On Wednesday I wrote a brief introduction to the reality of spiritual warfare. Before moving on to the other pillars of knowing God’s will, I knew that it would be important to give a follow up post. Many of us would be willing to admit our belief in angels and demons. Very few, however, would feel the freedom to engage in spiritual warfare. The reasons we have created spiritual pacifists are that we (1) think it is the realm of Pentecostals and Catholics and/or (2) it has been more comfortable to ignore it.
In this post, I won’t repeat the information I shared in the other piece on spiritual warfare. I am assuming that you have read that information and understand it.
Spiritual Warfare is part of the Kingdom of God
Spiritual warfare is a common element of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, when Jesus begins his ministry, Mark records him saying that “the Kingdom of God has drawn near” (1:). He immediately begins to move into the demonstration of the Kingdom of God. This involves teaching, healing diseases and ailments, and delivering those demonized. The presence of Jesus, and therefore the Kingdom of God, seems to defined, in part, by instruction and restoration. For our purpose, it’s important to recognize that deliverance and spiritual warfare was a regular and persistent part of Jesus’ ministry.
Later in his ministry, when he sends out the twelve and then the seventy-two, he instructs and empowers them to do those same two things: instruct and restore. This pattern continues in the book of Acts through its focus on both Peter (Acts 1-12) and Paul (Acts 13-28). It should not surprise us, then, that spiritual warfare is an assumed experience in the New Testament. For example, James tells us to “resist the Devil” (James 4:7). Peter tells us to “Resist him [Satan]” (1 Peter 5:9). Paul tells us 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” (Eph 6:12). These passages also share a similar explanation of the means of our resistance: prayer.
Prayer is the Primary Weapon
In his book on Paul’s theology of demons and spiritual warfare, Powers of Darkness, New Testament scholar, Clinton Arnold, says this:
"If Paul were to summarize the primary way of gaining access to the power of God for waging successful spiritual warfare, he would unwaveringly affirm that it is through prayer. Prayer is given much greater prominence in the spiritual warfare passage than any of the other implements. Prayer is also the only spiritual piece of armor that is not given a corresponding physical weapon (like a breastplate or a shield)” [Clinton Arnold, Powers of Darkness: Principalities and Powers in Paul’s Letters (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 158.]
The way that we engage in spiritual warfare; or, to quote James and Peter, the way we “resist the Devil” is through prayer.
Key Ingredients in Spiritual Warfare Prayer
What does it look like to pray as spiritual warfare?
Let me explain each component briefly. This is not a procedure (first, second, third), it is more like a recipe for a cake. Take away one ingredient and it may technically be a cake but it won’t be one that anyone is excited to eat!
Confess Your Submission to Jesus’ Authority.
Contrary to the culture’s view of exorcism, spiritual warfare is not a sweat-soaked battle against demonic powers that are more powerful than people. The demonic is powerful, but our authority comes from Jesus. After his resurrection, Jesus tells his followers that he has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18). Paul, in Colossians 2, says that Jesus’ death and resurrection has put the enemy to open shame; meaning that he has stripped them of their power and authority. In Philippians 2:10-11, Paul says that “at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Jesus has the authority. No relics or crosses or holy water are necessary. Satan himself cannot resist Jesus’ authority.
Ask Jesus to Show You Anything that the Enemy Could Use against You
Jesus tells us that “the truth will set you free.” When we acknowledge that we have been living contrary to the truth of Jesus, that’s called confession. It is merely telling the truth. When we pray Psalm 139:23-24 (“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!”), we are simply asking the Spirit to show us where we have strayed from thinking, believing, or acting in truth. When we are living against the truth, Paul says that it gives the enemy a “foothold” (Eph 4:27). Confession and repentance strips the enemy of any leverage against us. So ask the Spirit to reveal anything that might give the enemy leverage against you.
Ask Jesus to Show You How the Enemy is at Work against You
In 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 Paul tells the Corinthians that he forgives them “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.” He repeats the word “schemes” (or “designs”) in Ephesians 6:11 that the armor of God helps protect believers from. Satan is not an unpredictable force of chaos. He has intentional plans and schemes against humanity. The first verse we just looked at tells us that stoking unforgiveness and bitterness among believers is one of Satan’s plans. Paul’s encouragement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7 would indicate that fear is also a powerful tactic. In fact, Satan’s three temptations to Jesus in the wilderness reveal the major element of all of his plans against us: to receive God’s promises without following his ways.
Ask Jesus to Rebuke Satan, His Demons, their Works and Effects.
After Satan’s third temptation, Jesus says, “Be gone, Satan!” and then Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16. What happens? “Then the devil left him” (Mt 4:11). Even Satan himself has to obey Jesus. Even though the believer is “in Jesus,” meaning that everything Jesus has done for us, it is credited to us and everything that belongs to Jesus is given to us (Eph 1), it is shaky ground to begin rebuking Satan. It is wiser to follow the example of Michael the Archangel. As an illustration of his point, Jude quotes a Jewish legend about Michael battling Satan over Moses’ body. Even though he was at least equal to Satan and was a messenger of God, Michael would not go beyond the proper boundaries. Instead he says, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9). When you have confessed and repented and God has affirmed that there is some form of spiritual warfare happening, asking Jesus to rebuke Satan, his demons, their works and effects is a wise and biblical prayer.
Ask Jesus to Protect You from Additional Attack
Jesus offers an interesting teaching tucked away in just three verses. In Matthew 12:43-45 and Luke 11:24-26 Jesus says the same thing. When a evil spirit is removed from a person, rather than wander in some sort of spiritual wasteland (“waterless places seeking rest, and finding none”) Jesus says the demonic will attempt to return, bringing “seven other spirits more evil than itself” (Luke 11:26). Like any soldiers ordered to hold a location, if they have been defeated they will regroup, maybe find more weapons or secure a better vantage point. We don’t need to be afraid of demonic reprisal, but we also need not be presumptuous. Wisdom calls us to be mindful and aware. This is why it should not surprise us that moments of great sin or spiritual attack can follow on the heels of a powerful time with the Lord. Or, do we think it’s a mere coincidence that we can have a powerful experience with God on a retreat only to fall right back into the same old habits and patterns when we return home?
These five essential ingredients will help you to find success against the schemes of the enemy. More importantly, they will also help develop a more personal and intimate relationship with God. You may also find greater and greater freedom from thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that you have long felt powerless against.
Share your questions and feedback in the comments. I am most interested to know: which of these five ingredients is the most helpful to you?