Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “On the Wings of Eagles,” Ensign, Jul 2006, 10–15
From a Brigham Young University devotional address given on November 11, 2003.
On December 17, 1903, a dream of mankind was fulfilled as Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first controlled, powered flight. The distance was about 120 feet, or 37 meters—about half the length of a 747 jumbo jet—and the duration was about 12 seconds. That’s shorter than the time it takes me to climb the stairs leading up to the 747 cockpit. By today’s standards, it was a very short flight, but at that time it was an accomplishment that few believed would ever be possible.
Wilbur and Orville had parents who encouraged education, religion, and family values. Both brothers had their share of serious illnesses. They went through difficult times of trouble, perplexity, and even despair, wondering if they would ever succeed. They tried different vocations as printers, bicycle repairmen, bicycle manufacturers, and, eventually, aircraft inventors. Throughout their lives, whenever they picked a project to work on, they were focused and worked as a team.
The Wright brothers committed themselves to do what no one else had ever done before. They took time to do their homework. They were humble and smart enough to appreciate and learn about the work of others who went before. And they tackled the problem line upon line, precept upon precept. They realized that there were three main requirements for a practical flying machine: first, the pilot had to be able to control the aircraft; second, the wings had to produce lift; third, it had to be powered by an engine to stay aloft. 1
They had their goals defined and worked diligently on them one day at a time. Leonardo da Vinci said, “He turns not back who is bound to a star.” 2
Similar principles and requirements apply to your own journey through life and toward the destination of eternal life. Divine principles have to be learned and lived as you prepare to rise up on the wings of eagles.
First: You Have to Learn to Control Yourself
It isn’t until you come to a spiritual understanding of who you are that you can begin to take control of yourself. As you learn to control yourself, you will get control of your life. If you want to move the world, you first have to move yourself.
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) often quoted an unknown author: “The greatest battle of life is fought out within the silent chambers of the soul. A victory on the inside of a man’s heart is worth a hundred conquests on the battlefields of life. To be master of yourself is the best guarantee that you will be master of the situation. Know thyself. The crown of character is self-control.” 3
Be responsive to the counsel of the prophets, seers, and revelators, who will help you to reach true self-mastery. Be responsive to the promptings of the Spirit. The Spirit will influence your conscience and help you to refine yourself by working on the little tasks of self-control—like controlling your thoughts, words, and actions—which leads to self-control of your whole self, of mind, body, and spirit. Remember, anger is only one letter short of danger.
Your choices are the mirror of your self-control. They will lead you to your eternal destination if they are made with divine direction and control. Stay morally clean. Keep a clean mind and heart. Your thoughts will determine your actions. Control your thoughts. Don’t submit yourself to temptation. Aristotle said, “For where it is in our power to act it is also in our power not to act.” 4
Control wisely and select carefully what you will invite via a mouse click or remote control into your home or office. Select reading material, movies, TV shows, and any other form of entertainment that bring good, uplifting thoughts rather than unwholesome desires.
Second: Your Attitude Will Determine Your Lift and Altitude
The Wright brothers knew that in addition to keeping control of the aircraft, they needed to produce enough lift to keep their flying machine aloft. Dictionaries describe lift something like the following: to carry or direct from a lower to a higher position; the power or force available for raising to a new level or altitude; a force acting in an upward direction, opposing the pull of gravity.
The Psalmist sets the goals even higher: “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” (Ps. 25:1) and “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” (Ps. 121:1). He invites you to fly with the eagles, not to scratch with the chickens.
Lifting your eyes toward the God of heaven is a process of cultivating your own very personal spirituality. It is a desire to live in harmony with the Father; the Son, our Savior; and the Holy Ghost. It is also your ability to be truly “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [you], even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).
Sincere prayer. With the right attitude—which, incidentally, is also needed to produce sufficient lift for an airplane—you will be able to effectively communicate with your Heavenly Father and not to just say your prayers. You will be able to say prayers that will go beyond the ceiling of the room, prayers not filled with trite repetitions or spoken without thinking but filled with your deep yearning to be one with your Father in Heaven.
Prayer, if given in faith, is acceptable to God at all times. If you ever feel you cannot pray, that is the time when you definitely need to pray. Nephi taught in plainness, “If ye would hearken unto the Spirit [of God] which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit … teacheth him that he must not pray” (2 Ne. 32:8).
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) taught, “The sincere prayer of the righteous heart opens to any individual the door to divine wisdom and strength in that for which he righteously seeks.” 5
Obedience assures us an answer to our prayers. We read in the New Testament, “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (1 Jn. 3:22).
The Prophet Joseph Smith learned in a revelation given to him in Kirtland in 1831, “He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh” (D&C 46:30).
In order to lift, enhance, and cultivate your relationship with God as His spiritual children, you have the unique opportunity to converse with the supreme source of wisdom and compassion in the universe.
Daily, simple but sincere and mighty prayers will help you lift your lives to a higher spiritual altitude. In your prayers you praise God, give thanks to Him, confess weaknesses, petition needs, and express deep devotion to your Heavenly Father. As you do this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, you perform a spiritual effort that leads to increased inspiration, revelation, and righteousness—not self-righteousness—and brings the brightness of heaven into your lives.
This brings back memories from my professional life as an airline captain: departing from a dark and rainy airport, climbing through thick and threatening winter clouds, and then, suddenly, breaking through the cloud tops and steeply gaining altitude into the bright sunshine and into the endless blue sky, feeling free, safe, and home at last. But this beautiful feeling reflects only the smallest part of what you can experience through your daily prayers.
Opposition and agency. A word of caution: in aerodynamics, gravity and drag work in opposition to lift. This same important principle has been an integral part of the plan of salvation from the beginning. As Lehi explained, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11; emphasis added). And as the angel taught King Benjamin, “For the natural man is an enemy to God … unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit” (Mosiah 3:19; emphasis added).
This leads us to God’s great gift to His children: agency.
Lehi taught this most important doctrine to his children. He said: “The Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. … And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2:16, 27).
You have agency, and you are free to choose. But there is actually no free agency. Agency has its price. You have to pay the consequences of your choices.
Human agency was purchased with the price of Christ’s suffering. The power of Christ’s Atonement overcomes the effect of sin on the condition of wholehearted repentance. Through and by the Savior’s universal and infinite Atonement, all have been redeemed from the Fall and have become free forever to act for themselves (see 2 Ne. 2:26).
Agency is a spiritual matter. Without awareness of alternatives, you could not choose. Agency is so important in your lives that you not only can choose obedience or rebellion, but you must. During this life you cannot remain on neutral ground; you cannot abstain from either receiving or rejecting the light from God.
By learning to use the gift of agency to make right decisions, you will increase your spiritual lift and altitude. You will also quickly recognize one other prime source of spiritual truth: the written word of God.
Feasting on the word. Lifting your eyes toward heaven requires an attitude directed upward. With this positive attitude toward life comes the desire to feast “upon the word of Christ” (2 Ne. 31:20), not to just occasionally nibble on the scriptures or the words of the prophets.
Feasting includes searching, pondering, asking, praying, and living the word of God. Read the holy scriptures as if they were written for you—for they are. Nephi said, “For behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:3).
One powerful scripture in the New Testament, James 1:5, initiated a wonderful process that led to the Restoration of all things. May I ask you to take time to feast upon the word of God? It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week but should not be treated like a fast-food service. Jesus asked listeners to go home and ponder what He had taught them (see 3 Ne. 17:3). This pondering, feasting, and meditating will help you “know to what source [you] may look for a remission of [your] sins” (2 Ne. 25:26).
Praying and feasting upon the word of God are two elements of a heavenward attitude that will also enhance your work ethic and your willingness to serve and lift others. It will help you to carry Church responsibilities with the willingness to magnify your callings without trying to magnify yourself. With this divine attitude you will be more concerned about how you serve rather than where you serve. King Benjamin taught, “I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). And we do this by “lift[ing] up the hands which hang down” (Heb. 12:12).
Third: You Need to Find and Trust the True Source of Divine Power
The Wright brothers needed engine power to make the airplane fly. Without it there would have been no lift, no forward motion to enable flight—no airplane.
You have an all-encompassing true source of power available to help you reach the purpose of your creation. This is the power of God, exercising a subtle and loving influence in the lives of His children, lifting you and keeping you aloft. It is manifested as the Light of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The Latin source of the word comforter—com fortis—means “together strong.” As the Holy Ghost visits your own spirit, you become stronger than you are by yourself. When you receive the Holy Ghost, you receive strength, power, peace, and comfort.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. Until he obeyed these ordinances and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, according to the order of God, he could not have healed the sick or commanded an evil spirit to come out of a man.” 6
Elder Parley P. Pratt (1807–57) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated that the Holy Ghost “inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, invigorates and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is … marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.” 7
President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), First Counselor in the First Presidency, gave us encouragement: “You can make every decision in your life correctly if you can learn to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This you can do if you will discipline yourself to yield your own feelings to the promptings of the Spirit. Study your problems and prayerfully make a decision. Then take that decision and say to him, in a simple, honest supplication, ‘Father, I want to make the right decision. I want to do the right thing. This is what I think I should do; let me know if it is the right course.’ Doing this, you can get the burning in your bosom, if your decision is right. … When you learn to walk by the Spirit, you never need to make a mistake.” 8
The Prophet Joseph Smith talked about the promptings of the Spirit as “sudden strokes of ideas.” 9
The Holy Ghost will make you independent. If you will learn how to have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, all other needful things will fall in place. Through your personal righteousness the Spirit of God will guide you to learn to control yourself, to enhance your attitude, to increase your spiritual altitude, and to find and trust the true source of divine power.
The Wind beneath Your Wings
To stay one more time within the metaphor of flying an aircraft, many things are required to make an airplane fly and fly safely, but the most important thing, as I used to call it, is the “wind beneath your wings.” Without it, there is no lift, no climb, no flight into the wild blue yonder or to faraway, beautiful destinations.
The Holy Ghost will be the wind beneath your wings, placing in your heart the firm conviction of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and His place in the eternal plan of God your Eternal Father. Through the Holy Ghost you will know your place in this plan and your divine eternal destination. You will be converted to the Lord, His gospel, and His Church, and you will never fall away.
[illustrations] Illustrated by David Meikle
[photos] Historic photographs courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
[photos] Photography by Robert Casey and Welden C. Andersen, posed by models
4. Nicomachean Ethics, trans. W. D. Ross, book 3, chapter 5 (see Internet, http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.3.iii.html).