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First In – Stand Firm – Last to Leave

Rebecca L. Craven Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency
November 29, 2022 11:15 AM

"Developing a “<i>First In”</i> <i>attitude</i> is best cultivated when we prominently place Jesus Christ <i>first </i>in our lives. Are we willing to trust that the Lord will pave a way for us to do the things He has asked of us? "
First In – Stand Firm – Last to Leave

That was so beautiful and sung with such love and reverence. I felt like I could actually picture that very first Christmas. Thank you so much. It is such a delight to be with you today. I am especially grateful that my husband, Ron, is with me. Together we proclaim a fervent testimony of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. And like you, we are striving every day to become more “capable and trusted disciples of Jesus Christ.” [1]

I have always been amazed by the mighty miracles the Savior performed. If you have ever tried to hold water in your bare hands without it spilling through your fingers, you may understand why some of my favorite miracles have to do with water. One of those mighty miracles happened when the Lord caused the waters of the River Jordan to stop flowing, allowing the prophet Joshua and the Israelites to cross the river on dry, not even muddy, ground.

The stopping of the river’s flow is indeed miraculous and manifests the Lord’s infinite power. But it’s not the miracle itself that is my focus today. Instead, I’d like to draw your attention to three principles, or lessons, we learn from the priests who bore the ark of the covenant across the dry riverbed that day.

Let’s recount the story: After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the Israelite's were finally permitted by the Lord to enter the promised land. To get there, however, they would have to cross the River Jordan. The water was deep. In fact, it was overflowing its banks. How were they to get across?

Now, imagine the scene: Following the direction of the Lord, the priest who bore the ark led all of Israel towards the river. As the priests approached the water’s edge, I envision they may have glanced towards Joshua, wondering if they should proceed. I can see Joshua nodding, beckoning them to step forward into the depths of the river. And then with great faith, and maybe even a little apprehension, they stepped in.

“And [as] the feet of the priest that did bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water. … the waters … rose up upon an heap.” [2]

First In

“And the priest that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan.” [3]

Stand Firm

“For the priest which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until everything was finished.” [4]

Last to Leave

First in – Stand Firm – Last to Leave. Let’s look at these powerful principles individually.

So, to begin―first in. This is one of my favorite comics. I like it because I find myself relating to it more than I should! Look closely at the runners on the starting line and the banner hanging above them announcing the name of the race: “The Annual Instant Gratification Zero-Mile Fun Run.”

The caption says: “Runners to your mark. Get set. Go! … OK, come get your T-shirts.” The runners signed up and showed up, but they didn’t go anywhere. In fact, they went nowhere. They didn’t finish the race because they never started. Instead, they collected their T-shirts as if they had done something remarkable and headed home.

Do we ever find ourselves in similar situations? We sign up and even show up in our running shoes, but then quickly fizzle out. Do we lack motivation or commitment to go the distance?

Maybe instead of seeing starting blocks as a means of propelling ourselves forward, we see them as stumbling blocks. Maybe it’s anxiety or a lack of confidence preventing us from stepping in or just showing up. It might simply be that we are content in our comfort zone.

We read in the fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.” [5] But what if we don’t have the desire?

I was recently asked if it was wrong for a young man to serve a mission if he didn’t have the desire to do so. Quickly into my mind came a long list of specific things I do not necessarily have a strong desire to do – like getting up early in the morning or speaking in general conference. But I do have one overriding, powerful desire that propels me to do those things I may desire less. That motivating desire is my love for our Savior Jesus Christ. I want to follow Him and live the covenants I made with Him. That desire requires me to do some things that are hard, that test my confidence, and take me so far out of my comfort zone that I sometimes can’t even remember where I parked!

Are we committed―even consecrated in our efforts? If I asked you to jot down the names of people you know who are consecrated, you could probably do that instantly. Not only are they committed, but they also bring a holiness to the work because of their love of the Savior. You know exactly who they are. They are family members, or neighbors or friends who you and the Lord can depend on. These consecrated individuals show up, time and time again. They are the first ones you call, and the ones who stay until the job is finished. They are the ones you admire and respect because they are “first in” as well as “all in.”

Developing a “First In” attitude is best cultivated when we prominently place Jesus Christ first in our lives. Are we willing to trust that the Lord will pave a way for us to do the things He has asked of us? Things that are hard? Things that are uncomfortable? Or things that require our time? Can we trust in Him when we don’t always know what is ahead? Or when we don’t have answers to every question? Of course, we can! Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know us. They love us. And They want us to find joy and success in our righteous efforts.

Let’s read these verses in Proverbs about trusting in the Lord. Look for two invitations, one caution, and then a powerful promise.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In ALL thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” [6]

The Invitations: Trust in the Lord. In ALL thy ways acknowledge Him.

The Caution: Lean not unto thine own understanding.

The Promise: He shall direct thy paths.

Now, add to that promise this absolute truth and spiritual confidence builder declared by the Apostle Paul: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” [7]

Elder David A. Bednar recently told the missionaries at the Provo MTC to put Christ first and it changes everything. When young men and young women put Christ first in their lives, they will want to enter into sacred temple covenants. They will want to go on a mission. When they put Christ first, they begin to understand the ordinances and covenants they are making with the Savior, and they will want to do His will and be more like Him.” [8] Let’s be First In.

The second principle we learn from Joshua is to “stand firm.” It must have been difficult and tiring for the priests to stand with the weight of the ark upon their shoulders while every Israelite man, woman, and child, whether they were strong or feeble, made their way across the River Jordan. Yet the priests did not waver; they did not quit, they stood firm.

At any moment, on any day, our commitment to stand firm in our convictions and covenants can be tested. Elder Jörg Klebingat of the Seventy recently reminded us that: “the Savior and His early followers dealt with serious internal and external opposition, and we experience the same. Today it is almost impossible to courageously live our faith without occasionally attracting a few actual and virtual fingers of scorn from the worldly.” [9]

I recently became aware of a young woman who stood firm against that finger of scorn, maintaining her commitment to keep Jesus Christ in the center of her life. For several months she had been serving in a leadership position in a prominent community organization. She felt honored when asked to give the opening prayer at a large upcoming event. She was thrilled to participate.

A week before the event, she received an email from the head of the organization requesting that she give a non-denominational prayer. Instead of closing the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ she was asked to use the words of the organizational motto.

In her return message to the leader, she said she felt uncomfortable changing the way she has always prayed. She explained that because of her religion, she believed in praying to God in the name of Jesus Christ. She kindly offered to state the motto after closing the prayer.

The leader was not happy and called the young woman. The young woman reiterated her beliefs and reminded her leader that their organization stood for respect and tolerance of others’ beliefs. Changing how she prayed in order to not offend others would, in fact, be offensive to her and to God.

This is the part of the story where you hope I will say that because of this young woman’s determination to stand firm in her faith, the leader’s heart was changed, she was allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ, and the entire organization was converted to the gospel. Some stories do end that way. But most do not!

Unfortunately, the leader did not budge. But neither did the young woman. They agreed that someone else should be asked to pray.

I love this young woman who stood firm as a witness of God “at all times and in all things, and in all places.” [10] She was not confused about what to do, nor did she need to re-decide how she would behave. She made such decisions well before the time of proving, allowing her to be steadfast and immovable.

Satan’s distractions and intrusions are everywhere. By understanding that our nature is divine, that our destiny is eternal, and then relying on the Holy Ghost to both guide and warn us, we will not be overtaken by the mists of darkness so prevalent in today’s world.

Just as the Lord directed the priests to stand firm through the counsel of the prophet Joshua, the Lord guides us today through His living prophets.

A couple of summers ago my husband and I visited a beautiful rain forest in a national park in Central America. Unlike many other visitors in the park, we had hired a guide. He was a trained naturalist. He saw and heard things in the forest that we would have missed had he not pointed them out. We saw the most beautiful plants, animals, colorful frogs, and bugs – the kind you typically see only in National Geographic. What we learned and experienced was remarkable! It wasn’t too long into our trek through the forest that Ron and I noticed people strolling past us as if they were simply, and literally, just taking a “walk in the park.” They were not seeing what we were seeing, or learning what we were learning about the fabulous environment we were in. They did not have a guide.

Not only were they blind to the hidden treasures of the rain forest, but they were also blind to its hidden dangers. Without our guide, we would not have known, for instance, that the beautiful bright red tree-frogs were poisonous to touch, or that stepping off the path could result in a bite from a lurking viper.

Part way through our guided tour, Ron and I stopped to share a common thought. What would it be like traveling life’s path without the guidance of living prophets, the scriptures, and personal revelation? What would we miss that would bless and beautify our earthly experience? What dangers would we not know to avoid? How blessed we are to be led by living prophets who testify of Jesus Christ and teach His gospel. Prophets who make known God’s will and true character, and speak boldly and clearly, denouncing sin and warning of its consequences. But are we listening?

I once heard a story about a young schoolboy named Tommy. Before recess one day, Tommy’s teacher instructed all the students in the class to put on their goulashes. It was raining and she didn’t want their shoes to get wet. When the bell rang and the students returned from recess, Tommy’s shoes were wet and muddy. The exasperated teacher said, “Tommy! I told you to put on your galoshes!” Tommy replied, “I heard you. But I wasn’t listening.” Following the counsel, warnings, and invitations of our living prophets, I testify, will help us stand up and stand firm in any circumstance.

Quoting again from Joshua: “For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until everything was finished.” [11]

When my husband was a young boy, his grandparents had a farm that he loved to visit with his family. He and his brothers especially loved to play in the large bales of hay stacked in the barn. Getting to the barn, however, required passing through a small, fenced area that corralled Billy.

Billy was a gigantic, prized bull who weighed close to a ton. His long, intimidating horns and erratic temper often deterred the boys from reaching the barn. Any noise or disturbance near Billy’s pen would wake him from his slumber on the other side of the corral. He would get up, shake his head, snort and bellow, and paw at the ground. The boys were terrified of Billy.

One day, Grandpa and the children entered the pen together. Sure enough, Billy sprang up from the far corner of the pen and began his charade. The children screamed and cowered behind their grandpa. Grandpa said, “Oh, don’t worry about Billy; he’s all show and no action. He huffs and puffs and gets all excited, and then as soon as we leave the corral he will go back to his corner, lie down, and go back to sleep.”

Are we sometimes like Billy? We receive a new calling, we hear a great talk in a meeting, we read something inspiring, or we have a meaningful impression. We awake from our slumber. We become motivated and excited with all kinds of good intentions, and then, after a day or two, we go back to our corner, lie down, and go back to sleep.

The people I have come to respect are the “doers” who do more than “show up.” They follow through without fanfare or the need for attention and stay engaged until their task is complete. They are the last to leave. This kind of endurance is impressive and humbling.

My husband’s father, Rulon Craven, passed away almost five years ago after living with, and being treated for, a slow growing form of leukemia. For several years, my father-in-law received regularly scheduled transfusions that boosted his immune system and gave him the energy to live a fairly normal life. As the years passed, however, the need for infusions increased while the benefit of those treatments decreased. He eventually made a decision to let nature, and the Lord, decide his outcome. He stopped his medical regimen and within two weeks was confined to bed and the care of hospice.

A few days before Ron’s father passed, his faithful bishop, Jerry Cook, came to his home to visit. Bishop Cook was in the middle of his own battle with cancer. After years of treatments, surgeries, and long hospital stays, Bishop Cook could no longer walk. The day of his visit, his good counselors pushed him in his wheelchair from his home to the home of my in-laws at the top of a steep hill. It was a difficult journey on that cold January afternoon, but dressed in his suit and tie, Bishop Cook was determined to minister one last time to a beloved member of his fold.

The exchange between Bishop Cook and Dad Craven was teary and tender. Those of us who stood close by witnessed a divine example of consecration. Bishop Cook was a covenant maker―and a covenant keeper. Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “Empathy during agony is a portion of divinity!” [12] That is what we witnessed that day from Bishop Cook – and from the counselors who made it possible for him to serve. For the short time thereafter that Bishop Cook was allotted to live, he endured beautifully. I promise the Lord will sustain us when we choose to linger, lift, and love those around us!

First In – Stand Firm – Last to Leave.

Certainly, we cannot run faster than we are able. In fact, we are commanded not to do so. We are not super-human beings with unlimited energy, time, health, or ability! But applying the simple principles exemplified by the priests who bore the ark―first in, stand firm, and last to leave―can help in our effort to be accountable to our loving Father by honoring our covenants, convictions, and commitments. I invite you to consider how these principles might bless you in your education, employment, and relationships.

Let’s consider how the supreme Exemplar of these principles, Jesus Christ, set a pattern for us.

When our Heavenly Father presented the plan of salvation to us in the Grand Council in Heaven, He knew we would need a Savior to help us return to His presence. When our Father asked, “Whom shall I send?” Jesus Christ answered first: “Here am I; send me,” [13] and “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” [14] He was First in!

In preparation for His ministry, the Savior fasted for 40 days. During that time, Satan presented Him with enticements that would surely tempt any mortal. Knowing His identity as a Son of God, Jesus Christ boldly resisted, saying, “Get thee hence Satan.” [15] Regardless of the grandeur or number of temptations Satan offered, Christ stood firm!

At any point during His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane or on the cross at Golgotha, Jesus Christ could have stopped His agonizing pain and torture. Yet because of His love for God and each of us, and because of commitments He had made, He finished what He started. He followed through. “It is finished,” [16] were His last mortal words. He endured to the end. He did not leave until His work was complete!

“I am Alpha and Omega,” He said, “the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” [17]

What a blessing it is to be led by Him. To trust Him. To follow Him as His true disciples―willing to show up, do the work, and turn off the lights on our way out.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] Ensign College mission statement.
[2] Joshua 3:15 – 16; emphasis added.
[3] Joshua 3:17; emphasis added.
[4] Joshua 4: 10; emphasis added.
[5] Doctrine and Covenants 4:3.
[6] Proverbs 3:5-6; emphasis added.
[7] Philippines 4:13.
[8] See “‘Put Christ First,’ Elder Bednar Teaches Missionaries at Provo MTC,” Newsroom, Nov. 9 2022.
[9] Jörg Klebingat, “Valiant Discipleship in the Latter Days,” Liahona, Nov. 2022.
[10] Mosiah 18:9; see also Young Women theme.
[11] Joshua 4: 10; emphasis added.
[12] Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God,” Ensign, Apr. 1978.
[13] , Isaiah 6:8; 2 Nephi 16:8; Abraham 3:27; see also Moses 2:4.
[14] Moses 4:2.
[15] Matthew 4:10.
[16] John 19:30.
[17] Revelation 22:13.

About the Speaker

 Rebecca L. Craven

Rebecca L. Craven

Rebecca L. Craven was sustained as the Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency on March 31, 2018.

Sister Craven’s parents joined the Church when she was four years old while her father, a career Army officer, was stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas. While growing up she lived in Germany, England, and various parts of the United States. She received a bachelor’s degree in interior design from Brigham Young University.

Sister Craven met her husband, Ron, on a blind date while they were students at BYU. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple and are the parents of five children and 22 grandchildren.

Over the past 15 years, Sister Craven and her family have also traveled to villages in Kenya, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Guatemala with CHOICE Humanitarian to help rural communities end extreme poverty. She has served as an executive board member for that humanitarian organization.

Sister Craven has a special love for missionaries. She served with her husband when he was president of the North Carolina Charlotte Mission. She has been president in the Relief Society and Young Women organizations and has served as an ordinance worker in the Bountiful Utah Temple.
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