This article is about spiritual warfare, which sounds exciting, but is simply a form of prayer. This follows on from my previous blog posting, Deliver us from Evil, The two articles stand together and are best read in order (this one second).
I’m writing this during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic when the whole world is anxious and many Christians are talking about ‘spiritual warfare’. All prayer is good, but not all types of prayer are right for everyone. This unseen virus offers a metaphor for the forces to be fought in spiritual warfare. But we must be selective. Those who are called to this kind of prayer should beware of laying guilt on others who don’t have that calling. Spiritual warfare is not for everyone. Don’t underestimate the power of those forces. God provides strength for the battle, but He doesn’t want volunteers. He selects conscripts. Ancient principles govern who should go into battle. Moses[i] told his officers to reject any recruit who had:
- Built a new house and not yet moved in
- Planted a vineyard and not yet enjoyed its first harvest
- Got engaged and not yet married
- Felt afraid or faint- hearted
Moses was talking to an ancient society that lived in a rural setting, but the underlying principles still stand. Warfare demands such a commitment that anyone who is not fit, or who is committed to some other essential work, is probably not called to spiritual warfare. Are you committed to duties that demand your full attention? Do you have responsibilities that weigh you down? Are you new in the faith? Are you fearful? Then count yourself out – and don’t feel guilty about it. God accepts you as you are. But you haven’t really resigned. We’re all in this battle. Keep praying for those who stand in the front line.
Do you sense God calling you to this kind of prayer? Start by testing the call. If you felt called to mission work in a notoriously repressive and anti-Christian country you would count the cost. The question isn’t whether you feel called, but whether you are called. Remember that God wants conscripts, not volunteers. If you are called, are you also prepared? When facing such enemies, we must equip ourselves with the armour of God.
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:14-17 NIVUK)
Paul’s first advice is to stand. We’re not told to chase demons, or search for them. We don’t meet them in pursuit, but in prayer. We stand on truth, because their chief weapons are lies[ii]. They are accusers[iii], and like to remind us of our failings – but the truth is that God has forgiven our sins. We can strengthen ourselves by cultivating righteousness[iv], we reassure ourselves with the gospel of truth, and arm ourselves with the shield of faith. The language is colourful, but thought provoking, because we are facing a desperate enemy. Every distracting thought, feeling of guilt, or false sense of inferiority is aimed at discouraging us and turning us back. But faith enables us to hold firm, anchored in the promises of God. For salvation, read the hope of salvation[v] – the reassuring certainty that God accepts us and is on our side. When Jesus faced the Devil in the wilderness, he demonstrated how to use the word of God to ward off attacks[vi]. Importantly, this passage about the armour is followed by a call to pray for one another – and Paul included himself among those needing prayer. We may be experienced, but we need one another.
The armour of God includes five protective items and a sword. Circumstances tipped David into fighting before he was properly armed. He went out to face Goliath with just five stones and a sling. The giant taunted him to draw nearer for hand-to-hand battle. But David had the sense to keep his distance, fire off a long-range shot, and stand ready to run (he wouldn’t have time to load a second shot. But God only needed one stone). If somehow, we are forced early into spiritual conflict, we must like David rely on swiftness and simplicity, trusting solely in the grace of God. But it’s best to take time and prepare well. Armour can’t be put on in a hurry. This is not a work to be taken lightly. Pride and self-confidence won’t help in spiritual warfare. Those who are called to this kind of prayer need to prepare themselves patiently and thoroughly.
Shouting is not a valid weapon – it’s a sign of weakness and displays fear. Jesus rebuked demons “with a word”[vii], and each New Testament example of engagement with evil forces was accomplished in calm tones – and the same applies to prayer for the nations. Calmness is the voice of faith. Chapter ten of the book of Daniel gives us a clear illustration of spiritual warfare, and its most prominent feature was patience. Daniel prayed intensely for three weeks during which nothing seemed to be happening. God may call us to pray for days, weeks, months, or years with no apparent results – but battle may be raging in unseen realms. Daniel was praying alone, but he didn’t face the enemy directly. This is trench warfare – shells may explode around us but, much of the time, we are waiting, fighting boredom rather than demons, grasping at every piece of intelligence, never quite sure what’s really happening out there. In truth, we are not the ones who engage with the enemy. Angelic forces are the artillery, supported by our prayers. Down in the trenches we need to be vigilant, always fully armed and constantly alert to the issues.
A calling to spiritual warfare is not a mark of distinction. It may come to people who have been long engaged in active Christian service, or to people who sense that call from the early days of their walk with God. Either way, it’s neither a retirement nor a promotion. Prayer is a personal commitment to be carried on humbly, persistently, unseen, and usually in secret. Are you called? Are you armed? Are you ready? Are you fit to fight?