Should We Think Seriously
About Spiritual Warfare

March 15, 2017
Adam Whitescarver

Three years ago I was introduced to a brilliant African pastor who has an abundantly fruitful ministry. Pastor “M” (his title here for security reasons) has the credentials of a scholar: speaking multiple languages including Arabic, earning advanced degrees, and laboring tirelessly as a practitioner. The network of churches he oversees now stands at approximately 12,000 people strong with 9,000 of these believers being converts from Islam. Despite all his successes, Pastor, “M” has paid a high price for his accomplishments.  Not only does he often receive death threats, pieces of shrapnel are lodged in his flesh from Muslims fanatics who—in an attempt to punish him for converting so many people away from their faith--attempted to blow Pastor M into a billion tiny pieces.

I have only gotten to enjoy a few lunches with him, but each time I sit down to break bread with Pastor M, I am fascinated to hear his stories. Between those lunches and my conversations with other Africans I know, it is incredible to me how similar and yet different African Christianity is from American Christianity. Yes, we share a common faith; worshiping the same God who is faithful and true across all the continents of earth. Christ is indeed the Great Deliverer from whatever problems we face, and He does so through a variety of means both physical and spiritual. 

Still, one of the most glaring contrasts is the African Church’s sense of deep dependency on God. As a whole, their prayer lives are incredibly intense!  Likewise, their awareness of spiritual realities and battles are far more advanced than our rudimentary, surface-level understanding of these things. These believers see demons driven out and many other miracles which permanently change people in a way that would scare the heebie-jeebies out of most timid and spiritually sanitary Americans like me. 

My conversations with these people got me thinking about our American theology, or at least the theology that we commonly emphasize in our churches. I could only conclude our proclamation of the Gospel is somewhat incomplete—we do not preach the whole counsel of God. There are just far too many times in the Old and New Testaments that speak of the demonic realm yet we go out of our way to avoid the subject. I do not say this to mean we should always be talking about demonic activity—it would be an overcorrection to overemphasize it, nor should we should be crying, “Out Foul Demon!” at people in church services. It is also completely valid to say there are physical breakdowns of equipment, homes, or of human bodies and minds. We live in a fallen world and terrible things happen. However, the Scriptures also teach us about demonic spiritual activity that results in physical manifestations of one kind or another. 

Before I ever talked with Pastor M, I knew the Scriptures talked about demons and powers and principalities, but when I encountered this man's stunning, robust theology and practical experience in this field I realized I had not thought deeply enough about this subject. He spoke of things I’d never once heard an American touch on. Now I'm leaning toward the idea that we (or at the very least me) are more darkened in our understanding of demonic activity than we want to be or should be. I also think our lack of awareness about all this is a hindrance to our prayers—we don’t pray as often as we would if we thought the reason for our struggle was, at least in part, a spiritual one. 

To make a quick counterpoint, I do not believe this is something to get spooked about.  This challenging subject can be handled with a sober mind. Things that go wrong don’t always mean, “it’s a demon!” is the cause or culprit. Even if it is, we have an answer in Him who is Greater in us than He that is in this world. The answer to any crisis in our lives—physical or spiritual—is Jesus Christ. It’s part of His Gospel to acknowledge the activity of demons, but it is also part of the Gospel to make us unafraid of them. We go to God for deliverance, and He will hear our cry to save us, not just in the eternal sense, but in the temporal as well.

That said, my hope in writing this is to acknowledge that there is literally a kingdom of darkness (a real kingdom complete with rulers and principalities in the heavenly places) that opposes us. These enemies have minds of their own, are powerful, malicious, and cannot be defeated by us alone. I hope we can seek to discern, through God’s help, if some outside source is involved in our current trial. When things swiftly go to pot or we are feeling suddenly oppressed, it is worth asking the simple question, “Could this be spiritual warfare?” Warring not against flesh and blood but spiritual enemies requires us to develop prayer lives capable of combating such forces. 

In Matthew 12:43 Jesus says, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.” There is a lot to be said here, but the one thing I want to point out is that demonic spirits need rest. If they need rest, it means they can get tired, and if they get tired, it means they can be beaten through Jesus Christ the Lord who strengthens us. It is therefore worth our while to resist every assault of the enemy and press every attack we are making.  If we are close to failing and giving up, in all likelihood so are they, but we have God on our side and we can return to Him to renew our youthful strength. In His Presence there is fullness of joy, and His joy is our strength. Therefore let us go before His throne, seek strength and shelter from all enemies, and find the overcoming victory that is ours in Christ.