God isn’t looking for track stars

Feb 7, 2021
3 min read

In Doctrine and Covenants section 10, the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery:

Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end.

D&C 10:4

It is possible that the Lord was referencing this part of the Book of Mormon which may have been recently translated and written in Oliver’s own hand:

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

Mosiah 4:27

The word run is used in these metaphorically and not literally. Yet, are we often literally trying to do more than is necessary, going beyond what was required to the point of looking and acting beyond the mark? (Jacob 4:14)

One of the promises made in Doctrine and Covenants section 89 is that those who remember to “keep and do” those sayings, “shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” (D&C 89:20)

That verse cross-references to some verses in Proverbs which say:

I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.

Proverbs 4:11-13

The Lord has paths for us, and our steps appear to be our acts of obedience in walking that path. There are times to walk, and it seems that there are times where we can indeed run (when thou runnest).

The Lord told Oliver not to run or labor more than he has the strength to which appears to not make much sense. Since it is impossible to do more than you have the strength to anyway, then why warn someone to not do what they can’t to begin with?

Perhaps in Oliver’s case he wasn’t content to merely be a scribe, he wanted to translate like Joseph, but it wasn’t his calling to do so. It seems as if the Lord entertained him a little on this desire but as Oliver kept hitting obstacles and becoming discouraged the Lord gave him this advice.

By trying to get into translation, he was seeking to step into a role that was already filled. It seems that this job required a translator and a scribe, not two translators.

The role of translator seemed to be more impressive and noteworthy than a mere scribe, but both roles were necessary. By focusing so much on something that wasn’t his role, Oliver was neglecting the critical work of acting as a scribe.

I think there is something to be said here for failing to recognize the places God has put us and the callings he has given us.

I think it is easy to look at our little places in this world and think they don’t mean that much, instead we neglect them and seeing to do bigger and bolder things.

I think Naaman could be a good example of this. He wasn’t happy when he was told that the cure for his ailment was to wash in an ordinary river. He was expecting something a little more flashy. Fortunately for Naaman, he had a very wise servant who said:

My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?

2 Kings 5:10-13

After expressing a super-human desire to speak with God’s trump and shake the earth into repentance, Alma the younger tones it down a bit and wisely concludes:

I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.

Alma 29:3

I’m sure there are many more examples of this in the scriptures, but I think this underscores the point that we often tend to overlook the value of what is right in front of us.

The Lord’s sustaining power will abide us as we walk and run in the right paths and the callings he has extended to us. It is there that we will find the miracles and blessings of God by trusting in his wisdom and not our own desires.

Like Alma, we too can come to the same understanding of Alma the younger:

…we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true. I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it.

Alma 29:8-9


  1. Particle Man

    “By trying to get into translation, [Oliver] was seeking to step into a role that was already filled.”

    While true, the Lord was willing to give him the opportunity; however, it seems that Oliver neither understood that nor how work was required of him in the process.

    “It seems that this job required a translator and a scribe, not two translators.”

    Although one translator was a minimum, for a small window of time, one translator was apparently not a maximum.

    Robinson and Garrett suggest that perhaps it was important for Oliver to understand the gift of translation to be a more effective scribe or to serve as a more informed witness of the translation process.

    Whatever the reason(s) that the Lord extended to Oliver the opportunity to translate and he wasn’t permitted a do over, the Lord, through Joseph, did his own work. Similarly, opportunities come and go for us to serve. Regardless of the situation, we are to be content with what we have been allotted (Alma 29:3) as we lift where we stand (Uchtdorf, Oct 2008).

    • Yeah, I like those thoughts. It does seem like God was willing to give Oliver a genuine chance and whether or not he succeeded didn’t really seem to matter.

      I’ve had some experiences like that. I was given a chance and failed.

      I learned from those chances, glad I got them, but it seemed like the experience of failure ended up being more important than succeeding would have been.

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