I am under attack.
So are you.
I don’t mean a physical assault. I’m talking about something much harder to detect but just as real. It’s called spiritual warfare, and it happens when ungodly forces seek to do no less than harm our spiritual selves.
I don’t actually remember the first time I’d heard it called “spiritual warfare”, but I know I have been dealing with it for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to have a recurring nightmare, where I lay paralyzed in my bed while something…evil…lurked in the corner of my bedroom. Weird thing is, I was never really sure where the dream ended and reality began.
It’d go like this: I’d be sleeping and would suddenly feel like I couldn’t breathe. I would open my eyes and try to inhale but could only take shallow breaths. I would try to wiggle something, but nothing would move.
Then, from the corner, came a deep growl–like laugh, and I could hear something making a “swooshing” noise, like a whip going back and forth. I could never really see anything but shadows and flickers of light. It didn’t matter; I knew something was in the room with me.
Being in Catholic school at the time, the only prayer I could come up with was “Hail Mary”. Ironic, now that I think about it. I’d say it over and over in my head, until I could breathe or could wiggle something. Once, I could move, I’d jump out of bed and turn on the light. Nothing. Of course.
It felt so real, though.
The dream stopped after I moved out of my parents’ home, but the attack on my mind continued. It’s just that now I know the deal, and I don’t scare so easily.
I’m not saying that satan is some stereotypical, muscular, red satyr that will haunt you in your dreams (unless that’s what scares you). I’m saying satan is real and will use your fears against you. Those fears can paralyze your life, freeze your ability to keep moving forward and, ultimately, suffocate your hopes and dreams.
Satan is always engaging you in battle. Be prepared.
Know your enemy…
Paul says in Ephesians 6:12:
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places.
The interesting thing to me, about this passage, is that Paul had to know it to write it. In other words, he was not relying on the Bible to confirm that spiritual warfare exists. He lived it. He felt it. He experienced it. Paul was warning the church of Ephesus, and, by proxy, us, about it.
Another thought occurred to me, while reading this passage. Why would Paul have to explain this to them? Were they aware of the spiritual adversary? Hadn’t they experienced the presence of evil, too?
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” -Verbal Kint (Usual Suspects)
And a great trick it is. What a cunning battle strategy. You can’t fight, let alone win, a battle you don’t even know exists. Even considering that we have a spiritual adversary gets funny looks and stifled snickers. It’s downplayed as a Stephen King character or metaphorical rhetoric. Either way, the strategy is effective, and our guard is down.
And when our guard is down, we expose our vulnerabilities.
Dress for battle…
While it is true that we are physical beings, we are also spiritual beings. As physical beings, we guard and care for ourselves. We wear appropriate clothing to protect ourselves from the elements. We eat food to sustain ourselves. We sleep and rest when we’re tired. We try to avoid dangerous people and places and, when we have to, defend ourselves to prevent harm.
Spiritual warfare is the same thing, just in a spiritual sense. We wear the proper armor for protection (Ephesians 6:12). We take in the spiritual food on a regular basis to keep our spirits strong and healthy. We learn how to enter the rest of God to rejuvenate. (Hebrews 4:11). We avoid spiritually dangerous places and learn to defend ourselves, when necessary (1 Peter 5:8).
First, for the purpose of the article, let’s focus on, our clothing, the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). I could talk all day about this. I absolutely love this chapter in the Bible. But, for now, let’s just hit the highlights. Paul uses the illustration of a soldier’s armor to describe the spiritual principles we use in “immortal combat”. So, let’s run through them:
Belt of truth: Having and holding to moral integrity, courage and ethics. A belt holds all of the armor in place and keeps it secure.
Breastplate of righteousness: Keeping good motives, resisting temptation and maintaining honesty. The breastplate covers the chest, back, upper arms and upper thighs.
Foot straps: In other words, your “shoes of peace”. It is the ability to draw your inner peace from the good news of Jesus versus relying on the conditional peace the world offers. Shoes help us to stand steady and balanced on rough terrain and to endure a long journey.
Shield of faith: Actively trusting and relying on God to protect us from the things that come against us. This doesn’t mean nothing can hurt us or that trouble won’t come. It means that when trouble comes, we will have guidance and favor through it all (Isaiah 54:17). Shields are typically very heavy and require practice to use effectively.
Helmet of salvation: Many people confuse fact with truth. Facts are snippets or pieces of truth and can be used to support a lie. The truth is whole and lacks nothing. The helmet of salvation, understanding and being confident in the truth of Christ, protects against attacks of the mind. A helmet protects the head and face. Head shots are usually lethal.
Sword of the Spirit: The Word of God. When satan engaged Jesus in battle, Jesus used Scripture to respond to temptation. We, too, are to use Scripture verses to combat lies with truth.
Paul encourages us to use all of the armor, all of the time.
Lastly, fight. Fight with all your might. If you fall, get up. If you get hit…correction…when you get hit, keep going. It is a battle, and it is not easy, but you can do this. How does one fight? Really, I think it’s probably a little different for everyone, but here are some things I try to remember.
Pray in all situations about everything. Pray about how to respond when someone attacks your sexuality and your relationship with God. Pray about how to cope with temptation and addiction. Pray about how to be released from stress and anxiety. Pray for discernment and clarity.
Now, this part is important: Prayer does not just mean you tell God what’s wrong and wait for a healing or the answer to fall in your lap. Prayer is a constant conversation you have with God. It is a dialogue which involves listening, as well as talking. If God leads you to a therapist to deal with an addiction or an abusive relationship, go.
If you feel God leading you to break off a toxic friendship or distance yourself from an unhealthy family member, do it. Don’t always expect the answer you request to be the one you receive. Be brave and trusting enough to walk the path the God shows you.
If you make a mistake or misunderstand, don’t worry. We all do. That’s part of the process of learning how to communicate with God.
Part of satan’s battle strategy is to throw wave after wave of trials at you, to get you emotionally and mentally tired. Learn the art of perseverance. It’s like learning to surf on those waves. You go from drowning to gliding. Yeah, sometimes you still wipe out and crash. But, that’s the thing: Everyone crashes. Everyone. Just pick yourself up and try again.
Bottom line, never give up.
In your quiet time with God, try using these conversation starters:
- God, what piece of my armor is missing?
- Where is satan attacking me? How can I protect myself?
- God, I feel under attack in my _________ (i.e body, finances, mental health, family, employment etc)
- Lord, I am tired, and I feel I am losing the battle. What should I do?
- Lord, my ________ (name the piece of armor) is not intact. I am vulnerable here. How do I learn to protect myself?