Faith & Beginning With the End in Mind

Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.

You may be familiar with Stephen R. Covey’s famous book entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In this timeless classic, the author presents seven cohesive principles which, he claims, can transform our lives as individuals and societies. A recent edition claims, “…the greater the change and more difficult our challenges, the more relevant the habits become. The reason: our problems and pain are universal and increasing, and the solutions to the problems are and always will be based upon universal, timeless, self-evident principles common to every enduring, prospering society throughout history. I did not invent them and take no credit for them. I’ve simply identified and organized them into a sequential framework.”

Published in 1989, this book offers many gems of wisdom for the truth-seeker, but I am going to focus only on the second habit, namely Begin With the End in Mind. Although I highly recommend the complete work, I want to expound upon this particular concept and its relation to faith, rather than draft a book review.

Most people have heard of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but I doubt that many of my readers are aware of another book published by Covey, titled The Divine Center. Seven years before Seven Habits, he published this book after observing human behavior. His answer for personal and social ills: a personal center based in our true identity as children of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. What’s fascinating is that the principles found in Seven Habits and Divine Center are identical–except the former lacks the religious underpinnings.

Stephen Covey, of course, knew this. He intended this to be so, and I believe his intent in publishing Seven Habits was to make the principles and ideas found in The Divine Center more approachable to all people. At the time these books were published, he was an educator employed at Brigham Young University and was a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think it not too bold to claim that Seven Habits changed the world (at least, it has had a major impact in business circles). One has only to glance at the impressive list of endorsers under its cover to gain this impression.

We live too much out of our memories, too little out of our imaginations. The spiritual (mental) creation precedes the physical creation in all things. Always begin with the end in mind.

Stephen R. Covey, The Divine Center

What most of these readers do not understand is what fascinates me most. This concept, “Begin with the end in mind,” did not start with Seven Habits. It is a major theme found in The Divine Center as well. Drawing upon the Latter-day Saint doctrine of “spiritual creation preceding the physical,” as taught in the The Pearl of Great Price, the author writes, “We live too much out of our memories, too little out of our imaginations. The spiritual (mental) creation precedes the physical creation in all things. Always begin with the end in mind.” He focuses on eternal reality; that is, that God lives, that we are his offspring, and that he has created a plan for us to return to him, with Jesus Christ at the center of that plan. Thus, the concept of “Begin with the end in mind” is a natural outgrowth of a spiritual understanding of reality.

However illuminating this connection may be, I was not content to leave it there. I did more digging. And, do you know what I found? There is an earlier reference to this phrase. I do not believe that Covey coined it. In fact, the earliest reference to this axiom which I can find comes from a 1984 devotional given at Brigham Young University, by none other than Russell M. Nelson, current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this speech, Nelson commends his hearers to imagine they were at their own funeral, as the eulogies are being delivered:

“What would you want [them] to say?” he asks. Then, in response, he adds,

“If it’s fair for me to ask that of you, it’s fair for you to ask that of me. If I were to write what I hope might be said about me, those three sentences would include:

I was able to render service of worth to my fellowmen.

I had a fine family.

I evidenced unshakable faith in God and lived accordingly.”

Begin with the end in mind. Shape your own destiny. Remember that the development of your career, your family, and your faith in God is your individual responsibility–for which you alone will be held accountable.

Russell M. Nelson

As Stephen R. Covey was, in fact, a faculty member at Brigham Young University in 1984, it seems none too bold of me to posit this argument: he adopted this concept from the 1984 devotional, and, more specifically, from the teachings of Russell M. Nelson. Moreover, this idea of “begin with the end in mind,” is a fundamental, core doctrine for Latter-day Saints, as our understanding of life is based in the concept of a divine Plan of Salvation, intended for us to return to, and become like God.

A clear understanding of the desired outcome is necessary in all cases to find success, happiness and direction. I believe that faith is nothing more or less than acting without a sure knowledge that such action will result in the desired outcome, but trusting that good things come from difficult choices. Or, as better expressed by the prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon,

“Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”

And so, beginning with the end in mind requires faith. We must act, or we cannot begin at all–therefore, let us act in faith, with an eye toward the eventual goal. I will end with this final quote from Nelson’s devotional, which I highly recommend to anyone reading this essay:

“Begin with the end in mind. Shape your own destiny. Remember that the development of your career, your family, and your faith in God is your individual responsibility–for which you alone will be held accountable.”

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