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Devotionals

Elder Larry R. Lawrence

Prepared to Face the Adversary

Thank you, that musical number was beautiful. Brothers and sisters, it’s a privilege to be with you today, and to be a part . . . I wanted to do my share, so I went out and got a brand new knee, just so I could come here today and sit down in front of you. I appreciate all those who helped to work out things and make this possible. I was preparing for this and looking forward to it, and I thought, you know, I could get tired of standing. My knee might get kind of tired after a while. And this, I think, works perfectly.

I want to talk to you today about strengthening your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now there are many, many things that we can do to strengthen our faith. I want to almost approach this more from defending our faith, with putting into perspective why it’s so important that we strengthen and defend our faith.

I think anyone who follows international news would agree that we live in a time of wars and rumors of war. Fortunately, every one of us here is an experienced war veteran. We have been battling the forces of evil in an ongoing war that started in the premortal sphere, before we were even born. Because we had not yet received physical bodies, the war in heaven was not fought with swords or with guns or with bombs. But it was just as intense as any modern war, and there were billions of casualties. The premortal war was fought with words, ideas, debate, and persuasion.

Satan’s strategy was to frighten people. He knew that fear was the best way to destroy faith. He may have used arguments like these: “It’s too hard.” “It’s impossible to make it back clean.” “There’s much too much risk. How do you know you can trust Jesus?”

Satan was always very jealous of Jesus. Satan tried to convince the spirits in heaven that their success on earth should be guaranteed. He said, “Send me. . . . I will redeem all mankind . . . that [not one soul shall] be lost.”

Thankfully, God’s plan triumphed over the lies of Satan. It involved free agency for mankind and a great sacrifice. Jehovah, who we of course know now as Jesus, volunteered to be that sacrifice and to suffer for all of our sins. He was willing to lay down His life for His brothers and sisters so that those who returned home could repent and be clean, and become eventually like their Father in Heaven.

The other advantage that helped Jehovah with the hearts of men was the powerful testimonies borne by His loyal supporters, which included you and I, led by Michael the Archangel. In pre-mortality, Adam was called Michael and Satan was called Lucifer. Lucifer means the light bearer. That may seem like a strange name for the prince of darkness, but the scriptures teach us that Satan was an angel in authority before he fell to the dark side. Lucifer was one of the first of our Father’s creations—one of the oldest spirits. For this reason he is sometimes referred to as a “son of the morning.”

How could a spirit with so much knowledge and so much experience fall so far? It was because of his pride. Lucifer rebelled against Father in Heaven because he wanted God’s kingdom for himself. In a classic talk called “Beware of Pride,” President Ezra Taft Benson taught that Lucifer “wished to be honored above all others,” and that “his prideful desire was to dethrone God.” You’ve heard that he wanted to destroy the agency of man, but that’s not the only reason he fell out of favor. He was cast out of heaven for rebellion against the leadership of God.

Why did you and I fight against the devil? We fought out of loyalty. We loved and supported our Father in Heaven and wanted to become just like him. Lucifer had a different goal. He wanted to replace the Father. Imagine how Satan’s betrayal hurt our Heavenly Parents. In the scriptures we read that the heavens wept over him.

After a heated campaign, Michael and his armies prevailed. Two-thirds of the heavenly hosts chose the Father’s plan. Satan and his followers were cast out of heaven, but they were not sent immediately to outer darkness. They were sent first to this earth, the same place where Jesus would be born and where His atoning sacrifice would take place.

Why was Satan’s army sent here for a while? They came to provide opposition for those being tested on the earth. Will they eventually be sent to outer darkness? Yes. After the Millennium, Satan and his army will be cast out forever.

That war that started in heaven continues here today, and Satan knows that his days are numbered. At the Second Coming of the Savior, Satan and his angels will be bound for a thousand years. As that deadline approaches, the forces of evil are fighting desperately to capture as many souls as they can.

John the Revelator was shown the war in heaven as part of a grand vision. He was shown how Satan was sent down to this earth to tempt mankind. This was John’s reaction: “Woe to the inhabiters of the earth . . . for the devil is come down [among them], having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”

So how does Satan spend his days, knowing that he has no time to lose? The Apostle Peter wrote: “The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

What motivates Satan anyway? Well, think about it—he will never have a body; he will never have a wife or a family; he will never have a fullness of joy. And so he wants to make all men “miserable like unto himself.” The devil targets those who have the most potential for eternal happiness. He is clearly jealous of anyone who is on the pathway to exaltation.

The scriptures teach that Satan “maketh war with the Saints of God, and encompasseth them round about.” Yes, that war that began in heaven continues today, and it is getting heated up as the Saints prepare for the Second Coming of the Savior.

Brigham Young prophesied that “the Church would spread, prosper, grow and extend, and that in proportion to the [extension and growth] of the Gospel among the nations of the earth, so would the power of Satan rise.” I think all of us can agree that that prophecy is being fulfilled. We need only to look at this increased evil that seems to be infiltrating the societies of the earth.

From my own personal experience in Eastern Europe, I know that the Church is growing and spreading, even in nations that were once controlled by dictators and communists. Temples are being built all over the world. People from every nation are being endowed.

The temple endowment gives the Saints great power over Satan, if the members will keep their covenants. This is one reason why missionaries are endowed before they enter the mission field—to protect them from the adversary. Temple garments could rightly be called the true armor of God. They are a tremendous blessing to those who wear them properly as instructed and in righteousness.

Now naturally, the devil hates temples and does all that he can to disrupt and prevent temple work.

Some of the early pioneer Saints complained, “We never began to build a temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.” Brigham Young responded by saying, “I want to hear them ring again.” And so we continue to build temples, whether the enemy of righteousness likes it or not.

President Young also taught that we need to study the enemy’s tactics in order to defeat him. Allow me now to share four of Satan’s proven strategies, and some ideas as to how we might resist them.

The first tactic that I will mention is direct temptation. The devil is brazen about putting wicked ideas into our minds. The Book of Mormon teaches that the devil “whispers in our ears.” He whispers messages into our minds—unclean and unkind thoughts, and sometimes thoughts of doubt. He nags us to act on addictive urges and to entertain selfishness and greed. He doesn’t want us to recognize where these ideas are coming from, and so he whispers in our ear, “I am no devil, for there is none.”

How can we resist this direct temptation, communicated spirit to spirit? One of the most effective tools to fight temptation is to simply send Satan away. That’s what Jesus would do. The New Testament account of Jesus on the Mount of temptations is very instructive. After each temptation that the devil presented Him, Jesus used a two-step defensive technique. First, He ordered Satan to leave. Then He quoted scripture.

Let me give you an example: “Get thee hence, Satan,” commanded Jesus. “For it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” The very next verse records, “Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.” The Savior’s defense was very effective.

Commenting on this incident from the life of Christ, President Spencer W. Kimball in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness suggested that this is the proper pattern that we should employ in resisting the devil. The biography of President Heber J. Grant tells how President Grant resisted the devil when he was a young man. When he recognized that Satan was whispering to him, trying to plant thoughts of doubt in his heart, he simply said out loud, “Mr. Devil, shut up.”

You have the right to tell Satan to leave when you are being confronted with temptation. The scriptures teach, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

The other part of the Savior’s defense was to quote scripture. There are hundreds of scriptural verses that can help us to withstand temptation. Study, ponder, and memorize those verses. That’s what Jesus did. Let me share with you a few verses that are powerful.

“I can do all things through Christ [who] strengtheneth me.”

Here’s another good verse: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations.”

When you are being tempted, it strengthens your resolve when you can recite commandments—commandments such as “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” “Love your enemies.” “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” Or, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent” and kind.

Scripture power not only intimidates the devil; it brings the Spirit into your heart and reassures you.

The second tactic of Satan’s that I want to warn you about is his use of lies and deception. The scriptures reveal that he is the father of lies. Don’t believe him when he whispers messages such as “You never do anything right,” “You’re too sinful to be forgiven,” “You’ll never change,” “No one cares about you,” “You have no talents.”

Another of his oft-used lies is the following: “You need to try everything at least once, just to gain experience. One time won’t hurt you.” The dirty little secret that he doesn’t want you to know is that sin is very addictive. Consider these addictive behaviors that have brought many good people down: Drugs, alcohol, gambling, stealing, pornography, and violence. It’s best not to try them even one time, or even one more time.

To businessmen who are trying to get ahead, Satan says, “The end justifies the means. It’s okay to cut corners. You don’t have to tell the whole truth, as long as it’s for a good cause.” And then he will quickly assure you that there is no better cause than to provide for your family. Many good men have stepped into that trap, forsaking their principles to make just a little bit more money. Even if they are never caught, they lose the blessings promised to the righteous—the blessings of peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come.

I know a stake president in California who is an accountant. He told me that when new clients came to him for help with their taxes, he would always tell them right up front, “If you want someone to help you cheat a little to help you get a better return, you have come to the wrong place. I must warn you right now that I am always going to be honest. If you had something else in mind, please take your business elsewhere.”

No matter what your line of work, it’s essential to establish a reputation of integrity.

Another effective lie that Satan will try on you is this: “Everyone else is doing it. Just look around you; it’s okay.” Well, it’s not okay. So tell the devil you don’t want to go to the telestial kingdom, even though everybody else seems to be doing it.

Although Satan will lie to you, you can count on the Spirit to tell you the truth. That’s why the gift of the Holy Ghost is so essential. The devil has been called the great deceiver. He attempts to counterfeit every true principle that the Lord presents. Remember, counterfeits are not the same as opposites. The opposite of white is black. The counterfeit for white might be off-white, or even gray. Counterfeits bear a resemblance to the real thing in order to deceive unsuspecting people. They are a twisted version of something good. And just like counterfeit money, they are worthless.

Let me illustrate. One of Satan’s counterfeits for faith is superstition. His counterfeit for love is lust. He counterfeits the priesthood by introducing priestcraft. And he imitates God’s miracles by means of sorcery. Although his imitations deceive many people, they are not the real thing and they cannot bring happiness.

Here are some more examples: the Lord blesses the Church with inspired patriarchs, whereas Satan offers the world fortune-tellers. The world yearns for prophets; the devil offers them psychics. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, but same-sex marriage is just a counterfeit. It brings neither posterity nor exaltation.

God warned us about counterfeits in the Doctrine and Covenants. He said, “And that which doth not edify is not of God, [but] is darkness.”

Let me tell you of a third tactic that the enemy uses very effectively. Satan is not only the father of lies; he also is the father of contention. The scriptures teach, “He stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” The devil has learned from centuries of experience that where there is contention, the Spirit of the Lord will depart.

Ever since the day when he convinced Cain to murder his own brother, Satan has influenced siblings to quarrel. He also stirs up problems in marriages, among ward members, and between missionary companions. He delights to see good people argue. He tries to start family arguments right before church on Sunday, right before family home evening on Monday night, and anytime a couple plans to attend a temple session. His timing is very predictable.

When there is contention in your home or in your workplace, stop what you are doing immediately and seek to make peace. It doesn’t matter who started it. President James E. Faust said, “When there is contention, the Spirit of the Lord will depart, regardless of who is at fault.”

Contention often begins with fault finding. Joseph Smith taught that the “devil flatters us that we are very righteous, when we are feeding on the faults of others.” When you think about it, self-righteousness really is a counterfeit for real righteousness.

Satan loves to spread contention in the Church. He specializes in pointing out the faults of Church leaders. Joseph Smith warned the Saints that the beginning step to apostasy is when we lose confidence in the leaders of the Church. Almost all anti-Mormon literature is based on lies about the character of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Concerning these personal attacks that were instigated by Satan, Joseph explained: “I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the power of darkness combine against me?”

The enemy works hard to discredit Joseph because the message of the Restoration hangs on the Prophet’s account of what happened in the Sacred Grove. The devil is working harder today than ever before to make members question their testimonies of the Restoration.

In the early days of our dispensation, several of the original members of the Quorum of the Twelve, to their great regret, did not stay loyal to the Prophet Joseph Smith. One was a man named Lyman E. Johnson, who was excommunicated for unrighteous conduct. He later lamented having left the Church. Lyman said, “I would suffer my right hand to be cut off, if I could believe it again. Then I was full of joy and gladness. My dreams were pleasant. When I awoke in the morning my spirit was cheerful. I was happy by day and by night, full of peace and joy and thanksgiving. But now it is darkness, pain, sorrow, [and] misery in the extreme. I have never since seen a happy moment.”

Think about that, brothers and sisters. Think about those words. They stand as a warning to all Church members. Those who lose faith in the Prophet Joseph Smith will not find happiness anywhere else.

Remember the Savior himself gave us the key to distinguishing true prophets from false prophets. He taught, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” The fruits of the Prophet Joseph Smith are many. They include the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price. My testimony of his divine calling is strengthened every time I read from those sacred volumes. His fruits also include the Word of Wisdom. They include welfare farms and an inspired program to effectively care for those who are poor. They include universities, chapels, and temples all over the world, blessing the lives of millions of people.

President Richards mentioned that I’m a convert to the Church. I was baptized when I was a young single adult, 23 years old and attending medical school. I know firsthand how Satan works on investigators to confuse them and discourage them when they are seeking truth. All during my youth, I watched the examples of Latter-day Saint friends, and I was impressed with the way they conducted their lives. I made the decision to learn more about the Church, but I did not want to tell anyone that I was studying about Mormonism. To avoid pressure from my friends, I decided to make it a completely private investigation. This was many years before the Internet, so I went to the public library to find information and check out books about the Mormons.

I found a Book of Mormon on the library shelf, and I also a book called A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, by LeGrand Richards. I began to read these books with great desire, and I found them very inspiring. While my spirit was still hungering and yearning to learn more, guess what—Satan began to whisper in my ear that in order to be completely objective, I needed to read what was written by the critics of the Church as well. I went back to the public library and began to look around. Sure enough, I found a book that discredited the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I took it home.

Reading this anti-Mormon book confused me. I lost that sweet spirit and influence that had guided my investigation up to that time. I found myself becoming frustrated and actually beginning to think about abandoning my search. Think about it this way: I was praying for an answer of whether or not the Church was true while reading anti-Mormon literature. That was never going to work.

To my surprise, I received a phone call from an LDS friend who was attending BYU. She invited me to come up to visit her in Utah, promising that I would love the scenic trip. She had no idea that I was secretly studying about her church. I accepted her invitation and rode from Tucson, Arizona to Provo, Utah one Friday after classes. It seems like a little trip—it was 14 hours. When I arrived, my friend suggested that we go to Salt Lake City and visit Temple Square. She was surprised at my enthusiastic response. She had no idea how interested I was to learn the truth about Joseph Smith and the Restoration.

The sister missionaries on Temple Square were very, very helpful. Without knowing it, they answered many of my questions. Their testimonies influenced me to “doubt my doubts,” and my faith began to grow. The power of a heartfelt testimony cannot be overestimated.

My friend also shared her testimony with me and invited me to pray and ask God if it was true. On the long drive back to Arizona, I began to pray, this time with real faith. For the first time, I did so with a sincere heart and with real intent. At some point on that trip, it seemed like my whole car just lit up with light. I learned for myself that light can indeed dispel darkness. After I decided to be baptized, the devil put up a final struggle. He worked on my family, who did everything in their power to discourage me, and they refused to attend my baptism.

I was baptized anyway, and they gradually—gradually, gradually—softened their hearts. They began to help me research my family history. A few years later, I was able to baptize my younger brother. And the friend, the one who invited me to visit her in Utah—well, she is now my wife and eternal companion.

A fourth tactic used by Satan is discouragement. He uses this tool effectively on the most faithful Saints, when everything else seems to fail. For me, when I begin to feel discouraged, it helps me to recognize who is trying to get me down. This makes me mad enough to cheer up, just to spite the devil.

Almost thirty years ago, President Benson gave a talk called “Do Not Despair.” In that insightful talk, which I recommend to every Church member, he warned: “Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression.” President Benson urged Church members to be on guard, and he gave 12 very realistic suggestions for fighting discouragement. They are things that any one of us can do. They include the following:

  • Serve someone else.

  • Work hard. Avoid idleness.

  • Practice good health habits, which include exercising and eating food in a natural state.

  • Seek a priesthood blessing.

  • Listen to inspiring music.

  • Count your blessings.

  • Set goals.

  • And above all, as the scriptures teach, pray always to conquer Satan.

Years ago, my wife and I hung this short verse of poetry on our wall to remind us of the importance of prayer:

Satan trembles, when he sees

The weakest saint upon his knees.

The enemy of all righteousness does not want you to know how intimidated he can be by the power of a humble prayer. As Nephi explained, “The evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.” Don’t listen to Satan. The truth is, prayer is one of the best defenses against all of his tactics.

It is important for us to know that there are limits to the power of evil, and that God has set those limits and Satan is not allowed to cross them. For example, the scriptures assure us that power is not given to Satan to tempt little children. Another significant limitation is that Satan does not know your thoughts unless you tell them. The Lord explained in the Doctrine and Covenants, “There is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart.”

Perhaps this is why the Lord has given us commandments such as do not murmur or “thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor.” If you can learn to bridle your tongue, you won’t end up giving too much information to the enemy. When he hears murmuring, complaining, and criticizing, he begins to take very careful notice. Your negative words expose your weaknesses to the enemy.

Another important truth for the warriors on God’s side is this: when a member of the Church dies on the straight and narrow path, having been faithful to his covenants, Satan cannot ever tempt him or bother him again. He is essentially home free. The righteous will rest from all of their troubles in spirit paradise, free from the buffetings of Satan.

I have another piece of good news for you: the armies of God are larger than the armies of Lucifer. You may look around you and think to yourself, “The world is becoming more and more wicked. Satan must be winning this war.” But don’t be fooled. The truth is, we outnumber the enemy. You see, the armies of God are not limited to mere mortals upon the earth. There are legions of angels that are fighting with us from the other side. Remember, two out of three of God’s children chose the Father’s plan.

The war between good and evil goes on day after day, night after night. Too often, we become distracted with our busy lives, and we forget that we are even in the middle of a war. Then Sunday comes around, and we attend our church meetings. Observing the Sabbath day and keeping it holy was the main prophetic priority expressed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve at our Seventies’ training during General Conference in April. The Sabbath is an ideal time to prepare for Satan’s counterattacks. Careful observance of the Sabbath, both at church and at home after our meetings, provides powerful blessings in our lives and helps defend against the devil. It sends a clear sign to the Lord that we are on His side and that this war with evil is important to us.

Sacrament meeting is a highlight of the day. The twenty or thirty minutes that we spend thoughtfully singing the sacrament hymn—and might I just make a note, as one who ends up sitting on the stand at every meeting I attend, I am often surprised at how many people do not sing the words to the sacrament hymn—but as we thoughtfully sing those words, as we ponder the sacrament prayers, as we renew our covenants by partaking of the bread and the water, and as we repent and make plans for improving ourselves, we end up drawing closer to the Lord, and they become the most important moments of our week.

Thankfully, music is an essential part of our Sabbath meetings. Singing the songs of Zion reminds us that we are fighting on the Lord’s side, and it motivates us to be ever more vigilant. Open an LDS Hymn book, and you will be surprised to see how many songs are actually battle hymns, written to rally the members in this war against evil. Let me cite just a few examples: “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (no. 246), “We Are All Enlisted” (no. 250), “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (no. 60), “Called to Serve” (no. 249), “Let Us All Press On” (no. 243), “Hope of Israel” (no. 259), “Who’s on the Lord’s Side?” (no. 260), and “Behold! A Royal Army” (no. 251).

I notice that whenever we sing these battle songs in our meetings, the congregation sits up a little taller in their seats and sings with a bit more enthusiasm. The inspired words remind us that those who fight with the Lord will win with Him in the end. As we sing the songs of Zion, the Spirit assures us that the Lord and His army will prevail. Fear not—this glorious victory has been foretold by ancient and modern prophets. Jesus will return in triumph, and Satan will be conquered at last.

In the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Shall we not go on in so great a cause?” Brothers and sisters, make sure that you are fighting on the Lord’s side. Make sure that you are carrying the sword of the Spirit. It is my prayer that at the end of your lives, you can say like the Apostle Paul that you have “fought a good fight, . . . finished [your] course, . . . [and] kept the faith.”

My dear brothers and sisters, I bear testimony of these truths to you, of the reality of Satan and of the importance of us being prepared and ready for him. I bear testimony of the Restoration of the gospel. I bear witness of the noble character of the Prophet Joseph Smith, that we are led by a prophet even today, Thomas S. Monson. I bear testimony that we are part of Jesus’ army, that His redeeming sacrifice really was for all of us to help us return home clean as we repent and become like our Father in Heaven. I bear testimony that the Savior stands at the head of the Church today. My dear brothers and sisters, shall we not go on in so great a cause? In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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