Spiritual Warfare

 
 

Spiritual Warfare XVIII: Concluding Thoughts

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. (Revelation 12:7–13; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated)

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Demonic threats forced Joseph and Mary to flee into Egypt early in Jesus’ childhood. Spiritual warfare is very much a part of the life of Christ, including the Christmas narrative. Painting by Gentile da Fabriano, ca. 1423, from Uffizi Gallery [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When we began this series on spiritual warfare in September, I had no idea that we would reach the end just before Christmas. Yet, here we are: Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Tuesday, we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. I have a few friends who may refer to Santa Claus as “Satan Claus.” Other than that, most Christians do not want to talk about demons and spiritual warfare. The feel-good “holiday movies” on Hallmark Channel and UP TV are more pleasant.

However, Satan does not care about our calendar. He will attack whenever it is convenient for him. Life and hardship continue in spite of Christmas.

In fact, we cannot remove Satan or the demonic from the Christmas story. The passage above appears right after a vision that looks back on the birth of Jesus (Revelation 12:5). The passage focuses on Satan’s attempts to keep Him from coming into the world and fulfilling His mission of redemption. Whether the “woman” is Mary (as many Catholic commentators say) or the entire nation of Israel, the main point is that this is part of the war between the dragon (Satan) and the male child (Jesus). The “woman” is involved in the battle because of her relationship with Jesus, and so is anybody else who has a connection to Him.

In Matthew 2, we read how Jesus was threatened with death even as an infant or toddler. When the magi came seeking the newborn “king of the Jews,” Herod wanted to kill him. He viewed Jesus as a threat to his throne. When the magi did not cooperate with him by telling him exactly where Jesus was, Herod sought drastic measures. Joseph, as Jesus’ guardian, had to take drastic measures as well:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:13–16)

Satan, working through the paranoid heart and mind of Herod, would kill all of the babies in Bethlehem if that was what it took to kill Jesus. Revelation 12 may speak in very symbolic language, but Matthew 2 reminds us that spiritual warfare manifests in raw, real-world, life-and-death situations. People suffer; some die; families’ lives are uprooted and thrown into chaos.

So, with that in mind, I offer a few final thoughts about spiritual warfare:

First, to win the battle, we must be ready to believe God’s truth and not the lies of the world and the enemy. The entire account of Jesus’ birth, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is about people who were willing to take unprecedented leaps of faith and trust God, believe His Word, and accept the call to be part of His plan to redeem mankind. Mary had to believe that God could bring forth life in her womb without the intervention of a human father; she also had to trust that He would take care of her so that all would succeed. Who would really believe her story that she was still a virgin, even though obviously pregnant? The sentence for adultery (including sex before marriage by a betrothed person) in the Old Testament was death by stoning; people might show even less compassion for a pregnant unmarried woman telling unbelievable stories accusing God of having sex with her (as her story would sound). Joseph had to believe the angel’s message, which came to him in a dream, was really the word of God and not his own made-up wishful thinking. Why should he risk his reputation and life for a baby that he knew was not his? Since he married Mary in spite of her pregnancy, people might have suspected that he was really the father, and was sexually immoral himself, thereby risking his own reputation. Was it worth it?

They could only accomplish their calling by believing God, even when the message defied all logic and the mission came with great risks and sacrifices. Make no mistake: Joseph and Mary were drafted into spiritual warfare from the moment of Christ’s conception. They had to do battle against their own doubts, their egos, the suspicions and accusations of their neighbors (and perhaps even families), and Satan himself.

Second, to believe God, we have to accept some uncomfortable inconvenient truths. The Bible says that there is a literal hell and people will suffer there for eternity. It speaks of a literal, real being named Satan. If you call yourself a Christian, you have to believe in hell and Satan. Not only are they taught in the Bible, but also most of what we know about them comes from the New Testament. Most of it comes from the lips of Jesus Himself! To not believe in a literal hell, real eternal damnation, or a personal entity named Satan is to accuse Jesus of being a liar.

This is a major reason why many Christians are living defeated lives, Christianity’s influence on American culture is in decline, and many young people are flocking to false religions like paganism and the occult. Many Christians and churches are spiritually impotent because they do not believe the truth about their enemy. They think spiritual warfare is about fighting their own personal apathy or fear. They think the devil is just a symbol representing evil. Before long, people mistake “evil” as a synonym for “discomfort or displeasure.” They think something is evil because it hurts their feelings, not because it is contrary to the will and nature of God. For them, spiritual warfare is a form of emotional shadow-boxing against an imaginary opponent.

In his classic The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis makes the following observation about demons:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

As we celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, and as we prepare for the New Year that awaits us, let us renew our resolve to keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1–2) and, like Him, resolve ourselves to destroy the works of the enemy. The battle is real, but we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) as we remain faithful to Him.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Spiritual Warfare, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XVII: The Necessity of Faith

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:14–20).

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Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

Spiritual warfare cannot be merely a pastime or activity. It must be a lifestyle. However, it is not a lifestyle of looking for demons lurking around every corner or hiding beneath every rock. It is about walking by faith moment by moment, ready to stand with Jesus against the wiles of Satan whenever necessary. The key lesson of Matthew 17:14–20 is our need to walk in faith and saturate our lives in prayer.

The whole armor of God is not a costume we put on for special occasions. One of the ministries I serve on at my church is the prayer team at a special monthly service. We can expect to rebuke demons who are afflicting some of the people who come up for prayer. However, I cannot just strap on the armor of God when I arrive at church at 7:30 and take it off at the end of the service. Spiritual warfare demands that I wear the whole armor of God 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 52 weeks per year.

How do we keep the armor of God on? The same way we receive it: by walking in faith in Jesus.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, wearing the whole armor of God is synonymous with clothing ourselves in Christ. “So, as we seek to put on the whole armor of God, we are clothing ourselves in the very life of Christ.” Every piece of the whole armor of God is a facet of Jesus’ nature. We have the belt of truth; Jesus is the Truth. We have the breastplate of righteousness; Jesus is our righteousness. We have the shoes of peace. Jesus is our peace. We have the shield of faith; Christians walk by faith in Jesus. We wear the helmet of salvation; Jesus’ name is the only name under heaven by which men must be saved. We carry the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; Jesus is the incarnate Word of God. As we walk with Jesus, every element of the spiritual armor protects us, because Jesus is with us.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus performed numerous miracles: healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, etc. It can seem as though nothing would stop Him from performing miracles. However, the Bible mentions one obstacle which could reduce the number of miracles Jesus could perform:

And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them (Mark 6:5).

When Jesus visited Nazareth, people would not believe that Joseph and Mary’s son was now a great man of God. Their doubt limited Jesus’ power. Faith is essential for those who wish to see a move of God. Sometimes, lack of faith will prohibit you from receiving the blessing God is offering. At other times, it will keep you from being effective in spiritual warfare. When the people of Nazareth would not believe, they could not receive the blessings of Jesus’ miraculous power. When the disciples could not believe, they could not perform the miracles Jesus had empowered and authorized them to perform (Matthew 10:1).

People may blame the disciples’ failure on several things. Some say that the disciples failed because they were not yet baptized in the Holy Spirit. This would not occur until Pentecost, 10 days after the resurrected Jesus had ascended into heaven. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the disciples could perform some miracles, but they did not have the full blessing of the Holy Spirit’s lasting presence and power within them. This is at least part of the problem. The baptism in the Holy Spirit will help increase our faith.

Another factor many may mention is a lack of prayer and fasting. A few preachers will point to Matthew 17:21, which does not appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the Gospel: “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” Many English Bible translations leave this verse out or place it in a footnote since it seems possible that it was added by a later scribe and not written by Matthew himself. Whether Jesus actually said this or not, it is secondary to the main point of this passage: The disciples’ lack of faith prohibited the child’s deliverance. Prayer and fasting are important: They are valuable tools to help a believer’s faith to grow. Christians are commanded elsewhere in the New Testament to pray, and we are urged strongly to fast. But, the key is to grow in faith.

Faith empowers us to walk in the miraculous power of God. Earlier, when Jesus walked on water, Peter asked for permission to join Him:

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased (Matthew 14:28–32).

Have you ever noticed that, for a while, Peter actually walked on water, just like Jesus? In fact, it was not only a few steps: Jesus was far enough from the boat that the disciples were not sure it was really Him. Yet, Peter walked all the way from the boat and came to Jesus. While walking to Jesus, Peter was probably thinking, “I’m walking to Jesus. If He can walk on water, He can help me walk on water.” While returning to the boat, he changed his perspective and thought, “Wait a minute. What am I doing out here? Look at the size of those waves! That wind is insane! How did I get so far from the boat? This is impossi…glub…glub…glub.” While he kept his eyes on Jesus, Peter could walk in the miraculous power of our Lord. When he looked at the circumstances and took his eyes off of Jesus—even though He was right next to him—he fell out of supernatural power and back into the normalcy of the natural life, as if God was not present.

The point of this is that we must walk by faith. Spiritual warfare is a battle of faith. Faith is not just intellectual knowledge (in fact, head knowledge can be an obstacle to true faith). We keep our eyes on Jesus, marching with Him into battle to reveal His life-giving power to a world in bondage to darkness and death.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XVI: Perseverance and Watchfulness

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

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Jesus’ life was marked by persevering watchful prayer, as illustrated in this statue representing Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Photo taken by Michael E. Lynch at the Malvern Retreat House, Malvern, PA.

Attitude matters as we pray in the Spirit. As we saw in the previous post, we must remain thankful even as we ask God to do something new. Sometimes, the answer to prayer does not come immediately. As we engage in prayerful spiritual combat, we must persevere and keep alert:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you…. Brothers, pray for us (I Thessalonians 5:16–18, 25).

(I included verse 25 here to remind the readers about the importance of praying for our spiritual leaders.) Is it possible to pray too much? According to I Thessalonians 5:17, the answer is “no.” In fact, it seems that few of us can pray enough. In recent years, as the Lord has led me more deeply into a ministry of prayer and intercession, I find that my prayer list keeps growing. There is always something and somebody to pray for. Sometimes, particular needs and burdens can become so overwhelming that my mind can become obsessed with them. There is only one solution: keep praying. Philippians 4:6–7 reminds us that we should pray if we feel anxious. If you think it is something to worry about, you should pray.

A subtle lie persists among some Christians who claim that we should pray only once for a need. They believe we should claim God’s promise, believe we have received it, and never pray for it again. They assume that, if we pray a second time, we are showing unbelief. There is simply no biblical basis for this claim. Prayer persists. We can see this in an Old Testament passage, which illustrates the spiritual battle that often coincides with earthly circumstances. After the prophet Daniel had prayed and fasted for 21 days, an angel appeared:

Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia… (Daniel 10:12–13).

The answer to Daniel’s prayer had been dispatched on Day One. However, “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (apparently a demonic principality) withstood the angel for 21 days. While Daniel persisted in prayer, an unseen spiritual battle raged. This is why Jesus told His disciples “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). God is able, eager, and willing to answer speedily. Are we willing to contend in spiritual battle on His behalf until the answer to our prayers is manifested? When Jesus returns, will He find this kind of persevering faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?

Being alert in prayer is related to perseverance. Paul wrote, “Keep alert with all perseverance” (Ephesians 6:19). We need to keep our spiritual eyes open, watching to discern the spiritual climate. Where is God moving in our lives and our world? Where is Satan seeking to interrupt God’s will? What are the great needs to advance God’s kingdom right now?

One Latin word for watchfulness, wakefulness, or alertness is “vigilia,” from which we derive our English word “vigil.” A vigil often refers to an extended period of prayer. Many monastic orders wake up in the middle of the night for a prolonged period of prayer, beginning around 2:30 AM. Some churches may use the word “vigil” in a less-formal sense for a prolonged period of watchful prayer.

Sometimes, we need a vigil. We occasionally need to devote extra time to intense prayer for a situation. God may call us to wakeful, watchful focus on the needs of His people and the circumstances of His world. A devoted spiritual warrior will be
committed to such vigilance.

As we clothe ourselves in the whole armor of God and take up the sword of the Spirit, God will lead us to devote our lives to prayer. The battles we face are too great for normal solutions. We need to come against our unseen enemy with the supernatural power that comes only from God. Let us use that power by praying in the Spirit.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XV: Thanksgiving, Prayer, and Spiritual Warfare

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from ESV unless otherwise indicated).

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Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

As we pray in the Spirit, our attitude matters. Although one can list a host of proper attitudes for prayer (submission to God’s will, obedience, forgiveness of others, faith, and so on), one is especially important to mention in the context of spiritual warfare: thanksgiving.

Supplication often leads us to focus our attention on a problem. We pray for more finances because we cannot pay our bills. We pray for healing because we are ill. Financial problems, illness, strife, or other problems can easily become the center of our attention. The very attack of Satan—yes, even Satan himself—can suddenly become our focus. Prayer should not focus on Satan. It should focus on God and His goodness and against Satan and his attacks. Thanksgiving brings God back into our focus.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak (Colossians 4:2–4).

Even as we intercede on behalf of others, we pray with thanksgiving. The command to connect prayer and worship with thanksgiving occurs several times in the New Testament:

{Be} filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 5:18–20).

{Do} not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7).

These are just a few examples. Thanksgiving is essential to prayer. Yet, sometimes, it is not easy. Perhaps we need to know how to find reasons to be thankful. Sometimes, it is tempting to merely thank God that “It could have been much worse.” While that is often true, we usually need more encouragement than that when in the midst of battle.

We can thank God for what He has done in the past. If your current dilemma is a physical illness, you can thank God for times He has healed you in the past. If it is a financial crisis, you can thank Him for times He has provided in the past. If it is a problem with a relationship, you can thank Him for the good relationships and positive people He has placed in your life.

Next, we can thank God for who He is. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The God Who has answered prayer in the past—or may even have blessed you when you did not pray—has not changed. He is the same loving, merciful, forgiving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present Lord and Father. He is always able and willing to bless, preserve, save, heal, restore, and empower His children. You can thank Him for being Who He is. As the psalmist says,

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalms 100:5).

This is praise not so much for what He has done for us, but for Who He is. We can trust Him because He is now and always will be faithful, loving, and good. Keep thanking Him for Who He is. If we forget how good God is, Satan will have the upper hand in our lives. To win our victories in spiritual battle, we must remember that the Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever, and that His faithfulness never ends.

Next, we can thank Him that He is able to accomplish what we ask Him to do. If you are in a financial crisis, you can thank God that He is able to meet your needs. You can thank Him that He is able to heal you when you are sick.

Finally, we can thank Him for His promises. God has promised to answer certain prayers for His people:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).

God has promised to provide wisdom to those who ask Him for it by faith.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

Can you believe that promise? Are you willing to believe that God can meet your needs? Will you thank Him in advance that He has promised to do so, and then thankfully pray and trust until He brings it to fruition?

Life can bring discouragement and disappointment. As we fix our eyes on God, learn to give Him thanks and praise as we pray for our needs, and trust in His love and mercy, we can see Him answer our prayers and protect us from every spiritual attack.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XIV: Interceding for the Church

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

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Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

In the previous post of this series, we discussed intercessory prayer as a vital part of the Christian’s impact on the world around him. This post will look at the important need to pray for the Body of Christ, especially those who have devoted their lives to preaching and teaching the Word of God. They are often the enemy’s main targets in spiritual battle.

Unlike the modern American church, the first-century believers had no political influence and minimal certainty of legal rights to worship as they saw fit. Freedom of speech and religious liberty are very modern concepts, unheard of only a few centuries ago (and still absent in much of the world today). However, the early church had one thing we have lost: a spirit of prayer. When trials came, they believed God was greater than Caesar.

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:23–31).

Instead of cowering in fear, deciding to “play it safe,” or imitating the surrounding culture in response to persecution, the church decided to pray. They did not ask God to change other people’s attitudes or to protect them from wicked rulers. Instead, they asked Him to empower them to preach with boldness and exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prayer provided a foundation for evangelism; it was not an alternative to action. Prayer gave them the power to do the work God had called them to do and to confront the enemy in spiritual battle.

Later, in Acts 12, the church would endure another period of persecution. James would become the first apostle to die as a martyr (Acts 12:1). Peter was also arrested, and Herod hoped to execute him as well. “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). This time, God miraculously intervened to release Peter from prison (vv. 6-17) and judge Herod (vv. 20-23). “But the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24) as Christians continued to share the Gospel. When hardship came, God’s people attacked it with prayer, received divine power, and continued to accomplish God’s will.

Likewise, Paul urged the disciples in the churches he established to pray for him during his imprisonment. After describing how his imprisonment had given more opportunities for the Gospel to be preached, he expected the prayers of the saints to lead to his release:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:19–20).

Paul expected prayer to have an impact. He did not see it as a psychological relaxation technique, merely giving a person peace of mind, mental focus, or emotional serenity. Paul expected prayer to somehow affect how God would intervene in the situation. He expected it to change the hearts and minds of people he prayed for. He expected prayer to change the situation in the spiritual dimension, thereby having a visible impact in the natural realm. It was not just a way to change the state of his own mind, but of circumstances beyond his control.

Therefore, we should always pray for our spiritual leaders, especially those whom God has called to proclaim His Gospel. All of the apostles emphasized their need for the prayers of the people:

He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (II Corinthians 1:10–11).

This is why I refer to prayer as a spiritual intercontinental ballistic missile in an earlier post. Our prayers can have a global impact. Believe it. Launch it. Watch it work.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XIII: Interceding for All People

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

writing-hand-book-leg-love-finger-742682-pxhere.com

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

The previous post in this series introduced the concepts of praying in the Spirit and supplication. I find that many Christians are tempted to view spiritual warfare as a means to address discomfort or difficulty in their own lives. However, spiritual warfare always looks beyond our own comfort zone and seeks to advance the kingdom of God. It is God-centered, seeking to see His will done not only in our lives, but throughout the world, the church, and in the lives of those whom we love (and, often, those whom we wish Jesus had not told us to love).

Although supplication may sometimes focus on our needs, God calls us to pray for all people, both inside and outside the church. We should pray for all kinds of people, especially if they have any influence over our lives:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (I Timothy 2:1–2).

We need to remember that Paul wrote these things within a hostile culture, where the government persecuted Christians. Americans are eager to pray for our leaders as long as they belong to our party, or endorse our definition of Christianity. However, when New Testament authors told their audience to obey, respect, and pray for their political officials (see Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1, I Peter 2:13), they were speaking about officials who could easily decide to execute them. American Christians often refuse to pray for elected officials who do not agree with them. Yet, we have no excuse: If Paul could urge his readers to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions,” we can pray for pro-abortion Presidents, anti-traditional-marriage judges, and Congressmen who have publicly mocked Christian values. We are called to make supplication “for all people.” “I don’t like him” is not an excuse.

Many Christians want to change the culture. Prayer is a crucial element of that. Living out our Christianity day by day is vital. Evangelism is essential. Many Christians believe voting and political activism are the top priority, but if we want to change society, those are actually lower on the list:

{If} my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (II Chronicles 7:14).

Spiritual warfare, exercising our spiritual weapons, is what we need. As we saw earlier in this series, we are not fighting natural enemies. Our real enemies are the forces of Satan—not another political party, Islamic extremists, or illegal immigrants. These are at most tools or pawns whom Satan has deceived and manipulated to achieve his agenda. We need to attack the source of wickedness, not merely the visible symptoms. Prayer and other aspects of spiritual warfare are our major tactics. We should expect God to answer prayer and empower us to proclaim His Gospel and change the world. This is how the early church responded after the apostles had been arrested and persecuted.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Spiritual Warfare XII: Intercessory Prayer

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

silhouette-light-people-girl-woman-mystical-745052-pxhere.com

Photo from https://pxhere.com/en/photo/745052. Creative Commons.

Most studies and sermons about the whole armor of God end with the sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:17. However, Paul’s sentence does not end there, so it is apparent that these comments on praying in the Spirit are at least closely intertwined with the whole armor of God. The only reason many preachers and authors do not count this as part of the armor is because the military imagery is missing. However, the thoughts are connected. Even if we do not consider intercessory prayer in the Spirit as a part of the whole armor of God, it is an essential part of spiritual warfare.

As we saw in Part IX of this series, we can think of the sword of the Spirit as the weapon for close-range combat, whereas praying in the Spirit is effective for long-range combat. Prayer in the Spirit can impact the entire world.

To understand this, we need to consider a few terms. First, what do we mean by “prayer in the Spirit?” Some of my fellow charismatic Christians will claim that this means “praying in tongues.” While that is one way that we can pray in the Spirit, I do not believe Paul is limiting it to this practice. Any Christian who has the Spirit of God dwelling within him or her can pray in the Spirit. When we consider prayer as one element of worship, this becomes somewhat more obvious:

Jesus said to {the Samaritan woman}, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–24).

What can we learn about worshiping (and, by extension, praying) in the Spirit from this passage? A lot, especially when we see the opposite of worship in the Spirit. The Samaritan woman had raised a question about where the true worshipers of God will meet. Jesus said it was not a matter of location. As a related question, it was not a matter of form or liturgy. It did not matter whether one prayed at the Samaritan temple, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or a synagogue. It does not matter whether you pray at church, home, or elsewhere. Likewise, it did not matter whether one followed Samaritan or Jewish prayer forms. Formulas and location are not as important as some might think.

What does matter, according to Jesus, is that we are worshiping One whom we know. Our prayers and worship should grow out of a direct intimate knowledge of God. We pray in the Spirit, Who dwells within us and guides us.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26–27).

Sometimes, our burdens can be so great that we do not even know what we need; if we think we know what we need, we do not know how to express it. The Holy Spirit knows our needs. Whether we express them in a heavenly language, groans, sighs, sobs, or jumbled pleas of “Oh, God, please help me!”–The Holy Spirit knows our need and expresses it to the Father, even when we cannot find the thoughts or words.

Next, it is helpful to consider the word “supplication,” simply because it appears throughout Scripture, but most of us do not use the word normally. I might make requests or ask for things, but I do not usually talk about making supplication in everyday life. Therefore, it is easy to think the Bible is commanding something complicated or unusual, even when it is not.

According to biblehub.com, the Greek word is δέησις (deesis), meaning “supplication, prayer, entreaty.” It has its roots in another Greek word which means “to be in want or need.” Thus, when we are making supplication, we are “praying for a specific, felt need,” making a “heart-felt petition, arising out of deep personal need.” Although Paul expands this to prayer for the needs of others here, our spiritual warfare prayers must be heart-felt, seeking God to meet deep needs. We feel the urgency of a need, so we pray for it.

As you pray, recognize that it is not just a ritual or an obligation. It is even more significant than starting your day well or ending it peacefully. Prayer is a battle. As we bring our requests before the Lord, we are not merely bringing a shopping list. We are fighting a battle against the forces of hell.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Spiritual Warfare XI: Final Thoughts About the Sword of the Spirit

immaculate_conception_catholic_church_28knoxville2c_tennessee29_-_stained_glass2c_sword_of_the_spirit

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we conclude our discussion of the sword of the Spirit, I believe it is important to remind ourselves how to properly wield it. It is easy to misuse the sword of the Spirit, and such abuse can be devastating. Therefore, I offer a few final thoughts.

Remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, Satan is our enemy: not other people. Even if the other person seems to be our enemy (for example, we disagree with them on political issues, they belong to a false religion, or they are even part of a group that is persecuting believers), the real enemies are Satan and his demons. We should actually view the human “enemy” as a prisoner of war, enslaved by deception.

It is one thing to attack Satan, his demons, and their lies with the word of God. However, that does not justify using the Bible to attack another human being.

Therefore, when wielding the sword of the Spirit in encounters with other people—or even with ourselves—we approach the situation with mercy and grace, not hostility or condemnation.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6, ESV).

Our goal when dealing with people—whether they are fellow believers, unbelievers, or ourselves—is redemption and restoration, not rejection or damnation. We are looking to draw unbelievers into the kingdom of God, not to find opportunities to speed them into hell. We are looking to assist believers as they obtain the blessings of God’s kingdom, not to force them out or discourage them. We also need to pay attention to our own hearts. It is easy to condemn and judge ourselves. Years ago, I started reading the writings and theology of nineteenth-century holiness authors, many of whom preached on Christian perfection and entire sanctification (see Matthew 5:48). However, there was a problem: I was still struggling with some sinful habits. Ironically, a claim that believers could be delivered from all sin often led me into discouragement and self-condemnation, which led me even further from the holiness these preachers promised.

Now, over 30 years after becoming a follower of Christ, I am still not perfect. I still sin. However, wise men of God have taught me to remember that I am saved by God’s grace. He is working on me. For most of the last 15 years, I have sat under the ministry of a bishop who would close almost every service by saying, “Remember the Gospel, the good news: That God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself, not counting your sins against you. God loves you. God has forgiven you. God is not angry with you, and God will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Yes, I have that memorized!) Take that word to heart (it merely paraphrases several key statements from the New Testament). Believe it, and let it guide you as you share God’s Word with other people or apply it to your life.

Second, be bold with the sword, but know your boundaries. You are part of an army. There are some battles that do not belong to you. Do not be a busy-body, trying to fix every person you see. Do not take on battles that other soldiers of the cross should be fighting.

Some immature believers think it is their job to reprimand everybody whom they see faltering. However, there are times when it is best to leave the battle to other people. Maybe the pastor is already offering counsel and advice to the person who is struggling. If you think you need to start swinging the sword of the Spirit in another Christian’s life, make certain you have their trust and respect first. If a person has not requested your advice, do not force it on them (no matter how biblical or profound it may seem to you).

When ministering to people who do not have a relationship with Christ, always focus on Jesus and salvation. Our job is to lead people to Christ. Once they come into a faith-focused relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will straighten them out. Too often, we try to get sinners to start acting like Christians. Sinners sin—it is what they do. They need to first become Christians; then we can expect them to begin the process of acting like children of God.

In all, use the sword of the Spirit with wisdom. Do not swing it around like a maniac. Be bold, be direct, but be wise.

Many posts on darkenedglassreflections.com discuss proper use of the Word of God. I invite you to go to the search bar on this page and search “word of God” for more articles and guidance. Two popular posts are “Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness” and “Proverbs 7:1-5—Internalizing God’s Word and Wisdom.”

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Spiritual Warfare X: Using the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we saw in the previous post, Paul was not the first writer of Scripture to think of the word of God as a weapon. Old Testament prophets like Isaiah (who provided inspiration for some of the other elements of the armor of God), Jeremiah, and Hosea likewise spoke of Scripture as a weapon. Paul and other early Christian writers recognized this theme and expanded upon it throughout the New Testament:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

It is helpful to see this verse in its context. The inspired author has reminded his readers (who were probably Hebrew believers in Jesus who are tempted to step back from the commitment to Christ and return to Judaism) that they are called to enter into the rest that God has provided. He mentions that the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership is a preview of the Christian’s opportunity to enter into the rest that Christ provides:

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:8–10).

The Israelites took their physical swords and, under Joshua’s leadership, claimed the land in response to the promises of God. They claimed “rest” by being able to settle down and end 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Now, the Christian takes hold of a double-edged sword. The link to Joshua is important. We are supposed to use that sword to claim and cling to the privileges of the kingdom that God has invited us to enter. We enter the rest He provides in Christ. We use the sword of the Spirit to claim that rest. When Satan seeks to steal God’s promises from us, the sword of the Spirit is our lethal weapon.

However, we do not use it against Satan only. The word of God pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. So, we do not use it only against Satan.

We apply it to our own lives. As we read God’s Word, we should allow it to dig deep inside us. Let it reach into our soul, spirit, joints, and marrow. Let it dig out any impurity that may bring death and decay within us. Let it discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Let it bring us to self-examination, asking God to search our hearts and reveal our condition to us:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23–24).

We use it to free the lost from Satan’s power. Evangelism must be centered in God’s Word. When we invade Satan’s domain to invite his captives to freedom in Christ, we must use it properly. God’s Word proclaims the saving work of Jesus: How He lived, died, rose, ascended, and sits at the right hand of the Father. It tells us how we can be saved. We preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name (Luke 24:46–47).

Finally, we use the sword of the Spirit to claim release for our brothers and sisters who remain in the devil’s chains. Be prepared to counsel, advise, admonish, and encourage your fellow believers with the Word of God. The sword of the Spirit is mighty. It is more powerful than the gospel of Dr. Phil or Oprah. Only God’s Word can dig can pierce to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Use the sword of the Spirit to help your fellow believers know discern whether the thoughts and intentions of their hearts are guided by the Holy Spirit or still directed by the lies of the enemy. Help them to tear down the strongholds so they can make their freedom more certain.

In a sword duel or fencing match, the fighter uses the sword both offensively and defensively. He must use it to block the opponent’s attacks. However, he must also use it to gain a victory. Soldiers fight to win. We must fight to win. The sword of the Spirit will bring us victory.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Spiritual Warfare IX: Introduction to the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all verses ESV unless otherwise specified).

immaculate_conception_catholic_church_28knoxville2c_tennessee29_-_stained_glass2c_sword_of_the_spirit

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we have seen earlier in this series, most of the Christian’s armor is defensive. However, we now come to a vital offensive element: The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Many preachers will claim that this is the only offensive weapon we have. However, as we will see in forthcoming posts, Paul immediately discusses intercessory prayer right afterward (as part of the same sentence). We can view the sword of the Spirit as the divine weapon for close combat, whereas intercessory prayer is our weapon for long-distance combat. If the word of God is our sword, then intercessory prayer is our arrow, catapult, cannon, or intercontinental ballistic missile. Although Paul did not continue the imagery to associate prayer with a specific part of the centurion’s armor, the intent is present. We will come back to this thought later in this series.

I will lead off by pointing out a mistake many Christians make with the sword of the Spirit. Although it is an offensive weapon, many use it only defensively. Early in my Christian walk, I had a pocket New Testament which I would carry with me almost everywhere. In the back, it had an index of verses addressing different needs: When you face this problem, turn to this verse. If you are being tempted, read this passage. It was helpful, but it can make somebody think that the sword of the Spirit is merely for self-defense: If Satan tempts you this way, quote this verse to him. However, for an army to triumph, it must advance. You do not fight to “not lose;” you fight to win. Jesus tells us that the gates of hell will not stand against the church (Matthew 16:18). Is Satan throwing gates at us? Of course not; the Kingdom of God should be advancing against the forces of darkness. Satan should be cowering behind the gates, while we smash them down, set the captives free, and occupy until Christ returns.

We do not wield the sword of the Spirit only to defend ourselves: we brandish it against our enemy as we march forth to claim victory. We should be on the offensive, not the defensive, when we draw our sword from its sheath.

The Bible describes the word of God as a weapon several times. Paul learned this image from the Old Testament. Like several other elements of the armor of God, we find a hint of it in the writings of Isaiah the prophet:

“He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away” (Isaiah 49:2).

This verse begins the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah, where the prophet occasionally speaks in the first person (as if he is talking about himself), but his words prophesy the future ministry of Jesus (reaching a climax around Isaiah 53). The Word of God is a double-edged sword eternally coming forth from the mouth of Jesus:

“In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).

Make no mistake: The word of God that flows from the mouth of the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ (John 1:1–3, 14), is a weapon of spiritual warfare. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He did not come to coexist with or tolerate Satan; He came to boot his butt to the abyss. Jesus is merciful and compassionate to all who call upon Him for salvation, but He is ruthless to the thief who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy those whom He has redeemed (John 10:10). The sword of the Spirit strikes at the root of sin to bring Christ’s judgment against wickedness and rebellion:

“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:4–6).

God sends His prophetic word to strike against false religion, worldliness, carnality, and all forms of sin. He slays by the words of His mouth. He sends forth judgment.

Take note: you cannot conduct spiritual warfare if you are afraid to confront sin and warn about God’s judgment against sin. Yes, God is love. He is holy. That means He is absolutely opposed to hatred, sin, unholiness, impurity, wickedness, etc. The sword of the Spirit is a sword of judgment. It is a sword that we use to strike at Satan.

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

Indeed, God’s word is a weapon. We do not trifle with it. It is not a toy. We must not manipulate or misuse it, but we must use it boldly in battle. We should expect it to powerfully accomplish its purpose, either to build up or to tear down. It is a vital tool in our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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