Developing the ability to respond (rather than merely react) to the vicissitudes of this mortal probation as calm, patient, emotionally stable disciples of Christ is no small undertaking; nevertheless, this skill is central to becoming true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Despite all the hatred, rejection, and persecution He endured, no murmuring word or railing accusation escaped His tongue. He remained focused on doing the will of the Father in all things and overcoming the world. At the last supper, the Lord reassured His inner circle of their eventual triumph as He announced His own: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” 

In mortality, we become conditioned to go directly from stimulus to reaction with little or no forethought, whereas a response requires consideration. Most of this conditioning to be immediately reactive rather than responsive has occurred with satanic assistance. Cunningly disguised as our own mental processes, Satan constantly imposes “suggestions” on how to interpret and how to react in counterproductive ways to circumstances and events. When frequently repeated, these reactions become so ingrained it sometimes seems as though there’s no time for a choice. Something happens and, bam, we go from interpretation to emotion to reaction in less than a blink of the eye—in a seemingly unavoidable case of a stimulus generating an automatic set response.

We can learn to recognize and defeat the enemy of our souls.

Adding to the insidious nature of this ploy, Satan has succeeded in shifting our attention from what we can do to intercept the reaction by telling us we have no choice because it’s not our fault. Our reaction, he suggests, was caused by some outside source—generally another person. He wants to divert our attention from our role in the matter by urging us to dive headlong into finger-pointing and wishing everybody else would grow up and change. He must laugh at our frustration every time we think we can improve our lives by blaming somebody else.

Although this scenario is all too familiar to all of us mortals, based on the truth that we are “agents unto ourselves” and “the power is in us,” we need not remain blind to Satan’s wiles.  We can learn to recognize and defeat the enemy of our souls.

Five Effective Tactics for Battling Satan’s Ploys

1. Personify the opponent: Like a skilled magician, Satan tries to hide behind the façade of misdirection. Whispering in your ears, he directs focus and blame on you, on outside events, and on other people rather than on himself. Note Nephi’s warning, “And he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears.”

New Testament accounts of how the Lord dealt with Satan instruct us, for He is the way. After Christ’s forty-day fast in the wilderness, Satan came to tempt Him (Luke 4:2). As it is for us, it was a one-on-one encounter. Each temptation was an invitation that appealed to Christ’s mortal nature. In each case, the Lord firmly rebuffed Satan’s ploy, refusing to entertain any of Satan’s proposals (thoughts), even for a moment.  Recognizing immediately where Satan wanted to lead His thoughts, the Savior confronted Satan personally and directly. No pause, no hesitation. We come unto Christ by emulating Christ. As the Savior did, make your battle with Satan direct and personal.

2. Stop listening. Start talking back: Put yourself into this scenario. It’s Sunday morning, the Sabbath Day. As you awaken, Satan injects his noise, “You know, you actually deserve some R&R. A little more sleep would do you good, and you’d be off to a better start on Monday. Besides, you’re just going to hear the stuff you’ve heard a thousand times before. And you’re doing a pretty good job on most of it anyway.” Tell me you haven’t heard this diatribe in several different forms. There’s the one about going to the temple, one about ministering to a ward member, one about fasting on fast Sunday.  

Notice that all of the noise playing in your head is posing as your own thoughts. But is that really what it is? Are you really saying all that to yourself, or are you listening to it? When you pause and examine, you become aware that it’s not your thoughts at all. You can verify this because you can actually talk back to it while it’s rattling along in your mind. Once you recognize this, stop listening and talk back!

Try something like, “Okay, Satan, you can skip the script. I get it. You don’t want me to go to church today. Since you’re a liar and working to thwart me, I’m going to assume there’s actually a fairly valuable reason you don’t want me to go today. Even if nothing spectacular happens, it doesn’t matter. Because I will have, at the very least, been obedient to God and disobeyed you. And, if that’s all that takes place, that will be more than enough. As small and insignificant as going or not going to church may seem, simple things add up, put oil in my lamp, draw me one step closer to the Savior, and one step farther from you.”  

3. Counter with a 180-degree reversal:  You can take the idea just described one step further. You can really get under Satan’s skin, if he had any, by turning the tables on him and adding power to your response with something like this: “Oh, so you don’t want me to go to church. Well, I tell you what. I’m not just going to church—I’m going to make the most of every minute. I’m not just going to sit there and vegetate. I’m going to look for opportunities to make a difference. I’m going to look for people who might be feeling a little downcast or lonely. I’m going to greet them, shake their hand, put my arm around them, and tell them I’m glad to see them. (Because I will be.) I’m going to ask them how they’re doing, and I’ll take the time to listen and care about what they’re saying. I’m going to look for an opportunity to make a meaningful comment in the lesson—maybe even bear my testimony about something being taught. If there’s a service project or request for volunteer work, I’ll accept and work it into my schedule. And I’ll pray for the speakers, the teachers, and the ward leaders and listen carefully for promptings of what actions I can take to be obedient and honor the counsel given by my leaders.”

As you respond to Satan’s ploys with this kind of energy, you are likely to get fewer of them, and you will discover or rediscover places where you have grown complacent and lazy and see where a bit of repentance is in order. Reward enough.

4. Take action: You may have already noticed how the first three tactics connect and build one upon the next. You will find them to be very effective—but only if you keep your word and follow through consistently on your promises—particularly the ones you make in your counterpunch. You can’t just say what you’re going to do, you absolutely must act and fulfill as James enjoined. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Stop listening, and talk back.

5. Depersonalize your role!  Don’t be shocked when Lucifer comes at you with fiery darts about you—especially when you intend to break out of your comfort zone and take on something steep and challenging. “You’re about to make a fool of yourself. You’re not only going to look stupid, but you’re also going to prove it before the whole world. You’ll never recover. People will snicker at you the rest of your life.” When you hear that familiar lecture, you are ready to unleash tactic number five and tell Satan that you’re aware there’s more at stake than just your personal concerns.

Be your own mental coach. Ask yourself, “Is there even a remote possibility my going for this goal would end up helping just one other person? Is it faintly possible I could be a catalyst for demolishing a major roadblock or solving a problem another person has wrestled with for years? Could I be an answer to someone else’s prayer?” If so, then this is not about you. It’s about the people you can help—even if it’s only one solitary person. And, “If it’s possible that it could help one person, isn’t it reasonable I might—just might—help more than one, maybe even several people?” If the answer is “Yes,” then again, it’s definitely not about you; it’s about who knows how many other people—perhaps even hundreds. Once you shift your thinking to realize it’s never been “just about you,” you then shift into a whole new mindset of service to others and to your God. 

In the grand plan of our Heavenly Father, He is weaving the threads of our lives together with many others, creating an intricate, divine masterpiece. None of us are accomplishing any of this on our own, nor for our own selfish interests. Heavenly Father works through other people to bless our lives and works through us to bless theirs. 

As effective as the first four tactics are, the fifth is the most significant. By negating Satan’s ploys, you gain a firsthand knowledge—even a perfect knowledge—that Gabriel’s counsel to Mary is true and applies to you and every one of Heavenly Father’s children, “Fear not, Mary, for with God nothing is impossible.” So, tell Lucifer you are not going to be intimidated or talked out of your opportunity to make a magnificent leap forward in your own development. Take your best shot at helping who-knows-how-many other people to do or be more in their lives. And whether it’s millions or a few, it doesn’t matter because it’s always up to the Lord anyway. It’s not your masterpiece; it’s His. Yes, you can choose to sit in the gallery and just admire it if you want. But how much greater will be your joy when you throw ego and embarrassment to the wind and go for something that will require a major stretch and find out that all you’ve got is still not enough?

In those courageous moments, you will find the Lord, the author of your faith, with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm, there to finish your faith. It’s only when you get to an extremity that you allow the Savior to reach into your life more deeply than you have ever allowed Him before. When you’re snug and comfy, you don’t need a savior. (At least you don’t think so.) It’s when you try walking on boisterous waters that you call on Him with enough intensity to find Him and gain assurance of His ever-vigilant presence. In light of the humiliation and hostility He had to endure, it seems a small price to risk a little embarrassment or a bit of persecution to show Him how much you really want to be like Him and will do anything it takes to draw closer to Christ.

To read Denns’ book: Looking Unto Christ In Every Thought: DefeatingFear, Doubt & Discouragement.

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