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Let’s be honest. How does a Bostonian and dean of the Harvard Business School leave the prominence and connections of New England to become president of a college in little Rexburg, Idaho? A demotion, some would say. But the reasoning behind Kim Clark’s decision (and it was a quick decision) can be traced back to the stirrings he had for this very book.
In the fall of 2002, Clark was beginning his eighth year as dean of the Harvard Business School (HBS):
It was a time of stress and anxiety in my life. Some of that stress came from work, and some came from my trying to be more diligent and faithful in living the gospel (1).
In an effort to make HBS more global in its perspective and orientation, Clark took on the necessary task of launching the school’s first fundraising campaign. It required him to travel all over the world, meeting with alumni who were willing to invest. While doing this, he still had to manage the day-to-day demands of being a dean.
Additionally, he was serving in the stake mission presidency (and later the high council with responsibility for missionary work in the stake). By 2002, Clark felt he was making progress in both areas of his life, but he also began to feel strong opposition.
One night I awoke from what must have been a nightmare. I felt very anxious, worried, beset with strange thoughts and feelings of dread and darkness. I felt intensely the need for the Lord’s help. I rolled out of bed onto my knees and asked heavenly Father to help me. I prayed for strength, for guidance, for relief” (4).
As he got up, a phrase of scripture came into his mind that seemed to be the key he needed: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against power, against the rulers of the darkness of this world…” (Ephesians 6:12).
In the morning, Clark began a study of this fragment of scripture. He read the entire passage (Ephesians 6:10-17) and knew that this was the answer to his prayer. “The message was not only to comfort, enlighten, and inform but also to assign and command” (4). He knew it was the Lord’s voice saying to him:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Reading this passage now (having finished Armor), I realize Clark’s book was a success. Paul’s words seep with new meaning for me. Each piece of God’s armor brings to mind a more vivid battle image, a personal anecdote tenderly shared, a newly prized sense of significance.
Chapter after chapter, I became more committed to Clark’s book, more empathetic, more amazed at the story and insight Kim Clark had to offer. His is a unique voice – learned, prominent, successful, but also accessible and real. His call is clear and unmistakable: put on the armor of God. It is divine protection against a darkening world.
Clark helps us plainly understand Paul’s analogy. It is not just about putting on armor. It is about putting on the whole armor of God. The heavens want us fully protected from the fiery darts of the wicked. That means we must cover ourselves head to toe, so that there are “no holes, no chinks, no unguarded, unprotected places where evil may enter in” (266). This is how we arm ourselves with Christ’s power. There is no stronger defense.
Armor is broken down neatly, as the title implies – piece by piece, chapter by chapter. Clark crafts a comprehensive discussion of all the armor mentioned by Paul, from “loins girt about with truth” to the “sword of the spirit.” For purposes of this review, I mention only some of the themes or concepts that spoke most keenly to my soul.
Searching for Truth
“Having your loins girt about with truth.” What does that mean? I learned from Clark that ancient warriors clothed themselves in a thick, leather girdle that protected and served as a foundation for their armor. They attached to the girdle other parts of their armor and their weapons of war (85). So when William Clayton wrote, “Gird up you loins” in our much beloved hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints,” he was calling the Saints to battle!
Paul tells us to gird our loins with truth. Clark’s attention to this idea of truth was most intriguing. Steeped in academia, I wanted to know how he has kept himself from falling prey to the “philosophies of men.” Clark writes, “As with so many things in our lives, something that is good – in this case, knowledge and learning – can become, if we are not careful, the focus of temptation and sin” (88).
The key, Clark says, is to remember who is the foundation of truth. Jesus Christ is the Truth and we must “put [Him] at the center of our search for truth … creating the foundation and protection we need” (98).
He then goes on to discuss the dynamics of classroom learning. In college and university settings, individuals become expert at developing a critical mind. “Students and teachers,” he says, easily “treat each other’s ideas with a practiced skepticism” (106). Some classes may have “intellectual interest, but they do no invite the Spirit of the Lord, nor build true understanding” (106).
“Without a strong commitment to respect for each other, a misguided emphasis on rigorous scrutiny can turn healthy skepticism into cynicism and a mean-spiritedness that can, if not recognized and addressed, become a canker on the spirit, affecting one’s behavior not only in the world of the classroom but in everything one does” (106-107).
He continues, “The challenge for all who would be educated and faithful, then, is to be tough-minded, but not hardhearted” (107). Speaking to the danger of pride Clark writes, “The challenge is to have high standards without being stiff-necked” (107).
And of greed he writes, “If our search for knowledge and learning … has a higher purpose – to serve others and God – then we may use the wealth that comes along for good purposes. But the danger is clear. The challenge is always to do good, whether we do well or not” (110).
It is possible, Clark points out, to combine intellect with spirit. But the Spirit is critical if we want to discover and preserve truth. Clark teaches that the Lord’s pattern for learning can and should be applied from the classroom to our personal set of scriptures. He offers four elements that can make this plan a reality. “An attitude of humility, focused prayer, deep lifelong study of the scriptures, and service to the Lord on the frontier” (111).
Laboring on the Frontier
This was a concept I hadn’t considered much before Clark’s book – the idea of serving on the frontier of the Lord’s work. Sounds like where the action is, where the victories are won! But it is also where the most heart-rending and difficult work is done.
Indeed, Paul’s call … to put on the armor of God is a call to work at the frontier, where the Lord works. No matter where we live, no matter what our circumstances, there is a frontier where the Lord and his servants are building out the kingdom of God. In part, the frontier is within us and represents the parts of our lives that need changing and improving. In part, the frontier is in our families, where our spouses and children, our parents and siblings need our love and example. In part, the frontier is in our wards and branches, where our brothers and sisters in the gospel need our help and support. In part, the frontier is in our communities, where together with the missionaries we proclaim the gospel and bring souls unto Christ (10).
I loved this idea of working alongside the Lord. Don’t we all want to work where the Lord works? I think we do. But it can be easy to sit back and cruise along.
At the frontier we cannot do what must be done without the “power of his might.” There are some parts of the kingdom that are by now fully settled where we can get by on our own understanding. Some of us have been shown or taught so well, or had so much experience, or been involved in so many activities that we can serve in callings and do what seems to others a perfectly acceptable job without diligently seeking help from the Lord. But just “getting by” in the settled parts of the kingdom is not what the Lord has in mind for us. We have been called to build the kingdom by magnifying our callings in the Church …The work is too hard, the challenges too great for us to succeed working alone (10-11).
The Atonement – A Recurring Theme
In the introductory chapter Clark writes,
At a deep and fundamental level, putting on the whole armor of God is about putting on Christ. It is about redemption and the power of the Atonement, about repentance and the baptism of water and of fire. It is about keeping the commandments of God and learning to do his will. It is about becoming new, changed in a mighty way in our hearts. It is about being filled with light – his light. It is about becoming like him. I make no apologies that this theme shows up so often in this book that it might seem repetitive. That is, in fact, the point (7).
Clark’s deliberate weaving of this theme gives the book its greatest moments, its deepest emotion. I was moved, as I said, again and again, by Clark’s constant awareness of Christ. The Atonement is what makes this read so powerful, so purposeful, so very full of meaning.
Clark covers all the bases when it comes to doctrinal support. His use of the scriptures is fluid, consummate, appropriate in every chapter. But most moving to me were the very personal experiences he openly shared, of his family calling upon the healing, redemptive power of Jesus’ Atonement.
Kim and Sue Clark have not been without heartbreak and trial. I list only briefly some of the experiences Clark shares. The title of the chapter cited is noted at the paragraph’s end.
The diagnosis of Clark’s 21-year-old daughter, Julia, and only months later, his wife Sue, with cancer. “We have come to understand that Julia and Sue do not walk this path alone. The Savior of the world walks with them. We have seen the powers of heaven work on their behalf, and we felt a great outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord as we prayed for them and served them in this difficult hour” (137, “The Preparation of the Gospel of Peace”).
- A season of life where church service took an immense amount of President Clark’s time, leaving his wife, Sue, feeling as though she were raising seven children without a husband. “We talked and prayed together about all of this, but there were times when she was angry and bitter at what seemed like an overwhelming burden” (183). “As I look back on those years now, I can see that the Lord was blessing and watching over us, but what we experienced at the time did not feel like a blessing. We were looking for relief, and we got more opportunities to grow” (182, “The Shield of Faith”).
- A conversation Clark has with a man named Tom on a flight to Seattle. Clark opens the door for Tom to learn more about the Church. Tom tells Clark about an LDS friend who helped him when his son died shortly after moving to Alaska. Clark teaches Tom about the plan of salvation, about the Savior, the Restoration, and the Book of Mormon. “In order to put on the whole armor of God … I must do missionary work … not only by being an example but by giving voice to the things that I know to be true” (260, “The Sword of The Spirit: The Word of God”).
- A son who returned from the MTC to repent and resolve things that were not attended to before leaving. The sweet repentance process, increased faith and a victorious return to the mission field. “Our hearts were heavy as we drove to the airport the next afternoon to meet Michael’s flight from Salt Lake City. He was the last person off the airplane. As we watched him walk down the jet way and enter the terminal we saw a very sad young man – but there was no darkness in him. There was pain and disappointment, but also a spirit of repentance” (199, “The Helmet of Salvation”).
- Another son who struggled for years with depression and alcoholism. The long yet miraculous process of healing. The power of priesthood blessings, true friendship, and sole dependence upon the Lord’s Atonement. “That was the dark side of Bryce’s life in those long years.
But the forces of righteousness were not idle. Indeed, there were … powerful experiences that brought light and hope, and eventually the power of salvation, into Bryce’s life. In each one, the Lord worked through his trusted servants to touch Bryce’s life and help him find the courage and strength to come back … And … the Lord also used Bryce to bless the lives of others. In this way, Bryce came to know the power of the Atonement in his own life and in the lives of those he served” (221-222, “The Helmet of Salvation”).
This chapter, “The Helmet of Salvation,” was my favorite. Clark discusses the need to obtain salvation during this life, not just as an ultimate end. We know “salvation happens beyond the grave, beyond the resurrection, beyond the judgment. But in Heavenly Father’s plan we do not have to wait until then to experience the power of the Atonement and thus, the blessings of the plan of salvation” (207).
As Clark puts it, salvation happens along the way. “It is … a process … We can gain access to heaven, to its powers, and to the love and mercy of our Savior, Jesus Christ, here in mortality” (207).
I loved this merciful and joyous reminder – made real by personal application within the Clark family.
Put On Jesus Christ
Clark’s book is one of symmetry and unity. He masterfully links ideas, combines metaphors, and identifies the ways gospel principles parallel each other. Each piece of armor, each carefully written chapter, points us to one place – Christ.
In entirety, Clark’s book points us to Christ. He writes,
To see the armor of God whole, and to put it all on, we must comprehend that Christ is at the center. It is through him and in him that all the elements of the armor of God have meaning. It is in him and through him that we gain the strength and power to “stand against the wiles of the devil’ and to withstand in the evil day” (266).
Paul’s counsel to the Romans then assumes greater significance. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: therefore, let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light…put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13: 12, 14). Clark’s book is about putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, that we might be fully covered and protected by the magnificent Atonement.
Armor is Kim Clark’s personal journey – a study into the scriptures and words of the prophets that began with an answer to prayer in the middle of the night. For him it was a journey of “discovery, reflection, reaffirmation, and commitment” (262). President Clark’s straightforward style and candid sharing will speak to any soul. His book should not be missed.
A Deeper Choice
So what of this Harvard professor who left the east coast for Idaho farmlands? In some ways he is just an ordinary guy making a living like you and me. In other ways, his example sheds a bright light upon the world that surrounds him and the peers that associate with him. For he has chosen to make Christ the center of all he has and does.
His acceptance to serve the faculty and students of Brigham Young University-Idaho runs deeper than the institution’s name or location. It stems from a choice he made some time ago to put on the whole armor of God and be strong in the mighty power of the Lord.
President Clark expresses great gratitude for the people with whom he worked at HBS. He then concludes with this impressive perspective.
I traveled to many countries and was privileged to meet with men and women of great wealth and influence and power all across the earth. Everything that the world offers to honor and reward people I saw in all its splendor and glory. I sat in the great halls (even the greatest) of the academic world; I saw the prizes and medals and honors that come to those the world judges to be the best and brightest stars in the firmament … In short, I have seen in full measure what the prophets have called the “honors of men.”
I felt the pull of the world every day I served as dean. I knew early on that I had to be very careful not to get caught up in it. And so I prayed every day that I would always be able to see what happened to me as being a blessing of the Lord; that I would be able to see the Lord’s hand in my life; that I would not lean on my own understanding, but trust in the Lord.However, in the last few years I have come to understand that for my heart to be right, I needed to make a deeper choice, a deeper commitment. I had to follow the admonition of Joshua in that great moment of choice for the children of Israel
: “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). For me, that meant putting on the whole armor of God.
And so I chose (and I choose) the Lord. I chose to put the Lord Jesus Christ at the center of my life. I chose to put on the whole armor of God. I chose to stand – to stand up, to stand as a witness of God, to stand for truth and righteousness, to stand in holy places. I chose to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. And that has made all the difference (270-271).