When I was a mission president, a fine elder came to me. I asked, “How can I help you?”
“President,” he said, “I think I’m losing my testimony.”
I asked him how that could be possible.
“For the first time I have read some anti-Mormon literature,” he said. “I have some questions, and nobody will answer them for me. I am confused, and I think I am losing my testimony.”
I asked him what his questions were, and he told me. They were the standard anti-Church issues, but I wanted a little time to gather materials so I could provide meaningful answers. So we set up an appointment ten days later, at which time I told him I would answer every one of his questions. As he started to leave, I stopped him. “Elder, you’ve asked me several questions here today,” I said. “Now I have one for you.”
“How long has it been since you’ve read from the Book of Mormon?” I asked.
His eyes dropped. He looked at the floor for a while. Then he looked at me. “It’s been a long time, President,” he confessed.
“All right,” I said. “You have given me my assignment. It’s only fair that I give you yours. I want you to promise me that you will read in the Book of Mormon for at least one hour every day between now and our next appointment.” He agreed that he would do that.
Ten days later he returned to my office, and I was ready. I pulled out my papers to start answering his questions. But he stopped me.
“President,” he said, “that isn’t going to be necessary.” Then he explained, “I know that the Book of Mormon is true. I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.”
“Well, that’s great,” I said. “But you’re going to get answers to your questions anyway. I worked a long time on this, so you just sit there and listen.”
And so I answered all of those questions, and then asked, “Elder, what have you learned from this?” And he said, “Give the Lord equal time.”
My young brothers and sisters, we are in a war. This is the same war that raged in the premortal world. Lucifer and his followers are committed in their evil direction. But we must never forget this about Lucifer: he is a liar. He is the father of all lies and has been from the beginning. He was cast out of Heavenly Father’s premortal kingdom because of his disobedience, and now he has one goal, one eternal commitment that has never changed from the time of the war in heaven until the present day. His sole purpose is to make you and me as miserable as he is, and the best way for him to accomplish that is to entice us into disobedience.
Not too long ago I was assigned by the First Presidency to interview a man who had been excommunicated from the Church for adultery. It had required eight years for him to work his way through the long and sometimes painful process of reinstatement in the Church, and now he was sitting before me in an interview to determine his worthiness for a possible restoration of his priesthood and temple blessings. I asked him this simple question: “Looking back on this traumatic time in your life, how did it happen?”
Tears began to flow freely down his cheeks as he tried to respond. At last he was able to speak. “Brother Ballard,” he said, “it all started the day I picked up a pornographic magazine in the barber shop. It was the first time in my life I had ever seen anything like that, and it intrigued me. I wanted to see more and more. And then I wanted to see things that were progressively more explicit. And then it wasn’t enough to just look at pictures—I wanted to actually participate in some of the activities I was looking at. Eventually I was untrue to my wife and my family, and unfaithful to the covenants I had made with my Heavenly Father in His holy house.”
The man continued through his tears: “I’m not trying to shift blame for the choices I made. I knew better than to do what I did, and I alone am responsible for my sins. But there’s no question in my mind that exposure to pornography played a significant role in my spiritual decline.”
This is a critical time in your lives, when you are establishing a foundation for your families and your careers. There are many demands for your attention, and your time is limited by a wide variety of constraints. But be sure that you give the Lord His portion of your time and avoid completely such evils as pornography.
Pray regularly. Serve faithfully in whatever capacity a call is extended, including home and visiting teaching when you’re old enough. Establish a time and place to study the scriptures on a daily basis, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time. In the great scheme of things, these things take so little time. But the long-term benefits are infinite and eternal. It takes faith—real faith, unequivocal and unreserved—to accept and attempt to live prophetic counsel even when you don’t completely understand it. Such simple faith has the power to guide you safely through every challenge you may face in your life.
Of course, Lucifer doesn’t want us to feel or exhibit that kind of faith, and so he makes us feel uncomfortable with obedience. He plants defiance in our hearts with justification and rationalization, subtly convincing us that it is possible to live the spirit of the law even if we are in violation of its letter.
But to each of you I have only one question: are you going to follow the true and living prophets or not? It really isn’t any more complicated than that. Keep your eyes riveted on the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We will not lead you astray. We cannot. If you could see the process by which decision and direction come from our meetings, you would have a deep sense of confidence and comfort that the will of the Lord is being taught by the leaders of the Church. While individuals may falter, the body of general Church leadership will remain steadfast and true. That is the blessed assurance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our safety, our inner peace, lies in striving to live as the Savior would want us to live, and in knowing within our hearts and minds that we are doing the best we can to try to keep His commandments.