Tad R. Callister: The best defense is a good offense

While serving as a Church leader I had a young man come to me who had difficulty keeping his thoughts clean. He said that improper thoughts would often pop into his mind and then he would strive to drive them out. I asked him if he had a song he would sing or a scripture he would cite that would help him eliminate such thoughts. He said he did and it helped, but sometimes such thoughts still lingered or returned.

I then inquired further: “Do you pray daily?”

“Not always,” was the response. I asked about his daily scripture reading; it was sporadic. Did he attend all his church meetings? “Not always,” came the answer. 

I pondered for a moment, and then an impression came. I said, “You like to play basketball, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes!” came the reply, “I love basketball.”

“Well, suppose for a moment that at your next game the coach called all the players together just before the tip-off and said: ‘Tonight, players, we are going to try a new strategy — no one is to take a shot. We are going to save all our energy and play the best defensive game anyone has ever played.’ What is the best your team could hope to do?”

He looked somewhat puzzled and replied, “Break even, a zero-to-zero tie.”

“That’s right,” I replied, “and that I believe is what you are doing. You have been playing defense. When some evil thought crosses your mind, you try to drive it out. That is good, but it is the lesser part of what you ought to be doing. You need to take the offense. For, in truth, the best defense is a good offense. When you have the ball, the other team cannot score.” 

Tad R. Callister
Tad R. Callister Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

One cannot play defense alone and expect to beat Satan. That was the counsel of Paul: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), and also the counsel to the saints of our day: “men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27). No wonder Luke summarized the Savior’s life — one of spiritual offense — in these words: “[He] went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).

Parents can help their children likewise take the spiritual offense — to put on the whole armor of God — not just the shield of defense but also the sword of offense. They can ensure they are having morning as well as evening prayers, and that they pray for things of eternal worth such as moral strength and discipline, to find a worthy eternal partner as my mother encouraged me to do, and to seek after the gifts of the Spirit that can refine and perfect them. Then the promise of the Lord can become a reality: “Pray always … that you may conquer Satan” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:5).

Parents can lead by example and help their children develop the habit of daily and powerful scripture study. Nephi taught: “feast upon the words of Christ; for behold the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).

But how is this possible? Can the scriptures tell us who we should marry or what career to pursue? In a real sense — yes. But how? Because the words of Christ teach us correct principles, and in addition, invite the Spirit so we can apply those principles to any specific challenge that confronts us in life. Thus, the scriptures are not only a shield to defend against falsehood, but a sword that cuts open the way to the path we should pursue in life.

We can and should be pro-active in helping our children take the offense in spiritual matters.

Where possible parents can encourage children to go on the offense by attending the temple to perform proxy work for the dead, and by doing family history research and indexing. They can help them get patriarchal blessings at the earliest date they are spiritually mature, knowing that these blessings will help reinforce their children’s divine identity and destiny, and thus assist them in navigating what might otherwise be difficult teenage years.

Parents can make sure their children have uplifting pictures in their rooms, such as of the Savior and temple, and that they are listening to inspiring music and movies. Fathers and priesthood leaders can give blessings that will strengthen resolves and extol the virtues of a clean life.

We can and should be pro-active in helping our children take the offense in spiritual matters. When parents seek the Spirit, divine guidance will come that will help them in that pursuit — not only in teaching their children how to defend against the temptations of the Evil One, but even more — to conquer him. 

Then the time will come, due to the righteousness of the saints, that Satan will be bound and will have “no power … over the hearts of the people” (1 Nephi 22:26). As we help our children take the spiritual offense, we put Satan on the defense, and thus hasten the day when Satan will no longer have power over the hearts of the children of men.

— Tad R. Callister is an emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president.