In early 2003– about the same time Bryson and I were starting to make plans to move from Cache Valley to the area in which we live now– Elder David A. Bednar gave a landmark address on developing Christlike character at a religious symposium being held at BYU-I. He urged the Saints to earnestly seek to develop Christlike attributes while in mortality. He said:
Indeed, it is possible for us as mortals to strive in righteousness to receive the spiritual gifts associated with the capacity to reach outward and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us. We cannot obtain such a capacity through sheer willpower or personal determination. Rather, we are dependent upon and in need of ‘the merits, mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.’ But ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ and ‘in [the] process of time,’ we are enabled to reach outward when the natural tendency is for us to turn inward.
Elder Bednar continued: “It is interesting to me that one of the central elements of the word character is created by the letters A, C, and T. As we already have seen in the examples of Christ’s character from the New Testament, the nature and consistency of how one acts reveals in a powerful way his or her true character.”
As we reach upward, moving forward in faith, the Lord through his grace—his enabling power—will endow us with more of his own characteristics as we strive to act in righteousness. One such characteristic is diligence.
In Proverbs 12:27 we read that “the substance of a diligent man is precious.”
And in Mosiah 7:33 we learn that if we “will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put [our] trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind… He will… deliver [us] out of bondage.”
So what exactly is diligence anyway?
The missionary handbook Preach My Gospel defines diligence as steady, consistent, earnest and energetic effort in doing the Lord’s work.
A good worker is diligent. Someone who focuses on the highest priorities and does all he or she can to accomplish their assigned tasks. Someone who perseveres through good times and bad. Someone who looks for ways to further the work along, instead of waiting for orders or hoping that someone else will take responsibility for getting the job done.
Brothers and sisters, are we diligent disciples of Christ?
Do we press forward, striving to build the kingdom of God on the earth in our own little corner of the world? Or do we merely go through the motions, holding back—hoping that someone else will step up so we don’t have to?
In Doctrine and Covenants 58 there is a great little verse that we like to read quite often in our meetings—for very good reason. It’s verse 27, and it says:
Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.
Great counsel, right? But I really love the verse which immediately follows– verse 28:
For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
The power is in us, brothers and sisters. We have been endowed by our Savior’s grace to accomplish great things. Eternal things. It’s not just a nice idea to be actively engaged in the Lord’s work—he is actually giving us the power to do so. What we do with that power is entirely up to us.
Now, I have an endurance athlete’s background—I swam competitively for roughly ten years or so, have participated in triathlons since I was a teenager, and coached club and high school swim teams on and off for about a decade until our Taylor was born. (My swimmers actually adopted Taylor as the unofficial mascot of the Springville High State Team in 2005!) So when I ponder on diligence, perseverance, and endurance, my thoughts automatically turn to sports analogies.
And it would seem I’m not alone in that: One of our new apostles, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, gave a fantastic talk two years ago in General Conference entitled “Your Four Minutes,” where he compared our life’s journey to the time an athlete spends training and competing for an Olympic medal. He asked us to consider how our pathway to eternal life is similar to these athletes’ “four-minute performance.”
This life is your four minutes. While you are here, your actions will determine whether you win the prize of eternal life. The prophet Amulek described, ‘This life is the time… to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day… to perform [your] labors.’
In a sense, your four minutes have already begun. The clock is ticking. The words of the Apostle Paul seem so fitting: to run the race, that you may obtain the prize…
Self-discipline is needed. Daily prayer, scripture study, and church attendance must be the foundation of your training. A consistent pattern of obeying the commandments, keeping the covenants you have made and following the Lord’s standard is required.
Perhaps you’re aware of things in your life that are threatening to slow or stop your spiritual progress. If so, follow this scriptural counsel: ‘Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.’
Now you may be thinking to yourself, ‘I already blew it. My four minutes are already a disaster. I may as well give up.’ If so, stop thinking that, and never think it again. The miracle of the Atonement can make up for imperfections in our performance…
I express my utmost confidence in your abilities. You have the Savior of the world on your side. If you seek His help and follow His directions, how can you fail?
Isn’t that great? It’s never too late to get back on track. Even if you feel like you’ve been left in the dust, bruised and bloodied after taking a wrong turn several miles back, our Redeemer will help us bind our wounds and get us moving back in the right direction toward our eternal finish line. He is the most perfect aid station we could ever hope to come across in our mortal marathon.
One of the most wonderful things about our Eternal Father is that He isn’t concerned about who crosses the finish line first, second, or third. There is no competition in our Father’s Kingdom. And receiving extra assistance or giving it to others is not forbidden, but rather, encouraged!
There’s a great quote that’s been floating around social media lately that’s been attributed to blogger Erica Cook. She said, “I’m not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.” I absolutely love that.
If we find ourselves getting discouraged and frustrated with our progress up to this point, I would encourage us to take the advice of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who has said:
Dismiss the destructive, and keep dismissing it until the beauty of the Atonement of Christ has revealed to you your bright future and the bright future of your family, your friends, and your neighbors. God doesn’t care nearly as much about where you have been as He does about where you are and, with His help, where you are willing to go.
Let me repeat:
God doesn’t care nearly as much about where you have been as He does about where you are and, with His help, where you are willing to go.
I’d like to close today by sharing with you my all-time favorite Olympic story.
The year was 2008, and a massive crowd—including heads of state, celebrities, and spectators alike—had gathered at the Beijing Water Cube, a massive swimming complex build especially for these Olympic Games. You may remember that this was the year of Michael Phelps. The swimming phenom had set the lofty goal of setting a new record for the number of gold medals achieved in a single Olympic games—a record long held by another swimming legend, Mark Spitz, who had won seven gold medals in the Munich games of 1972.
But the story I’m about to tell you is not about Michael Phelps.
Not really, anyway.
It was Monday, August 11, 2008, and the crowds had gathered to witness the King of the Pool win his second medal of the games in the final event of the morning session—the men’s 4×100 relay.
Now, there was an enormous obstacle standing in the way of Phelps’ ambition and the American team’s victory—a blisteringly fast French team, anchored by none only than the reigning world record holder in the 100 Free: Frenchman Alain Bernard, standing at a massive 6 feet 5 inches. Pure muscle, with a massive wingspan, he could swim the 100-meter freestyle in a mere 47.5 seconds. When asked about the relay event, Bernard boasted to the media:
“The Americans? We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.”
The Americans were huge underdogs in this race. Every time the sports analysts broke down the event as they made their prerace predictions, all the numbers consistently pointed to the French winning the event handily.
Phelps took the race out for Team USA, putting the team into 2nd place behind the Australians after the first leg. Garrett Weber-Gale pulled ahead of the Aussies in the second leg, inching the team into first. Third-leg swimmer Cullen Jones swam an incredibly fast race, keeping the American team under what was the current world record pace, but was unable to match the French team closing in like a freight train.
When 32-year-old relay anchor Jason Lezak—the oldest swimmer on the American team— hit the water, he was nearly an entire body length behind world record holder Bernard—a seemingly insurmountable distance in the world of competitive swimming. It looked like the French had the gold medal in the bag, as Lezak hit the final turn of the race without any noticeable gain on Bernard.
And as Jason looked over at Bernard in the lane to his right he lost hope.
“The thought really entered my mind for a split second,” he later related. “There’s no way.”
But just as quickly as that doubt entered his head a second wave of thoughts replaced it. “I changed,” he explained. “I thought, that’s ridiculous. I’m at the Olympic Games… I don’t care how bad it hurts, I’m going after it. I… got a super charge.”
What happened next has gone down in history as one of the most iconic swimming moments ever. With only 10 meters to go, Jason Lezak turned the impossible to possible. With an invigorated surge of energy, he lunged to the wall in perfect form, out-touching the French team by eight one-hundreths of a second. It was the closest 400-meter relay in Olympic history, and Lezak’s time of 46.06 crushed his previous personal best by over a second and was not only the fastest relay leg of all time—it blew the previous record out of the water.
So why do I tell you this story?
Here we are, children of our Heavenly Father, diligently seeking victory in our “four minutes” of mortality. And we too have an adversary who mockingly boasts, “We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.”
And though we have spiritual super stars—prophets, apostles, and so many amazing local leaders and Saints—on our team, at some point in our lives victory will come down to our own individual choices.
We may hit a wall and think, “This is too hard. There’s no way.”
When those thoughts come, may we get a renewed surge of energy—fueled by the enabling power of our Savior’s Atonement. By and through His grace, we can be endowed with power. His power. That power is in us, as we read in Doctrine and Covenants 58. With that grace we can choose to act as He would, developing Christlike character and receiving His image in our countenance.
As the Prophet Joseph Smith penned in Doctrine and Covenants 128:
Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!
I have a testimony that our diligence in serving the Lord is an expression of our love for Him and His work. I know that our Savior lives and loves us with the most perfect love. A love beyond mortal comprehension. I have felt that love most keenly in moments when I felt that I could not take another single step forward. I know that He desires all of us to return to Him, and that there is not one of us He wouldn’t race to rescue in our time of need.
He is real. His power is real. And I love Him.