“Awake, O sleeper, rise from the dead!” - Eph 5:14
For a while now I’ve had lots of time to examine (and practice) this thing we call spiritual warfare – and I confess that it often seems rather silly. Or if not silly, perhaps incomplete, or false in some way. The problem is this word ‘war.’ In the wars that I see on TV, the final answer to who wins or looses comes down to who’s dead and who is still alive. Patton says that no war is won by a man dying for his country. “We win by getting the other bastard to die for his country.” There is a finality there – an unambiguous point where combat stops, one way or the other, it stops. But in spiritual warfare we’re talking about the combat between eternal things – spirits, angels, souls – there is no dying, no end. So praying against demons can at times feel like the drudgery of shooing flies away from a picnic. We wave our hands and the things disperse but they always return, over and over and over. Jesus describes an exorcism with some depressing details. The unclean spirit runs off to a dry place...whatever that means...but in time he simply comes back, and brings along his friends. What’s the point then?
There is no indication in Scripture, that I’m aware of, that suggests this war between heaven and hell is ever exactly won – at least, the enemy is never destroyed. Instead, the best situation we see is one where the enemy is chained up. It may be as simple as this – eternal means eternal. A spirit, by its nature, will never be destroyed, will never end, never, ever. Not the devil, not his angels, and not us. We are permanent fixtures of this universe for better or for worse. In which case, the more closely we associate ourselves with this earthly paradigm, where live is started and life stops, the less sense spiritual warfare will make.
In my Ninjutsu class we talk about something called Zhjon Shin – the indominatable spirit. The notion is that half of every fight is won and lost when your spirit interacts with your opponents spirit. It’s not just a matter of mental toughness or tenacity. It’s a matter of setting your heart to iron and projecting that spirit in your attitude, your state of mind, and your body language. When you see a kung fu movie and the hero, who has been loosing the fight till this point, takes a deep breath and sets himself again with a look of peace on his face, when Neo beckons to Agent Smith with a slight grin saying “Come get some.” - that’s Zhjon Shin. The kung fu master has won the fight already because his heart has overcome his enemy’s.
When this spiritual warfare journey started for me, the primary fight was simply one of self preservation. The enemy can’t kill our spirits anymore than we kill his, but he assaults us all the same - how? And to what end? For this we must recognize that when we talk about a dead spirit and a sleeping spirit, we are describing the same thing. While our spirits cannot be destroyed, they can be crushed, traumatized, or anesthetized – we can sleep. In truth our spirits can sleep long years while our bodies remain alive. “Awake, O sleeper” and “rise from the dead” are synonymous.
This is big leap for many of us. As young children our spirits are alive and zealous and longing for life. But as the years and wounds pile upon us it drives that spirit from the field. By the time most of us enter our early teens, we’ve already seen quite enough of this world and we want the ride to end, we want to get off. Our parents divorce. A beloved grandmother dies. Our camp counselors touch us where they shouldn’t. We want the pain the stop – the disappointment, the guilt, the anxiety – but it doesn’t. The sun rises and sets and races around to rise again – truly everything is vanity, chasing after the wind.
And it’s here that we learn to sleep.
We stop engaging, we stop hoping, we stop longing – because it seems to bring more misery than anything else. Our first crush is so aptly named. The immense joy of love screams into our tender, naive hearts like a bullet and we’re almost overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. But for most of us, it ends in a million pieces and we can’t fathom where all of this torturous pain has come from. I remember my first heart break, the begging, the foot stomping, the profound ache in my chest and how it all seemed so unfair.
Tragedy lives in these places of our lives. Where the experience is deemed quite unbearable and we vow not that we won’t feel that way again, but that we wont feel that deeply again. Our eyes dim and the heart thunders away like a frightened stag into deeper and deeper woods. The message that came to me in the midst of that first heart break was this, “You look like a fool. Look at you crying and whining and begging – and it only makes you look more ridiculous than you already do to the woman you love and to her parents listening upstairs. You’re pathetic!”
Listen to me – pay attention. That was spiritual warfare. Warfare waged against me.
I got thwacked by the pointed end of a well aimed shaft and I didn’t even know I was on a battlefield.
Of course that wasn’t the only arrow that came my way, but it was a potent one. Over and over, as my relationship with Rebekah has grown, I’m not so surprised that I love her more, but that there is still more of me that is capable of loving her. It’s the rediscovered capacity to love that has been so striking to me. It’s like this ice burg slowly rising out of the sea – revealing more and more and more of itself – unguessed at space and strength and structure that had always been there – but was pestered into dormancy by the war waged against me.
That’s the enemy’s battle plan, at least at first, and particularly when we’re too young or too misinformed to guess the true hand that is set against us. He wants to make us sleep – through pain or indulgence or distraction he coaxes our spirits to lay down the struggle and instead to close our spiritual eyes. It’s like our parents soothing us as we start on the long drive to Grandma’s house. “Why don’t you just grab a pillow and go to sleep. It will all be over soon enough.” What’s really happening is that they know you’ll be a pain in their neck so long as you’re awake – so long as your eyes are open you’ll squirm and fuss and kick. So long as your spirit’s awake – you’ll engage in this life and the struggle that proceeds around you. You’re more likely to sing, to vote, to write. So long as your spirit is alive and awake you’ll cause no end of trouble for the enemy who’s trying to hold on to this rock he calls his kingdom.
Does that make sense? The weapons of spiritual warfare are not meant, nor able, to kill. They are meant to suppress. That’s how prayer becomes a weapon, and song, and the simple name of Christ. Those physical actions come with a spiritual component – the exertion of your own spirit against another. In that way, it’s similar to the way many fantasy worlds explain magic – it’s a way of effecting the world through the exercise off our will. Keep in mind that we humans are hybrid creatures – body and spirit, and the motion of one effects the other. When I kneel, my spirit can’t help but be moved toward a submissive posture. When my soul is agitated, it tends to make me scowl. Which is why the physical acts of spiritual warfare can facilitate or embolden that corresponding action of my spirit.
This is also what I mean when I talk about fighting for men’s hearts. So many of us are asleep at our posts. Our lives have taught us not to engage, not to love too deeply, not to hope too much. We’ve been driven to seek spiritual sleep as the only defense to our continually broken hearts. That unbearable misery I felt over that broken heart – that wasn’t physical pain, it was spiritual pain. Physical pain would have been easier to bear, because it can only get to a certain point before it simply kills my body and it’s over. Spiritual pain can last forever and I suspect it can grow without measure. This assault on our spirits starts the day we are born and we soon discover that it just keeps coming and coming.
My experience with The Spirit these last years has been a process of waking up. Of drawing myself back up to my proper height without drooping shoulders and without a bowed head. When I do so, I make myself a bigger target, I get the enemy’s attention and I make myself deliberately more vulnerable to attack. The offer of The Spirit is not a safe life – but rather a vivid life. A life with both joy and sorrow – and lots of them both. I pray that will never go back. I pray that I won’t find myself like Cipher from the Matrix – knowing truth from lies...but preferring the lie because it’s easier.