As a Christian, how do you know when your under attack from dark forces? On the other hand, how do you know when it’s just a hard time and thus an opportunity to trust and grow? Distinguishing between the two can be difficult especially in light of our understanding, cultural imagery, and bias of spiritual warfare. Some too easily blame the demonic for every little thing, ignoring their own, often quite obvious, issues. Others cast off demons as archaic nonsense, relying on their Enlightenment reasoning. We’ll leave these extremes for another time, and look to explore how we can determine a spiritual attack.
In his classic book, The Fight, John White, notes that it’s an attack when the “Enemy seeks to destroy your fellowship with God.” This makes perfect sense, but let’s flesh it out. To start, if our relationship with God is not on solid footing everything else starts to fall apart – our relationship with ourselves, others, and creation. Like dominoes, they tumble over. It’s all very “Fall” like.
Our relationship with the Father orients us. It let’s us know who we are – His children, loved, cherished. This is our anchor. So an attack must separate us (at least to some degree) from our anchor to be effective.
Following are four ways, according to White, that Satan will use to trip us up:
- Temptation – most folks focus here, with good reason – we are made to experience a wonderful array of feelings and pleasures. We are meant to respond to God’s voice, but we all too often listen to the louder voices in our own head and/or culture. Instead of living by the Word of God, we make our own Truth – tempted by ideas of power, freedom, autonomy – as if these were somehow part of our original design.
- Accusation – this, I would argue, is experienced more often than folks realize. That is, Christians, especially those seeking to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of King Jesus, will be accused of all kinds of things. You’ll likely recognize these voices – you’re not good enough, you’re not a good enough mom, you could have done that better, you shouldn’t have said that, you’re not a very good dad, you’re damaging your kids…on and on that voices go, grinding you into a fine powder. These voices are extremely effective in disabling you, as well as your relationship with God. They drown out the Father’s voice.
- Deception – like all of Satan’s tools, deception can come in a variety of forms. The most blatant is the one that tells you you’re in charge – you’re calling the shots – you got this. In other words, there is no need for God (there is no god or devil for that matter), you can “go it alone.” Or, perhaps, you think you’re doing all the things God requires (praying, going to church, tithing, volunteering…etc). You strut around like the Elder Brother secure, not in the Lord, but in your good works, believing that the keys of the Kingdom are in your hand. All the while the Father waits for you, longing to take you in his arms and give you rest from your fruitlessness.
- Devour – perhaps through a combination of all the above, or other life circumstances, Satan will swallow you whole. After chasing false Gods, years of accusation, and living a lie, you’re quite tender and easy to chew. You’re ripped away from the Faith and sucked into a world that dangles carrots, promising freedom and riches, milk and honey. But the freedom is a prison. The riches enslave you. The milk is sour. And angry bees swarm the honey.
This is scary stuff. And it’s only a tiny sampling. If you’ve lived any of this then you know what I’m talking about. This isn’t something we can avoid. This is warfare. You will be tempted. You will be accused. You will be deceived. You may even be devoured – now and again.
What are we to do?
We must learn to fight – to fight the good fight of faith.
As Paul reminds Timothy, we must take hold of eternal life. That is, we are to grab on to the reality that the time has come, the Kingdom of God has begun, ushered in by God’s messiah, Jesus. We live in the time of God’s reign, living and bringing Kingdom values to our broken world while we await for the Kingdoms’ final consummation. Christ has fought the ultimate battle, death, and won. We took part in this death. We will take part in the resurrection. We can be confident in this, and thus we can fight with power and humility.
Peter reminds us to resist Satan, standing firm in the faith, and that we can take comfort that the family of believers are suffering in a similar way. Put another way, we’re not alone in this. If you’re not a part of a church community, then you are missing the relational core of God’s plan. His Church – His bride. It’s an extremely intimate metaphor, carrying the weight of God’s love, compassion, and passion for us. It’s also the environment where we can learn and support one another to be able to resist, flee, and fight.
What does this kind of fighting look like? How is it done? Through weakness, humility, grace, compassion, love, hope, and gentleness we do battle. These nice words should not in anyway suggest that this is easy. It’s easy to hurl insults. It’s easy to lash out in anger. It’s entirely different to have Satan come down on you and respond Jesus-like.
In short, we are to flee from ungodliness, but we must turn and face the Accuser and call him out for what he is – a Liar. As White notes, Satan attacks from behind, whispering, “Just think what you could do…what people would say…how you would be admired,…how much power you would have…look, look, LOOK!”. We must turn to face the Accuser calling on the name of the Lord, secure in the knowledge that in Him, we live, and move, and have our being.
King Jesus, not Satan, possesses all authority on heaven and earth.
Now, as far as spiritual struggles that may be opportunities to grow – e.g., whispers from the Holy Spirit, these will come with a sense of conviction. That is, there will be underlying thoughts that say things like, “I wonder if God is trying to tell me something.” Or, “Maybe all my struggling is my own stubbornness, ego, pride”…etc. Or, “Maybe this keeps coming up because God is trying to get my attention”…etc. In short, hard times like these seek to draw us closer to our Father – to restore that relationship – as well as the one with ourselves, with others, and with creation.
While far from exhaustive, I hope this helps in discerning between a demonic attack and an opportunity from the Lord.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson