A More Excellent Way

Brigham Young University-Idaho

Man of Excellence Fireside

February 13, 2005

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin

I am delighted to be with you this evening. Thank you, President Wilkes, for your kind comments. Although I am honored to be associated with this award, I’m not sure that I have completely come to terms with the nomenclature. To be honest, I feel some sympathy with Benjamin Franklin who once was at a formal literary society event in Paris, France. Not completely understanding what was being said, and not wanting to appear rude, he decided he would follow the lead of a friend of his and applaud whenever she did. After the event, Franklin’s grandson said, “But, Grandpapa, you always applauded, and louder than anyone else when they praised you” (Clifton Fadiman and Andre Bernard, General Editors, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes, Little, Brown and Company, First Revised Edition, p. 217).

Over the span of my lifetime, I have had the remarkable opportunity to know and work closely with many men and women who exemplify excellence. I have learned from each one of them. They have served as guiding lights during my life and provided direction that has been an immense help to me.

Polynesian Pilots

Hundreds of years ago, Polynesian sailors traveled vast distances using only the stars to navigate. To be able to launch a craft not much larger than a canoe, travel thousands of miles through often treacherous waters, and find a tiny pinprick of an island in the midst of a vast ocean is a remarkable feat to say the least.

That such a thing is possible was demonstrated by a group from Hawaii in the 1970s. Having enlisted the help of one of the last remaining Polynesian pilots, they set out from Hawaii. Thirty days and 2,500 miles later, they arrived at their destination - a group of islands near Tahiti (http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/nainoa80tahiti.html).

How did they accomplish this remarkable feat?

These navigators spent their lives learning about the stars and their paths through the heavens. They had memorized them so carefully, that they were able to use them as reference points throughout their voyage. Whenever they drifted off course, they looked to the stars and adjusted their sails. As long as they followed the stars, they knew they would reach their destination.

History is filled with the examples of righteous men and women who can serve as guiding stars for us. Although they may have lived in different times and faced different trials, fundamentally, their challenges are ours; the problems we face were theirs. The more we learn of them - the more we use them as a guide for us - the more certain it is that we will reach a final destination worthy of sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.

There have been many such guiding lights in my life. The examples and words of my mother and father remain with me to this day. Many of the great men and women of my youth, in a similar way, still are with me. I honor and revere them and thank them for the positive influence they had on me as a young boy.

Although I never knew him, my great-grandfather is another example to me. As a teenager in Berne, Switzerland, he heard the elders preach the restored Gospel. The power of testimony was so strong that he accepted the Gospel immediately and was baptized that very Sunday. Because of this decision, his parents disowned him and he was left without a home. Eventually, he took passage on a ship, ending up in Nauvoo in time to secure a handcart and make the long journey with the Saints coming to the Salt Lake Valley.

There are other great individuals whose lives and example have served as a guiding light to millions. Today, I would like to speak about three such individuals - people who are already familiar to you.

Their stars shine brightly in the annals of history. Clear, bright, and ever true, their light is radiant and never-failing. Their examples of excellence, like the stars that guided the Polynesian pilots, can guide us in our own journey through life.

President Gordon B. Hinckley

President Gordon B. Hinckley is a man whom I have revered and loved for a very long time. I was a teenager when he returned from serving a mission to England. I remember the day he spoke about his mission experiences in sacrament meeting and talked of his love and admiration of the British people. Many of my friends were present and both they and I felt inspired to serve missions as a result of this talk. After the meeting, I spoke with Elder Hinckley and he said to me: “One of the most important things you can do is to go on a mission. The privilege of serving the Lord full-time is a gift beyond measure.”

The words he spoke were such an influence on me that it strengthened my resolve to serve a mission.

When my father passed away in 1963, President Hinckley came to our home. I’ll never forget his kindness. He gave my mother a blessing and, among other things, promised that she had much to look forward to and that life would be sweet to her. These words gave comfort and encouragement to my mother and were an inspiration to me.

President Hinckley is a visionary man. In his patriarchal blessing, it was promised that “the nations of the earth shall hear thy voice and be brought to a knowledge of the truth by the wonderful testimony which thou shalt bear” (Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward With Faith, Deseret Book, 1996, p.60). When President Hinckley finished his mission, he felt that this portion of his blessing had been fulfilled as he had testified of the truth in more than one nation. Since that time he has visited nearly every nation on this earth.

Of course those early experiences were only the first of thousands he has had since that time to bear his testimony throughout the world to millions of people. That experience has taught President Hinckley never to underestimate the promises and power of the Lord.

I can tell you from personal experience that he is a man of faith who believes that when the Lord speaks, the Lord provides. Like Nephi of old, he knows that no matter how impossible the task may seem, our Heavenly Father will provide a way for it to be accomplished.

One of the great challenges the Church faced not long ago was that its membership was expanding throughout the world and yet there were so few temples. Often Church members went to great lengths and immense sacrifice to travel to a temple to receive the holy ordinances that are available there.

President Hinckley struggled with this. How could the eternal blessings of the temple be made available to the many faithful members who did not live near a temple? As he wrestled with this problem, an idea came to him. Why couldn’t we build smaller temples? We could build them on smaller plots of ground, it would take fewer people to serve as temple workers, we could open them only as demand required. Why couldn’t the blessings of the temple be extended to millions of faithful members of the Church that otherwise would be without the opportunity?

During the April 1998 General Conference, President Hinckley announced “a program to construct some 30 smaller temples immediately” (http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-26-35,00.html). At that time, there were 51 temples in operation and those had taken roughly 150 years to build. In the seven years since that announcement, 68 new temples have been dedicated bringing the total to 119 (http://lds.org/temples/chronological/0,11206,1900-1,00.html). In addition, 11 more have been announced and are in the process of being constructed.

You will never find a man as kind and considerate as President Gordon B. Hinckley. When it comes to doctrine, he never deviates. And he is one of the hardest working General Authorities I have known.

In a recent interview with Larry King, President Hinckley was asked how he was doing since his beloved wife Marjorie passed away. He said that he felt pretty lonely at times.

Mr. King asked, “How do you get over that?”

President Hinckley’s response was as touching as it was profound: “You never get over it … the best thing you can do is just keep busy,” he said. “Keep working hard, so you're not dwelling on it all the time. Work is the best antidote for sorrow” (https://www.cesnur.org/2004/lds.htm).

I have watched President Hinckley throw his every effort into accomplishing the work the Lord has set for him. I testify to you that he is a prophet of God and that he leads the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.

I am honored to call President Gordon B. Hinckley my prophet and my friend.

The Prophet Joseph Smith

This year, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of The Prophet, Joseph Smith. He is the second guiding light I would like to recommend to you. Sometimes, the more familiar we are with someone, the less we appreciate them. But when it comes to The Prophet Joseph, the more I learn of him, the more I love and revere him. We believe that in the history of the world, he has done more for the salvation of mankind than any other person save Jesus only (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3).

He was a man for whom the heavens parted. He witnessed the reality of a loving Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. He saw and spoke with angels, received priesthood keys from heavenly messengers, and had discourse with many of the great souls who had lived on earth.

When the Prophet spoke, he could hold the interest of people for hours at a time. One who heard him speak said, “The testimony of Joseph struck through the heart, and, like the thunder of the cataract, declared at once the dignity and matchless supremacy of the creator” (Lyman O. Littlefield, quoted in Mark L. McConkie, Remembering Joseph, Deseret Book, 2003, p. 98).

Those who met The Prophet, even those who did not believe what he taught, often described him as “extraordinary,” “noble,” and “God-like.”

Missourian General Moses Wilson was a bitter enemy of the Church. At one point Joseph was delivered into General Wilson’s hands as a prisoner. General Wilson later said of him, “He was a very remarkable man. I carried him into my house, a prisoner in chains, and in less than two hours my wife loved him better than she did me” (President George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses, V.17, p 92).

On another occasion, a large group of men approached stating they had come to “kill Joe Smith and all the Mormons.” Joseph smiled, and shook their hands. He sat down with them and explained to them many of the difficulties the Saints had suffered and their claim against the injustices that had been heaped upon them. After talking to them for some time he turned and said, “I believe I will go home now - Emma will be expecting me.”

At this, two of the officers who had come to kill him suggested that he should not go home alone and insisted that they would provide an escort to ensure his safety.

As they left, Joseph’s mother heard one say, “Did you not feel strangely when Smith took you by the hand?”  

Another said, “I could not move. I would not harm a hair of that man’s head for the whole world” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, pp. 255-256).

Joseph Smith was the man who, before he had reached 25, had translated the Book of Mormon. He did this in a period of less than three months.

Our translators at the Church Office building can translate the Book of Mormon at the rate of roughly a page a day. Joseph Smith translated the original at a rate of 10 manuscript pages per day.

Could you imagine being given that task as an assignment in one of your classes? Your goal would be to write a book of more than 500 single-spaced pages that recounts the history of a nation over a period of a thousand years? The book you write must be consistent with historical evidence of the period. It must stand under the strictest scrutiny and have no contradictions in date, personalities, or events. It must contain revelations from God to man and have the power of testimony such that millions upon millions who read it can testify of its truth.

When you take into consideration that Joseph had logged less time in school than our average third grader, it makes what he did seem more impossible by human standards. Consider Joseph Smith carefully and you are left with only one conclusion: Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw. He heard what he said he heard. And he translated The Book of Mormon through the power of God.

Joseph Smith was a man who had been granted the privilege of transcending space and time. He not only had seen the past, but he knew the future. I have read one account where Joseph was waiting in Dimick Huntington’s boot shop and, to pass the time, he began speaking about events in earth’s history, explaining many events Brother Huntington was not familiar with. But, “when he came to present times, he didn’t stop, but went on and related the principle events that will transpire in the history of the world down to the time when the angel will declare that time shall be no longer”(Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1974), p. 66).

But even though the Prophet Joseph was a man who had conversed not only with angels, he was a man of a compassionate and kind heart.

When Joseph was serving as mayor of Nauvoo, a man was brought to him and accused of selling liquor on Sunday. The man explained that he had a dear child who was being held as a slave in a Southern state and he was trying to get enough money to buy the child’s freedom. He pled with the prophet not to punish him.

“I’m sorry, Anthony,” Joseph said to the man, “but the law must be observed, and we will have to impose a fine.”

The next day, the Prophet gave the man one of his fine horses telling him to sell it and use the money to purchase the freedom of the child (Mark L. McConkie, Remembering Joseph, Deseret Book, 2003, p. 55).

Like millions of others, my life is richer, sweeter, and transformed because of the life and words of The Prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith.

Jesus, the Christ

The third guiding light I wish to speak with you about is that of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Oh, that I had the voice of an angel, that I could convey the depth of the feelings of my heart for this man among men, who is my Savior.

He lived that we may live forever. He lived that we may experience a fullness of joy. He lived that our sojourn - not only through these few years we pass in mortality, but through the infinite reaches of limitless eternity - may be glorious and our hearts and minds filled with a fullness of love, joy, and peace.

He rebuked death and raised those whose spirits had departed this life. He commanded the sick, the lame, and the afflicted to be healed and they were healed. He commanded the earth and the skies and they obeyed. He stood in majesty before those who would destroy him and bore solemn testimony of the truth. He took a few morsels of food and fed thousands. He rebuked Satan and the evil one departed.

Though Jesus could command legions of angels - though the ocean, earth, and sky, obeyed his word - the man from Galilee was meek and humble and mild. Often he knelt in prayer and supplication as He communed with His Father in Heaven.

Because of the sublime words of Jesus Christ, we understand what it means to love our neighbor, become holy, and we understand the true power of faith.

Once, when traveling through Samaria, the Savior asked a woman to draw water and give Him to drink. Because of the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans, the woman marveled at the request. Jesus then spoke to her and said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13,14).

As with the woman of Samaria, this living water is available to us if we will only partake of it.

The Savior calls to us today as he has done in ages past: “Follow Me.”

When we follow the Savior in spirit and in truth, we leave behind us the mundane enticements of this tired earth and take upon us the life of adventure in the Spirit. As we covenant to remember the Lord and drink of living water, we step into the threshold of a new day; we enter a world of faith, wonder, and light.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and President Gordon B. Hinckley are three great examples worthy of emulation. Although each of them lived in different times and faced different challenges, each is a beacon of excellence that can provide light for our own journey.

Now, there are some who, instead of being inspired by the examples of great men and women, instead become discouraged.

If you have ever felt inadequate, if you have ever felt that you don’t have the inherent capacity of others, if you have ever felt that no matter how hard you try, you are never good enough, I have a word of advice for you.

Your life is not a race.

You are not competing against anyone else for entrance into the presence of our Heavenly Father.

The plan of salvation is not a reality show where you have to beat out other contestants to win.

I have more good news. As long as you seek to grow closer to your Heavenly Father and your hearts and spirits are contrite - as long as you repent and strive in faith to overcome weaknesses - you will be rewarded by our Heavenly Father.

Our purpose in this life is to fill our minds with all truth and our hearts with the Spirit of the Lord that we may become more holy and, more like those great souls who preceded us. As we learn and apply the principles of the Gospel in our lives, the atonement of the Savior will cleanse us of iniquity enabling us to live in peace and righteousness in this world and in glory throughout the worlds to come.

Our task is not in one day to become perfect, but to grow a little more perfect every day. Even if it’s only a small step, the important thing is that we keep walking forward, each day getting a little closer to our glorious destination.

Do you think perfection is too high of a standard?

I know people who are perfect in paying their tithing.

I know many who are perfect in attending Sacrament Meeting, going to the temple often, reading the scriptures daily.

They didn’t start out being perfect perhaps, but they made a commitment and they followed through.

I encourage you to do the same. We all know the things we need to work on. We don’t need well-intentioned people to reveal our shortcomings - although at times it appears there is never a scarcity of them.

On every side we have before us the examples of many great souls. Their lives can inspire us. Their actions can encourage us. Their faithfulness can give us hope and confidence that we can do the same.

Never be satisfied with less than your best. And don’t allow yourself to get discouraged when your actions don’t measure up to your thoughts and feelings. Work every day to become a little more perfect, a little more righteous, and a little more holy.

Remember your destiny as sons and daughters of the Most High God is to overcome challenges and stand triumphant and victorious at the final day.

That is your destiny.

It is your birthright as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.

I have learned to do something that may be of use to you. Each evening, I take inventory of my day. I review the events of the day and give thanks for the things that went well and consider the things I could have done better.

Instead of getting discouraged when I make mistakes, I try to learn from them.

I write down the things I need to accomplish the next day and make a plan as to how I can accomplish them.

Finally, I go before the Lord with my report. I ask for His forgiveness for my shortcomings and plead for strength and wisdom to improve. I invite the Spirit of the Lord into our home and our family. And I ask for the Lord’s guiding hand to help me become more like Him.

Don’t fret when your thoughts or actions fail to measure up to your potential, rejoice that through the atonement of our Savior, you can repent. Regardless of our shortcomings, through the refining influence of the Holy Ghost, we can improve our lives daily.

Be of good cheer. This journey we are taking is not one of drudgery or discouragement, but one of delight and destiny.

Learn from your mistakes. Seek forgiveness of those you have wronged. Forgive those who have wronged you. Have faith that your loving Heavenly Father knows you. He will bless you as you pursue righteous desires. And you will come to know that “all things work together for good to them who walk uprightly” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:24).

Like the ancient Polynesian pilots who followed the stars towards their destination, you can study the lives of righteous souls of every generation and follow their examples. As you do so, you will find your way through the vast and dark oceans of the trials of this life and come at last to the land promised by the Father.

I bear witness that we lived before this life in the company of great and noble souls. After we depart this existence, we will once again have the opportunity to renew our acquaintances with them.

We are children of the infinite Heavenly Father. He exists. He hears us as we pray. He loves us with a love beyond our comprehension.

He sent his Son, Jesus Christ to this earth to bring about the eternal work of the atonement. Because of Him, we will live forever. Because of Him, our faults and weaknesses can be cleansed and we can become perfect.

Joseph Smith was called of God to restore the Gospel to earth. With help from beyond the veil, Joseph Smith brought about the work of restoring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He received the keys of the priesthood and revealed ordinances essential to salvation.

Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by a man of God, a prophet, a choice servant of our Heavenly Father.

President Gordon B. Hinckley presides over and leads the Lord’s Church in accordance with the will of heaven.

The Church is true. God lives. As we embrace the principles of The Gospel, we will find peace in this life and immeasurable joy in the hereafter.

The great Book of Mormon prophet, Ether, wrote, “In the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way” (Ether 12:11).

My earnest desire is that we may all rejoice in that gift and that we may find that excellent way is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.