Editor's note: This excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Many of Lucifer’s tactics are bold and brazen and played out daily on everything from the Internet to the nightly news. But despite the fact that his handiwork is outrageously displayed at every turn—pornography, abuse, addiction, dishonesty, violence, and immorality of every kind—many of his strategies are brilliant for their subtlety. “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21). C. S. Lewis said something similar: “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (The Screwtape Letters, 56).
There are so many loud voices in the world today, and most of them are wrong. Most of them are trying to get our money or our support or our time or our vote or even our virtue. Many are trying to get us hooked on something. Most of them could care less about what is good for us or what will really make us happy. And many, if not most, of them—both blatant and subtle—are inspired by the adversary.
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See if any of the following techniques sound familiar.
1. Satan tries to blur our vision of why we’re here and to get us preoccupied with this life. He would have us distracted by and involved in anything and everything except what we came for.
2. The adversary tells us that it doesn’t matter what we do now because there’s plenty of time to pull our spiritual lives together later. It’s the Sin Now, Repent Later Plan. He makes no mention of the ways sin corrupts our spirits and drives away the Spirit.
3. He feeds our vanity with promises of popularity, power, and prosperity, and tries to seduce us into believing they are the only true measure of greatness—with the hope that we will be perpetually in hot pursuit of these rewards rather than those our Father has offered us. Nephi, on the other hand, clearly taught that these lusts of the flesh belong to the kingdom of the devil and have no place in the kingdom of God (see 1 Nephi 22:23).
4. Satan wants us to feel that we’re not worth a whole lot, that no matter how hard we try, we’ll never make much of a difference, never make “the grade,” never really measure up. He’d like us to think that we’ll never be as valuable, talented, clever, poised, spiritual, intelligent, or accomplished as our mothers or colleagues or friends or other [people]. He loves it when we compare ourselves with each other, realizing that in such artificial comparisons we tend to compare our areas of weakness against others’ areas of strength. The result, naturally, is that we inevitably come out on the short end of the measuring stick—a measuring stick that is flawed in every respect. …
5. Satan tries to wear us down by creating the image that there is nothing glamorous in enduring to the end. It’s the very reason I learned … to keep the ultimate reward in front of me. … I have always hated talks on enduring to the end because the very phrase makes life seem like drudgery rather than an adventure. And yet the most haunting regret imaginable would be to pass through the veil and, with the full sweep of eternity opened before our eyes, realize that we had sold our birthright for a mess of pottage, that we had been deceived by the distractions of Satan, and that [celestial glory] would never be ours.
6. He tells us what we want to hear: that life is supposed to be easy and fun, and that if we experience pain or undeserved difficulties the gospel must not be working. The adversary promotes tactics that are decidedly Laman-and-Lemuelesque. When their brother launched the ridiculous effort to build a ship in the middle of the wilderness without appropriate tools, they rebelled. Their complaint, “These many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy” (1 Nephi 17:21), suggests that one can only be happy if everything is pleasant, comfortable, and without challenge. Satan wants us to believe that happiness is directly connected to pleasures of the flesh, and that the only true religion is that which can deliver such indulgences. And at all cost, he doesn’t want us to learn that joy and true happiness are connected to doing a job well, rising above our weaknesses, cultivating family and other important relationships, and so on.
7. Satan always promotes shortcuts, though there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going.
8. The adversary encourages us to criticize, judge, and evaluate each other—a practice demeaning to both the person who judges and the one who is judged. A young woman whose marriage crumbled told me how much she loves the gospel but how weary she is of feeling that she’ll never be accepted because her life hasn’t unfolded as she expected and wanted it to. We ought to give up telling each other how to live our lives. It is wonderful to talk about principles, which apply equally to each of us, but it is rarely helpful to suggest how those principles should be applied. …
9. Lucifer whispers that life’s not fair and that if the gospel were true we would never have problems or disappointments. Bad things shouldn’t happen to good members of the Church, should they? The adversary would have us believe that with baptism comes a Magic Kingdom Club–like card, and that if our lives aren’t like perpetual trips to Disney World, we’re getting short-changed.
The gospel isn’t a guarantee against tribulation. That would be like a test with no questions. Rather, the gospel is a guide for maneuvering through the challenges of life with a sense of purpose and direction. “I feel happy,” Brigham Young said. “‘Mormonism’ has made me all I am, and the grace, the power, and the wisdom of God will make me all that I ever will be, either in time or in eternity” (Journal of Discourses, 8:162). President Gordon B. Hinckley said something similar: “This … is what the gospel is all about—to make bad men good and good men better” (Ensign, November 1976, 96). …
10. The adversary attempts to numb us into accepting a sliding scale of morality. Sometimes rationalization overtakes even the best among us. “[Inappropriate] movies don’t bother me,” we sometimes hear. “I go for the story, or the music, and skip over the profanity and the sexually explicit scenes.” Yet advertisers pay millions of dollars for a few seconds of airtime on the bet that through brief, repeated exposures to their products we’ll be persuaded to purchase them. If 60-second ads can influence us to spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t even like, then how will minutes, hours, months, and years of watching infidelity, violence, and promiscuity affect us? The measuring standard for entertainment of any kind is simple: Can you watch or participate in it and still have the Spirit with you? …
11. The adversary promotes feelings of guilt—about anything. Pick a topic. You can feel guilty for having a large family. (How can any one woman possibly care for eight or nine children?) Or for having no children at all. (You are not doing your duty). For working outside the home. (Don’t you know what the prophet has said about mothers who seek employment?) Or for choosing to stay home. (What’s the matter, don’t you have any ambition, skill, or talent?)
In some instances, guilt can be a positive emotion, for guilt is essential to true repentance. But the Savior uses other ways to help us change, often inviting us to step to a higher way of living and a more ennobling way of thinking, to do a little better and perhaps a little more. Promptings that come from Him are hopeful—even when such promptings encourage us to change, to repent, and to throw away old behaviors—and motivating rather than defeating or discouraging.
12. Lucifer works hard to undermine our innate tendency to nurture and care for others. He wants us to become separated from each other. Voice messaging and pagers are efficient, but they don’t replace a listening ear and a caring heart. If the adversary can cause us to focus more on our differences than on our similarities, if he can keep us so busy running from one commitment to another that we no longer have time for each other, he has made great strides toward neutralizing the strength and influence that we have. …
13. The father of lies rejoices in even small breaches in our integrity, because he knows that, if left unchecked, they will ultimately lead us “away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21; emphasis added). Blatant sin is almost always preceded by dishonesty in one form or another.
14. The adversary would have us hung up on perfection and stymied by the commandment to become perfect. He wants this glorious potential to loom as a giant stumbling block rather than the promise of what is ultimately possible—in other words, to make [exaltation] seem little more than a dream. We should expect not to achieve perfection in this lifetime. The goal instead is to become pure, so that we are increasingly receptive to impressions inspired by the Holy Ghost. …
15. Lucifer would have us so busy—with the details swirling around family, friends, careers, and every soccer league in town—that there’s no time to actually live the gospel. No time to fast and pray, to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, to worship in the temple—all the things we need to do to “study” for our mortal test. In other words, he wants us to be a little more concerned with the world than with the gospel, a little more interested in life today than in life forever. Regret is what happens when we figure out too late what was really important.
16. He wants us to rely on others for spiritual strength. … He loves it when we don’t develop our own spiritual sensitivities and skills. He doesn’t want us to learn how to get answers to prayer, or how to hear the voice of the Spirit, or how to part the veil and open up the heavens in the temple, or how to draw upon the power that comes from fasting, or how often the scriptures help prompt personal revelation. The adversary knows, and knows well, how superb the spiritual instincts are of those whose eyes are focused on the Savior, and at all cost he will try to derail and discourage us.
17. He delights in portraying religion as something restrictive and austere rather than liberating and life-giving. He wants us to know just enough about the gospel to focus on the rules and regulations rather than come to understand the joy that comes from following Christ. He depicts the Father and the Son as aloof rulers rather than our deified Father and Elder Brother who love us, who have a vested interest in our future, and whose motive is to help see us through this life so that we are worthy to return to Them. He paints eternal life as something out of reach, even other-worldly, something for prophets and a few other select people, a condition you and I could never hope to achieve. And he does everything he can to block the memory of our former home.
He loves it when we seek for security in bank accounts, social status, or professional credentials when ultimate security and peace of mind come only from a connection with the Lord Jesus Christ. In short, he tries to keep us distanced from Jesus Christ. Oh fine, if we profess Him to be the Savior—talk is cheap! And if the adversary can keep us so distracted that we never really seek, embrace, and commit ourselves to the Lord, then we will also never discover the healing, strengthening, comforting power available because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We will never know that because of the Savior we have access to everything we need to pass this test.
Life is filled with moments of joy, but life is also hard. It is an unmistakable privilege to be here in mortality, but the burden we carry is weighty, relentless, and laden with importance. So I pose two questions: What have we come here to do? And how will we do it? — Sheri Dew