When I was a deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile scouting backpacking trip. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were in the middle of nowhere, wandering like outcasts or strangers in a strange land in northern Arizona in what is one of the most beautiful but desolate landscapes in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant that we spent a lot of time walking through the river as the canyon is narrow for much of its length. We enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped and poured from the canyon walls. This water was to us living water. We were able to reap that which we did not sow and drink of water like that which came from Moses’ strike of the rock. One particularly memorable experience occurred at the confluence of the Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world. At the meeting of the two canyons we found a patch of thigh-deep quicksand. Being scouts, we played in the quicksand. After that brief recreational respite, we needed to continue on our journey. After another day or two, once we started to near the end of the canyon, which has an outlet into the Grand Canyon, it opened up and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from the springs and shade. We had to hike through sand and cacti and heat; we felt at times like Jonah being blasted by the east wind, hoping for anything, even a large gourd, to provide shade. We found shade only infrequently and we had to purify our water from the river instead of acquiring it directly from springs. The hike that had been pleasant and almost easy turned arduous. At one point one of the scouts got tired enough that he started repeatedly asking when the hike would be over. A leader replied, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses the young man finally blurted out, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!” Even though this scout’s faith waned, eventually the end was around the next bend.
Life is like that hike. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path towards eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the Paria Canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We could have gone back to the beginning and to the car we left there but that means we would not have been successful with our hike and by the time we were truly tired we were closer to the end than the beginning. The best thing we could do was press forward to our destination – the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. We could have done it grudgingly and had a miserable time but what we chose to do was endure the hike and enjoy our time, becoming better and stronger people than we were. In all we do we can choose to be strengthened by the trials we endure and not merely suffer through them. However, regardless of how we get through our life and our trials, it is important to go all the way through them. This reminds me of the trick question: “How far can you run in a forest?” One answer is: “Halfway, because then you are running out!” It is important to not just run in the forests of our lives, we also have to run out of them. We must to endure to the end and be strengthened by the process.
The word endure in common usage means to last or to sustain (through). If we look at its root, endure comes from a Latin word meaning to harden. Things need to be hardened if they are going to undergo significant stress, trials, or pressure. Our word durable has the same root as endure. Metal is hardened or tempered to make it stronger, more durable and able to endure stress and strain. The process of hardening is just as important as the final hardened state; if the hardening is not done properly, flaws can be introduced, resulting in a weakened metal. When I think of endurance I think of the Savior. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Jesus endured trials, tribulations, sorrows, sufferings, hate, spitting, hitting, and crucifixion. He endured the travesties of the lies brought against Him. The One Perfect Man was ridiculed above all; He was hated and persecuted. He descended below all in order to comprehend all and rise above all (see D&C 88:6). Those who follow Him covenant that they are willing to follow His path, even though they be “hated of all men for [His] name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13). We are commanded to endure just as the Savior endured. Endurance and in diligence in keeping the commandments of God is the process whereby we become more like the Savior, where we gain more of His attributes.
Spiritual endurance is a trait of the righteous. There is no endurance in wickedness. The hardening of the endurance process is not the hardening of hearts experienced by the unrighteous. Enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up. However, enduring is more than just strengthening, it is consistently acting in accordance to the principles, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel at all times, not just when convenient and not just one day a week.
Are you a gospel “Weekend Warrior?” Do you fight the good fight, and bravely, but only on Sundays? Are you a strong stripling warrior as long as you are at church? Do you join in the call, “Onward, Christian soldiers!” as long as such service is not inconvenient? Do you have a marathon gospel study session and then enter an early retirement from scriptural and spiritual sports having run the race once? Just as eating or exercising or sleeping once is not enough, we are asked for daily diligence.
Enduring to the end is one of the fundamental components of the gospel – we are commanded to be diligent unto the Lord’s commandments and our covenants. Jesus taught, “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you…if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father” (3 Nephi 27:13,16-17). We are not sent here to earth to endure for a little while, we are commanded to endure to the end.
Elder Maynes said at this past General Conference, “Our ability to endure to the end in righteousness will be in direct proportion to the strength of our testimony and the depth of our conversion. When our testimonies are strong and we are truly converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, our choices will be inspired by the Holy Ghost, they will be Christ-centered, and they will support our desire to endure in righteousness. If our testimonies are weak and our conversion superficial, the risk is much greater that we will be enticed by the false traditions of the world to make poor choice)
The prophet Lehi had a great symbolic vision of the earth. In his vision he saw the Tree of Life, an iron rod, a great and spacious building, and many people. We read:
“And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world. And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree…. And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those [in the great and spacious building] that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. [And my father Lehi] saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” (1 Nephi 8:20-29).
In this passage of scripture we learn of various groups of people. Some find the path that leads to the Tree of Life, some wander off elsewhere, some enter the gaudy and godless spacious building, some find and partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life only to be ashamed and wander off; others partake of the fruit continually and heed not the mockers. From this passage we learn that it is not enough to simply partake of the blessed eternal fruit, we must continue feasting upon it – we must endure to the end of our lives. There are many opportunities and roads to become prodigal but only one path to perfection and eternal life. This eternal path requires our every effort; we must endure unto the end.
The gift given unto those who endure is great, even the greatest gift possible. Jesus said, “And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). He also promised, “And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:8). Again, suffering is implicit to endurance but those who endure are strengthened against and through suffering. But what is important are the promised blessings that come unto those who endure. “If thou endure it [adversities and afflictions] well, God shall exalt thee on high.” What a beautiful promise! Endurance leads to exaltation.
Some time ago I sat watching my daughters play with helium-filled balloons. As my children played with the balloons, the helium inside slowly leaked out. At first the balloons stayed up at the ceiling but then over time they lost their lift and sank to the floor. The spiritual significance of this was striking. Before I mention the spiritual, I’ll focus on the physical.
Toy balloons are usually made out of rubber or plastic or latex. All of those materials, especially when stretched thin, are porous. Being porous, balloons will leak whatever is inside based on the principles of equilibrium of pressure and diffusion. Because many balloons are filled with helium, which is the second “lightest” element, it diffuses through quickly, up to 3 times faster than normal air, because it is a small and simple atom. This means that latex balloons filled with helium will deflate quickly as the buoyant helium escapes or is replaced by air.
We, spiritually, are like helium-filled balloons. Over time we start to deflate spiritually. Remaining pumped full of spiritual helium requires effort and recharging. If we slack off in our spiritual efforts and endeavors, we will lose our lift and sink slowly down. For a time, if we are connected and tied to others, their buoyancy can keep us afloat but not indefinitely. Eventually we will sag and hang down, deflated and dejected. To counteract this spiritual diffusion and deflation we need to actively recharge with new helium. We should do some of the soul-searching Alma did and asked his people to do.
“And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?” (Alma 5:26-27).
I’ll repeat the key question: “If ye have experienced a change of heart…can ye feel so now?” Change once is not enough; conversion and salvation and exaltation take a lifetime of effort. We must seek daily for the Lord’s mercy and grace to free us from our sins. We must fill our lives with goodness and good acts. We must endure to the end: “Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:20). If we do not: “watch [ourselves], and [our] thoughts, and [our] words, and [our] deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what [we] have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of [our] lives, [we] must perish. And now…remember and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).
In order to keep our spiritual balloons inflated and buoyant, we must remember what we have learned and endure to the end. We must continually fill our spiritual balloons with new helium in order to be lifted up at the last day.
Part of enduring is heeding the words of the living prophets. What our beloved prophet has asked us to do includes:
- Hastening the work of salvation by maximizing the blessings of the missionary surge
- Performing our family history work and bring our own names to the temple
- And rescuing those who have been lost
A story from the Revolutionary War teaches the principle of rescuing the lost.
On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after a sleeping sheep, John’s life would have been lost.
This story exemplifies the principle of stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. Do we watch over others or do we leave them by the wayside to suffer the effects of their inaction? Cain asked a simple but condescending question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was neither honest nor of concern for his brother, whom he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask ourselves in honesty. Do we really see ourselves as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?
It is our covenant duty as members of the Church to love others and watch over them – even when inconvenient, maybe especially when inconvenient. When we watch over others we might just save their lives spiritually or physically. We can participate with Pres. Monson in rescuing those who are lost by acting with diligence and enduring in our efforts to strengthen those around us. As we do so, we and they can approach our Heavenly Father along the path to exaltation.
Pres. Monson stated at this past General Conference: “This should be our purpose–to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life.” (“I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee”).
It is not enough to just be a gospel “weekend warrior”. The path towards eternal life is long and sometimes daunting. As we hike through the spiritual canyons of our lives, if we persevere we will reach our destination. We are strengthened as we endure – weak things becoming strong unto us. May God bless each of you! May we all work diligently to rescue the lost and hasten the work of salvation in this area. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.