President Gordon B. Hinckley opened Sunday morning's session of conference by challenging members to perform well their part in building the kingdom of God.
The first counselor in the First Presidency and his colleague, second counselor President Thomas S. Monson, spoke to members about persevering through faith and opening windows to the soul through love.Said President Hinckley, "While you are performing the part to which you have been called, never lose sight of the whole majestic and wonderful picture of the purpose of this dispensation of the fullness of times."
President Monson conducted the session, held in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, with music provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
"Weave beautifully your small thread in the grand tapestry, the pattern for which was laid out for us by the God of heaven," President Hinckley advised. "Hold high the standard under which we walk. Be diligent, be true, be virtuous, be faithful that there may be no flaw in that banner."
Speaking from a pulpit dressed with Polynesian flower arrangements, President Hinckley praised Utah's pioneer settlers. He said they kept the grandeur of the greater cause in mind, even while they were grubbing the sagebrush to simply stay alive. "It is a work which we must do with the same vision they had."
The second day after Brigham Young arrived in the valley 142 years ago, members gathered for morning and afternoon church services.
"I suppose that in the blistering heat of that Sunday they sat on the tongues of their wagons and leaned against the wheels while the brethren spoke. The season was late and they were faced with a gargantuan and immediate task, if they were to grow seed for the next season. But President Young pleaded with them not to violate the Sabbath then or in the future."
The foresight of Utah's pioneer forefathers was audacious and bold, President Hinckley added. They didn't look much like statesmen or rulers. They were exiles, driven from their fair city into the barren desert. But they had a vision drawn from the scriptures and revelation.
They settled almost a thousand miles from the nearest settlement to the east, nearly 800 miles from the Pacific coast, in an untried climate on unfamiliar soil, he said.
"These prophets, dressed in old travel-worn clothes, standing in boots they had worn more than a thousand miles from Nauvoo to this valley, spoke out of a millennial vision," President Hinckley said.
He marveled at the pioneers, who five years after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, called 98 men on three- to seven-year missions. The missionaries traveling east passed a body of saints who were heading west after migrating from Europe.
"Sometimes in our day, as we walk our narrow paths and fill our little niches of responsibility, we lose sight of the grand picture."
He said church members each have a field to cultivate, and as they do so they should remember they are engaged in an extraordinary cause. "It was given us by God our Eternal Father, and each of us has a part to play in the weaving of its magnificent tapestry," President Hinckley said. "Our individual contribution may be small, but it is not unimportant.
"Many small efforts and little acts become the cumulative pattern of a great worldwide organization.
"I know of no other people so concerned with the eternal well-being of the sons and daughters of God of all generations," President Hinckley said.
President Monson counseled members to apply the mighty lessons of the scriptures in their daily lives and to look through windows into other's souls.
"Windows are wonderful. They serve as a frame on which we might focus our attention. They provide a glimpse of God's creations," he said. "Windows also reveal the approach of a friend, a gathering storm, a magnificent sunset - even the passing parade of life."
Windows can light up lives and bring joy to human souls.
President Monson said President Hugh B. Brown, a former counselor in the church's First Presidency, once asked him to wait in the car as they were leaving the Brown home. There, they watched as Zina Brown came to the window, and sitting in her wheelchair, waved a white handkerchief at her husband.
President Brown returned the gesture. "Zina and I have followed that custom since we were first married. It is somewhat a symbol between us that all will be well with us throughout the day until we are again together at eventide." Elder Monson termed the tradition a window to the heart.
But such soul windows can be shut by pain or neglect, such as a forgotten birthday, an unremembered visit or an overlooked promise. The scriptures are full of examples of God's love of the poor and downtrodden, seen through the window of personal example, such as the story of the widow's mite.
"When we catch the vision regarding the worth of human souls, when we realize the truth of the adage, `God's sweetest blessings always flow through hands that serve him here below,' then we have quickened within our souls the desire to do good, the willingness to serve and the yearning to lift to a higher plane the children of God."
President Monson told about his longtime friend William Norris, who built a plant for his computer manufacturing firm in a poverty-stricken area.
The majority of the plant's work force was made up of uneducated, single mothers. Norris provided a company nursery along with employment. The schooling provided in the nursery helped to break the chain of poverty, President Monson said.
The window provided by Norris was that of love in action. "I saw demonstrated the philosophical and practical truth: The bottom line of living is giving," he said.
"As we go about our daily lives, we discover countless opportunities to follow the example of the Savior. When our hearts are in tune with his teachings, we discover the unmistakable nearness of his divine help. It is almost as though we are on the Lord's errand; and we then discover that, when we are on the Lord's errand, we are entitled to the Lord's help."
President Monson said a picture of the Savior hangs on his office wall, positioned so he can face it when he is sitting at his desk. "When confronted with a vexing problem or difficult decision, I always gaze at that picture of the master and silently ask myself the question: `What would he have me do? "
Jesus Christ beckons to each person, extending a warm invitation not only to gaze at beauty through windows, but also to pass through them to the priceless opportunities he provides to bless lives, he said.
Elder David B. Haight, a member of the Council of the Twelve, spoke of a vision he received that underscored Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice as the most important event in the history of the world.
Elder Haight thanked God for healing him after a recent serious operation.
"I testify to all of you that our Heavenly Father does answer our righteous pleadings. I know that what has come to me has made a great impact upon my life."
President Monson said Elder Haight had been a beneficiary of the Lord's blessing and termed his recovery a "living miracle."
While praying after his body was struck with pain, Elder Haight said he heard the siren of the paramedic truck fade. "I was now in a calm, peaceful setting; all was serene and quiet."
He could see two persons standing in the distance. As Elder Haight described the experience, his voice filled with emotion. "I heard no voices but was conscious of being in a holy presence and atmosphere. During the hours and days that followed, there was impressed again and again upon my mind the eternal mission and exalted position of the Son of Man.
"I knew this truth before - I had never doubted or wondered. But now I knew, by the impressions of the spirit upon my heart and soul, of these divine truths in a most unusual way."
Elder Haight said he was shown a panoramic view of Jesus Christ's earthly ministry, from his baptism, through his teachings and healings, to his crucifixion and resurrection. The vision had a deep impact upon his soul, he said.
One scene was of Jesus and his apostles during the passover supper. "It was so impressively portrayed to me the overwhelming love of the savior for each," Elder Haight said. "I witnessed his thoughtful concern for significant details: the washing of the dusty feet of each apostle; his breaking and blessing of the loaf of dark bread and blessing of the wine; and then his dreadful disclosure that one would betray him.
"During those days of unconsciousness, I was given, by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, a more perfect knowledge of his mission. I was also given a more complete understanding of what it means to exercise, in his name, the authority to unlock the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven for the salvation of all who are faithful.
"My soul was taught over and over again the events of betrayal, the mock trial, the scourging of the flesh of even one of the Godhead."
Elder Haight testified that his vision taught him the significance of Jesus' atonement. "It is the single most important thing that has ever occurred in the entire history of created things. It is the rock foundation upon which the gospel and all other things rest."
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, of the Council of the Twelve, praised what he called modern-day pioneers - "the rank-and-file members of the church."
"The path of modern pioneers is not easy," he said. "Burdens carried in the heart can be just as heavy as those pulled in a handcart."
Every cause has its visionary leaders, like President Brigham Young, and its followers, like those pioneers who came in the last wagon of the last wagon train. "In our day, as in the days of earlier pioneers, those in the lead wagons set the direction and signal onward, but it is the faithful men and women in the wagons which follow that provide the momentum and motive power for this great work."
Quoting from the late J. Reuben Clark, Elder Oaks said: "There is no aristocracy of birth in this church; it belongs equally to the highest and the lowliest."
Among the church's modern pioneers - its hidden heroines and heroes - Elder Oaks praised missionaries, couples, temple workers, children who care for aging parents, faithful home and visiting teachers and all of whom forgive their transgressors.
On one assignment, Elder Oaks was introduced to a youth, who recognized him and remarked: "He's one of those guys who hangs on the wall at seminary."
Elder Oaks said having one's picture on a church leadership poster doesn't guarantee a fast track to exaltation. "The criteria for that ultimate goal is the same for every person - leader or follower, prominent or obscure: Have we received the ordinances of salvation and kept our covenants?"
He and others of the church leadership find models of faithfulness and nobility among rank-and-file members, he said. The service of numberless officers, teachers, advisers and clerks in wards and stakes throughout the world is often invisible to all but God.
Many modern saints do their pioneering on the frontiers of their own attitudes and emotions. "One of the best qualities in any of the sons and daughters of God, whatever their circumstance, is a determination to become better," he said.
Elder Oaks counseled members struggling valiantly to "do it all" that the Lord will bless them for their righteous desires.
Faithful church members should remember to wind their spiritual clocks, advised Elder Dean L. Larsen, of the Presidency of the Seventy.
He joined others during the morning session who paid tribute to general authorities granted emeritus status or released on Saturday. "I've concluded that words are inadequate, and in reality, their real tribute will be found in lives of people throughout the world who have been touched by the influence of these men."
Elder Larsen said with proper care and attention, each person's spiritual clock can operate better. "In the world's environment today, spiritual clocks that do not receive regular attention can wind down quickly."
He termed regular prayer, scripture study, sabbath worship, partaking of the sacrament and service to others as "enobling experiences" that are necessary to increase spiritual vigor.
Nephi and Amulek, two Book of Mormon prophets, taught that sincere prayer is an essential ingredient in maintaining spiritual tone, he said.
President Ezra Taft Benson also has taught of the special power contained in the scriptures. "Scripture study combined with daily purposeful prayer can provide much of the resolution that is necessary today to off-set the influences so prevalent in the world that lead us into forbidden ways," Elder Larsen said.
He encouraged members to worship on Sundays. "There is something essential about joining together with other believers to worship, to sing, to pray, to learn of God's will for us and to acknowledge his goodness to us."
And, he added, those who unselfishly give of themselves in service receive spiritual reinforcement. He quoted the late President Spencer W. Kimball to emphasize the point: "I have learned that it is by serving that we learn to serve. . . . In this, the master is the perfect example."