The Way of the Adversary

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Joseph L. Bishop

It takes very little time for a missionary to realize that the mission field is similar to a battlefield. As soon as his call is received, temptations come to the missionary as "flies to a carcass." The missionary becomes the prime target of the adversary. If Satan can cause a missionary to fail in his divine task, those who were waiting for his message of truth are at best left to continue their wait for others. Satan knows that the conversion of a young married couple today results in 20 to 40 souls embracing the gospel within two generations. To conquer one missionary is to thwart the progress of many.

Those who are called to serve must thrust in their sickles with all their might, take full advantage of the gospel tide, and take care not to fall into the tempter's snares.

Experienced missionaries become more wary as success increases. Mission success provokes reaction from the one who is disturbed by increased conversions. If the missionary cannot be stopped, the investigator becomes the center of the attack. The Lord warns of this in the parable of the sower:

"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved." (Luke 8:11-12, emphasis added.)

Every missionary would do well to review this scripture, or others like it, after every discussion with those who feel the spirit of the word of God.

The adversary will not allow conversions to take place without trying to intervene with his evil forces. Investigators should be told that ill-informed relatives, friends, and others may come to them with statements regarding the Church. They should invite the bearers of such tidings to meet with the missionaries and investigate open-mindedly the teachings of salvation.

Missionaries should inform the investigators that such an attack can be a sign to them, and they may discern the fountain of such misconceptions by being forewarned. Their literal salvation rests completely upon the missionaries preventing the word of God from being taken from them. Missionaries must turn the investigators' attention to the word of God and teach them not to trust in "the arm of flesh" for the truth. It is important to reiterate to them the Lord's promise that "By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." (Moroni 10:5.)

The adversary will attack the investigator, his friends, and, of course, the missionaries. Also, when a mission is progressing, it is common for the entire mission to feel the influence of the evil one. The situation detailed below demonstrates how his battle plan may shift.

President White had carefully watched the progress of the mission. Each month seemed to be a repetition of the previous month. The mission was progressing well. Baptisms had more than doubled over the previous year. The president interviewed every missionary in his geographically small mission every four weeks and had zone and multi-zone conferences often in an attempt to keep the missionaries informed as to potential pitfalls and to be on top of any problems. The missionaries seemed to pull together, and their moral and spiritual level was at an all-time high.

Month after month the attack of the adversary was directed against the mission as a whole. Any deviation from this pattern had been readily identifiable by the mission president in interview sessions and zone conferences. Then the adversary's tactics changed. Instead of a general attack, key individual missionaries were selected, as the battle shifted to a divide-and-conquer tactic. A district leader, one of four elders living together, was subtly distracted in such a cunning way that it wasn't until later that he recognized how he had been led astray. It happened so slowly that at first it was only a game. He jokingly included the other three missionaries in the "fun" of the occasion. They too joined in with careless gaiety. As soon as all were involved, temptations grew in proportion.

Shortly, all of these elders were breaking additional mission rules and the Spirit had left them. Because of their deep involvement and their feelings of guilt, they were reluctant to inform their mission president of the transgressions. Because the issue was isolated from the rest of the mission, it was not evidenced in the zone conferences or the interviews. By the time it finally came to light, the entire district was in spiritual darkness.

At the same time, similar problems were taking place in several other areas within the mission. The shift in the tactics of the adversary was sufficient to hide the new attack from the mission president's view.

As the president interviewed each wayward missionary, a precious truth was revealed. In each case, the missionary had been tempted at his weakest point. Satan did not tempt the Savior with food when he was filled and satisfied. He waited until the Lord was weak from fasting, and then he launched forth a specific temptation for a specific "weakness." All of us are viewed in a similar fashion. We are known by Satan and his host of followers. We lived together with them in a premortal state, and since those spirits who, like us, would become embodied outnumbered them there by only about two to one, it seems probable that some of them are well acquainted with us. No doubt they watch our progress here on this earth. They know our mortal weaknesses. They have been here to see each fallacy take place as the snares were prepared. With each departure we make from the truth, we relinquish to them more power over us. Little by little we cross further over into the enemy's territory.

Given their knowledge of us and our weaknesses, it seems only logical that we must take evasive action lest we be snared and our souls destroyed. It is not enough merely to be aware of the present battle plan of the adversary. The Saints of the Most High also need to aggressively attack current evil tactics and not just defend themselves against those tactics. Our attack is not to be directed against the adversary, however, but against our own weaknesses. Every missionary knows himself better than anyone else does. He knows his weaknesses, and he knows his strengths. The battle is either to eliminate his weaknesses one by one or to make them his strengths. If he does this, Satan will have lost his advantage.

For example, when Pres. White became aware of the tactics of the evil one, he adopted both a defensive and an offensive attitude. He first made everyone aware of the shift in direction of the attack and then initiated the mission "sacrifice" program. In that program each missionary was encouraged to progressively sacrifice specific weaknesses that made him vulnerable to Satan's advances or to build the weaknesses into strengths. Personal progress was initiated and soon mission progress was noted. Those who were diligent in this righteous endeavor were exceedingly blessed. Those who sacrificed less continued to live in a dangerous zone. They were still vulnerable and remained the targets of the adversary.

A missionary's protection is to build his own fortification and to develop his own state of perfection. The Lord's admonition is clear: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48). In the instance discussed, the mission program to eliminate personal weaknesses was successful, and it was used throughout the mission to promote each missionary's personal growth and protection.

We can readily draw examples from this program. The missionary who replaces a quick temper with patience is blessed. The missionary who sacrifices occasional gossip for positive comments is blessed. The more a missionary builds his defenses against the potential attacks of the adversary, the more he is blessed.

Missionaries have a unique opportunity for personal and spiritual preparation under conditions which greatly favor growth and development and offer a strong foundation for future life. For example, the missionary who is used by the Lord feels his Spirit often and grows spiritually from each experience. A variety of additional spiritual manifestations takes place as the lives of men and women he influences are molded to fit gospel principles. Miracles take place. Alcoholics leave their liquor. Smokers abstain. Adulterers and fornicators abruptly and completely change their lives.

During this limited but spiritually provocative time, the wise missionary takes advantage of these blessings and prudently prepares his character, building it up so Satan's temptations will not later weaken him. Because of such shelter, he can grow and flourish spiritually, perhaps as in no other time of his life. The mission is indeed the perfect time to fortify against Satan's attacks and to establish through thought control and self-discipline a firm spiritual foundation for life.

Taken from the book: The Making of a Missionary, by Joseph L. Bishop