Cover image: Campfire on the Missouri, by Bryan Mark Taylor.
Joseph Smith held a conference with the elders of the Church in Kirtland in June 1831. There, the Lord organized some of the elders into companionships and sent them to Jackson County, Missouri, with the charge to “preach by the way” (Doctrine and Covenants 52:10). Many of the elders were diligent in their callings, but others were not. As a result, when the time came for the elders to travel back to Kirtland, the Lord said, “With some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man” (Doctrine and Covenants 60:2).
Maybe we too are impeded by the “fear of man.” Scattered throughout these revelations to early missionaries are reassurances that can help us overcome our fears about sharing the gospel—or other fears we might be facing: “I, the Lord, rule in the heavens above.” “I am able to make you holy.” “All flesh is in mine hand.” And “be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst.” (Doctrine and Covenants 60:4, 7; 61:6, 36.)
The Lord is pleased when I open my mouth to share the gospel.
Wherever we are on planet earth, there are plenty of opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people you meet or associate with. Some people seem to have a special knack for connecting with people. They speak easily to the person waiting next to them in a line, and they bring the topic of the gospel naturally into the conversation. They make people feel at ease and invite them into a conversation somehow. We all know people like this.
My neighbors received this letter from their son’s branch president:
Once in a while we get a missionary who understands and adapts to the area and the people he is serving. This missionary is hardworking, obedient and loves the people and the people around him feel that love. This missionary is the type who makes my job as a branch president a little bit easier. This missionary has a sense of humor and makes people laugh, but more importantly it helps him get through the days. This missionary is a no-nonsense kind of person, he will speak the truth and it does not matter who gets offended. Trust me, in [this area], we need somebody like this. This missionary has a such a great testimony of the gospel that when he bears his testimony, the spirit is easily felt. This missionary is not afraid to get dirty when needed. This missionary has a big heart and wants to serve everybody whom he comes across. I want you to know this missionary is your son. Just tonight I was out with him and his companion doing visits in the cold dark dirt streets, . . . and it was amazing to me how many people greeted him with a smile. This does not happen often here. He has a special spirit that lets people feel comfortable around him.
But a person does not need to called on a full-time mission to share the gospel. We are told to preach the gospel “by the way,” as we journey through life. (Doctrine and Covenants 52: 10, 22-23, 25-27) We all have opportunities in our own everyday lives to be lights to the world. We may wish to do this, but many times we just don’t know exactly how to do it.
Elder Clayton Christensen was deeply committed to being an “everyday missionary.” In his book, The Power of Everyday Missionaries: the What and How of Sharing the Gospel, on the very first page, he quotes one of my favorite scriptures, Isaiah 55:8—“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” He then says,“I have learned that Satan’s work to slow our missionary efforts is not just manifest in tempting us as individuals to break God’s commandments. He also tries to guide us to depend upon the thoughts and ways of man as we share the gospel.”
As he and his wife sought to share the gospel, they found it “uncomfortable and intimidating” at the outset. They learned that this was because they were “following the thoughts and ways of man,” instead of following God’s ways in doing missionary work.
What might be the greatest blessing we received from involving ourselves in missionary work? Elder Christensen shared what motivated him to get involved in member missionary work. After a move to a new area, he had additional opportunities to invite others to hear the message of the gospel. As he was preparing for a meeting in his home, he listened to a tape playing the hymn, The Spirit of God. The words “to spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad, that we through our faith may begin to inherit the visions and blessings and glories of God,” made him realize he had begun to feel the Spirit again on a daily basis, just as he had on his mission in Korea. He realized he had started to do his part in “spreading forth the kingdom of heaven abroad,” and he “had begun to inherit the visions and blessings and glories of God. He had begun to feel the Spirit again on a daily basis.
In his former location, even though he was doing all the “right things,” reading scriptures daily, serving, and praying, he had been involved administrative duties, which did not require him to depend heavily on the Spirit. But being on the “front lines” doing missionary work again, he needed the Spirit with him every day, much as soldiers engaged in direct combat need state-of-the-art weapons.
Elder Christensen writes:
Sharing the gospel doesn’t just require that we have the power of God unto the convincing men. It gives us this power. . . Missionary work will help those who of us who are battling against addictions and bad habits and are struggling to feel worthy, to stand blameless before God, to become forgiven of our sins, and to have the strength to keep God’s laws. It doesn’t just demand our purity. It will help us to be pure. For those of us who struggle with sadness, hearing the gospel will give us great joy. It will make us become holy men and women who have great revelations and are borne up from our burdens as on eagles’ wings. (Christensen, The Power of Everyday Missionaries, 10)
When we were baptized, we all accepted a call to serve as a member missionaries—as witnesses of God “at all times and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). The Lord promises to fill our lives with these blessings as we begin sharing the gospel. Elder Christensen learned that we need not alter our relationships with the others in order to invite them. As long as people can feel our love and honesty they will not feel offended when we invite them to learn about the gospel of Christ. Typically, those he invited expressed gratitude to him for caring enough about them to share something so personal and important.
He wrote: “Most of us fear failure. Once we have realized that we succeed as member missionaries when we invite people to learn and accept the truth, much of the fear that kept us from sharing the gospel vanishes. We give them the opportunity to exercise their free agency. Some will use that agency to accept the gospel. Others will not, and that’s fine. We succeed when we invite” (Ibid., 24, italics in original.)
Just be yourself. When someone asks you about your weekend, take the opportunity to share some of the spiritual experiences you had. I do this with my neighbor. When she asks me how my day is it going, I tell her about a tender mercy that I have just experienced. Of course, then I have to explain to her what I mean by a tender mercy, and she listens. I try to make gospel language a part of our everyday conversations. She never thinks I am preaching to her, because she thinks that I tell “good stories.”
During this last year when we were all quarantined, my neighbor and friend Ed had an incredible experience that resulted from “opening his mouth.” About ten years ago, Ed was involved with a company that distributed a product that helped people with cardiovascular disease. A doctor he dealt with gave him the name of a man who had cardiovascular problems that he thought could be helped by this product. He contacted this man, Joe, and began to discuss the product with him and get to know him better.
He learned that Joe had come to this country from India when he was twenty years old, and was now a practicing attorney in the Philadelphia area. In India, he was a Catholic, one of the 2% minority in that country. Right from the beginning of their relationship, Ed noticed that there was something very special about Joe. He had a great love for people and desired to help them. It was easy for Ed to bring up the topic of what the Church did to help people across the world, and he was deeply impressed. Ed invited him to learn more about the Church, but each time he was asked, he would politely decline.
As Joe’s health improved from taking the product, he and Ed spoke to each other often by phone. Later that year, the company that produced the product was holding a convention in Salt Lake City, and Joe wanted to attend. Ed invited him to stay at his home, and meet his family. When Ed finally saw Joe in person, he could see that he had a great light in his countenance. Together, they went to Temple Square, and attended the Sunday program of the Spoken Word downtown. Joe seemed to enjoy all he saw and heard.
For the next ten years, Ed spoke with Joe hundreds of times over the phone. He sent him copies of the Book of Mormon, the Ensign, and many other books and talks. Joe graciously received them all, and was kind and appreciative. However, he continued to decline Ed’s invitations to meet with the missionaries to learn more about the Church. Ed continued to pray for his heart to soften, and put his name on the prayer rolls of the temple, but Joe continued to decline his invitations. Ed would get very discouraged with him, and then he would surprise him by saying, “I saw your missionaries yesterday and said hi to them.” That happened many times. Or they would have a discussion about a spiritual topic, and Joe would agree with everything that Ed said about the topic.
Then in January of last year, as they were having one of their phone conversations, Ed was prompted to bear his testimony to Joe, as he had done many times before. Then he added, “Joe, we are all going to die someday. I know we will see each other again. We will be able to see our families and our friends again. I don’t want you to see me on the other side and have you wonder why you did not accept my invitations to learn more about the gospel.” Joe replied, “Let me think about it and we can talk in a few days.”
When Ed called him back several days later, he found that Joe was troubled about a few things. Ed told him, “This is why you need the gospel. Can I have the missionaries call you?” Amazingly, he said, “Yes.” Joe was taught by a senior couple who he felt comfortable with, and they nurtured him as they taught him the gospel from May to October. In the middle of October, Joe sent Ed an email saying that he was thinking about baptism. Ed told him that he wanted to attend, and Joe invited him to perform the ordinance. With joy, Ed and his wife flew to Pennsylvania at the end of November and participated in the modern-day miracle that was ten years in the making.
In 1975, the Church did an extensive survey of new converts to determine what it was that had initially interested them. First, they admired the feeling of closeness to God that they could see in the members that they knew. They wanted to experience that closeness. Secondly, they wanted the happiness and sense of peace which they saw in the lives of those they knew as members. Third, they wanted a better sense of the purpose and direction in their lives. They saw this in the lives of the members of the Church that they knew. (See L.F. Anderson, “What Are Nonmembers Interested In?” Ensign, October 1977)
One important aspect of meeting the needs of people in our circle of associates is learning to discover what their real questions are. Elder Christensen gives an example. When his friend Stephen asked him about which church he belonged to, he explained that he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Stephen said that he hadn’t gone to church for about thirty years. Rather than trying to convince him why he needed our church or any church, he asked, “Why do you think so many people are exiting rather than entering churches? Are there any big deal-breaking questions that caused you to despair of organized religion because the churches didn’t have answers to those questions?” Stephen answered that he would like to take some time to put them together in “a cogent list.”
The next time they met, Stephen came with a list of very good questions—about the purpose of life, if there is one, what is God, if there is one, and so on. He said that as he went through college and graduate school, the churches he attended just could not answer his questions. So he stopped going to church and started looking for answers in philosophy and science instead. He confessed that these couldn’t answer his questions any better than the churches could.
Elder Christensen started with the first question on the list. He asked him questions about his first question, in order to understand why it was important to him and why he hadn’t been impressed with the answers that others had offered. Then he found and discussed answers to that question in the Book of Mormon. He noticed that Stephen crossed the first question off his list. When he asked him why he did that, Stephen replied, “You answered it.” (Christensen, The Power of Everyday Missionaries, 28-29)
When someone asked Elder Christensen something about our church, he didn’t tell them what he wants them to know, but rather asks this question. “Do you have any questions about religious issues that you’ve been wondering about or that you haven’t been able to get good answers to?” He learned that many people have a lots of questions. Most of them have given up on churches as a source of answers. As a result, even though they are interested in the important questions, we categorize them as “not interested in religion.” One of my favorite quotes from Clayton Christensen’s book is, “People learn when they’re ready to learn, not when we’re ready to teach them.” (Ibid., 30)
I love the new focus on missionary work—“Come and see, come and help, come and stay.” Although many people say they are not interested in religion, they are good people who want to give service. A good approach to use with these people is telling them how desperately those of us in the Church need their help. The same people that won’t accept an invitation to attend church, seem to be very happy to help with a project. In doing so, many of them get a wonderful feeling that they have not experienced before, and they want to be part of it so they can feel that feeling again.
I have a couple of crazy stories to share. Years ago, our bishop’s son was learning to sell a certain brand of knives. He said that he didn’t expect us to buy them, but could we please just help him out by listening to his sales presentation, as he needed to give a certain number of sales presentations in order to qualify as a representative with the company. Feeling no pressure, we invited him into our home and enjoyed the presentation. In fact we bought the whole set of the knives!
People value honesty. When I first returned from my mission to Hong Kong, I was called as Stake Missionary working with the Young Adults. At one of our meetings, we were given the challenge to have an investigator ready to hear the discussions by the next meeting. There was a very narrow pool of people to draw from—they had to live in our stake, and they had to be between the ages of 18 and 24. I didn’t even know anyone that fit that category! I asked my mother if she did, and she said that she thought that her hairdresser, who was married to a man who was not a member of the Church, had a son who was not a member.
Desperate, I called him and told him the truth. I told him that by the end of the month, as a Young Adult Stake Missionary, I needed to have someone who would be willing to listen to the missionary discussions. I said, “You wouldn’t, by chance, be willing to help me out, would you?” Looking back, I am embarrassed that I used such a lame approach. However, “God’s ways are not our ways,” and Brett said that he would be happy to help me out, because he didn’t want me to be a failure. The rest is history. Something awakened within him, and he was baptized. I was quite shocked. You never know who will accept the gospel and who won’t. The most unlikely people might be just the ones who need it the most.
Clayton Christensen explains this beautifully:
Inviting others to help us with our work in the Church helps them feel needed, to realize that we have a lot in common, and to feel the Spirit. When these feelings come, many people then realize that something has been missing from their lives. When we help others to do God’s will, they learn far more than they ever could through a conversation or from attending a ward social. . . When my friends have a great experience helping me, I then decouple my friendship with them from my invitation to learn more about the gospel by asking them to promise that they will say no if they’re not interested. If I don’t do that, then they might surmise that I had an ulterior motive in asking for help. I need to be sure that they know that I truly needed and was grateful for their help. (Ibid., 48)
“Be of Good Cheer”
“Being of good cheer” is sometimes very challenging when the vicissitudes of live come our way. A few years ago, we learned that our friend Dean Johnson had a rare form of cancer that was terminal and he was told that he only had a few weeks to live. When we visited him, my husband asked, “Is there anything that we can do for you?” He said, “No, I think we’re OK.” Desperately wanting to do something, I added, “Have you written your life story yet?” He thought about it for a minute and then said, “No, but I think it would be a good idea.” I told him I would be happy to help him do it.
Naturally, at that time, he was quite discouraged and thought his whole world was falling apart. When I showed up the next day with my laptop, I don’t know if he was particularly excited. But, as I began to ask him questions about his life, he became more animated. He had recently been reactivated, and been able to attend the temple, but before that, he had lived a different lifestyle for many years. He told me about meeting his friends at a coffee shop every morning in West Salt Lake. There they shared their lives with each other, and found out about upcoming “killer deals” that they just couldn’t miss out on. One of these deals involved land in south Salt Lake that was later developed into housing. Dean was able to buy it for an extremely low price, and when he sold it later, he made a fortune!
Also, at one point, he had worked for a paint company and got a lot of good experience. He thought about opening a store of his own. When a commercial building became available in his neighborhood, he was able to purchase the property with this newfound investment cash. However, he had no capital left with which to purchase the inventory needed in order to open the store. He told me that he contacted the suppliers of the paint company he worked for and told them of his plans to open a new store. Because they had known about his integrity in working for the other company, they told him to just order what he needed, and he could pay them whenever he could.
When I commented on these amazing windfalls, he smiled and said, “I guess I have had quite an amazing life, haven’t I?” As I came every day, he had yet another amazing story to tell me. He got more and more excited to have me come! We had to start making our sessions shorter and shorter as he became weaker, but I noticed that he was cheerful! These scriptures tell us to “be of good cheer.” I think a lot of what we need to do is recognize and remember the many times the hand of God has blessed our lives. Henry B. Eyring said,
I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.
More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.
(See Henry B. Eyring, “O Remember, Remember,” October 2007)
The Lord wants me to make some decisions “as seemeth [me] good.”
Many of these scriptures talk about acting “as it seemeth you good.” (Doctrine and Covenants 62:5) Sometimes the Lord gives us specific direction, and other matters he leaves up to us to decide. Sometimes he gives suggestions and then lets us make our own decision. After all, we are learning Godhood. He trusts our judgment. In Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-27, we learn that “men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will,” and that “it is not meet that God should command in all things.” It is much easier just to be told what to do. It is a lot of responsibility to have to figure things out for ourselves, but we grow from doing this. God doesn’t like to micromanage his children or his church. He even let us stumble sometimes, so we have to rely on our own judgment. It is fine to use the training wheels on your bike for a while, but at some point, you need to learn how to balance, so you can take off on our own.
The apostle Paul preached in Athens, which at that time was the seat of philosophy and the wisdom of men. At Mars’ Hill, he found an altar with the inscription, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” Paul spoke of this deity as the God that made the world and all it contained, as well as heaven and all nations that dwell upon the face of the earth. In this God “we live and move, and have our being.” He quoted their own Greek poets as having said, “we are also his offspring.” Because of this fact, “we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone,” made by “art and man’s “device.” “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commanded all men everywhere to repent.” (See Acts 17:23-30) Paul is speaking against idolatry, but he knows these people have not yet received the truth, so he talks about a “winking“ God. A God who sees us making mistakes and turns a blind eye up to a point, hoping we will figure it out soon. But now he expects us to repent, for one day he will judge the world.
God allows men to grow from grace to grace as the light they receive becomes brighter and brighter. For example, when the principle of baptism for the dead was restored, the Saints were very excited. They ran to the Mississippi and started performing baptisms for their dead relatives, with no consideration for gender or records. The Lord, no doubt, was pleased with their enthusiasm, but he later revealed D&C 128 which specified the need for a recorder and a baptismal font below the ground in a temple, etc.” The time will come when God won’t wink anymore. This helps us interpret some challenging periods of Church history. At that time, God let people try to figure things out for themselves, and sometimes they were led astray by various influences, “some of men and some of devils.” God knows that men learn more when they themselves ask how something should be done, rather than being given a list and to check off. As we ask him, God can reveal to us his way of doing things, and as men give heed to his plans, they are given more light.
Why does God not tell us everything specifically and in detail right from the beginning? Richard G. Scott has spoken about this many times. He urged us to ask God if we have been doing things according to his will, and what we can do to be more faithful. He once spoke about asking God three times for more light, and as he acted on each morsel of wisdom he received, he was given more. This is how we “grow up in God.” He has urged us to have faith in God’s supreme knowledge, and even in God’s timing. The things we think we want at a specific time might not be in our best interest. We need to trust that God knows what he is doing and his thoughts are much higher than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Recently, my brother-in-law shared a book with me by Patrick Mason entitled Restoration, God’s Call to the 21st-Century World. The author spoke of the persecution which was part of much of early Church history. Our pioneer forbears thought they could separate themselves from the world, both physically and spiritually, and sought to enclose themselves within “fortress walls.” Mason observed that this is no longer possible for us in our day. He wrote:
The Internet has rendered the fortress walls permeable and fragile. In our 21st-century information age, there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. “The world,” as poet William Wordsworth put it, “is too much with us” (Patrick Mason, Restoration, God’s Call to the 21st-Century World, 5).
But what can we do about it? Elder Patrick Keaton asked, “Do we fear the world more than we shape it? Do we let our anxieties prevent us from making a difference? Do we spend more time hiding from society’s flaws then fixing its problems?“
In answer to these searching questions, he concluded, “Society is not something that just happens to us; it is something we help shape. The main thing is to engage, dialogue, bridge, and interact with people of all sorts. Unless we participate, we lose our ability to both influence the world and learn from it” (Elder Patrick Kearon, “Of Rights and Responsibilities: The Social Ecosystem of Religious Freedom,” address delivered at Religious Freedom Annual Review, BYU, 19 June 2019).
As Joseph Smith taught, a person “filled with the love of God, is not content simply to bless and save their own family and friends, but ranges through the whole world anxious to bless the whole of the human family.” Mason proposes, “Having flourished in our fortress, the Restoration’s third century is our time to range widely in the world, to both learn from and contribute to it” (Patrick Mason, Restoration, 6.)
One of the hallmarks of President Russell M. Nelson‘s administration and ministry has been the re-introduction of the language of Israel‘s restoration and gathering into the Latter-day Saint vocabulary. A persistent theme of his presidency is that the gathering of Israel “is the most important thing taking place on earth today.” He has invited us to delve back into those long neglected passages of the Book of Mormon with “fresh eyes and new vigor as we reconsider their insistent message concerning the prophesied restoration of the scattered branches of Israel in modern times” (Ibid, 16). So how can we be faithful to the prophetic injunction to restore Israel in a way that makes sense in the 21st-century?
Not surprisingly, given his obsession with the theme, Nephi provides the key. He explains that the restoration of the various branches of Israel, the Jews, the scattered tribes, and the remnant of Lehi, will be accomplished for the sake of God’s age-old promises to those particular peoples, and also as part of a more general work whereby God will “bring about the restoration of the people upon the earth.”(2 Nephi 30:8) Put another way, there are many things that have been lost and scattered that need to be restored. We called the whole package “the restoration of all things.“ This all-encompassing phrase originated with Jesus (Matthew 17:7).
From the ancient prophets to Joseph Smith in the modern Church, the message has been the same. God’s great restoration project seeks to unite all generations of the human family—from the beginning to the present, and onward all the way to the end of time. In fact, as Malachi and Moroni prophesied that without this restoration, “the whole earth would be utterly wasted.” All of God’s work of creation would not have fulfilled its purposes.
I love how Mason renders this idea:
There are many “things” to restore. But ultimately God isn’t concerned with restoring “things“ as much as he is with using those things to restore what really matters—“his people.” So the “restoration of all things” is designed with one grand aim in mind: restoring God’s people—our Father and Mother’s children, their eternal family to wholeness. (Ibid., 17)
God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants whereby not only they, but all the people of the earth would be blessed. This covenant was made to Abraham’s descendants, but the entire world would be affected by it. We are recipients of God’s promises to Abraham, not necessarily by virtue of biological descent, but rather as the effects of them as those promises ripple across time and throughout the human family. Paul taught that those who believe and are baptized in the name of Jesus become adopted into a new Israel and therefore live a new life under a new covenant. This is the teaching of the modern church as well, which affirms with Paul that we “are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. . . And if you be Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26, 29). President Nelson has said that “anytime we do anything to help anyone come unto Christ, we are helping to gather Israel.”
C.S. Lewis wrote that “next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses” (The Weight of Glory, 46). We can affirm that there is absolutely nothing in this world that is holier than the person next to you. He or she is not only created in the image of God, but has existed with God from the eternities and will continue to do so forever and ever, potentially as a god or goddess. Because of its unique view of who we really are, where we come from, and what we are destined to become, the Restoration must stand as the vanguard of our commitment to bring human dignity to all people. We need all the members of the body of Christ.
Mason powerfully declares:
The restoration will remain ongoing and incomplete as long as there are any poor or “any matter of -ites” among us. Zion has not been achieved. Followers of Christ therefore have a special calling to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, the bruised—both our sisters and brothers immediately in our midst, as well as those who find themselves in dire circumstances anywhere in the world. . .
So what is being restored in the restoration? God’s people. The poor will receive the kingdom of heaven. The broken hearted will be healed. The captives will be liberated. The blind will see. The bruised will be made whole. In the ultimate sense, this is the work of atonement and reconciliation that only our Savior Jesus Christ can fully accomplish. But in the more immediate sense, the call of the Restoration is for each recipient of Christ’s redeeming love to extend that grace by participating with him as “saviors . . . on Mount Zion.“
That salvation cannot wait for the next world. The restoration of God’s people is here. The restoration of God’s people is now. (Ibid., 20-21).
The Lord Knows How to Succor Them Who Are Tempted
Section 62 begins with the Lord introducing himself as our advocate who “knoweth the weakness of man and is how to succor them who are tempted.” Living in the third century after the restoration, our world is completely different than in the centuries previous to this one. The tactics that Satan used previously, he has had to rethink. He has had to become much more sophisticated. I want to explore this subject in depth, because I believe the world in which we live requires special armor in order to resist Satan’s 21st-century temptations. [Through the remainder of this article, I have drawn heavily from an unpublished manuscript, “Satan’s Influence on Good People” written by my friend, Larry Tippetts.]
I am sure that Satan would like nothing better than to divert the children of God as much as possible from achieving their eternal potential, and experiencing happiness and joy in this life. It seems that he would find special delight in deceiving those who are living exemplary lives of devotion to God and their fellowman. The prophet Mormon teaches us that just as the Holy Spirit can continually “invite and entice” us to do good, the devil can continually “invite and entice” us to do evil (Moroni 7:12). Notice the word “continually.” He and his followers do not seem to sleep, take rests, or go on vacation. We need to be vigilant. Often, many of us are so wrapped up in the affairs of mortal life that we can go long periods of time without a conscious awareness of the Holy Spirit, and are even less wary of Satan’s efforts to manipulate or deceive us. He wants to wield his influence on everyone in one way or another. But some people are so quick to do evil that he doesn’t need to waste too much time with them. They are the low-hanging fruit.
But what about you who are trying to stay on the strait and narrow covenant path? Surely Satan is aware of your commitment, and is devising ways to divert you onto a side road. How might he be working against my happiness at this point in my life? What might his influence in my life look like? How might Satan and his associates be distracting me through my thought processes or my emotions? How might he be trying to distract me from that which is most important in my life?
One defining characteristic of Satan is subtlety, and as such, most of the time we are not even aware of his influence upon us. He wisely works on each of us in ways that are unique to us as individuals, and seeks to take advantages of the aspects of our personalities that are the most vulnerable. The word, devil, means “one who separates or divides.” He represents the polar opposite of the atonement, which means to “bring back together.” Only when we recognize that he has power over us can we take measures to lessen and eventually eliminate his ability to influence us.
Nephi said that Satan works “in the hearts” of the children of men (2 Nephi 28:20). President Russell M. Nelson declared: “You were taught in the spirit world to prepare you for anything and everything you would encounter during this latter part of these latter days (see D&C 138:56). That teaching endures within you!”
In October 2019 General Conference, Elder Peter M. Johnson said:
You are elect sons and daughters of God. You have the power to overcome the adversary. The adversary, however, is aware of who you are. He knows of your divine heritage and seeks to limit your earthly and heavenly potential by using the three D’s: deception, distraction, and discouragement. . . The adversary attempts to deceive by having us forget who we truly are. If we do not understand who we are, then it is difficult to recognize who we can become.
The adversary also attempts to distract us away from Christ and His covenant path. . . In our day, there are many distractions, including Twitter, Facebook, virtual reality games, and much more. These technological advances are amazing, but if we are not careful, they can distract us from fulfilling our divine potential. Let us be careful and not casual in our use of technology.
Deception and distraction, by definition, are often undetected. It might be helpful to ask ourselves the simple question, “Is it possible I have been distracted or deceived without even realizing it?”
Elder Johnson continues:
Lastly, the adversary desires for us to become discouraged. We may get discouraged when we compare ourselves to others or feel we are not living up to expectations, including our own. My dear friends, please do not let anyone steal your happiness. Do not compare yourself to others. Please remember the loving words of the Savior: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
A journal-keeping friend of mine shared some entries that reflect Satan’s attempts to distract, deceive, or discourage him. I treasure the wisdom I have gained from pondering his insights.
In general conference Elder Richard Scott addressed the subject of abuse. He made an interesting statement. “If you are not feeling loved by Heavenly Father you are being manipulated by Satan.” Some might take exception to that, but I think most people underestimate how much influence the adversary has in each of our lives. I want to help people overcome the barriers to feeling God’s love. (April 5, 2008)
A portion of Nephi’s psalm stood out to me today: Why should I give way to temptations that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? (3 Ne. 4:27) It seems that Nephi is recognizing that it is he, himself, allowing Satan to discourage him. There are many kinds of temptations, and I believe that many of us, me included, succumb to the adversary’s quiet whisperings of fear, anxiety, sadness and despondency. When I am in the throes of such temptations I usually fail to recognize their source. When I do, however, it is much easier to pursue a healthier course, just as Nephi did. (June 12, 2012)
It seems to me that for many people, the greater influence of Satan comes not from temptation, but from deception and distortion. Clayton Christensen writes, “Satan sometimes crawls into our minds and rewires our logic circuitry, causing us inadvertently to reach perverse conclusions from true data” (The Power of Everyday Missionaries, 114). I suppose deception is a form of temptation, enticing us to embrace a way of seeing reality that distorts truth into a caricature of itself, while maintaining a sense of rationality.
Whenever I am feeling low, for whatever reason, the first question to resolve is how Satan has his hand in the mix. It is not a question of whether he is present (he is always present), it is how he is manifesting himself. With Satan come confusion and uncertainty. Is that influence I am feeling from God or from Satan? Are those feelings that are overwhelming me from a good spirit or a bad spirit? Should I give in to the influence or resist it? Confusion, *negative emotions, resentment, feelings of enmity, these are all Satan’s calling cards. God is not a god of confusion or fear. Even when we recognize the influence of the adversary and dismiss him—mentally or verbally—he always keeps his foot in the door, waiting for the next moment of weakness or confusion.
*I should add a few words of clarification on negative emotions. They are a part of mortality and we should not assume that every negative emotion we experience is a result of Satan’s influence. What he does is takes advantage of us when we are in a negative frame of mind. I believe the best thing to do with negative sentiments is to lay them at the feet of the Savior, much as David does in the Psalms. A sizeable number of the Psalms (and other scriptural passages) are laments, wherein we take to God our fears, pains, cares, perplexities, and disappointments. Let Him help us carry them and help us turn sorrow into joy. Even Jesus cried out in pain in the garden, and again on the cross, questioning His Father. Joseph in Liberty Jail cried, “Oh God, where art Thou? Where are you hiding? How long can you allow this suffering to continue? True religion must have a time and place for constructive ways of dealing with life’s adversity and pain. (January 12, 2019 entry consists of the above three paragraphs)
I have learned through repeated experiences that the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with darkness and fear, rather, his presence is made evident by light, and peace, and perfect love. Rather than confusion, I feel clarity regarding the course of my life, and the attitude of my heart and mind. (January 12, 2019)
To one degree or another everyone is vulnerable to Satan’s deceptions. The nature of deception is such that we usually do not realize we are being deceived. Only in hindsight are we able to see the patterns of deception in our lives. Sin is the result of deception. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We all need to be humble enough to realize we are susceptible to Satan’s lies. Only then are we likely to recognize his deceptions and act accordingly. (April 9, 2019) (Larry W. Tippetts, unpublished manuscript, Satan’s Influence on Good People)
Satan uses many cunning tools. He is skilled at mixing truth with lies. As an experienced liar, he easily deceives the vulnerable. He distorts the truth. He saps our confidence in a variety of ways customized to our individual vulnerabilities. He entices us to be easily offended. He encourages contention and entices us to justify our anger. He magnifies the flaws of others in our eyes. He will emphasize how we have been mistreated and focus on the injustice of life.
Social media invites us to share our “best selves” with the world. When we view these, The adversary encourages us to compare ourselves to others, which can lead to pride if we see ourselves better than others, or to a sense of despair if we see ourselves as having less than others. He blinds us so that we cannot see value in the opinions of others if they differ from our own. He encourages us to justify our behavior and thoughts that are less than worthy. He urges to make “looking good” in the eyes of others our primary motivation. He exaggerates the pleasures of the world while blinding us to the painful consequences.
He whispers unworthy motives for our righteous actions, such as “to be seen of men.” He tempts us to substitute a lesser priority for a greater one, causing us to neglect our covenants to God or our families.
How to Counter Satan’s Influence in Our Lives
Keep in mind Mormon’s simple guideline: “But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him” (Moroni 7:17).
The old saying is “It is easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.” Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy said during a devotional held at BYU. “I invite you to think about your greatest temptations and then ponder and pray about what you can do to avoid them in the future, rather than trying to resist them,” he said. “I then invite you to wisely follow through on the avoidance revelation that comes to you.” He bases this admonition on a proverb of Solomon, “Enter not into the path of the wicked. . . . Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (Proverbs 4:14-15).
Elder Robbins compares this to a temptation to eat chocolate chip cookies. If I am trying to conquer this temptation it is easier not to have the cookies in the house than it is to walk through the front door and smell two dozen of them fresh out of the oven—warm, moist, and smelling good. He says, “At that moment I am no longer simply fighting temptation; I am also fighting chemistry. The aroma triggers the pleasure center of my brain. My mouth begins to water in preparation for the cookies. With each tempting breath my resistance grows weaker as my craving grows stronger and my appetite begins to overpower my reason and resolve.”
A humorous bumper sticker states, “Lead me not into temptation. I can find it myself!” What the Lord’s Prayer actually states, according to the Joseph Smith Translation, is, “Suffer us not to be led into temptation” (JST Matthew 6:14). The Savior’s counsel in this phrase is to pray for help in avoiding temptation. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). The word watch means “to be vigilant, to [be on] guard,” which is wise advice in defending ourselves against a very real and ever-lurking enemy. Remember, “he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one.”
Elder Robbins said, “It has been said that “temptation usually comes in through a door that has deliberately been left open.” Many pray to be delivered from temptation, but they leave the doorway to temptation cracked just a bit, convincing themselves that nibbling isn’t partaking and that the Lord “will justify in committing a little sin.” President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Lucifer . . . will use his logic to confuse and his rationalizations to destroy. He will shade meanings, open doors an inch at a time, and lead from purest white through all the shades of gray to the darkest black.” (Ensign, November 1980, 94) The key is to not leave the door cracked open. Satan cannot open the door from the outside. “Of a truth,” said Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “temptation is not a gate that can be opened by force of arms; it opens only inward, as moved by the arm within, for each man is the gatekeeper of his soul” (The Enoch Letters, 42).
When the people of Ammon were converted to the Lord, they did not hang their swords above the mantel, but they buried them deep in the ground, completely closing the door on temptation. Boyd K. Packer taught, “Never make the same mistake once” (Mine Errand from the Lord, 65). This refers to traps that are so effective that they don’t need a second chance to ensnare their victims. Satan would have us think there is no lasting harm in trying something just once. But President George Albert Smith cautioned, “If you cross to the devil’s side of the line one inch, you are in the tempter’s power, and if he is successful, you will not be able to think or even reason properly, because you will have lost the spirit of the Lord” (Excerpts from the Sermons of President Smith, 43).
According to Elder Robbins, “When we yield to temptation just once, we give Satan ammunition in the form of a memory. What makes Satan the tempter is his ability to plant thoughts in our mind. In a moment of weakness he can tempt us with the memory of our experience, which multiplies the potency of the temptation—like the mouthwatering memory of enjoying a delicious chocolate chip cookie.”
Nephi foresaw another cunning strategy that Satan would use to trick good people into temptation: “At that day [meaning our day] will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, . . . and [lead] them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:20-21) The words pacify and lull in this verse are synonymous with the word desensitize.
If Satan wanted to boil a frog, he wouldn’t put it in a pan of hot water—it would instinctively jump. His strategy would be to put it in cold water, because that is what the frog is used to. Then, unbeknownst to the frog, he would then turn on the heat, and he would make sure that the temperature rose so gradually that the frog would never notice it change from cold to cool, from cool to tepid, from tepid to warm, from warm to hot, and from there to a hot that completely saps all our energy, and from there to boiling.
Avoiding temptation protects us from becoming desensitized to it. But if we tolerate it while striving to resist it, we can gradually become desensitized without even knowing it. My grandma would often recite this quote from Alexander Pope:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
Elder Robbins advises,
If “virtue [is to] garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly,” then as we pray in faith to avoid temptation, we especially need to be watchful and on guard with today’s media, whether on TV or online, as it is perhaps the greatest spoiler of virtuous thinking. The movie rating or principle we should use is from the thirteenth article of faith: “We seek after”—or in this case “watch or view”—that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” The Holy Ghost should be our Internet, movie, and TV guide.
Avoiding temptation should be our first line of defense. But we live in a world in which “the wheat is growing together with the tares,” as Elder Robbins puts it. Although it is practically impossible to completely avoid temptation, it would be wise to minimize it as best we can. When we are faced with temptation, we should tell Satan to “Get thee behind me,” as the Savior did. We also read that although Jesus suffered temptations, “he paid no heed unto them” (D&C 20:22, see also Hebrews 4:15).
Whatever your weakness or temptation is—and we all have them—if your desire is to avoid that temptation in the future, remember that the Savior wants to help you. D&C 62:1 tells us that Jesus Christ “knoweth the weakness of man and is how to succor them who are tempted.” And how does He know how to succor those who are tempted? Because “he himself hath suffered being tempted, [therefore] he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
Simply becoming informed about Satan’s tactics and objectives will fortify us. In fact, just being aware of his desire to complicate our life in a particular manner is often enough to reject him.
Alma the Younger, along with the sons of Mosiah, were referred to as the “vilest of sinners.”
Because he knew what it was like to face temptation and succumb, Alma gave his own “avoid-it” or “watch-and-pray” advice to those who are in a similar situation:
And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance; But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear. (Alma 13:27-28)
Our son chose this scripture for his missionary plaque. It contains a list of things we can do to make us “sin resistant.” Building our lives upon the Rock of Christ (Helaman 5:12) will enable us to reach a point wherein we “cannot fall!” Helaman’s promise is not that we will probably not fall, or that most won’t fall, but that we cannot fall. Building our lives on the Rock of Christ through our covenants requires wholehearted commitment to God the Father, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit. If we do so, we will always “let God prevail.”