"...They revile angelic majesties they do not comprehend...and wind up
with their butts in a sling." (Free translation)
Spiritual warfare is a pretty hot topic In Christian circles right now.
To be honest, I don't know if this is something new (again) in the
church, or if it's been around for a long time, but I've had multiple
opportunities to speak on the topic and I'm not even a pastor. Folks
are interested and the folks who find themselves involved are generally
excited about it and ready to speak...at length...myself included.
I think that in the long run, it's a good trend. I think the most basic
definition of spiritual warfare is simply believing that there is an
enemy, the Devil, and acting accordingly. I think the scope of SW can
cover a wide range of topics from intercessory prayer and fasting to
worship and faithful counsel. The trend is good because it gets people
thinking about the spiritual ramifications and causes of the physical
world and their own lives. In my experience, people who take SW
seriously as a subject for study and practice start taking major steps
in their faith.
Also in my experience, a great many Christians approach the topic far
too lightly, far too innocently and often with bad motives.
Bad motives like:
• A desire for power - "I wanted a sunny day for for grandson's
birthday, so I rebuked that storm!"
• A culturally unassailable excuse for being an asshole - "I'm sorry I
yelled at you, but I've really been under attack recently!"
• An exotic story to impress your friends - "The devil is really
hounding me. It must be that he's against my new quilting ministry!"
• A spiritual bludgeon to get what you want - "I don't like what you
just said. I sense that you have a demon."
The thing is, none of these statements are necessarily off-limits.
Jesus rebuked a storm and we're told that the church will do greater
things; being under spiritual attack will certainly put a person on
edge; my experience is that significant moves toward God tend to meet
opposition; and spiritual discernment is a cornerstone of spiritual
warfare. But motives are everything - it's your heart that matters. And
if a person starts into SW with bad motives they're likely to hurt
somebody else or get hurt themselves.
Spiritual innocence, AKA naivety, looks like this:
• Flash In The Pan - "I cast out this demon of cancer in Jesus' name!
So, now that's over. Where's the potluck?"
• Rambo - "I call you Lucifer by name and bind you! You too Beelzebub!
And Mephistopheles while I'm at it"
• The Flower Child - "Please be gone demon. Don't make me rebuke
you...again...I mean it!"
Angels, and by extension demons (hello!), are incredibly powerful
creatures. Two were sent to destroy the entire Assyrian army. Four will
kill 1/3 of all humanity - that's 2 BILLION people if that were to
happen tomorrow. They shatter mountains, hold back winds, dry up rivers
and the Bible says that there are at least a million of them - one
third of whom want you bleeding in the ditch or dead. Now it's also
true that the spiritual warrior is well armed and equal to the fight,
but we can't afford to underestimate our opponents. We can't afford to
be cocky. We can't afford to be naive.
Similarly, we must understand a few important things about our
adversaries -they are patient, they are tenacious, and they hold no
quarter. In most cases you really shouldn't enter into a spiritual
fight unless you're ready to go the distance. Any significant
stronghold takes time to defeat - sometimes days, but more often weeks,
months and years. Which really should only surprise you if you
accidently thought the phrase was 'spiritual dunk tank' where one well
aimed softball drops the enemy into the water and we go find some
cotton candy. Wars last years, decades, sometimes ages. There are
attacks, counterattacks, flanks and pushes. There is a time to rush the
field, a time to gather intelligence, and a time to strategically
retreat. Don't do anything - ANYTHING - without checking with
headquarters. Wars are also deeply confusing - the 'Fog of War' refers
to the difficulty of comprehending the big picture when the battle is
joined - which brings me to my biggest concern - those Christians who
enter the fight to lightly, too quickly, too foolishly, and wind up
shooting at the wrong team.
'Friendly Fire' refers to the bitter but all too common instances where
combat units accidently engaging friendly units because they are
misidentified as the enemy.
It's foundational to spiritual warfare that our words and prayers have
power, that the spiritual world is more "real" than the physical world,
and that earthly conditions reflect spiritual conditions. Were told
that our words are swords, tongues of fire, able to split sinew from
bone - more succinctly, that we are armed with potent weapons that
deliver mortal wounds. But SOOOOOO many Christians will catch the SW
bug, start binding and loosing everything this side of the Pecos river,
swinging that two edged sword blindly in a crowded room, and deeply
wounding their brothers and sisters.
We have to remember that we're in an environment where 'spirits' come
in more than one shape. You have a spirit, your neighbor has a spirit,
your pastor has a spirit. Why should we think that these eternal being
are any less vulnerable than a demon to being spiritually wounded? Why
should we think that our spiritual weapons are any less indiscriminate
than an MP5?
Special forces units will train heavily in close quarter combat -
moving a team through a tight environment, say a building, without
shooting the wrong people. It requires strict discipline about where
people move, what firing arcs are covered, and how the team
communicates to prevent accidents. "Check your targets!" is a common
If Paul, one of the most spiritually discerning people we know of, says
that we see through a glass darkly - we need to listen. Our ability to
understand the spiritual landscape around us is severely limited. We
have to be careful that we don't accidently wound one another.
Let me give you an example - 'The Needy Girl' is crying again and asks
you to pray with her again. Do NOT whip out the 'cast out the spirit of
depression' prayer. Is it possible that her chronic depression is
spiritual in nature? Absolutely. But you better be certain that you're
hearing that word from HQ and not just responding in frustration
because you're tired of praying with her. Because if that's the case
you're almost certain to do far more harm than good. And if her
depression is NOT spiritual in nature, and she's back at your side two
weeks later, you're likely to pretend like that whole demon prayer
never happened - which is the worst kind of non-accountability BS that
makes everybody look bad.
Look, my real point is this - the subject of spiritual warfare is a
good one and important for a healthy church. But we MUST take it with
the gravity and seriousness that it deserves. It's a matter of long
practice, deep humility, and profound respect. WE must NEVER, EVER
promote a "Spiritual Warfare For Dummies" mentality that sees SW as the
kind of thing you pick up on a weekend retreat (I'm guilty here). That
said, I also don't want to scare anybody away from the topic or the
practice of spiritual warfare, just treat your weapons with the respect
they deserve. Especially when you're waving that thing around inside
Check your targets!