Go deaf to Satan's whispers.

The Struggle Against Evil

When it's hardest, what believers can do

Christian Spirituality > Spiritual Warfare > Who Satan Aims At Most

The Devil doesn't play fair. So never play by his rules.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE IS HARDER FOR SOME

Why It's Harder For the Newbies

It is often reported by people with fresh spiritual experiences that afterwards, it seems like everything in their life is set up to oppose their new view. It's as if they're being subjected to test after test. Why is that? Let's look at some of the reasons:

  1. The old life was built around the Old You: old habits, old friends, old pleasures, old behaviors. The New You gets dropped straight into this, and it feels like diving into a cold pool.
  2. Part of being 'new' is that you become aware of evils that weren't noticed before. They were always there, but they used to be treated as simply being part of life. Now, the new believer has a new and greater goal, and the boulders that were climbed as par for the course are now seen for what they were all along.
  3. The 'newbies' have yet to learn how to discern. Discernment takes a lifetime to get right (maybe that's one reason God gave us a lifetime in which to do it?)
  4. It takes time to learn how to see things in their right context. There may be good, godly ways and reasons to do what one used to do sinfully. Often, as the newborn faith develops, God gives back much of what had to be spurned at the beginning. One of the most common experiences of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s was that the new convert would throw away all their old 'secular' rock and roll records, only to find out years later that they were not such a danger after all, and that a few of those old records even expressed a well-tested faith or spoke a truth we needed to hear. God gave them back the gift of enjoying the music, but had to take it away at first so that their inner priorities could be changed and their New You could take shape.
  5. Satan really does attack early and often. He does not like losing anyone. It's easier for Satan to pull back those who are not yet solid in the faith.

There's no use in saying to the newbie, "don't get discouraged". Discouragement will come. How else will courage grow?


Why It's Harder For Those Out Front

There is this strange feeling that spiritual leaders -- even ones who decry all talk of spiritual warfare -- get when they are about to make a major move in which they trust God to lead them. All of a sudden, things start going wrong at just the wrong time. Things at work get explosive, a family member takes ill or goes into a crisis, friends get angry over the slightest things, doubts about the course of action start to crop up, cars break down, meetings get cancelled, and so on and on. These sort of things start piling up more and more as the step is closer to being taken. Satan knows how the Lord works, and how we work.

Should you find this happening to you when you lead, the main thing to keep in mind is: relax. God is still at work. It is the Spirit who makes Spirit-led deeds succeed. Not you. Trust God, pray hard, and love harder. When the time arrives, the Spirit gives a sense of confidence that will chase away the nervousness and the fear. Confidence. Because even though you're no match for Satan, God is more than enough.

The second message is for those around someone else who is leading those major moves. They need your support, in person, in prayer, sometimes with a helping hand, sometimes with money or skills. Your job in spiritual conflict is to be with them in the time of trial, for that's no time to be alone. It's time for koinonia -- time to see just how much of a faith community we are. In 'war', people tend to get wounded. Expect it. God uses the community of the faithful to bring protection and healing. They can be like a covering or shield for the newbie and the leader.
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Awww, heck. Gosh durn it.

A definition found online:
"Heck: where people go who don't believe in Gosh."


spiritual warfare is not about tactics. it is about love.

What Is A Deliverance Ministry?

Some Pentecostalists believe in using exorcism rites over all sorts of matters that torment people, not just the hard-set, destructive evil of classic "possession" or demonization. Disease, mental illness, anger, confusion, conflictive relationships -- all are treated as the creation of some sort of demon sent to pester (or 'afflict') that person. A Pentecostalist 'deliverance ministry' calls on the power of Christ to free someone from the grip of a specific trouble, lie, addiction, obsession, or demonic action. This is done through the Holy Spirit working through Christ's servants in that congregation or cell. (There may be group deliverance, too, but that is rarely meant by the term, and works differently.) Some who come for deliverance are non-Christian, and others are believers of various intensity.

These Pentecostalists have developed a complex set of beliefs and practices around the effort to cast these demons. To wit:

Some of them even expect to see spinning heads and levitations and glowing eyes and such, as if this was a horror movie. They believe the real work of "deliverance ministry" should be left to a 'gifted', 'trained' specialist in casting out demons. Mainstream Christians do not believe in 'deliverance ministries', and do not support them in their congregations. Some even call them a false hope that stops people from getting proper mental health care or from learning to just let go of an inner conflict. Pentecostalists and Charismatics see 'deliverance ministry' as one of the core tasks of the church, in that the Lord's authority over evil is in effect, not only in the by-and-by, but in the here-and-now, in a way that really matters in someone's life. Many of these do not support the more extreme interpretations of what 'deliverance' means.

If the beliefs and practices most often backed by 'deliverance ministries' were so important in the struggle against Satan, then it's strange how little support they get from the Bible. It's strange how the worldview they get from all this resembles that of the occultic follower, or of an animist, the exact folks they say they oppose. Truth be told, most of the kind of things that 'deliverance ministries' call "demonic affliction" are more like strong forms of "temptation". Demons will ply their lying craft, but they cannot control the mind by sheer power; it is our sinful selves that pay heed. The responsibility is ours, not theirs. The Bible usually deals with temptation not through exorcisms, but by way of self-examination, confession, repentance, character-building, determination to resist, love for others, and trust in God. Rescue from temptation is done by Christ, and the power to refuse temptation comes from the Spirit - not from a "deliverance minister". The key is to remember Whose we are.



 "For the powers are incarnated  in very concrete forms, and their power is expressed in institutions or organizations....The spiritual warfare we are summoned to is concerned with human realities -- with injustice, oppression, authoritarianism, the domination of the state by money, the exaltation of sex or science, etc."
-- Jacques Ellul

Your deliverance ministry left off the pepperoni...

Found on-line:
"My neighbor had an exorcism but couldn't afford to pay for it, so they repossessed her."


The Devil is a thief, not an owner.

EXORCISM

The Gospels say that Jesus did exorcisms. He Himself fought directly with Satan during the wilderness temptations. When He commissioned His followers, He specifically gave them authority over the spirits ( Mark 6:7,13; Matt 7:11, 10:8; Luke 10:18-20) and specifically over evil forces ( Mark 3:14-15), in His name. In the case of Luke 10, it was not the Twelve disciples who were given the power, but a chosen seventy of Jesus' followers. This amazing authority has been passed on to the Body of believers when they act as a body. It's clear that Jesus saw there to be a battle of some sort against the Devil ( Mark 1:23-28, 3:23; Luke 11:21-23). This was true also of the early church in Acts. That they understood the healing ministry as one made up in part of casting out "unclean spirits", is clear ( Acts 5:16, 8:6-8, 19:12). But many church teachers over the years have taught that these could also be understood as acts of mercy on people who needed it badly, or as acts of psychological release.

The scene in Acts 16:16-18, however, demands to be understood in terms of authority over evil spirits. There, a slave girl has been filled with a spirit of divination (fortune-telling) which made lots of money for her masters. Paul cast this spirit out of her. Satan, of course, fought back through less-supernatural means, the raw greed of her masters. They sent for the authorities, who imprisoned Paul and Silas, which would lead to an earthquake and a witness to the jailer.

While exorcism is a tool available to the gathered faithful, it is rarely needed. There are other, powerful tools for the less-total but still-commanding ways we fall to evil's lies.

Some churches teach that Jesus' exorcisms, as well as His healings, were done to 'show' to everyone Jesus' authority and His true place in the divine scheme of things. There's an element of that (John 2:18, 6:30). But that's not the half of it. There's more! The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) treat the healings, exorcisms and other acts of power as the start of the Kingdom's arrival. The King was giving orders, and was seeing to it that they were carried out. Fending off Satan was not in the forefront of Jesus' mind; love was. While Jesus did powerful acts to undo Satan's works ( 1 John 3:8), the key motive was compassion for those whom Satan had bound ( Mark 1:41).

Exorcism is an act, not a sign, and a gift only in the sense that it is a power given to the church as an organism and not merely to any one person in it except on behalf of it. It is the power to command the Devil to leave. It is another, more focused side to what some traditions call 'the power of the keys', the power given to the Body of believers, the church, to forgive and to damn. On its other sides it's more normally given to the Body's servants, the ordained ministers. It is something to be set apart from the other matters of the Spirit or the Church, because the Devil is so serious a thing. It calls for intense commitment and even more intense intercessory prayer. It's best done as a matter of teamwork, of people acting together as a mini-community because they love that particular person, group of people, or institution. The team's goal is to free that person from their bondage to Satan. It is that love, a love which is Christ's love at work in them, plus the hard work of stripping off the lies, peeling away the layers of self so that this love can get down to where the Devil is lodged within, where the miracle of casting out demons takes place. It is this love which gets whatever goodness there is in that person to join in making the liberation happen.
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SPIRITUAL WARFARE AND THE PRINCIPALITIES

Note, please, that I'm not talking just about people. The Devil lodges himself in many groupings, and in many situations.

Perhaps it's:

  • in the general public of Germany and the Nazi Party during the Third Reich (World War II as, in part, an act of exorcism?)
  • in the world's slave trade which ran ugly throughout the course of history but became its ugliest self in the 1700s and early 1800s because of the vast new US market.
  • in the Khmer Rouge, in the days of the killing fields.
  • at My Lai when US soldiers slaughtered villagers (war as, in part, an act of demonic possession?).
  • in a corporate board room, as they plan a cover-up for the damage done by their product.
  • in a school taken over by violence and disruption.
  • in the mob psychology of the worst stages of the French Revolution.
  • in the long string of 'bad popes' in Middle Ages Europe.

There is usually a person whose sellout to the Devil most characterizes the group's (for instance, Hitler or Pol Pot), but their possession is nonetheless a part of something bigger. The bigger it is, the more complete its captivity to the Father of Lies. And the more important it is for the witness of Christ's followers to take it on. But human society (and the people in it) is in denial about the Devil more than even the evil he foments, and in the same ways: by putting both of them out of mind and out of our personal and collective history. The Devil can be exorcised from any of these 'principalities' or any group of people no less than from any one person. But it takes Christ, love, and believers working together as a team or community, to get the Devil out.


More things to read:

For more on various views on spiritual warfare, mostly very different than my own, see the Wikipedia's spiritual warfare entry. Much of what's there is superstitious - by which is meant, you can do things that can make the spiritual powers do your bidding, or at least prevent them from doing theirs. That's not what it's about. It's about following Christ, knowing that there are many in existence who want to stop you from doing so.

For a psychological-religious view (different than mine), try this from Thomas Fischer.

To Hell With Hell?

There's a lot of re-examination going on about the existence of hell. Many people see this as a contradiction to God's love, especially if hell is seen as eternal torment; a God that can do this is neither loving nor just, they say. Others rightly point out that logically speaking, torment may well be just, or at least justifiable. But no one has yet shown how torment is loving or merciful.

This is a big stumbling block for a lot of people. Many Christian people left their faith because of it, refusing to serve what they have come to see as a cruel God. (They apply a Bible-derived sense of justice to the God who created that justice.) So, many Christian thinkers are spending much time and effort into puzzling this out. As usual, a careful reading of the Scriptures helps to point out other possible eternal scenarios than the ones we were trained to believe. In this case, most people's (and churches') images of hell actually come from Dante Aligheri's *Inferno*, which is a great Italian work of fiction which imaginatively drew from the Bible and other sources. Some of our images come from the highly-figurative language of the Revelation to John. It takes a sharp imagination to piece all the Biblical parts into a coherent vision. Even then, 'coherent' may not be 'true'. That's because we're dealing with a mystery, something we can't factually grasp from here, if only because we haven't been dead yet. But because of the importance of the question, we'd be foolish to make things up to suit our own doubts or fancies or priorities, no matter how beneficial it might seem to be. The question is too important to treat in a cavalier manner, except for comedic purposes.

This debate is relevant to spiritual warfare in that it asks questions about what we are actually engaging in spiritual warfare for. What happens to people who heed the whispers of evil instead of the call of God? Will God actually drag people screaming and kicking into torment? Or, for that matter, into mercy? Or do we make a crucial choice of ending while we are alive? It's something to think about, and no answers so far quite fit the picture.
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The ways of peace are weapons in the spiritual wars.

How to be an instrument of peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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ver.: 08 March 2012
Heavy-duty Spiritual Warfare. Copyright © 1999-2012 by Robert Longman.