Dear Elder David A. Bednar,
My family and I took up your challenge this past week to consider and discuss the lessons of the cheetahs and the topis you talked about in your talk “Watchful Unto Prayer Continually.” We also, as you requested, found several other lessons to take away from the behavior of these animals.
This was a great opportunity for us to learn from each other and to see new perspectives about the enemy each of us faces. While our conversation covered a lot of ground, we focused mostly on these six lessons. I thought you and anyone who reads this might find these lessons interesting as well. So here are the lessons we talked about:
1. We Need to Watch for Signals
My family and I were impressed with the reaction of the topis as the cheetahs drew nearer. You mentioned, in your talk, that you
“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.”Elder David A. Bednar, “Watchful Unto Prayer Continually,” October 2019
This subtle, near impossible to see signal caught our attention.
The fact that the signal is so small or quiet that it can be easily missed means that the topis must pay close attention to their guards, or, as you called them, “sentinels.” They can’t engross themselves in their food or be distracted by any other matter. The topis need their attention right on their guards.
My family and I felt that this kind of focused attention that searches for tiny, quiet signals is exactly the kind of attention we need to have on Christ and on our leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The signals we receive from you and other leaders are not pushy or loud. Instead, they are loving and quiet, though certainly pointed.
And the Spirit, of course, works the same way. Simple whispers to heart, mind, and spirit come to us more than intense and overpowering emotions and experiences with the Holy Spirit.
Though the tactics of the devil can be cunning and subtle, the execution and response of his actions can be startlingly loud. In a world that aggressively demands attention and conformity, it can be easy to miss those quiet messages from God and our leaders.
The takeaway here is that we need to train ourselves to have a narrow focus on Christ and the words He teaches through the Spirit and through His servants. Without a narrow focus, we can miss the warnings that constantly come our way.
2. Respond Immediately
Along with watching for signals from God, we need to respond to the signals we receive immediately. If any topi hesitated to respond to the warning from the guards, it would lag behind and fall prey to the cheetahs.
If we hesitate to act on warnings we receive from Christ, we lag behind too. Our hearts become less accepting of other warnings we might receive. This can turn into a cycle of failing to obey, falling behind, and allowing the devil to gain ground.
It’s a pretty scary thought. Of course, we can always break that pattern and return to Christ if we choose to do so. But it’s better to respond to warnings in the first place.
I’ve found in my life that listening to the promptings of the Spirit is not always easy. I’ve even put off acting on promptings for months at a time, only to look back and realize how much time and effort had been wasted between receiving the prompting and actually acting on it.
However, I’ve also felt the empowerment that comes from listening to the Spirit and the servants of God. The quicker I act on the words and promptings I receive, the more joy and assurance I feel in my relationship with Christ.
3. Stay With Your Herd
During our family discussion, my mom asked how the cheetahs ever caught a topi if the topis always managed to run away the way you described in your talk. I pointed out that when lions hunt, they try to separate an animal from the herd to kill, and that cheetahs probably operate similarly in that way.
This triggered a turn in discussion about how important it is to stay near the “herd” of the Church. We need the strength in numbers and testimony to stand strong against Satan.
The animals most likely to be left behind and captured as prey for cheetahs are the weak, sick, young, or elderly animals. When applied to us, weakness and sickness could refer to spiritual conditions or experiences we face that bring questions or uncertainty into our hearts. This is where activities like ministering can strengthen the “herd.”
Young or elderly could be applied in a lot of ways, from actual age to time spent in the Church, and likely other ways as well. But however one chooses to look at it, the culminating lesson here is to reach out and strengthen everyone we can.
Unlike a herd of topis, members of the Church won’t fall prey to Satan by trying to strengthen others unless they let their own guard down in the process. We can help others on their way to or along the covenant path while we progress on it at the same time. In fact, by helping each other on the covenant path, the “herd” of members becomes stronger, not weaker.
4. Know How Your Enemy Works
We loved the third lesson you gave in your talk, which was to “Understand the Intent of the Enemy.” Building off of this thought, my family and I discussed that, once you know why the enemy does what he does, you need to know how he does it.
The topis guarding their herd clearly knew something about the cheetahs’ hunting tactics. Knowing about the tactic helped the guards to know that the cheetahs were getting too close and posed a serious threat. They then warned the others, and the herd moved on.
I think this is a really important lesson for families right now. We know Satan wants to make us miserable. We’ve been told he’s trying to destroy families. He’s doing many things to shake us, make us question what we believe, and give up ground.
But how does he accomplish these things? Satan uses contention, pornography, and various distractions to attack the family. If we were to dig deeper, we’d see many tactics he uses to bring these attacks against families.
By learning what these specific tactics might be, we will be better able to see when these attacks do come near or into our families. And, because we saw them coming, we can know how to defend against those attacks.
5. Stay Away From the Tall Grass
This was a great point my dad mentioned. The cheetahs prowled up to the topis in the long, camouflaging grass. From a distance, and maybe even up close, it would be hard to see the cheetahs in the grass. But if the topis get too close, the cheetahs can spring on them.
I think this echoes the command of the Lord to Joseph Smith:
Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord.Doctrine and Covenants 87:8
If we near the “tall grass” that the devil hides in, we risk becoming his prey. But if we stay in the holy places of God we can be safe from any threat of the devil.
6. The Devil is Unrelenting
This lesson really hit home for me when my family and I discussed it. It’s too easy to assume that you are in a good place and don’t need to make much effort to do so. You can just live your life and hope for the best.
But when you told how the cheetahs continued stalking the topis even after they fled, I realized that Satan is just like that. He doesn’t give up. And he won’t give up until he is beaten entirely by Christ.
So our guard can’t come down. We need to be as unrelenting in following Christ as Satan is in fighting against Christ. Christ is the one who can overcome Satan’s power, and it’s our unrelenting faith in Him that frees us from Satan’s power.
I believe this. I believe Christ has the power to free us from Satan now and ultimately. The teachings and testimonies of Church leaders and the Holy Spirit really can bring us the strength we need in these times.
Thank you, Elder Bednar, for issuing this challenge to learn from the cheetahs and the topis. I’m sure my family and I will need to revisit these lessons regularly, but discussing them together taught us a lot about who we face and what we need to do in our lives. The lessons you shared can make a powerful difference in the lives of us members of the Church.