Thoughts On Spiritual Warfare--Part 1
I can remember more than twenty-five years ago reading both of Frank Peretti’s gripping books about spiritual warfare. The first one was This Present Darkness (1986) and was followed by Piercing the Darkness (1988). Both of the books are fictional but there were elements of each book that had core elements of truth about them. As with all fads that come and go in the church world, there were some who went way overboard with their actions and started stalking demons and getting involved in all sorts of weird practices that they believed would bring spiritual authority to their lives. On the other end of the spectrum were those who vociferously opposed any thing that remotely looked like spiritual warfare and they cautioned the church about the danger of seeing a “devil behind every bush.”
In my youthful exuberance and inexperience, I got caught up with believing that Peretti’s books were the way to go and begin to follow some of his concepts about “prayer cover” and “binding and loosing.” If you will remember during the late ‘80’s a lot of people fell under that sway of looking for the “warrior angels” that Peretti wrote about. I begin to look for ten-foot tall angels too. Their advice seemed to be helpful and wise especially if you were looking for the real power of God. It seemed as to me that if you were real “spiritual” then you could see angels. I longed to be in that number of spiritual folk. If you were goofy and lukewarm there was not a chance that you would even see angel dust much less an angel. It is funny looking back at some of it now about how much prayer and fasting I gave myself to trying to see an angel.
When I moved to Houston, Texas to attend Texas Bible College, I got exposed to even more of those real spiritual folk who could see both angels and demons. I remember attending an event that had in attendance around 1500-2000 and being mesmerized by a story that a preacher told this great crowd. He had been moving about in the northeast and had been involved in a revival and many people had received the Holy Ghost and a real transformation had taken place in their lives. During that time of revival, he got out of his travel trailer one night and looked toward the Atlantic coast and he saw an angel that was about 20 feet tall. That angel was spectacularly muscular and could wield a huge sword that was six-feet long which was used to swipe demons into oblivion. Not only that but it was identified as a “revival” angel that was going to bring massive revival to the United States. It would start in the northeast and would travel in a south-westerly direction and the sweep would culminate in Houston. Many years later, I wondered about all those poor churches and pastors that were not in the path of the “revival” angel and how those poor saps (of which I was one since our place was in southeast Alabama) managed to make it through that period of time.
The response this fellow got was absolutely incredible. People jumped, leaped, shouted, “named-it and claimed-it,” “blabbed-it and grabbed-it,” and a host of other stuff. It was powerfully emotional stuff and I wanted that “revival” angel to get busy in my home-town. I just knew that the biggest, massivest (experimenting with words on that one), gang-busting, devil-destroying revival would take place in Dothan. Besides that, we were told that we could command angels to do our bidding and they would! I was twenty-three and wondered why nobody had ever told me this insightful information before. If I had just known about the ability that I had to command angels, I would have been much further down the road. What I discovered later, was that this idea was unscriptural. Nowhere in Scripture do men command angels to do anything. They work on God’s agenda not man’s.
This event motivated me to go back and re-read Peretti’s stuff again. I will have to admit that since that time I have read those books five or six times apiece over the years because I do believe that there are some kernels of truth in the fictional tale that Peretti wrote. All-in-all, I think that Peretti’s stories are good stories and have been enjoyable reads. On the other hand, I found myself being confronted with the truth of Scripture on Monday through Friday in a Bible college classroom. At the time, I honestly did not value Scripture as much as I valued experience. As time has moved along, I now realize that there is great error in that idea. Experience, no matter how powerful it may be, if it opposes the truth of Scripture it is wrong.
So I quit looking for angels and demons and determined to just live for the Lord and remain faithful to my calling. I continued with that trend for a number of years although periodically I would occasionally pick up books about spiritual warfare and read them. Some of them were very good and some of them were very goofy. As time progressed I began to see the fruit of solid biblical preaching and faithful Christian living and how that these were the ingredients that could build strong and solid churches. It is the Acts 2:42 Principle that the early church used and frankly the church gets in trouble when it deviates from that pattern.
However scattered all throughout this faithful walk over the years, periodically I would experience things that I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt were battles against spiritual darkness. There were times that people would come to church and begin to pray in the altars. As their desperate prayers begin to reach up to God, we would begin to see manifestations of the demonic. For all of my non-Pentecostal readers and even some of my Pentecostal brothers who have never experienced such a confrontation, it can be a hair-raising event. I have seen all sorts of weird behavior that I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt proved that demons can exist within people. While I won’t go into all the details of their actions and words, suffice it to say that it is in those moments and situations where I have felt the authority of the Spirit as never before.
By the same token, while there have been manifestations of the demonic, I have also been in prayer meetings and church services where it seemed as if all of heaven was at attention. Despite the misinformation that I had gained early on about angels, they are still viable representatives of God’s plans in the earth. Our church has always emphasized prayer, sacrifice, revival, holiness, and other sorts of things that make us distinctly Pentecostal. Because of this rich atmosphere of faith, in the early days of my own personal ministry, there were commitments I made to prayer.
Often (as in weekly) on Saturday nights there were long extended times of prayer. We would pray from 6 PM to 6 AM broken up in two hour shifts and involving the whole church. I routinely committed myself to the 1-3 AM slot. Many times I would know beyond the shadow of a doubt that deep praying can be a form of spiritual warfare. Although to this day, I have never seen an angel, I have no doubt that they exist and there have been times when under great duress that our church would feel the presence of ministering spirits.
With this whole idea of spiritual warfare, I begin to seek out a balance between what was fact and fiction. Although experience cannot be leaned on exclusively, I do believe that through our experiences and what we note biblically can give much insight about this battle that we face. Too much emphasis on spiritual warfare causes the church to get lazy because it gives the idea that whatever failures we have; the devil is responsible for them. On the other hand, if we are waiting on the “revival” angels to bring a harvest, it will never happen. There is an element of work that the Lord calls all of us to get involved in to advance His Kingdom. Furthermore we find in Romans 6 there is a call to battle against the flesh instead of blaming everything on the devil. Man is never without some responsibility in advancing the Kingdom of God.
So with all of this angel and demon business that I became aware of, I gradually came to understand that there are seasons of intense spiritual warfare that people, churches, and ministers go through. I am thankful that there are seasons of it because even though we have strong support with the Word and the Spirit, an unrelenting battle would wax even the stoutest of spiritual men. Just as at the temptation of Jesus, we note that the devil left Him for a season. That same pattern holds true for us also.
The second thing that caused me to examine the spiritual warfare avenue in a greater extent was moving from primary secular employment at the hospital to being involved in full-time ministry. I became much more immersed in the problems and messiness of the lives of good people. Trying to help them navigate through some of the challenges of life opened me up to understanding the prevailing battle of darkness that grips our nation and seeks to encroach on our churches. I started realizing that there were dark spirits of the demonic that manifested itself in various ways. Personality quirks, marital issues, sudden failure, physical sickness, and habitual patterns of sin were some of the things that I saw as a pastor that defied explanation. . . except to understand it as spiritual warfare.
The third thing that helped me to see spiritual warfare in a new light was global missionaries who would come through our neck of the woods. Because my father-in-law has been a long-time district director for our global missions program in Alabama, we routinely would have missionaries to come through and stay at our church missions’ apartment for lengthy periods of time. Some of them were a tremendous help to me personally because of their exposure to spiritual warfare in their assigned countries. Furthermore because they had been out of the States for as long as four years, they were able to see the changes in the American church that those of us involved in daily ministry could see because we are working in our churches every day. The changes were so gradual, our attention was not arrested. These wonderful missionaries gave me huge insight and instruction that has helped me to see what goes on in America.
When I asked them as to why we didn’t see as much confrontation with demonized people as much as in the past, I was taken aback by the answer. Several said that basically because of the technical advances of American society and the ability that people have to hide things behind a veil of privacy and secrecy, these spirits do the same thing. People have become so adept at living undercover that it hinders our ability to see them in their true spiritual condition. The spirits that oppose the missionaries in their countries are often working to gain power over villages and communities. The tools are ignorance, illiteracy, and so forth which make it easy for the spirits to control people. That is not a factor in the States. In our advancement, spirits can be hidden and only occasionally be ferreted out when they are confronted. Most missionaries told me that if there was one specific gift of the Spirit they placed a premium on, it would be the discerning of spirits.
Even more frighteningly than the covert work of these dark spirits was a common thing that several missionaries told me. The prevalence of pharmacological agents has greatly numbed the soul. When I was told this, my medical background and experience caused me to believe this. I can remember admitting patients to the hospital and during the discovery of their initial history and physical, I was surprised at how many anti-anxiety agents and anti-depressants that physicians are prescribing to their unwitting patients. Obviously I am well-aware of the issue of mental illness and the importance that medicine works with these people however, I am not convinced nor will I ever be that we have the massive need for this medicine that alters the mind. I have spoken to a number of physicians about this matter and the majority feels that many of these drugs are over-prescribed. In fact, one physician told me that he routinely tells his patients that some of their anxieties, fears, and depression are spiritual matters. He encourages them to pray, read their Bibles, and get involved in a local church somewhere. He told me that there are no pharmacological prescriptions that can bring a spiritual solution!
Our missionaries also made mention of the fact that as a whole, the American church is quite prayerless. The devil takes advantage of people who do not pray. I believe with all of my heart that a great revival could take place in our churches, families, marriages, and so forth if we would just give ourselves to a devotion to prayer.
To conclude this post, I would like to give several stories that I read in Brother Pugh’s book The Pull of the Future. I bought it a couple of weeks ago at General Conference in St. Louis. They all touch on the importance of prayer.
Brother Paul Price the former district superintendent of the Western District of the United Pentecostal Church told of how that his older sister began to have spiritual problems. She fell in with some bad influences and she was away from God. It was of great concern to her parents. When his mother saw that it had gone as far as it ought to, she became very quiet around the house. It wasn’t too long before Brother Price noticed that his mother was not eating. In concern, he asked, “Mother, what’s wrong?”
She answered, “I am just concerned about your sister.”
A couple of days later the family gathered for their regularly nightly prayer. That night something was different. Brother Price said, “I noticed my sister who always resented the fact that there was prayer was different on this night. I heard her praying and then I watched my mother crawl across to where she was, gather her in her arms and pray with her till I thought she would never let go.”
Brother Pugh also told this story:
Quite a number of years ago, I came to Calvary Tabernacle and preached there while Brother Nathaniel Urshan was still the pastor. On a Sunday night after the service, Brother Pugh said that he waited for Brother Urshan who did not get out of a very intense counseling session until about 1:30 A.M. As they were leaving the building, they heard a noise in the prayer area. Brother Urshan told Brother Pugh, “Come with me. I want to show you something.” He said they went back and there were two women seeking God.
Brother Urshan told him that those two women would come to the church every night and pray. He said, “They will not leave the church until the wee hours of the morning after they have touched God. I am certain that this is one of the reasons for some of our success.”
Brother Pugh told of another time when he was up preaching a campmeeting in Canada.
He said he got acquainted with a preacher who was staying in a travel trailer next to his cabin. He invited him over to have a few cookies one day and Brother Pugh said that he stayed with the man for quite some time and learned some things about him. He said that his preacher had been raised right in his childhood but then he got in with the wrong crowd. It broke his mother’s heart but she never stopped praying for him.
When he would come home from his carousing, his mother would always be awake, watching and praying. It would not be unusual for her to be kneeling to pray beside a window where she could look down the sidewalk that came into the house. When she saw her son arrive, she would get up and go to bed.
That preacher said, “I came in one night and slipped up the stairs and she didn’t say anything which was unusual. I started to bed and then stepped back and said, ‘Mother.’ She didn’t answer and when I shook her I immediately knew she was dead. While she was sitting and praying for me, she died.” This mother believed that praying for her boy was more important than anything else she could do for him.
Over the next several days, I am going to write some of my observations about this matter of spiritual warfare. In no way do I feel like I am authority on this matter, in fact, I would much rather write about preaching and those avenues of ministry. Yet I feel that some of my own thoughts and experiences might be helpful to you.
More later. . .