And President Hinckley practiced what he preached. From the time he returned from his mission in 1935, he spent only a year outside of church employment.
"A life of service is a gift to God and the only real way to truly worship Jesus Christ," he said at in an LDS Church Christmas devotional in 1984.
As a teenager, he was influenced by a general conference address in which President Heber J. Grant quoted 1 Nephi 3:7, "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded...."
That commitment to serve became full time in 1933 when President Hinckley accepted a call to be a missionary. Assigned to the British Isles, he was called to be an assistant to Elder Joseph F. Merrill, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and president of the European Mission.
When he returned from his mission in 1935, Elder Hinckley was invited to report to the First Presidency about his mission.
President Heber J. Grant told him: "Brother Hinckley, we'll give you 15 minutes."
"It was one of the highlights of my life that I met with President Heber J. Grant and his counselors," he recalled. "They spent more than an hour asking me questions."
A committee of the Quorum of the Twelve had been organized for broadcasting, publicity and mission literature. A few days later, the young returned missionary was asked to take full-time employment as executive secretary of this committee.
He wrote and produced "The Fulness of Times" and "New Witness for Christ" series of recordings. Some aired on 400 radio stations nationwide. He also supervised translations of the Book of Mormon and designed the church's 1939 exhibit at the San Francisco World's Fair.
He helped pioneer the use of filmstrips, motion pictures and radio spots in missionary work. He wrote missionary pamphlets and supervised the translation of the scriptures in several languages.
In 1942, he compiled 60 color slides of church history sites and wrote a script. He retraced the pioneer trail and, as a result, located the grave of Rebecca Winters, grandmother of President Grant. It had been previously lost to the church.
In 1951, he was named executive secretary of the General Missionary Committee and a year later introduced uniform missionary lessons. These were garnered from missions nationwide.
In 1954, President David O. McKay asked him to spearhead the production of temple materials in 13 languages. The methods he developed are still being used in a number of the temples.
His non-church employment came as a result of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He applied for officer training at the naval recruiting office but was rejected because of a history of allergies. So, to contribute to the war effort, he worked as the assistant superintendent of the Salt Lake Union Depot and Railway Co. Later he became assistant manager of mail and express traffic for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad. He was also president and director of a local company, Recording Arts Inc. He returned to church employment in 1944, following a visit with Elder Stephen L. Richards.
A humble man, President Hinckley often struggled with feelings of inadequacy.
"I look back at myself as a shy and bashful boy freckle-faced and awkward," he once told a Church News reporter.
When he was called as an assistant to the Twelve in 1958, he said in a conference address, "Humbly I seek the blessings of the Lord. I am overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy."
When appointed to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1961, he said, "I am subdued by the confidence of the Lord's prophet in me and by the expressed love of these, my brethren, beside whom I feel as a pygmy."
But President Hinckley found strength in this philosophy: "I believe that simple faith coupled with prayer and effort, even though our talents may be meager and our opportunities limited, will yield rewarding results."
In 1981, President Hinckley was called to serve as a counselor in the First Presidency. During that time, he assumed the bulk of the First Presidency's responsibilities, since all three members of that presidency were experiencing poor health. In November 1982, he became second counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball after the death of President N. Eldon Tanner, who had been the first counselor. He subsequently was called as first counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson and President Howard W. Hunter, before being sustained as president of the church in 1995.
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