The Precious Promise

By Elder Neal A. Maxwell

Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

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From a talk given on 3 May 2002 at Brigham Young University Women’s Conference in Provo, Utah.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

When so many mortals are falling and being dragged down, it is hard to imagine an exhortation and promise more relevant than Helaman’s statement: “Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; … whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Hel. 5:12). The Great Deliverer, Jesus Christ, can deliver on this precious promise as well as on all His other reassurances.

Building on His firm foundation requires us to emulate Christ’s character. There is no joy nor is there any security in giving Him mere lip service. Emulating Him is the key, and our emerging character is the refined structure of our souls. After all the circumstantial scaffolding comes down, character is what is left.

The Process of Character Building

The traits of character to be focused on in the precious process of character building are all interactive; development of one hastens the development of another. You are likely to be doing much better than you realize. Paul notes one spiritual sequence when he says, “Tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Rom. 5:3–4), and hope brings more of the love of God. If you and I will meekly submit to “our light affliction,” whatever it is, this will lead later to a far greater “weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).

So it is that while the “intelligence we attain unto in this life … will rise with us in the resurrection” (D&C 130:18), the gospel definition of intelligence isn’t one’s scholastic IQ. Instead, intelligence signifies the totality of the soul and reflects “the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). If we are diligent, we can develop faith, patience, godliness, kindliness, and charity in greater abundance in our lives. These qualities, in turn, will make us fruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8).

The development of Christlike character clearly qualifies as truly being “about [our] Father’s business” (Luke 2:49). The wonderful thing about this process is that amid the seeming mundaneness of daily life we can be about our Father’s business day by day, achieving imperishable things to be taken with us through the veil of death and to rise with us in the Resurrection.

Jacob wrote of “looking beyond the mark” by failing to see Christ as the center of it all, and he added ominously that people so blinded and diverted “must needs fall” (Jacob 4:14). Ignoring the Savior includes failing to build Christlike character in order to be more rocklike ourselves.

Of course, conversion to the gospel and the Church can happen all at once in a burst of recognition and through the testifying of the Holy Spirit. However, the subsequent mentoring in order to further develop, for instance, a quality like patience takes time. Yes, patience does not come “right now”! Do not expect the world to understand or help in the precious process of character building that I’m attempting to describe.

Mercifully, the whisperings of the Spirit nudge us along the path in an almost private process. Through it all we will need to be strong enough for ourselves but also strong enough to help others, because there will be immigrants arriving from Babylon—there will even be some defectors from the “great and spacious building” (1 Ne. 8:26)—and they need to encounter people like you.

Examples of Christ’s Character

A few examples of the character of Christ will illustrate what we are to emulate, even for the already conscientious. Because we view Christ as the Light of the World, it is by His light that we should see everything else. Disciples are the real realists, whatever irreligionists may say or think.

Unlike God and Jesus, who are omniscient, you and I are often perplexed. We can be unsettled by the unexpected or made uneasy by the unknown. We surely need all of this added perspective! Furthermore, whereas Jesus paid the full price in order to ransom us, you and I may still hesitate over paying the full costs of discipleship, including developing the key attributes of a disciple.

Likewise, though Christ successfully resisted all temptations, we still dally, and we may take some temptations under advisement. No wonder the eloquence of His example is so powerful, for the scriptures say He “gave no heed” to temptation (see D&C 20:22).

We also tend to shrug off the persistent reminders of our sins of omission, as if our avoidance of the super sins of transgression and commission were enough. It is my opinion that in the realm of the sins of omission we can make more major, though quiet, progress than in any other place. That is particularly true of a conscientious people.

Love

Like His Father, Jesus exemplifies love perfectly. He so loved the Father and us that He meekly and submissively let His will be completely swallowed up in the will of the Father in order to accomplish the Atonement, including blessing billions and billions of us with the unmerited, universal resurrection. What He did is staggering to contemplate. No wonder He can help us along. He knows the way.

So profound and comprehensive is Christ’s love that even during His infinite suffering, He still noticed and nurtured finite sufferers who endured so much less anguish than He had to bear. For instance, He noticed and restored an assailant’s severed ear in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the cross, He directed John to take care of His mother, Mary. He comforted a thief on a nearby cross.

In contrast, when you and I let ourselves get stuck in the ooze of our own self-pity, we fail to notice the needs of others. With a little more effort, we can become a little more noticing and a little more nurturing. Let us reflect on our circles of love. Are they increasing in size, or are they static? What is the quality of our caring for those within those circles? Do we avoid lazy stereotyping? It’s so easy to deal with people as functions and stereotypes instead of as individuals. Are we lovingly patient with others who are also striving to develop? Or do we, judgmentally and impatiently, constantly pull up the daisies to see how their roots are doing?

President Brigham Young (1801–77) declared of love, so fundamental to everything else: “There is one virtue [or] attribute, … which, if cherished and practiced by the Saints, would prove salvation to thousands upon thousands. I allude to charity, or love, from which proceed forgiveness, long suffering, kindness, and patience.”1 All other virtues are derivatives and reflections of love!

Patience and Long-Suffering

Jesus likewise exemplifies perfect patience and long-suffering. Think of the implications of the Lord’s course, which, He tells us, “is one eternal round” (D&C 3:2). Routine and repetition may bother us, may bore us. But God and His Son, Jesus, are never bored with Their “one eternal round” because of Their perfect love. God is patient with us in process of time. He also helps by trying our patience and our faith (see 2 Thes. 1:4; James 1:3).

If left untried, those qualities, which are portable and eternal, would remain underdeveloped. There’s something about the isometrics that are involved when we’re putting off the natural man or the natural woman while striving to become the man or the woman of Christ. These isometrics are a blessing in disguise, though I grant you sometimes the blessing is well disguised.

As striving disciples, therefore, are we willing to be so mentored? Tutoringly, the Lord has said, “Ye cannot bear all things now; … I will lead you along” (D&C 78:18). He knows our bearing capacities. Though we ourselves may feel pushed to the breaking point, ere long, thanks to Him, these once-daunting challenges become receding milestones.

Even outstanding and courageous Jeremiah was once discouraged. Being mocked and persecuted, he briefly considered refraining from speaking out anymore. But then he said God’s word was “as a burning fire shut up in my bones, … and I could not stay” (Jer. 20:9). Jeremiah reached a breaking point, but he did not break!

Meekness and Humility

Jesus also exemplifies meekness and humility. Though ever supernal in His achievements, Christ always, always gave the glory to the Father whether in the first, second, or now in the third estate. He was and is Lord of the universe, who under the direction of the Father created “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33). Yet He was willingly known as Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter’s son. He always knew who He was! He meekly partook of history’s most bitter cup without becoming bitter.

Can we, in turn, partake of our tiny bitter cups without becoming bitter? What a wonderful way for us to witness, especially to those we love the most! Can we overcome our drives for status and preeminence or our mundane desires merely to be one up on other people?

In the ebb and flow of life, can we meekly respond as did the preparer of the Way, John the Baptist? Unselfishly he said, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

How about meekness in our marriages? Is the pronoun me yielding ever more often to the pronoun we? The vertical pronoun I is best used in such situations as “I love you,” “I care for you,” “I hear you.” Otherwise, I can be drenched in ego: “I demand,” “I want,” “I need.”

Seemingly small, positive adjustments can make large differences in process of time. In our families, in the Church, and in other relationships, will we stop letting yesterday hold tomorrow hostage? Will we reclassify others, knowing that forgetting is part of forgiving?

A Difficult Process

So we see that building character is the most difficult form of construction. It requires faith and patience, using divinely given blueprints. There are also the overruns resulting from overcharged emotions. It’s not easy to be meekly resilient after experiencing failures. It’s not easy to retrofit by repentance, especially when our pride suggests that we are doing pretty well.

Likewise, it is ever tempting to try to use cheap, mortal substitutes instead of building Christlike character. The substitutes—such as cleverness instead of goodness and smoothness instead of substance—do not survive when the winds and the rains pound on crumbling foundations. Furthermore, when we follow shortcuts, there is that awful subsidence, or sinking. Hence we can fall! All serious discipleship, therefore, requires our serious remodeling.

Christ is characterized as the Rock for so many reasons. We will find no fissures in His foundation. He never disappoints us. He never falters. His love never fails. He never fails to bring to pass His purposes.

Brothers and sisters, you can follow Peter’s counsel: Cast all your cares upon Christ, “for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Don’t be reluctant to do that. You may need to do it again and again. Christ told His disciples to catch a particular fish with a particular coin in its mouth in order to pay taxes, or tribute (see Matt. 17:27). Upon finding the fish, the disciples so did! Such incredible awareness about a single fish and a single coin should console us regarding the Master’s full awareness of the details in the lives of each of us.

So “we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ.” Why? So that those we love the most “may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:26).

Seize the Defining Moments

A word now about our own families. Some of us are older; some are in mid-passage; others have yet to begin. Some of us are parents, and some, grandparents. Grandparents have empty nests. Such emptyings are part of the plan, of course. Yet, since our flocks have left their nests, we find ourselves remembering and savoring precious days now irrevocably past. We listen in vain but with eager ears for children’s voices we once thought too shrill, too constant—even irritating. Yet that cacophony of children, which we once called noise, was actually sweet sound, a sound we yearn to hear again if we but could.

For the rest of you now amid the cacophony, seize the defining moments. Make more Mary-like choices and show less Martha-like anxiety. What are calories anyway, compared to special conversations? Of course, meals need to be served and consumed, but the mentoring memories will not be taken from you.

His Love Is Inestimable

Whether we are old or young, married or unmarried, and with full or empty nests, the love of atoning Jesus for us is simply inestimable! Mercifully, the Lord tells us, “Mine arm is lengthened out all the day long” (2 Ne. 28:32). He waits with open arms to receive us, and on a later day, says the prophet Mormon, we can be “clasped in the arms of Jesus” (Morm. 5:11).

Whatever the remaining distance between us and Him, it is ours to travel. The beckoning stepping-stones are there. You have come thus far by faith in Him, though you have “miles to go before [you] sleep,”2 and your faith will take you even farther.

Please ponder this eloquent pleading to the Father. It is by the same Jesus who volunteered in the premortal world by saying meekly and simply, “Here am I, send me” (Abr. 3:27). Here are the pleading words:

“Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—

“Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;

“Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life” (D&C 45:3–5).

He is always thinking of us! I so testify as one of His Apostles.

Arise and Walk, by Simon Dewey, courtesy of Altus Fine Art, American Fork, Utah

Photography by Welden C. Andersen; photography posed by models

Christ in the Carpenter Shop, by Robert T. Barrett

Photograph by John Luke

The Crucifixion of Christ, artist unknown

Show References

Notes

  1. 1.

    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 217–18.

  2. 2.

    Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” in The Poetry of Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Lathem (1969), 225.