There was one sacrament meeting where the speaker related a simple parable that began a slow process of understanding. In the story, a Master instructs a servant to push a giant rock as his task while the Master goes away on other business. The rock is much larger than the servant but the servant loves his Master and wishes to do all that is asked of him. But the rock won't budge. The servant works and strains and tries everything he can to move the rock and becomes more and more distressed at the thought of the Master returning with the rock still in place. Ultimately, he does return, and the servant is devastated to report his failure. Then the Master asks him a question. "Did I ask you to move the rock? No. I only asked you to push it, to give all the strength you could in doing so. I did not expect the rock to be moved. My purpose, rather, was that you gain strength for another task I have for you. Now you are prepared for that one."
This comes to mind now from a few verses I came across in my scripture reading this morning. In Isaiah 49:1-4, Isaiah laments that all his efforts have meant nothing. No one has really listened or cared about the warnings he's been instructed to give. He's tried so hard to help the people he loves, the people the Lord loves, to help them see that their actions were going to bring hard things upon them. But if no one listens, what good did any of it do?
There are two places that come to mind in the Book of Mormon that show relative parallels with Isaiah's concerns regarding the responsibility of leaders. In Mosiah, King Benjamin is reporting at the end of his reign on his efforts to lead the people righteously, well. In chapter 2, verses 15 and 27, it reads:
Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day.
Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.
Likewise, some 300 or more years earlier, Jacob, brother of Nephi (first author in the Book of Mormon), has this to say regarding the responsibilities of his ministry. (Jacob 1:19)
And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.
Clearly there is a responsibility and Isaiah's anguish over the lack of response to his efforts becomes more clear. He feels like he is failing even though he has tried so hard. It hasn't made a difference. Or so it seems. Perhaps reading the verses above through one more time will help make the actual issue more clear. In verse 15, King Benjamin has worked to the ultimate end that he can have a clear conscience when he finally stands before God. That clear conscience does not require that everyone under his authority lived perfectly and that his society had no troubles to work through or disturbances. It only required that he did the best he could, worked honestly, and gave it all that he could give. Isaiah did not manage to prevent the captivity of Israel. Their actions were ultimately their own choices and therefore their own responsibility. Isaiah's responsibility was rather to make sure they had access to the information necessary so that it really was THEIR choice. (A choice isn't really a choice unless you understand there are different options available.)
I think of Oliver Granger, mentioned in only 4 verses of the Doctrine and Covenants in section 117 (12-15). Elder Boyd K Packer gives a clearer understanding of the import of those verses in his talk "The Least of These" from the 2004 General Conference. If you read the links, you see that he was given a task and asked to do the best he could, but ultimately, it was one were he couldn't really succeed. And yet, in verse 13, it says:
and when he falls he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.
His best efforts, relatively ineffective as they were, were really all that the Lord was asking for.
I have always loved the sounds of fanfare which will help explain to some extent why I've always liked the hymn "God Speed the Right". One line in the second verse always bothered me, though.