A Well Springing Up Unto Everlasting Life
George Bernard Dantzig was an American mathematical scientist who brought about significant discoveries in the areas of computer science and statistics. He is best known for his development of the simplex algorithm. In computing science, the algorithm can determine whether a solution exists for a complex linear problem. Dantzig was a Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.
What made Dantzig most famous, however, is in 1939 while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley, he was late for a class. Prior to class, his professor Jerzy Neyman wrote two examples of unsolved statistics problems on the blackboard. When Dantzig arrived, he assumed that the two problems on the board were the homework assignment for the day. He wrote them down and went home to work on them.
According to Dantzig as he worked on the problems, they “seemed to be a little harder than usual.” Despite the difficulty, Dantzig solved the problems and handed then into his professor even though they were likely overdue at the time. The professor would, a few weeks later, reveal the problems were somewhat famous unsolved-able problems and then he would help prepare Dantzig’s responses for publication.
How did Dantzig solve the problems that up until that point were impossible to solve? Was it because, unlike the rest of the class, he wasn’t told that the problems were impossible?
While we would all like to attribute Dantzig’s success solely to the fact that he wasn’t constrained by the thought of something being impossible, a more accurate description is likely that Dantzig was an extremely talented statistician who was not constrained by the assumption the problems were impossible to solve.
By the time Dantzig graduated high school, he was already fascinated by geometry and math. He earned a B.S. in mathematics and physics, and then a Masters in mathematics. Then he worked as a statistician at the Bureau of Labor Statistics before enrolling in the doctoral program of mathematics at UC Berkeley where he ran into the unsolved statistics problems.
Dantzig had given thousands of hours to the study of statistics and was eagerly engaged in the study of statistical theory in pursuit of his Ph.D. One could argue, that while exceptional, it was both his preparation and his unconstrained belief on the part of Dantzig that he could solve the impossible.
I love this story because it beautifully teaches the power of both consistent preparation and belief in achieving the remarkable.
Similarly, the wonderful thing about the plan of salvation is the need for both consistent effort on our part to repent and follow Christ by keeping his commandments, and belief in the remarkable power of His atoning power to help us repent and become more like Him.
Like two sides of the coin we move from one side to the other, our own effort on one side and faith in the atonement on the other. We often fail in our own effort and turn to Christ to repent. We try our best to obey and as we fall short or need help, turn to His grace. It’s like an eternal round in which we consistently apply our effort and return to Him.
Interestingly, Dantzig was immersed in math and statistics as a Ph.D. student. No doubt this gave him a prevailing mindset or view that enabled him to be statistically minded which, in turn, helped him to see how to solve the statistics problems. Anything that gets our focus will influence our prevailing mindset.
A well-known example is this: assume you have a four-letter word written on a piece of paper in front of you. This word begins with an S and ends with a P. And the two letters in between are left blank and your job is to finish the word.
If my instructions were, “Complete this word while I go and grab some food” you would probably write the word soup. If my instructions were “Complete this word while I go and take a shower” you would probably write the word soap.
Likewise, if our lens or view in life is spiritual, we tend to think of spiritual things.
Dallin H. Oaks said, “To be spiritually minded is to view and evaluate our experiences in terms of the enlarged perspective of eternity. Each of us has a personal lens through which we view the world. Our lens gives its special tint to all we see. It can suppress some features and emphasize others. It can also reveal things otherwise invisible. Through the lens of spirituality, we can know ‘the things of God’ by ‘the Spirit of God.’ As the Apostle Paul taught, such things are ‘foolishness’ to the ‘natural man.’ He cannot see them ‘because they are spiritually discerned.’”[i]
In the heading to D&C 63 it says, “In these infant days of the Church, there was a great anxiety to obtain the word of the Lord upon every subject that in any way concerned our salvation; and as the land of Zion was now the most important temporal object in view, I inquired of the Lord…”
With a Zion mindset, the revelation tells them that “faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe.” The church was in its infancy and with their prevailing mindset, it may have been easy to think that if they could see signs they would develop greater faith.
But anyone who has tried to live the gospel over a period of time soon learns that it’s not the miraculous but the daily walk that brings you closer to Christ.
We read of the miraculous stories of Paul or King Lamoni who receive remarkable manifestations of their repentance and made immediate changes for good. However, for us, repentance and change often require a consistent application of the gospel and striving to repent until we arrive at a point in which our character and ability begins to reflect, in part, that of the Master.
Ezra Taft Benson said,
For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”[ii]
This doesn’t mean there aren’t miracles in the life of the repentant soul, because there are often too many to count. But the process of becoming more like the Savior takes time and all we can do. “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).
But we are not left to ourselves in this daily walk. In D&C63:23 we read:
“But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.”
How does this work? How do we find and activate a well of living water inside us?
Well, we don’t have to look much further than the science of water wells to learn more. In the United States, 38 percent of the population depends on groundwater or aquifers for its drinking water supply. Each day, the US withdraws 350 billion gallons of groundwater for use.
Most people think that underground there are large reservoirs or rivers of water flowing underneath us. Some think there are giant caves underground with rivers flowing through them. But that is not the case. Most water is extracted from water bearing or water-laden soil and rocks beneath the surface of the earth.
You see, over time water seeps through small spaces within rocks and dirt, and gravity draws it downward finally settling in the aquifer. An aquifer is a large space with water laden soil and rock. In fact, the definition of an aquifer is water bearing permeable rock.
Think of it this way: when you go to the beach and start to dig a hole, the sand on top is mostly dry, as you dig deeper you find wet sand, and as you dig deeper still in that wet sand, your hole begins to fill with water because the water from the water-saturated sand seeps into the hole. And the water in that hole rises to the upper point of saturation.
When you did a water well, you drill down to the aquifer or water-saturated soil and pump the water to the surface.
Likewise, as we consistently seek the dews from heaven, the living water in our life; it will seep into our very being. And soon, we become saturated with that living water, becoming closer and closer to the character of Jesus. Then, those mysteries, the things we still need to learn about Jesus and his character, like water in a well, rise to the level of spiritual saturation in our life.
So, we develop a well of living water springing up unto everlasting life as we add spirituality drop by drop, daily habit by habit, and repenting over and over again.
Elder Bednar said, “In my personal reading, studying, and searching over a period of years, I have focused many times upon the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. No event, knowledge, or influence has had a greater impact upon me during my 54 years of mortality than repeatedly reading about, studying in depth, and searching for connections, patterns, and themes related to the doctrine of the Atonement. This central, saving doctrine, over time, gradually has distilled upon my soul as the dews from heaven; has influenced my thoughts, words, and deeds; and literally has become for me a well of living water.”[iii]
So, how do we get more of the dews from heaven in our life? D&C 121 tells us that if we have charity and we let “virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.”
As we seek daily to live the gospel, exercise the love of Christ in our life, and be virtuous; the dews will seep into our souls and become saturated soil for our living well.
“Virtue ‘is a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.’ It encompasses chastity and moral purity. Virtue begins in the heart and in the mind…It is the accumulation of thousands of small decisions and actions.”[iv]
Sometimes we underestimate the power of virtue to change our character. In D&C 63:14-19, the Lord warns of the dangers of unvirtuous thoughts and actions. “…he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear.”
These thousands of small decisions…to choose worthy media, to keep our thoughts and actions pure, to elevate our language, to spend free time in worthy endeavors… all lead to thousands of drops from the dews of heaven that seep into our character.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16 that the “outward man [perisheth], yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” When we add virtue to the inward man, he is constantly renewed.
The Lord has revealed to us a pattern of renewal and spiritual development. This pattern lays the ground work for all learning and development in the gospel.
This pattern is taught in Moses 5. The Lord commanded Adam and Eve to worship and taught them the proper way to offer sacrifices. They were obedient. Then, the angel appeared and gave them additional light and knowledge. They were taught a little more about Christ, his character and the atonement. The angel also gave them another commandment:
“Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.”
The pattern? Be obedient to the commandments. Exercise faith in that obedience even if you don’t fully understand. Keep your covenants by sacrifice. And wait faithfully and eagerly on the Lord to give you more understanding.
The Lord told Joseph Smith that those saints who were willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice were accepted of him and will receive a mighty blessing: “For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit” (D&C 97:9).
Of all the things we can learn from D&C 63, perhaps the most important is that repenting is a lifetime endeavor. Developing a Christ-like character is done with a thousand small choices and steps over a lifetime.
President Benson said: “We must be careful, as we seek to become more and more godlike, that we do not become discouraged and lose hope. Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible.”
But we can take pride in every small choice for good that we make. We may not think that small choices correctly made will impact our eternal life. But they do.
Richard G. Scott said, “There are two patterns for making decisions in life: (1) decisions based upon circumstance and (2) decisions based upon eternal truth….
“The guiding principle in the pattern of decisions based upon circumstance is to make choices according to the outcome desired rather than upon what is right or wrong. There is no use of an underlying set of standards to consistently guide those decisions. Each choice is made upon what appears to give the most desired result now. One who follows this path is left to his own strength and capacity and the support of others who can be influenced to act in his favor. Satan encourages choices to be made in this manner. It gives him the greatest opportunity to tempt an individual to make decisions that will be harmful even though they appear most appealing when made.
“The second pattern, making decisions based upon eternal truth, is the pattern of the Lord. It will always lead you to make decisions guided by His plan of happiness. Such decisions are centered in doing what is right, not in first deciding the result desired. Choosing to do what the Lord has defined as right will, in the long run, always lead to the best outcomes.”[v]
D&C 63:20 says, “…he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth.…”
It occurs to me that one way in which our character becomes a well springing up unto everlasting life, is that our own character, our own conscience becomes educated. As we align our will with our Heavenly Father’s will, our will doesn’t become weaker. Our will becomes stronger and it is so much stronger because it is aligned with God’s will. And with a stronger character and desires that are pure, that character will guide our decision making. This is an everlasting well of strength.
So, we have the choice each day: we can desire good or evil. We can choose the right or not. We can repent quickly or not.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
Actually, everything depends—initially and finally—on our desires. These shape our thought patterns. Our desires thus precede our deeds and lie at the very cores of our souls, tilting us toward or away from God. God can ‘educate our desires’ . . . Others seek to manipulate our desires. But it is we who form the desires, the ‘thoughts and intents of [our] heart[s]’ (Mosiah 5:13).”[vi]
President Benson said:
“That man is greatest and most blessed and joyful whose life most closely fits the pattern of the Christ. This has nothing to do with earthly wealth, power, or prestige. The only true test of greatness, blessedness, joyfulness is how close a life can come to being like the Master, Jesus Christ. He is the right way, the full truth, and the abundant life.”[vii]
As I read D&C 63, I walk away with this impression: there is a simple, humble and obedient path to salvation. We don’t find it through signs. We find it through daily decisions, doing our best to live virtuously, and repenting often. That will turn to our good and become a well that guides us into everlasting life. In other words, that inward person we cultivate will be with us forever. So, we can choose every day to make that inward person remarkable.
George Dantzig came upon seemingly impossible questions that he was able to solve because of his prevailing mindset and faith. We can solve life’s biggest questions and become like our Savior with a spiritual mindset and virtuous character. As we make better decisions each day and seek to keep the commandments, we will accumulate the dews from heaven making a well springing up to everlasting life.
[i] Dallin H. Oaks, Spirituality, Ensign, Nov. 1985, pp. 61-63.
[ii] Ezra Taft Benson, A Mighty Change of Heart, Ensign, October 1989, p. 5.
[iii] David A. Bednar, A Reservoir of Living Water, BYU Speeches, Feb. 4, 2007.
[iv] Virtue, LDS Library, lds.org.
[v] Richard G. Scott, The Power of Righteousness, General Conference, Oct 1998.
[vi] Neal A. Maxwell, Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father, Ensign, Nov. 1995.
[vii] Ezra Taft Benson, First Presidency Christmas Devotional, Dec. 7, 1986.