I had been walking with God for about six months the first time I remember actually realizing that the enemy was attacking me. When I got saved I was 1 year into my prison sentence. I was hoping to go home soon, and was scheduled to see the parole board. The day in question was special. I was having my pre-parole board hearing with the Institutional Parole Officer. I quickly combed my hair in the cell and took a last glance to make sure I was presenting myself as “reformed” as possible, and hurried out of the cell block over to her office. I was excited, because I knew that I had changed. Jesus had made me a new creation, given me hope and a future. She would surely see the light of Christ in me, and all would be well… or so I thought.
The interview started nice enough. I explained my role in the crimes I had committed and how my addiction to drugs had hurt the people closest to me. Which were all things that weighed on me heavily after I came to know Christ. I had done everything I could to change the way I lived my life. I thought I had prepared myself for how emotional the experience would be, but upon answering many of her questions, I soon found myself in tears. I apologized for the waterworks, but things quickly got out of hand. I had been warned that people in her position were trained to try to elicit a negative response to see if people in my position would have an angry outburst, but I was not prepared for what happened next.
She said, “I can see that you feel very sorry for yourself.” What? It immediately dawned on me that she thought I was crying on cue in order to manipulate her. I wiped the tears away, although they were still coming, and I tried to think of what to say, but I was just so shocked at her sudden change in demeanor. She proceeded to tell me that it didn’t make any difference what her recommendation was to the parole board because I would end up right back in prison, anyway. I meekly said, “That’s not true, I…” My words left my mind.
She continued, “If you’re just going to keep doing drugs, you should give your kids up for adoption to parents who will really love them.” Her words cut deep. I could feel the mercury rising in my veins. A line had been crossed. I was torn between anger at her and her audacity to say these things to someone she had only read about and never spoken to, and my own condemnation and fear that the things she was saying were true. It was more than fair to say I had been a bad mother. I had never beaten my kids or hurt them physically or put them in harm’s way, but I had been neglectful of their emotional needs. I chose to continue on in my addiction, rather than be present. So I sat there silently, weeping. There was no right answer.
Just as her demeanor had changed before, she merrily explained some of the logistical elements of the parole process, and told me I was dismissed. I walked the quarter mile back to my cell block in shock, I felt completely empty. All the hope and expectation that had been in me before was completely deflated. There was no way I would get to go home soon. That woman hated me and thought I was worthless and so would the parole board. Fear and condemnation cascaded over me like a tsunami. It was an easy moment to give up on hoping for anything good.
The enemy is ruthless. He will stop at nothing to keep you from doing what God is calling you to do. He has many weapons with which to do it. I want to talk to you about the most common ones. I have selected six:
Appetites of the Flesh
There are no items on the list that he uses that don’t include a dose of FEAR and DECEPTION. Jesus calls him the “father of lies” (John 8:44), and Paul writes that he “walks amongst us like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). So how do we know when the enemy is attacking us and how do we guard our hearts against his attacks?
First, we must know who we are fighting. Not every problem or issue comes from the devil, and we don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that every time we get a flat tire or stub our toe, an evil spirit is the culprit. So we have to sharpen our awareness of what an attack from the enemy looks like vs. natural consequences of sin, or just the product of living in an imperfect world. There are a few earmarks of attacks brought on by the enemy.
It will often be sudden, seemingly have no reason, and cause overwhelming feelings of fear, condemnation, or shame. There is a difference between when God convicts us of our sin, which the word says will lead to repentance, and when the enemy condemns us of our sin, causing us to be ashamed. Conviction from God should be a call to action; however, the enemy’s condemnation will lead us to falling back into the sin. Attacks of physical danger or illness can be caused by the enemy, which could lead to hopelessness, fear, and anxiety. The enemy’s attacks can bring on dulled spiritual awareness and deep confusion. We must recognize the difference between the pain that God allows into our lives in order to sharpen us and mold us, and the attacks of the enemy on our hearts.
Do any of these descriptions send up red flags about a situation in your life?
He came to steal, kill, and destroy. So he wants to steal your peace and your hope; destroy your health, liberty, and relationships; kill your joy, and ultimately take away your life. His ultimate goal is to make us ineffective. He doesn’t want us to be good at our calling or fulfill the purpose God intended us for, because he knows the power it holds even if we don’t realize it ourselves.
Ephesians 6:12 declares, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” So often, when we are under spiritual attack, it is easy to fall into temptation to respond in an earthly way. The devil doesn’t mind if we believe in the bible, or go to church, but he minds when we encounter life, and respond to it the way Jesus would. Whenever I had the encounter with that woman, my immediate reaction was bitterness. I became self-righteous in my own mind toward her. I told myself that she should have been encouraging people to succeed instead of planting seeds of doubt. I just knew that if I were in her position I would have been kinder, gentler, etc. I focused all my energy on the wrong target. I allowed one weapon of the enemy, condemnation, to open me up to bitterness and pride. I gave the enemy a foothold, by not realizing the forces behind the curtains. She was not my enemy, she was just doing her job. My real enemy was the thoughts I allowed myself to entertain afterwards. My mistake was indulging thoughts that did not come from God.
So what do we do about it? How do we fight against an invisible adversary?
2 Corinthians 10: 3-5 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
We have weapons! And not only do we have weapons, but our weapons of warfare are mighty in God! They pull down strongholds, cast down arguments, and decimate every high thing that exalts itself against what we know is true about God! They also help us to bring our thoughts back into obedience with what we know is true. So what are they? Let’s take a look…
PRAYER. Christ commands us to “watch and pray” lest we enter into temptation (Matt 26:41). Sometimes we think of prayer as such a passive thing, but we need to realize that it is one of the most, if not the most powerful weapons in our arsenal. James 5:17 tells us to confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, so that we may be healed, and that, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” In order to have a relationship, you have to have communication. When the communication breaks down, so does the relationship. We often excuse ourselves from talking to God because it feels awkward, or we don’t have the time, or we can load ourselves up with Christian activities, and become neglectful of this sacred time with our Father. One of my favorite excuses is, “He knows what I’m thinking anyways,” and although that is true, God wants to connect with you. He may know every thought that runs through your mind, but there is something special about taking the time out of our days to lift up our hearts to Him. It doesn’t have to be lengthy or well-spoken. I’m a huge believer in the short prayer. In fact, the best prayer I think I ever prayed was only two words, “Help me!” The short prayers also help us to pray without ceasing as we are supposed to do. Try to invite God to spend your day with you, and talk through it with Him as it happens. Who knows what unspoken prayers that would have been answered if only someone would have taken the time to pray them?
· What are some ways you can start to build a stronger foundation by using prayer as a weapon?
GOD’S WORD. Our enemy is the father of lies. He has been around since the foundation of the world, and has been perfecting his lies since Adam and Eve were in the garden. He is good at it! But when you hold a lie up in the light of the Truth it doesn’t stand a chance. The bible is God’s love letter to us and it contains the truth about who God is, who we are, and about the difficulties we will face. We have to equip ourselves with the knowledge of God’s word if we are to combat the enemy’s lies. It can be tricky. A lot of people think that whatever the enemy says is the exact opposite of what God says, but he is a little more cunning. I’ve noticed in my life that the enemy will usually sprinkle a little bit of truth on his lies to disguise them. Just like in my situation. It was true that I had been less than the best mother, but that was his Trojan horse. It was disguising the lie that I would never be a good mother and that I should give up because I was worthless. That was a blatant lie, and it did not line up with what God’s Word says about me. We have to become keen observers of the Truth. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We need that discernment to combat what the enemy is feeding us. We can’t trust other people to tell us what the truth is about our salvation, and we can’t let them read the bible for us. If we have trouble with this, it’s important to bring the matter to God in prayer, who gives all wisdom freely.
· What holds you back from reading God’s love letter to you more often? AND what are some practical steps you can take to change that?
WORSHIP. I have found worship to be one of the most misunderstood subjects in Christianity. Whether we know it or not, we worship something every single day. At its root, worship means to adore, idolize, esteem worthy, revere, or pay homage to something. Most of the time, we worship things that are bad for us like money, celebrities, food, material items, our bodies, other people, sex, or drugs. But we can also idolize things that are seemingly good: church, a mentor, or our ministry. However, nothing that we revere more than Jesus is good. We all have a need inside of us that can only ever be truly satisfied by God, and when He is not sitting on the throne of our hearts, it leaves room for the enemy. Jesus said that, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he [the unclean spirit] goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first…” (Matt 12:43-45, emphasis added). Our body is the temple for the Holy Spirit, and when we have an “empty” house, something is going to fill it. But if we worship God in our hearts, it makes demons tremble. They can’t stand it! Having reverence for God inside us, spills over into our daily lives. It affects what we do, how we work, think, and speak. It changes how we show love. It revolutionizes everyday tasks, and brings meaning to the mundane. I had a friend and she really despised her new job. She cleaned toilets at a local motel for less than ideal pay, and her boss was less than grateful. She complained about it constantly. One day, someone told her to stop cleaning the toilets for her boss, and start cleaning them for Jesus. Think about how the fact that Jesus’ children our going to sit on these toilets (that part made her laugh) and you want the best for them because those are His kids. It seemed silly, but she tried it. It changed everything! Suddenly, the worst part of her day became the best. She turned her job into worship. It is difficult to let the enemy distract you, when you focus everything you do on the glory of the Almighty God. Worship isn’t just an act; it’s the attitude of your heart while going about your life.
· What area of your life could be made better, if you used it as a platform to worship God?
THE HOLY SPIRIT. It brings me so much comfort to read Romans 8:26, “…the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us through wordless groans.” Sometimes, I hit a wall. I feel so bogged down by the seemingly endless onslaught of struggles, that I can’t read the word, can’t pray, I can’t even string together a thought. Some battles are overwhelming. I know that right now many of us are facing insurmountable battles. Some of us have been given a terrifying diagnosis, lost a child, gone through a divorce, are facing losing everything. The waves of trouble are so high and so frequent that we reach the point of despair. I’ve been there, stuck in a rut without a ladder. What do we do when we don’t have the energy to do anything? That’s where the Holy Spirit steps in. He stands in the gap for us. When we don’t even know where to start with the list of things we need deliverance from, He is already crying out on our behalf. Sometimes Jesus just wants us to rest in the knowledge that He loves us, and He is fighting our battles for us. He is not some high up in the sky God, too far away from us to care. He is up close and personal with the challenges we face. He is not surprised by them, nor is He unprepared. He catches every tear that falls from our face at night when we think no one can see that our world is unraveling. He knows. He’s right there, whispering to us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We serve the God of the universe, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. So when you feel like giving up, meditate on the faithfulness of your Father. Let the truth of His character resonate in your soul. Rest on Him.
OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST. Obedience is a hard one for me. I want to think that I know best, and I often forget my place. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9) Often times, when I find myself feeling down, it is because there is some way of thinking or doing things that I have not submitted to Him. It could be an apprehension to give up something we know isn’t God’s will for us, or an opinion we have about another person. It could be our unwillingness to serve. We have to trust His plan. As my pastor would say, the outcome is God’s responsibility, but the obedience is mine. If I truly want the very best that God has for me, then I have to submit myself totally to Him. When I do finally let go of that thing I’ve been clenching onto for dear life, I inevitably find that by holding it for so long, I had been delaying a greater blessing that God had in store.
THE BLOOD OF CHRIST & THE WORD OF OUR TESTIMONY. The Revelation is the last book in the bible. It talks about the end times, and the glorious return of Christ to come and restore humanity. It also talks about satans downfall. His last stand and his last defeat. A voice from heaven tells us that he is the “accuser of the brethren, who accuses us before our God day and night.” But do you know what finally ends the evil one? “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Rev 12:11). Pretty remarkable, right? We all know that the blood of Christ holds the power to forgive us of our sins and grant us eternal life, so it is no leap to assume that it would triumph over the devil himself; but the part that was shocking to me was the fact that my very own testimony and yours would be working together with Jesus’ sacrifice to overcome the personification of evil. It blows my mind. So what is it about our testimony that is so powerful? Think about your own story.
· Do you have moments when you were in situations that should have killed you, but you ended up making it out alive? Did there seem to be people who showed up in your life at the perfect time to give you peace, wisdom, or encouragement at just the right time? Were you granted mercy when you deserved justice? Were you given eternal life when you deserved to die? Did Christ show you love when you were unlovable?
All of these things and more are true for me and for many others. Our stories are proof of God’s faithfulness. They are His fingerprints in the world. And we all get to be a part of it. When you share your testimony it can give the people who don’t know our Savior a bridge to Jesus, and we get to be a part of that! Our testimony is useful for others, and it is also useful for us. Whenever I get discouraged, I purposely call to mind every situation I can think of where I felt like giving up, but God provided a miracle. I try to journal these occurrences as they happen so that I can keep track. I remember what I saw, heard, and felt. It is so powerful when you feel overwhelmed by the enemy to remember what Jesus has already done for you. I can say confidently that He has never forgotten about me in the past, and He isn’t going to start now. Make it a habit to call to mind the ways God has showed up in your life. It is hard to defeat someone who is always grateful!
THE ARMOR OF GOD. I wanted to end my list with this because it ties in almost everything we have talked about in our victory over spiritual attack. So what exactly is the armor of God? Ephesians 6:14 tells us we need to “gird our waist with truth.” In the old days, when a knight was preparing for battle, he would gird his waist first, because it helped hold the rest of the armor together. So if we don’t start with the Truth, we have chink in our armor so do speak. After that we are to put on the “breastplate of righteousness.” A breastplate protects some of the most important parts of the body, like the heart and lungs. So how do we guard the most important parts of our spiritual body? With righteousness. We have to be obedient to God’s commandments, and keep ourselves from the path of sin. Sin in our lives opens the door for the enemy. Next we must, “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Have you ever walked around barefoot in the middle of a battle field? You might want to watch your step, who knows what sharp object might be lying around? It kind of would take you attention away from the task at hand to constantly be looking at the ground. If we don’t have the right shoes on our feet, we aren’t going to end up being able to go where we need to. We must remember why we were put here on this earth. It’s simple, to share the gospel with the world. We have to be prepared for the battle ahead of us, but we can’t if we don’t have the right destination in mind. Then we must take up, “the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked one.” Many of the schemes of our enemy can be daunting. We often are put in situations, which seem hopeless, but if we can stand firmly behind our faith, we will have the confidence to know that Jesus has overcome greater odds than these. “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.” Knowing who you are, and who God is can mean the difference between life and death. The enemy’s lies have no power of us once we put on our helmet of salvation. Even the devil knows that you are delivered, forgiven, and righteous in the eyes of God. We hold this Sword in our hand, and the gates of hell can’t prevail against it. I think nothing is scarier to an evil spirit than a follower of Christ who knows the truth about themselves and about Jesus.
· What parts of your armor do you know are strong?
· What parts could use a little strengthening? AND what are practical steps that I can take to make sure my armor is ready for battle?
This has been an in depth study, and there is one final thought I would like to leave you with as we return to life prepared for battle. The story is from 2 Kings Chapter Six…
Elisha was a prophet for the Israelites, and his ministry was one of the most influential in the bible. At that time the King of Syria was at war with the Israelites, but every time he tried to make secret plans against the Israelites, Elisha would warn them and the Israelites kept defeating the Syrians. The King of Syria was so astounded by the way the Israelites seemed to know his every move that he started suspecting there was a spy in his camp, until finally one of his servant told him it was Elisha the prophet who kept telling the Israelites how to defeat him and was also the one revealing the battle plans the King made in secret. He was angered by this.
So the King of Syria sent someone to find out where Elisha was hiding. They found out he was in a very small town with only a servant to accompany him. The King sent a great army to the town in the middle of the night, and surrounded the entire city. When Elisha’s servant saw that they were surrounded he was very worried and asked Elisha what they should do.
Elisha was calm, and he said to him, “Do not fear, for those that are with us are more than those who are with them.” I have a feeling that didn’t make the servant much calmer, but then something happened. Elisha began to pray to the Lord that his servants eyes would be opened, and the Lord opened the young man’s eyes so that when he looked again over the mountains they were full of horses and chariots of fire that surrounded Elisha and protected him.
Sometimes we can only see the traps that the enemy is setting for us, but I pray that our eyes can be opened to the mighty provision and safety that Christ offers us. Let us focus not on the might of our enemy, but the Power, Love, and Peace of our God. Amen!