“Be Strong in the Lord,” Ensign, July 2004, 8–15
Long before the world was formed, Satan and those who followed after him raged against the forces of good and tried to overthrow the work of God. That struggle has not ended, only shifted battlegrounds. It is ruthless and relentless, and the objective of the battle is your eternal soul and mine.
The Apostle Paul spoke of how to arm ourselves for this conflict in these very graphic terms:
“Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Eph. 6:10–13).
How do we put on the whole armor of God so that we may, as Paul promises, “be able to withstand in the evil day”?
I like to think of this spiritual armor not as a solid piece of metal molded to fit the body but more like chain mail. Chain mail consists of dozens of tiny pieces of steel fastened together to allow the user greater flexibility without losing protection. I say that because it has been my experience that there is not one great and grand thing we can do to arm ourselves spiritually. True spiritual power lies in numerous smaller acts woven together in a fabric of spiritual fortification that protects and shields from all evil.
It is a common expression to talk about the “chinks” in a person’s armor. The definition of the word chink is “a small cleft, slit, or fissure.”1 Should an arrow strike exactly one of the chinks in one’s armor, a fatal wound can result.
I would like to suggest to you six ways we may protect ourselves by eliminating any chinks or gaps in our personal spiritual armor.
The Doctrine and Covenants teaches, “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work” (D&C 10:5).
What a wonderful promise! In this spiritual warfare that rages over individual souls, that is what we want more than anything else—to conquer Satan and to escape the hands of evil men and women who carry out his work. I cannot stress too highly the protective power that comes into our lives through earnest, humble, consistent, yearning prayer.
I know you believe that, but in the hectic, pressure-filled schedules you face, I also know how easy it is to let prayer slip. Some of you hit the snooze button on your alarm clocks, thinking you can eke out just another minute or two of sleep; then jerk awake, realizing that you are going to be late for school or work. On such mornings, prayer gets pushed aside, perhaps with a feeble promise to yourself that you will do better tomorrow. Put the alarm clock where you can’t reach it from bed; that will solve this problem. Sometimes you return home late at night, exhausted and eager to collapse into bed. You may go through the motions of prayer in a perfunctory and superficial manner, but that is not the kind of prayer that helps us conquer Satan.
You need to find a time and place where you can be alone with Heavenly Father and pour out your heart to Him, that you might add strength and power to your spiritual lives. Every honest and sincere prayer adds another piece to chain-mail armor.
Perhaps there are some of you who have slipped into patterns of behavior that you know in your heart are displeasing to the Lord. “I’ll repent first,” you say to yourselves, “and then I’ll begin saying my prayers again.” I tell you with all soberness that those thoughts are not from the Lord but from the evil one. Nephi said it very clearly: “The evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray” (2 Ne. 32:8).
It is when we are lost in the mists of darkness and cannot find our way that we most desperately need the influence of the Lord. Nowhere in all of the scriptural injunctions on prayer do we find the suggestion that we must first be perfect in order to communicate with God.
My friends, one of the most important ways to clothe yourselves in the armor of God is to make sure that prayer—earnest, sincere, consistent prayer—is part of your daily lives.
When Nephi’s brothers asked him what the meaning of the rod of iron was, Nephi “said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Ne. 15:24).
Isn’t that the protective power that we all seek? Knowledge gained through our study of the scriptures teaches us how to get protection from the devil for ourselves.
Note the choice of verbs Nephi used. He did not talk about merely reading the scriptures. He did not suggest that we only study the word of God. He said that we must “hearken” to the word of God and “hold fast” to it. How do we “hold fast” to the word? This implies much more than a cursory, occasional reading. Not only do we need to read and study and learn the scriptural content; we must hearken to it, follow the principles taught therein, and cling to those principles as though our very lives depended on it—which, if we are speaking of spiritual life, is literally true.
Here are some practical suggestions that I hope will help you derive greater power from your study of the scriptures:
If possible, set a consistent time and place to study when you can be alone and undisturbed.
Always have a marking pencil ready as you study. Make notations in the margins. Write cross-references. Make the scriptures yours by marking them.
Commit yourself to study for a set amount of time rather than to just read a chapter or a certain number of pages.
Study topically as well as chronologically. Both approaches have merit, but we need to go to the Topical Guide or the index from time to time and read all that the Lord has said on repentance, faith, or some other principle.
Take time to ponder, reflect, meditate, and pray about what you read. Ask yourselves questions such as “What can I learn from this passage that will help me come unto Christ and be more like Him?”
Let us then go to the Lord in prayer, pleading for help or answers, and those answers will come as we open the scriptures and begin to study them.
The Lord promised us through the prophet Moroni: “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
There are several interesting things about this scripture. First is that the Lord gives us weaknesses—not sin, but weaknesses—so that we may be humble. Think about that for a moment. If we were perfect in every respect, it would be hard to be humble. Even in specific things, humility comes harder to those who are very strong in one area or another. The woman or man who is remarkably beautiful or handsome can easily become proud of her or his appearance. A brilliant scholar may look down in condescension on those less intellectually blessed. Our weaknesses help us to be humble.
Then comes the promise. If we are willing to humble ourselves, then, as it says, “my grace is sufficient.” In the Bible Dictionary, grace is defined as an “enabling power” (697). Can you see the significance of that promise?
One of the signs of our day is how frequently we use the word addiction to describe destructive behavior. We talk about being addicted to alcohol, to drugs, to pornography. These are all insidious and powerful evils. Jesus warned His disciples that “whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34). Alma used a similar metaphor when he warned us about the “chains of hell” (Alma 12:11).
One of the most devastating effects of sin is that it weakens you, binds you, brings you down to slavery. The grace of God and of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the answer to that predicament. If you will but humble yourselves and turn to Them, then Their grace, Their enabling power, can not only help you throw off the chains of sin but actually turn your weaknesses into strengths.
Brothers and sisters, how I long to have the reality of that promise sink into your hearts. Are you struggling with some sin or weakness? It can be something as simple as not having the willpower to rise in the morning early enough to have time for scripture study and prayer. It can be something so powerful, such as Internet pornography or lack of moral self-control, that you feel you have been pulled down into an abyss and there is no hope for you. Do you find yourself hating what you are doing but not able to find the willpower to turn away from it? Then reach out and humble yourself. The Lord’s enabling power is sufficient to change your heart, to turn your life, to purge your soul. But you must make the first move, which is to humble yourself and realize that only in God can you find deliverance.
In his last great address to his people, King Benjamin said: “If ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, … ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30).
I have thought much about what King Benjamin meant by the phrase “watch yourselves.” Here are some of the things that I have concluded:
Often in the scriptures the Lord speaks of watchmen on the towers and of watchtowers themselves (see, for example, D&C 101:12, 43–62). A watchtower is generally raised so that someone can climb to the top and see a greater distance. In this way, they are alerted to danger or threat much sooner than they would otherwise be.
The same principle holds true in our lives. We can raise watchtowers that help us deal with threats before they actually descend upon us. Let me give some examples.
Bishops often hear in confessions of moral transgression a statement something like this: “I was so sure that I would never be caught in this problem. Somehow, we got carried away, and then it was too late.” The physical and emotional drives associated with physical affection are powerful, lowering the will to resist and often sweeping people on to things they will later deeply regret.
It is not enough to simply say, “I will never do that.” This is an excellent example of where we need to “watch ourselves.” The wise dating couple will build watchtowers to protect themselves from being swept away. These are simple things, such as limiting the time they are alone together; strictly avoiding dark, isolated places; and setting strict limits on the bounds of their physical affection. To wait until you are caught up in the passion of the moment to start building watchtowers is to wait until the enemy is upon you, and often it is too late.
I know that some of you are struggling with the tenacious power of Internet pornography. You come away from such encounters ashamed and sickened, vowing that you will never again allow yourself to give in to such temptation. Such determination is good, but you need to take intervening action when you are calm and away from the influence of those images. Move your computer into a room where there is always the possibility of someone walking in on you. Make sure the monitor faces the room so that others can see what is on the screen at any time. There are inexpensive software programs that help screen out pornographic sites and unsolicited pornographic e-mail. Take action when you are strong so that if you are tempted you will have armed yourself and it will be much more difficult to fall.
It is such a logical thing to prepare for danger or discomfort in the natural world. Mountain climbers are very careful to pack the proper gear. Arctic explorers do not wait until the blasts of subzero winds strike them to decide what clothing they need. So why don’t we do the same in our spiritual lives? Remember: “It is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent.”2
We read in 2 Nephi: “Wo unto him that has the law given, … that wasteth the days of his probation” (2 Ne. 9:27).
How does one waste the days of his or her probation? Turning to sin is surely part of it, but there is another, more subtle way, a way that may not seem evil at all.
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord gave a similar warning in these words: “Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13). Why would I speak of that with you? Because one of the ways Satan lessens your effectiveness and weakens your spiritual strength is by encouraging you to spend large blocks of your time doing things that matter very little. I speak of such things as sitting for hours on end watching television or videos, playing video games night in and night out, surfing the Internet, or devoting huge blocks of time to sports, games, or other recreational activities.
Don’t misunderstand me. These activities are not wrong in and of themselves (unless, of course, you are watching salacious programs or seeking out pornographic images on the Internet). Games, sports, recreational activities, and even television can be relaxing and rejuvenating, especially in times when you are under stress or heavily scheduled. You need activities that help you to unwind and rest your minds. It is healthy to go onto the soccer field or the basketball court and participate in vigorous physical activity.
But I speak of letting things get out of balance. It is not watching television, but watching television hour after hour, night after night. Does not that qualify as idling away your time? What will you say to the Lord when He asks what you have done with the precious gift of life and time? Surely you will not feel comfortable telling Him that you were able to pass the 100,000-point level in a challenging video game.
One devastating effect of idling away our time is that it deflects us from focusing on the things that matter most. Too many people are willing to sit back and let life just happen to them. It takes time to develop the attributes that will help you to be a well-balanced person.
We hear of young people, both male and female, who are so focused on academic success or moving up the career ladder that they “don’t have time for dating.” We hear some say that they will postpone marriage or having children until they can afford them. Let me tell you as a father of seven children, you will never be able to afford them. So just trust in the Lord as Sister Ballard and I did. Somehow it works, with His help.
Remember, you can be exalted without a college degree. You can be exalted without being slender and beautiful. You can be exalted without having a successful career. You cannot be exalted without an eternal mate. So focus the best that you can on those things in life that will lead you back to the presence of God—keeping all things in their proper balance. There are those who may never marry in mortality. But all of God’s blessings will ultimately come to those who are righteous and true to the gospel.
Oh, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the day of your probation. Do not waste this time away. Plan and prepare and then do.
A lack of reverence not only opens up chinks in our chain-mail armor but creates great gaps of vulnerability.
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord declared that “your minds in times past have been darkened because … you have treated lightly the things you have received” (D&C 84:54). That is a recurring theme in the revelations. “Trifle not with sacred things,” the Lord warned Oliver Cowdery (D&C 6:12).
In a time of peril and danger, the last thing we need is to have our minds darkened. And yet we have seen a great increase in how the world treats lightly and often offensively things of deep value. The media jokes and pokes fun at even the most sacred things. Television sitcoms show people constantly engaging in crude, rude, immoral, and cruel banter.
When we speak of reverence, we are talking about much more than mere quietness at our meetings. Reverence is an attitude of mind and heart. It involves a keen sense of God’s majesty and infinite goodness and our unworthiness and our need for Him and His redeeming grace. It includes a profound sense of the sacred and a desire to honor and protect it.
President Boyd K. Packer said: “Reverence invites revelation. … No one of us can survive in the world of today, much less in what it soon will become, without personal inspiration. The spirit of reverence can and should be evident in every organization in the Church and in the lives of every member.”3
As leaders, we see some patterns related to reverence that, if not corrected, may open up chinks in your spiritual armor. For example, we have noticed a growing trend in the Church to arrive late at sacrament meeting, priesthood, and other meetings. Bishops and stake presidents report some members coming in as late as half an hour after the meeting has started. Occasionally there may be a legitimate excuse for not arriving on time (such as having an emergency appendectomy), but in most cases it is because you simply plan poorly or do not care enough. The ideal would be to arrive five or ten minutes early so you can sit in the chapel quietly listening to the prelude music and preparing yourselves to worship. Our sacrament meetings belong to the Savior. When you arrive late, it not only interrupts the reverence of others, but it is a sign of your own disrespect and apathy.
Far too often we see Church members who persist in whispering during the administration of the sacrament. Their minds and hearts are obviously not focused on the emblems of which we partake. It is hard for me to comprehend how anyone who has an understanding and an appreciation for the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ could allow this to happen.
Again, by carefully cultivating an attitude of reverence, you will strengthen the power and the influence the Spirit has in your life. Remember, “reverence invites revelation.”
The Lord has given us specific doctrines and principles that show us how to clothe ourselves in the armor of God so that we can stand against the powers of evil. I have suggested a few ways to incorporate gospel principles into your lives. In most cases, we are not talking about massive changes of behavior. As with chain mail, you need simply to add small, individual pieces of armor each day through prayer, scripture study, focusing on things that matter, and acting in a reverent manner.
Let us go forward, keeping the commandments of God and following the admonition of the Apostle Paul:
“Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:10–11).
Show the pictures of armor in this article. Discuss chain mail and chinks—those small gaps in our armor that could let evil get through. List the six “smaller acts” Elder Ballard says can protect us from evil. Divide the suggestions among family members and ask them to use this article to prepare and teach a short lesson on their assigned topics. Invite them to share a personal story of how they have been blessed by following any of these suggestions.
Study and mark the scriptures mentioned in this article. Read and discuss what Elder Ballard said about each scripture. Read or sing “Hope of Israel” (Hymns, no. 259). Invite family members to set some personal and family goals to better win the battle against evil. Consider planning a follow-up discussion to evaluate your progress.
Make six paper signs of Elder Ballard’s suggestions and scripture references. Place the signs in places appropriate for remembering his counsel. (For example, you could place the sign with suggestion 5 near a television.)