“Every faculty you have…is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God…[i]t is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, chapter 11: Faith).
I love this analogy by C.S. Lewis, because it drives straight to the heart of the message of this hymn: every little bit we give to the Lord is just paying it back to Him in minute ways.
In the first verse, we sing that “all we have is thine alone/A trust, O Lord, from thee.” If we use the legal definition of the word “trust” here, it is as if the Lord makes us the nominal owner of property which is then to be used for others’ benefit. For example, I am the trustee of two little souls. My husband and I are stewards over them. Others may be entrusted with foster children, an aging parent, a gift for painting, a herd of sheep, a successful business. The point is that anything we’ve ever gotten in our lives worth receiving was given us by God.
As we receive these gifts, the Lord asks for a small portion of our bounty in return. And, true to form, when we give up that small portion, He gives back yet another set of blessings. In Proverbs we read the Lord’s promise that if we pay our tithing, “thy barns [will] be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Proverbs 3: 9-10).
In addition to tithes, the Lord gives us another instruction, a formula for what the Apostle James beautifully sums up as “pure religion”: “To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
In a talk by the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, he said that some of us are “so busy checking on our own temperatures, we do not notice the burning fevers of others…The hands which hang down and most need to be lifted up belong to those too discouraged even to reach out anymore” (Maxwell, “Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Oct. 1995 General Conference).
But all of these commandments–service, tithing, whatever–are just small pieces of the whole. The Lord blesses us with gifts, talents, even trials and failures to become the strongest, most whole version of ourselves. But the final sacrifice he asks of us is ourselves.
In the words of my favorite emeritus apostle C.S. Lewis, “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.’” (Mere Christianity, chapter 8).
I believe giving up our will is the single greatest struggle any of us will ever go through in our lives. Physical blessings, though really nice, are inherently transient. Homes burn down, money vanishes, accidents and disease maim our bodies and disable us. Death comes for us all and for some of us, it touches our lives prematurely and often.
However, how we respond to these catastrophes is part of the trial. Giving up our our will to Heavenly Father is something Elder Maxwell called “the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar.” May we all have the desire to give of ourselves, but more importantly, to give up ourselves to the Lord.