The Message:

If Men Never Ventured Beyond Their Experience, the World Would Make No Progress

by Elder Royden G. Derrick

Of the First Quorum of the Seventy

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    The bright coloring of the surrounding mountains was inspiring. The yellow, brown, and gray of the stone in the nearby hills and the blue of the distant mountains was a scene that only nature could paint. An artist who tried would be accused of exaggeration.

    I stood on the edge of a great precipice. The ground beneath my feet was white sandstone. It was strange how drab the ground at my feet appeared but how beautiful that same stone was when viewed from a distance. “Isn’t that the way life is?” I thought to myself.

    I looked down. Far below, the Colorado River, like a puny gray ribbon, wound itself through the deep canyon gorge. It made me dizzy, and I backed off for fear of losing my balance. I looked up and saw the other side of the canyon 600 feet beyond. As I contemplated how remote we were from civilization, fear came into my heart. “What have we gotten ourselves into?” I asked myself.

    We had signed a contract to fabricate and erect the steel for a bridge to span the Colorado River gorge. We were relying upon our engineer’s computations and designs to do something we had never done before. The last thing I would ever do under these circumstances would be to express aloud any doubt. I had to be positive. If the leader of the organization lacks courage or judgment when exploring new horizons, the operation will crumble. It was a critical point, a precipice for those of us who had worked so long and hard to build a professional reputation. There was no turning back now. I displaced my fears by thinking, “If men never ventured beyond their experience, the world would make no progress.”

    How do you go about bridging such a chasm? First, we spanned the river with a cord. The cord was used to pull a light rope across, then a heavier rope, a light cable, and a heavier cable, until we had a three-inch steel cable spanning the gorge supported by high towers on each side. Together with other essential parts we had a high line system that would carry fabricated steel segments into their respective positions; some pieces weighed as much as 30 tons.

    The segments of the arch were supported by backstrap towers and held 600 tons of steel high above the river until the arch could be closed. After the arch was closed, its weight was transferred down to the huge concrete foundations supported by the bedrock of the canyon walls, enabling the backstrap towers to be relieved and dismantled.

    Every step taken had to be right. Every piece of steel had to fit with exactness. Every move was carefully planned. A complicated scheduling process was used to coordinate engineering, purchasing, steel preparation, steel fabrication, storing, transporting, unloading, and erecting so that the right piece of steel arrived at the site at the exact time it was needed. It’s that way in life, isn’t it? We must plan things to a standard of excellence if we want to succeed. The greater the challenge, the higher the standard must be, whether we are building bridges or building lives.

    Today people never notice the precipice on which I stood on that particular day. As the motorist travels over what before was an impassable route, he now crosses from one side of the canyon to the other in approximately eight seconds. I seldom look back upon that precipice in my business life without realizing that man, with the help of the Lord, can pretty well do whatever he makes up his mind to do. What is a challenge for one might be quite commonplace for another, but what is now commonplace was once a great challenge.

    There are times in the lives of all of us when we stand on a precipice. The unknown of tomorrow brings doubts to our minds and fears to our hearts. The Savior sensed this about his disciples as he spoke his farewell to them at the Last Supper. They were to carry on with his work after he was gone, something they had never done before. He said, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)

    Following the restoration of the gospel, the Savior again passed the baton to his latter-day disciples and, sensing their fear, said, “Fear not, little flock, the kingdom is yours until I come.” (D&C 35:27.)

    The Lord instructed Nephi to do something he had never done before—to build a ship to cross the ocean to a new land of promise. Nephi had some knowledge about how to proceed, but his spiritual strength and confidence in the Lord were his greatest preparation. When his brothers criticized him and told him he could not build a ship, it must have caused some doubt in his mind and perhaps fear in his heart. But in his great faith he said, “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done.

    “And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?” (1 Ne. 17:50–51.) Following this Gibraltar-like statement, Nephi and his brothers, with the help of the Lord, built a seaworthy ship that carried them to America.

    The Lord has instructed us to do all that we can in preparation. He said to his latter-day disciples, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30.) The apostle Paul, having received a call from the Lord following a divine manifestation, spent three years in Arabia, according to tradition, preparing for the ministry. The Lord instructs us to prepare when he counsels, “Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed.” (D&C 11:21.)

    Once we have prepared ourselves, the principle of faith is necessary—faith that we can do whatever we have prepared ourselves to do. The dynamic apostle Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philip. 4:13.) That statement reveals a major strength in his character.

    Preparation, faith, fearlessness—then we proceed step by step and day by day to perform to a standard of excellence. This enables us to venture beyond our experience and to successfully do things that we have never done before. The horizons that lie ahead will be conquered by men and women prepared in faith, courage, and reliance on the Lord. The resulting satisfaction to the individual and the contribution to mankind are well worth the effort.

    Illustrated by Scott Greer