I earnestly pray
for the assistance of the Holy Ghost
for you and for me as we rejoice and worship
together in this session of general conference. In April of 1976,
Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke specifically to
the youth of the Church in general conference. In his classic message entitled
“Spiritual Crocodiles,” he described how during
an assignment in Africa he observed well-camouflaged
crocodiles preying on unsuspecting victims. He then likened the
crocodiles to Satan, who preys on unwary
youth by camouflaging the deadly nature of sin. I was 23 years old when
Elder Packer gave that talk, and Susan and I
were anticipating the birth of our first
child in just a few days. We were impressed with
the content of his message about avoiding sin
and the masterful way he used the ordinary
behavior of animals to teach an important lesson. Susan and I also have traveled
to Africa on many assignments. And we have had opportunities
to see the magnificent animals that live on that continent. Remembering the impact of Elder
Packer’s talk in our lives, we have tried to observe
and learn lessons from the behavior
of African wildlife. I want to describe the
characteristics and tactics of two cheetahs Susan and I
watched hunting their prey and relate some of the things
we observed to the daily living of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Cheetahs are the fastest land
animals on earth and reach running speeds as high
as 75 miles an hour. These beautiful
animals can accelerate from a standstill position
to running as fast as 68 mph in less than three seconds. Cheetahs are predators
that sneak up on their prey and sprint a short
distance to chase and attack. Susan and I spent
almost two hours watching two cheetahs stalking
a large group of topis, Africa’s most common and
widespread antelopes. The tall, dry grass
of the African savanna was golden brown and almost
totally obscured the predators as they pursued
a group of topis. The cheetahs were
separated from each other by approximately 100 yards
but worked in tandem. While one cheetah sat upright
in the grass and did not move, the other cheetah
crouched low to the ground and slowly crept closer
to the unsuspecting topis. Then the cheetah that
had been sitting upright disappeared in the grass
at exactly the same moment that the other
cheetah sat upright. This alternating pattern of
one cheetah crouching low and creeping forward while
the other cheetah sat upright in the grass continued
for a long time. The stealthy subtlety
of the strategy was intended to distract
and deceive the topis and thereby divert
their attention away from the approaching danger. Patiently and steadily, the
two cheetahs worked as a team to secure their next meal. Positioned between
the large group of topis and the
approaching cheetahs were several older and
stronger topis standing as sentinels on termite mounds. The enhanced view of the
grasslands from the small hills enabled these guardian topis
to watch for signs of danger. Then suddenly, as
the cheetahs appeared to be within striking distance,
the entire group of topis turned and ran away. I do not know if or how the
sentinel topis communicated with the larger group, but
somehow a warning was given, and all the topis moved
to a place of safety. And what did the
cheetahs do next? Without any delay,
the two cheetahs resumed their
alternating pattern of one cheetah crouching
low and creeping forward while the other cheetah
sat upright in the grass. The pattern of
pursuit continued. They did not stop. They did not rest
or take a break. They were relentless in
following their strategy of distraction and diversion. Susan and I watched the cheetahs
disappear in the distance, always moving closer and
closer to the group of topis. That night Susan and I had
a memorable conversation about what we had
observed and learned. We also discussed
this experience with our children
and grandchildren and identified many
valuable lessons. I now will describe just
three of those lessons. LESSON NUMBER ONE: Beware of
evil’s beguiling disguises. To me, cheetahs are
sleek, alluring, and captivating creatures. A cheetah’s yellowish-tan
to greyish-white coat with black spots acts
as a beautiful disguise that makes these animals
almost invisible as they stalk their prey in
the African grasslands. In a similar way, spiritually
dangerous ideas and actions frequently can appear to
be attractive, desirable, or pleasurable. Thus, in our contemporary
world, each of us needs to be aware of beguiling
bad that pretends to be good. As Isaiah warned,
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil;
that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” In a paradoxical
period when violating the sanctity of human
life is heralded as a right and chaos is
described as liberty, how blessed we are to live in
this latter-day dispensation when restored gospel light can
shine brightly in our lives and help us to discern the
adversary’s dark deceptions and distractions. “For they that are wise and
have received the truth, and have taken the Holy
Spirit for their guide, and have not been
deceived–verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn
down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.” LESSON NUMBER TWO: Stay
awake and be alert. For a topi, a brief moment of
carelessness or inattentiveness could invite a swift
attack from a cheetah. Likewise, spiritual
complacency and casualness make us vulnerable to the
advances of the adversary. Spiritual thoughtlessness
invites great danger into our lives. Nephi described how in the
latter days Satan would attempt to pacify and lull the children
of God into a false sense of “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.” Constant vigilance is
required to counteract complacency and casualness. To be vigilant is
the state or action of keeping careful watch
for possible danger or difficulties. And keeping watch denotes
the act of staying awake to guard and protect. Spiritually speaking, we
need to stay awake and be alert to the promptings
of the Holy Ghost and to the signals that
come from the Lord’s watchmen on the towers. “Yea, and I also exhort you …
that ye be watchful unto prayer continually, that ye may not
be led away by the temptations of the devil, … for behold,
he rewardeth you no good thing.” Focusing our lives
in and on the Savior and His gospel
enables us to overcome the tendency of the
natural man to be spiritually snoozy and lazy. As we are blessed with eyes
to see and ears to hear, the Holy Ghost can
increase our capacity to look and listen when
we may not typically think we need to look or
listen or when we may not think anything can be seen or heard. “Watch, therefore,
that ye may be ready.” LESSON NUMBER THREE: Understand
the intent of the enemy. A cheetah is a
predator that naturally preys on other animals. All day, every day, a
cheetah is a predator. Satan “is the enemy of
righteousness and of those who seek to do the will of God.” All day, every day, his
only intent and sole purpose are to make the sons
and daughters of God miserable like unto himself. The Father’s plan
of happiness is designed to provide
direction for His children, to help them experience
enduring joy, and to bring them
safely home to Him with resurrected,
exalted bodies. The devil labors to make the
sons and daughters of God confused and unhappy
and to hinder their eternal progression. The adversary works
relentlessly to attack the elements of the Father’s
plan he hates the most. Satan does not have a body,
and his eternal progress has been halted. Just as water flowing in a
riverbed is stopped by a dam, so the adversary’s
eternal progress is thwarted because he does
not have a physical body. Because of his
rebellion, Lucifer has denied himself all
of the mortal blessings and experiences made possible
through a tabernacle of flesh and bones. One of the potent scriptural
meanings of the word damned is illustrated in his
inability to continue progressing and becoming
like our Heavenly Father. Because a physical body is so
central to the Father’s plan of happiness and our
spiritual development, Lucifer seeks to
frustrate our progression by tempting us to use
our bodies improperly. President Russell M. Nelson has
taught that spiritual safety ultimately lies in “‘never
taking the first enticing step toward going where you should
not go and doing what you should not do.’ … As human beings we all
have [physical] appetites necessary for our survival. ‘These appetites are absolutely
essential for the perpetuation of life. So, what does the
adversary do? … He attacks us through
our appetites. He tempts us to eat
things we should not eat, to drink things we
should not drink, and to love as we
should not love!'” One of the ultimate
ironies of eternity is that the adversary,
who is miserable precisely because he has no physical
body, invites and entices us to share in his misery
through the improper use of our bodies. The very tool he does not
have and cannot use is thus the primary target of his
attempts to lure us to physical and spiritual destruction. Understanding the
intent of an enemy is vital to
effective preparation for possible attacks. Precisely because Captain
Moroni knew the intention of the Lamanites,
he was prepared to meet them at the
time of their coming and was victorious. And that same principle and
promise applies to each of us. “If ye are prepared,
ye shall not fear. “And that ye might escape
the power of the enemy.” Just as important
lessons can be learned by observing the behavior
of cheetahs and topis, so each of us should look for
the lessons and warnings found in the simple events
of everyday life. As we seek for a mind
and heart open to receive heavenly direction by the
power of the Holy Ghost, then some of
greatest instructions that we can receive and many
of the most powerful warnings that can safeguard
us will originate in our own ordinary experiences. Powerful parables are contained
in both the scriptures and in our daily lives. I have highlighted only three
of the many lessons that can be identified in
this adventure Susan and I had in Africa. I invite and encourage
you to reflect on this episode with the
cheetahs and the topis and identify additional lessons
for you and your family. Please remember always that
your home is the true center of gospel learning and living. As you respond in faith to
this invitation, inspired thoughts will come to your mind,
spiritual feelings will swell in your heart, and you will
recognize actions that should be undertaken or continued
so that you can “take upon you [the] whole
armor [of God], that ye may be able to withstand
the evil day, having done all, that ye may be able to stand.” I promise that the blessings
of effective preparation and spiritual protection
will flow into your life as you are watchful unto prayer
vigilantly and continually. I testify that pressing
forward on the covenant path provides spiritual safety
and invites enduring joy into our lives. And I witness that
the risen and living Savior will sustain
and strengthen us in times both good and bad. Of these truths I testify
in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen