Fortifying Ourselves against Evil Influences
“Chapter 10: Fortifying Ourselves against Evil Influences,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, (2006),102–13
The gospel of Jesus Christ offers us power and protection against the evils of our day.
From the Life of Spencer W. Kimball
President Spencer W. Kimball taught that the fight against Satan and his forces “is not a little skirmish with a half-willed antagonist, but a battle royal with an enemy so powerful, entrenched, and organized that we are likely to be vanquished if we are not strong, well-trained, and watchful.”1
As a young missionary serving in the Central States Mission, he recorded in his diary an experience illustrating his resolve to withstand temptation. He was traveling on a train to Chicago, Illinois, when a man approached him. “[He] tried to get me to read a vulgar book with obscene pictures. I told him it didn’t appeal to me. He began tempting me then to go with him in Chicago and I knew he’d lead me down to hell. I shut him up but after he was gone I could feel myself blush for an hour. I thought—‘Oh! how hard Satan, through his imps, tries to lead young people astray.’ I thanked the Lord that I had power to overcome it.”2
Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball
Satan is real and will use any means to try to destroy us.
In these days of sophistication and error men depersonalize not only God but the devil. Under this concept Satan is a myth, useful for keeping people straight in less enlightened days but outmoded in our educated age. Nothing is further from reality. Satan is very much a personal, individual spirit being, but without a mortal body. His desires to seal each of us his are no less ardent in wickedness than our Father’s are in righteousness to attract us to his own eternal kingdom.3
To know where the danger is and to be able to recognize it in all of its manifestations provides protection. The evil one is alert. He is always ready to deceive and claim as his victims every unwary one, every careless one, every rebellious one.4
Regardless of who is getting the adversary’s special attention at any given time, he seeks to make all people “miserable like unto himself” (2 Ne. 2:27). Indeed, he seeks “the misery of all mankind” (2 Ne. 2:18). He is undeviating in his purposes and is clever and relentless in his pursuit of them.5
Peter cautioned us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
And the Savior said that the very elect would be deceived by Lucifer if it were possible [see Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:22]. [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.6
The arch deceiver has studied every way possible to achieve his ends, using every tool, every device possible. He takes over, distorts, and changes and camouflages everything created for the good of man, … so he may take over their minds and pervert their bodies and claim them his.
He never sleeps—he is diligent and persevering. He analyzes carefully his problem and then moves forward diligently, methodically to reach that objective. He uses all five senses and man’s natural hunger and thirst to lead him away. He anticipates resistance and fortifies himself against it. He uses time and space and leisure. He is constant and persuasive and skillful. He uses such useful things as radio, television, the printed page, the airplane, and the car to distort and damage. He uses the gregariousness of man, his loneliness, his every need to lead him astray. He does his work at the most propitious time in the most impressive places with the most influential people. He overlooks nothing that will deceive and distort and prostitute. He uses money, power, force. He entices man and attacks at his weakest spot. He takes the good and creates ugliness. … He uses every teaching art to subvert man.7
The adversary is subtle. He is cunning. He knows that he cannot induce good men and women to do major evils immediately, so he moves slyly, whispering half-truths until he has his intended captives following him.8
With the Lord’s help, we can withstand evil influences.
If we would escape [the] deadly thrusts of the evil one and keep our homes and families free and solidly fortified against all destructive influences so rampant about us, we must have the help of … the Creator himself. There is only one sure way and that is through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and being obedient to its profound and inspired teachings.9
In the life of everyone there comes the conflict between good and evil, between Satan and the Lord. Every person who has reached or passed the age of accountability of eight years, and who with a totally repentant heart is baptized properly, positively will receive the Holy Ghost. If heeded, this member of the Godhead will guide, inspire, and warn, and will neutralize the promptings of the evil one.10
He who has greater strength than Lucifer, he who is our fortress and our strength, can sustain us in times of great temptation. While the Lord will never forcibly take anyone out of sin or out of the arms of the tempters, he exerts his Spirit to induce the sinner to do it with divine assistance. And the man who yields to the sweet influence and pleadings of the Spirit and does all in his power to stay in a repentant attitude is guaranteed protection, power, freedom and joy.11
Satan … contended for the subservience of Moses. …
“Moses, son of man, worship me,” the devil tempted, with promise of worlds and luxuries and power. …
… The prophet demanded: “Get thee hence, Satan. …” (Moses 1:16.) The liar, the tempter, the devil unwilling to give up this possible victim, now in rage and fury “cried with a loud voice, and rent upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.” (Moses 1:19.)
Moses recognized the deception and saw the power of darkness and the “bitterness of hell.” Here was a force not easily reckoned with nor evicted. Terrified, he called upon God, then commanded with new power:
“I will not cease to call upon God … for his glory has been upon me, wherefore I can judge between him and thee. … In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan.” (Moses 1:18, 21.)
Not even Lucifer, … the arch-enemy of mankind, can withstand the power of the priesthood of God. Trembling, quaking, cursing, weeping, wailing, gnashing his teeth, he departed from the victorious Moses.12
We must be prepared to make a bold stand before Satan … and against principalities and powers and the rulers of darkness. We need the whole armor of God that we may withstand. [See Ephesians 6:12–13.]13
“Put on the whole armour of God,” as Paul admonished [Ephesians 6:11]. With this divine influence and protection, we may be able to discern the adversary’s deceptions in whatever appealing words and rationalizations and we may be “able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” [See Ephesians 6:13.]14
We must not yield to even the smallest temptations.
Serious sin enters into our lives as we yield first to little temptations. Seldom does one enter into deeper transgression without first yielding to lesser ones, which open the door to the greater. Giving an example of one type of sin, someone said, “An honest man doesn’t suddenly become dishonest any more than a clean field suddenly becomes weedy.”
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the devil to enter a door that is closed. He seems to have no keys for locked doors. But if a door is slightly ajar, he gets his toe in, and soon this is followed by his foot, then by his leg and his body and his head, and finally he is in all the way.
This situation is reminiscent of the fable of the camel and his owner who were traveling across the desert sand dunes when a wind storm came up. The traveler quickly set up his tent and moved in, closing the flaps to protect himself from the cutting, grinding sands of the raging storm. The camel was of course left outside, and as the violent wind hurled the sand against his body and into his eyes and nostrils he found it unbearable and finally begged for entrance into the tent.
“There is room only for myself,” said the traveler.
“But may I just get my nose in so I can breathe air not filled with sand?” asked the camel.
“Well, perhaps you could do that,” replied the traveler, and he opened the flap ever so little and the long nose of the camel entered. How comfortable the camel was now! But soon the camel became weary of the smarting sand on his eyes and ears … :
“The wind-driven sand is like a rasp on my head. Could I put just my head in?”
Again, the traveler rationalized that to acquiesce would do him no damage, for the camel’s head could occupy the space at the top of the tent which he himself was not using. So the camel put his head inside and the beast was satisfied again—but for a short while only.
“Just the front quarters,” he begged, and again the traveler relented and soon the camel’s front shoulders and legs were in the tent. Finally, by the same processes of pleading and of yielding, the camel’s torso, his hind quarters and all were in the tent. But now it was too crowded for the two, and the camel kicked the traveler out into the wind and storm.
Like the camel, Lucifer readily becomes the master when one succumbs to his initial blandishments. Soon then the conscience is stilled completely, the evil power has full sway, and the door to salvation is closed until a thorough repentance opens it again.
The importance of not accommodating temptation in the least degree is underlined by the Savior’s example. Did not he recognize the danger when he was on the mountain with his fallen brother, Lucifer, being sorely tempted by that master tempter? He could have opened the door and flirted with danger by saying, “All right, Satan, I’ll listen to your proposition. I need not succumb, I need not yield, I need not accept—but I’ll listen.”
Christ did not so rationalize. He positively and promptly closed the discussion, and commanded: “Get thee hence, Satan,” meaning, likely, “Get out of my sight—get out of my presence—I will not listen—I will have nothing to do with you.” Then, we read, “the devil leaveth him.” [Matthew 4:10–11.]
This is our proper pattern, if we would prevent sin rather than be faced with the much more difficult task of curing it. As I study the story of the Redeemer and his temptations, I am certain he spent his energies fortifying himself against temptation rather than battling with it to conquer it.15
Right decisions now can help us withstand temptations later.
One of the basic tasks for each individual is the making of decisions. A dozen times a day we come to a fork in the road and must decide which way we will go. Some alternatives are long and hard, but they take us in the right direction toward our ultimate goal; others are short, wide, and pleasant, but they go off in the wrong direction. It is important to get our ultimate objectives clearly in mind so that we do not become distracted at each fork in the road by the irrelevant questions: Which is the easier or more pleasant way? or, Which way are others going?
Right decisions are easiest to make when we make them well in advance, having ultimate objectives in mind; this saves a lot of anguish at the fork, when we’re tired and sorely tempted.
When I was young, I made up my mind unalterably that I would never taste tea, coffee, tobacco, or liquor. I found that this rigid determination saved me many times throughout my varied experiences. There were many occasions when I could have sipped or touched or sampled, but the unalterable determination firmly established gave me good reason and good strength to resist.
… The time to decide that we will settle for nothing less than an opportunity to live eternally with our Father is now, so that every choice we make will be affected by our determination to let nothing interfere with attaining that ultimate goal.16
Develop discipline of self so that, more and more, you do not have to decide and redecide what you will do when you are confronted with the same temptation time and time again. You only need to decide some things once!
How great a blessing it is to be free of agonizing over and over again regarding a temptation. To do such is time-consuming and very risky.17
We can push some things away from us once and have done with them! We can make a single decision about certain things that we will incorporate in our lives and then make them ours—without having to brood and redecide a hundred times what it is we will do and what we will not do.
Indecision and discouragement are climates in which the Adversary lives to function, for he can inflict so many casualties among mankind in those settings. … If you have not done so yet, decide to decide!18
How wonderful it would be if we could just get every Latter-day Saint boy and girl to make up his mind or her mind during childhood to say, “I will never yield to Satan or to anybody who would want me to destroy myself.”19
The time to quit evil ways is before they start. The secret of the good life is in protection and prevention. Those who yield to evil are usually those who have placed themselves in a vulnerable position.20
We resist the adversary as we acknowledge our weaknesses and strive to overcome them.
Having been reared on the farm, I know that when the pigs got out, I looked first for the holes through which they had previously escaped. When the cow was out of the field looking for greener pastures elsewhere, I knew where to look first for the place of her escape. It was most likely to be the place where she had jumped the fence before, or where the fence had been broken. Likewise the devil knows where to tempt, where to put in his telling blows. He finds the vulnerable spot. Where one was weak before, he will be most easily tempted again.21
It seems that evil is always about us. … Accordingly, we must be alert constantly. We catalogue our weaknesses and move in against them to overcome them.22
Most of us have vulnerable spots through which disaster can overtake us unless we are properly safeguarded and immunized. …
History provides many … examples of strength and pride, both individual and national, which succumbed to attack on the vulnerable spot. While these spots were often, on the surface at least, physical, Lucifer and his followers know the habits, weaknesses, and vulnerable spots of everyone and take advantage of them to lead us to spiritual destruction. With one person it may be thirst for liquor; another may have an insatiable hunger; another has permitted his sex urges to dominate; another loves money, and the luxuries and comforts it can buy; another craves power; and so on.23
Let him who has evil tendencies be honest and acknowledge his weakness. I tell you the Lord places no sin in our lives. He has made no man wicked. … Sin was permitted in the world, and Satan permitted to tempt us, but we have our free agency. We may sin or live righteously, but we cannot escape responsibility. To blame our sin upon the Lord, saying it is inherent and cannot be controlled, is cheap and cowardly. To blame our sins upon our parents and our upbringing is the way of the escapist. One’s parents may have failed; our own backgrounds may have been frustrating, but as sons and daughters of a living God we have within ourselves the power to rise above our circumstances, to change our lives.24
We plead with our people everywhere, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7.) …
There may be some who have a general feeling of uneasiness because of world conditions and lengthening shadows of evil, but the Lord said, “… if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30), and again, “Peace I leave with you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)25
As Latter-day Saints we must ever be vigilant. The way for each person and each family to guard against the slings and arrows of the Adversary and to prepare for the great day of the Lord is to hold fast to the iron rod, to exercise greater faith, to repent of our sins and shortcomings, and to be anxiously engaged in the work of His kingdom on earth, which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Herein lies the only true happiness for all our Father’s children.26
Suggestions for Study and Teaching
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
• Which teachings of President Kimball about Satan and his methods do you find helpful and why? (See pages 103–5.)
• Review the section beginning on page 105. In what ways can the Lord help us withstand evil? (For an example, see the story on page 103.) When have you received this kind of help?
• Read the fable on page 107. Why do you think the traveler allowed the camel into his tent? Consider how the Savior resisted temptation (see pages 107–8). What are some ways parents can help their children recognize and resist even the smallest temptations?
• Review the second full paragraph on page 108. Compare the process of preventing sin with the process of curing it.
• President Kimball said, “Right decisions are easiest to make when we make them well in advance” (page 108). How might our lives be affected by early decisions to keep such commandments as the Word of Wisdom? (For an example, see page 108.) What are some decisions related to gospel living that you have unalterably made?
• Consider President Kimball’s observations about his pigs and his cow (pages 109–10). What do we gain by acknowledging our weaknesses and accepting responsibility for them?
[picture] President Kimball taught that if we will yield “to the sweet influence and pleadings of the Spirit,” we will be blessed with “protection, power, freedom and joy.”
[picture] President Kimball said that in order for us to guard against the adversary, we need to “hold fast to the iron rod.”
2. In “The Mission Experience of Spencer W. Kimball,” Brigham Young University Studies, fall 1985, 126.
24. An Apostle Speaks to Youth—Be Ye Clean: Steps to Repentance and Forgiveness (pamphlet, 1970), 13.