with this, it also illustrates the fact that sometimes an honest evaluation, with help from real friends, will reveal that we may not have a talent which we desire:
As with baseball and penmanship [both discussed later in this blog], Heber J. Grant was determined to learn to sing, despite the negative opinions of others. Years of practicing brought moderate success. He wrote:
“My mother tried to teach me when I was a small child to sing but failed because of my inability to carry a tune.
“Upon joining a singing class taught by Professor Charles J. Thomas, he tried and tried in vain to teach me when ten years of age to run the scale or carry a simple tune and finally gave up in despair. He said that I could never, in this world, learn to sing. Perhaps he thought I might learn the divine art in another world.
Ever since this attempt, I have frequently tried to sing when riding alone many miles from anyone who might hear me, but on such occasions could never succeed in carrying the tune of one of our familiar hymns for a single verse, and quite frequently not for a single line.
“When I was about twenty-five years of age, Professor Sims informed me that I could sing, but added, ‘I would like to be at least forty miles away while you are doing it.’. . .
“Upon my recent trip to Arizona, I asked Elders Rudger Clawson and J. Golden Kimball if they had any objections to my singing one hundred hymns that day. They took it as a joke and assured me that they would be delighted. We were on the way from Holbrook to St. Johns, a distance of about sixty miles. After I had sung about forty tunes, they assured me that if I sang the remaining sixty they would be sure to have nervous prostration. I paid no attention whatever to their appeal, but held them to their bargain and sang the full one hundred. One hundred and fifteen songs in one day, and four hundred in four days, is the largest amount of practicing I ever did (The Presidents of the Church Institute Manual, 116-7).
The next suggestion in this section is, “Second, we must be willing to spend the time and effort to develop the talent we are seeking (p. 198). The example of President Grant and learning baseball is terrific:
Throughout his life, Heber J. Grant worked diligently to improve himself, believing that “every individual can improve from day to day, from year to year, and have greater capacity to do things as the years come and the years go.” He became known for his persistence, and it was said of him that “he never criticized other men’s weaknesses but made war on his own.” He told the following story about a time in his youth when he displayed the quality of persistence:
“When I joined a base ball club, the boys of my own age, and a little older, played in the first nine, those younger than myself played in the second, and those still younger in the third, and I played with them. One of the reasons for this was that I could not throw the ball from one base to the other; another reason was that I lacked physical strength to run or bat well. When I picked up a ball, the boys would generally shout, ‘Throw it here, sissy!’ So much fun was engendered on my account by my youthful companions that I solemnly vowed that I would play base ball in the nine that would win the championship of the Territory of Utah.
“My mother was keeping boarders at the time for a living, and I shined their boots until I saved a dollar, which I invested in a base ball. I spent hours and hours throwing the ball at a neighbor’s barn, (Edwin D. Woolley’s,) which caused him to refer to me as the laziest boy in the Thirteenth Ward. Often my arm would ache so that I could scarcely go to sleep at night. But I kept on practicing, and finally succeeded in getting into the second nine of our club. Subsequently I joined a better club, and eventually played in the nine that won the championship of the Territory. Having thus made good my promise to myself, I retired from the base ball arena.”
President Grant later acknowledged that he had “partially wasted” the “hours and days and weeks and months” he had spent throwing a baseball against his neighbor’s barn. He said: “I am impressed with the thought that I was not … engaged in the highest employment of which my nature was capable. … There was one thing, however, accomplished by my experience as a ball player, namely, the fulfilling of a promise made to myself” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 33-4).
The next suggestion in this section is, “Third, we must have faith that our Heavenly Father will help us, and we must have faith in ourselves” (p. 198). In his talk at BYU-Idaho, Elder Rasband promised blessings of the faith to use talents wisely:
By focusing on serving the Savior, individuals are guided in making proper decisions in their daily lives, Elder Rasband said. That perspective prepares individuals to do whatever the Lord may ask of them at any time (Church News, January 29, 2011, 4).
Next in this list of suggestions in this manual is:
Fourth, we must learn the skills necessary for us to develop our talents. We might do this by taking a class, asking a friend to teach us, or reading a book (p. 198).
President Grant learning to write (remember this was before typewriters or computers) is a great example. The following is copied from Chapter 27 of this blog, but really fits better here:
When [I was] a youth, attending school, a man was pointed out to me who kept books in Wells, Fargo and Co’s. Bank, in Salt Lake City, and it was said that he received a salary of one hundred and fifty dollars a month. Well do I remember figuring that he was earning six dollars a day, Sundays omitted, which seemed to me an enormous amount. … I dreamed of being a book-keeper, and of working for Wells, Fargo & Co., and immediately joined the book-keeping class in the Deseret University [now the University of Utah], in the hope some day of earning what I thought at that time to be an immense salary.
I quote with pleasure … from Lord Bulwer Lytton: “What man wants [this word, “wants,” as used here, is synonymous with “lacks”] is not talent, it is purpose; not power to achieve, but the will to labor.” Samuel Smiles has said: “Purposes, like eggs, unless they are hatched into action, will run into decay.”
Lord Lytton took it for granted undoubtedly that where a youth dreamed nobly and manfully, that it would inspire him to have a purpose in life, and to ‘hatch the same into action,’ and not allow it to ‘run into decay.’ Having purposed to become a book-keeper, I immediately set to work to attain this object. Well do I remember the amusement I furnished my fellow-students. One remarked when looking at my books, ‘What is it; hen tracks?’ Another said, ‘Has lightning struck an ink bottle?’ These remarks and others, while not made to hurt my feelings but in good-natured fun, nevertheless cut deep, and aroused within me a spirit of determination. I resolved to live to set copies for all who attended the university, and to be the teacher of penmanship and book-keeping in that institution. Having a purpose and also ‘the will to labor,’ and agreeing with Lord Lytton that, ‘In the bright lexicon of youth there’s no such word as fail,’ I commenced to employ my spare time in practicing penmanship, continuing year after year until I was referred to as ‘the greatest scribbler on earth.’
The result was that some years later, I secured a position as book-keeper and policy clerk in an insurance office. Although at fifteen, I wrote a very nice hand, and it was all that was needed to satisfactorily fill the position which I then held, yet I was not fully satisfied but continued to dream and ‘scribble,’ when not otherwise occupied. I worked in the front part of A. W. White & Co’s. bank, and, when not busy, volunteered to assist with the bank work, and to do anything and everything I could to employ my time, never thinking whether I was to be paid for it or not, but having only a desire to work and learn. Mr. Morf, the book-keeper in the bank, wrote well, and took pains to assist me in my efforts to become proficient as a penman. I learned to write so well that I often earned more before and after office hours by writing cards, invitations, etc., and making maps, than the amount of my regular salary. Some years later, a diploma at the Territorial Fair was awarded me for the finest penmanship in Utah. When I engaged in business for myself, there was a vacancy at the university in the position of teacher of penmanship and book-keeping, and to make good the promise to myself, made when a youth of twelve or thirteen, that I would some day teach these branches, I applied for the situation. My application was accepted, and my obligation to myself was thus discharged (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 109).
Another suggestion states:
Fifth, we must practice using our talent. Every talent takes effort and work to develop. The mastery of a talent must be earned (p. 198).
President Grant explained:
I believe unless we have ambition to accomplish things and to do things that we amount to but very little in the battle of life… Every individual should have a desire to grow and increase in capacity and in ability to do things. Certainly by mere exertion of the will, by mere desire, we accomplish nothing. We must put with that desire the labor to accomplish the things we desire. I am sure that a young man who is perfectly satisfied with what he is doing, although he may be doing very little, and has no ambition to do more, will stand still. But I am convinced that every individual can improve from day to day, from year to year, and have greater capacity to do things as the years come and the years go. I believe in that with all my heart.
It is by exercise and by practice that we become proficient in any of the vocations or avocations of life, whether it be of a religious or of a secular character (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 36).
In the article he wrote for the Ensign, Elder Rasband also taught:
I am thankful for the knowledge He has given us—that we are His children and that we are to magnify and multiply our talents to our fullest potential. I know that if we will work hard and do our best, using our talents to bless others and build the kingdom of God, we will be brought back into His presence and hear Him say, “Well done, thou 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” (Matt. 25:21) (Ensign, Aug. 2003, 32).
The principle both of these quotes discuss is that of eternal progression.
Again, from the talk Elder Rasband gave at BYU-Idaho, he declared:
I am thankful for the knowledge the Lord has given us—that we are His children and that we are to magnify and multiply our talents to our fullest potential. The experiences you have each day, if you will allow them to be, can and will be stepping stones that will help to shape each of your lives, as they have mine. They will assist you in finding your gifts and talents that will be used as you progress through mortality here upon the earth (Church News, January 29, 2011, 4).
Some additional great ideas for developing talents is found in an article titled, “"Discovering and Developing Your Talents", found in the church magazine Liahona, May 1999, p. 40.
We Can Develop Our Talents in Spite of Our Weaknesses
A discussion of Exodus 4:10-12 may be very instructive for better understanding of this section.
Concerning the motto of President Heber J. Grant quoted in this section:
President Heber J. Grant often quoted the following statement, which is sometimes attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do—not that the nature of the thing is changed, but that our power to do is increased.” President Grant exemplified this truth, particularly in serving the Lord. Despite hardships such as poverty and the early death of his father, he persisted in keeping the commandments, fulfilling his Church callings, and doing all he could to build the kingdom of God on the earth (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 34-5).
Although as discussed earlier in this blog, President Grant apparently lacked the talent to become a “great” singer, did become an “adequate” singer by plain persistence. From his history we read:
Having learned in his youth the power of persistence, he continued to apply the principle as he grew older. For example, he determined that he would learn to sing. He recalled: “From the time I was a child of nine, I tried to sing. I tried time and time again without any apparent success. When I was about forty-three years of age, I had a private secretary with a beautiful baritone voice. I told him I would give anything in the world if I could only carry a tune. He laughed and said, ‘Anybody who has a voice and perseverance can sing.’ I immediately appointed him as my singing teacher.
“My singing lessons started that night. At the end of two hours’ practice I still couldn’t sing one line from the song we had been practicing. After practicing that one song for more than five thousand times, I made a mess of it when I tried to sing it in public. I practiced it for another six months. Now I can learn a song in a few hours.”
President Grant was good-natured about his struggle to learn to sing, and he did not let his mistakes or the laughter and criticism of others deter him. In an address to the youth of the Church, he said:
“When I was learning to sing… I practiced [a certain] song one day twelve times at one sitting. There are three verses in it; so I sang thirty-six verses, and by actual count I made five mistakes to a verse, which made 180 mistakes in one practice, and I knew nothing about it. When I first began to learn to sing, it took me from three to four months to learn two simple hymns. I learned a hymn a few weeks ago in three hours—half an hour’s practice every evening for six days, and I had it all right.”
To supplement the above quote from President Grant that ends this section he further stated:
I know of no easy formula to success. Persist, persist, PERSIST; work, work, WORK—is what counts in the battle of life (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 36).
At the Women’s’ Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley gave wise counsel concerning this section:
Respect yourself. Do not feel sorry for yourself. Do not dwell on unkind things others may say about you… Polish and refine whatever talents the Lord has given you. Go forward in life with a twinkle in your eye and a smile on your face, but with great and strong purpose in your heart (Ensign, May 2001, 93).
The Lord Will Bless Us If We Use Our Talents Wisely
Along with the President Joseph F. Smith quote which begins this section, President James E. Faust added:
The Lord entrusts all of His servants…with spiritual talents. The Lord, who endows us with these talents, tells us: “I believe you can. I believe you can.” While we are not all equal in experience, aptitude, and strength, we have different opportunities to employ these spiritual gifts, and we will all be accountable for the use of the gifts and opportunities given to us (Ensign, Nov 2002, 49).
This section refers to Matthew 25:14-30. From Wikipedia we learn that a talent, according to JewishEncyclopedia.com, is about 130 pounds in our weight system. It is assumed by scholars that the talent was one of gold. An internet search also reveals that the current (as of January 2011) the cost of gold is $19, 578 per pound. Thus to update this parable, “the Lord” gave each “servant” talents worth about $2.5 million each. This then was no small sum for which to be accountable to the Lord.
President Joseph F. Smith, as quoted in the first paragraph of this section, told us “each will be held to strict account” (p. 199) for our talents. Concerning what he referred to as the Savior’s parable of the stewards, Joseph Smith declared:
You know, brethren, that when the Master in the Savior’s parable of the stewards called his servants before him he gave them several talents to improve on while he should tarry abroad for a little season, and when he returned he called for an accounting. So it is now. Our Master is absent only for a little season, and at the end of it He will call each to render an account; and where the five talents were bestowed, ten will be required; and he that has made no improvement will be cast out as an unprofitable servant, while the faithful will enjoy everlasting honors. Therefore we earnestly implore the grace of our Father to rest upon you, through Jesus Christ His Son, that you may not faint in the hour of temptation, nor be overcome in the time of persecution (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 68).
President James E. Faust spoke of Matthew 25:29 and then warned and then promised:
Some of us are too content with what we may already be doing. We stand back in the “eat, drink, and be merry” mode when opportunities for growth and development abound. We miss opportunities to build up the kingdom of God because we have the passive notion that someone else will take care of it. The Lord tells us that He will give more to those who are willing. They will be magnified in their efforts (Ensign, Nov 2002, 49).
Another warning comes from President Thomas S. Monson:
Don’t forget: one of the saddest things in life is wasted talent (New Era, Aug. 2008, 2).
In this section we read, “The Lord is pleased when we use our talents wisely. He will bless us if we use our talents to benefit other people and to build up His kingdom here on earth” (p. 199).
Elder Rasband explained his second principle concerning the wise use of talents:
Use your talents to build up the kingdom of God. Our first priority in helping others is our family. Parents are in a unique and powerful position to encourage and support their children in developing their talents. We also have many opportunities to help others identify their talents. I am grateful for the many people who have helped me add to my talents. The successes in life of those we assist, sponsor, mentor, and lift as they pursue their own talents can bring us great joy and satisfaction.
Focusing on serving the Savior can guide us toward making proper decisions in our daily lives. This perspective prepares us to do whatever the Lord may ask of us at any time. President Gordon B. Hinckley exemplifies this important attitude: “My talents may not be great, but I can use them to bless the lives of others. I can be one who does his work with pride in that which comes from his hand and mind” (Ensign, Aug. 2003, 32).