FAD VERSUS REALITY
Some Christians give the devil too much credit. Others don't give him enough. If one-third of the millions of angelic entities "fell" into "dis-grace" with their Creator, under the head huncho of Lucifer, the brilliant angel of light, we humans face a formidable army, assuming that not one of these entities are unemployed. But the Bible points out that this spiritual war theater has three fronts: 1. Our "flesh" (humanness, as in "We have met the enemy and they are us.") 2. The world (the humanness of others, animated by destructive politics, ego wars, hatred, jealousy, self-centeredness, vindictiveness.) 3. The armies of the night. (See above.) If we are busy fighting our own natures, self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, addictions, inner conflicts, and if we are busy fighting each other, then the armies of the night can focus their attention elsewhere. We didn't win the cold war against the once powerful Communist block of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Their system collapsed from within as we watched. We have all watched organizations and individuals collapse with no help from the devil as well.
If we are truly to wage war against the satanic powers (and it doesn't matter for purposes of this article whether you perceive spiritual warfare as metaphorical or "real"), then we must "put on the full armor of God" (Ephesians.) A weak body cannot carry full armor. Warriors must train vigilantly. They cannot be fighting on all three fronts at once. But spiritual warfare has taken on a fad aspect and too many are putting on armor over bodies that are still fighting inner conflicts. They haven't recognized that they must stop the war between their human natures and the Christlike nature…that they must separate themselves from the world…deny themselves, embrace their weakness so that the true power and strength of the baptism of the Holy Spirit can live in and through them.
The heaviest armor most people, as a result, can wear without falling over on their own faces before reaching the battlefield is plastic wrap. Their weapons are misused charicatures of sacramental elements and ancient symbols that have been modernized into the "New Age". Holy water, blue corn meal, crystals, crosses, incantations, hand gestures and other symbols of divine power are raised to the level of idolatry. These become idolatrous because people trust in them more than the power of the Holy Spirit. Worse, many have replaced the power of the Spirit with these things. As a friend of mine remarked, "They know the word of God, but forgot the God of the word." They know about the power of God, but neglect the God of the power. All this is to the great amusement of Satan. Devils do have a twisted sense of humor. The sons of Sceva bring smiles to even human faces.
Some Jewish men started going around trying to force out evil spirits by using the name of the Lord Jesus. They said to the spirits, "Come out in the name of that same Jesus that Paul preaches about!" Seven sons of a high priest named Sceva were doing this, when an evil spirit said to them, "I know Jesus! And I have heard about Paul. But who are you?" Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them and beat them up. They ran out of the house, naked and bruised. (Acts 19:13-16.) Not being there and unable to witness the tone of the evil spirit, we don't know if the response was humorous sarcasm ("Who are you, you nobody wanna-be-exorcist?") or genuine unrecognition ("Hey, we don't know you, so let's find out who you really are and what you can really do.") "Am I known in heaven, to the Holy Spirit and the angelic hosts?" is a good question to ask oneself. "Am I known in hell, to Satan and the demonic hosts?" is another good question. A yes to both questions is good. Unknown to the Holy Spirit, you are spiritually dead (and physical death will come sooner or later.) Unknown to Satan and his emissaries, you are not a threat to the strongholds of evil. Sad on both accounts.
We must also have the devils on the floor rolling with laughter at our spiritual warfare games. Many of us must look like silly kids running around with styrofoam helmets and plastic swords yelling orders to the armies of night, needing to take frequent breaks to argue among ourselves about strategies and needing to take many days off because we just don't have time with all the stuff we got to do with the house and work, etc.
Popular psychology and New Age perspectives have encroached upon apostolic Christianity. They can be summed up in four parts: 1. You deserve abundance, and God, all loving, wants that for you, to have it all, now. 2. You are instant children of God, so you are instantly entitled to all the divine gifts, powers, and blessings. 3. Satan is a construct of your own fears. Victory over your fears makes Satan an illusion, like an anti-Santa Claus. 4. Whether you think of Satan as a metaphor of your own demons or an independent outside power, don't accept it. "Just say no!" What you don't accept won't be real for you.
In contrast, here are the tenants of classical or apostolic (not "fundamental", which has taken on an independent meaning) Christianity: 1. You were born in sin but redeemed out of love. Your response to God is praise, gratitude and servitude, not expectation of power, blessings and gifts. 2. Your body/soul/spirit is the temple of the Holy Spirit, bought at an incomprehensible price. It belongs to the Creator, not "you". 3. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is for the purpose of furthering the Gospel. You are an ambassador of His kingdom. Ambassadors do not work for themselves, but for their homeland. 4.) Your duty is to live in self-denial, vigilance, constant prayer, and daily self-crucifixion with the Christ, daily filling of the Holy Spirit. To love God with all your heart, mind and strength; to love others as yourself.
So which is more appealing us? Rather, which is more appealing to the human ego and which is more appealing to the reborn spiritual self? Are these still at war in you? Then don't prepare for battle with Satan quite yet. The great danger of the "fad" aspect of spiritual warfare is that we have made it quite trivial. Like others before us who were beat up by the emissaries of Satan, we believe that we have authority over evil just by virtue of our redemption. Not so. We must grow into warriors. We must first wean off the milk described in the Book of Hebrews and get on solid food. Again, it doesn't matter whether you interpret my words as a metaphor for your idea of what "Satan" is or perceive Satan as an entity as reality independent of your perception, as you might your guardian angel or spirit-helpers. If we were to encounter a full blown assault of satanic rage and attack, many of us would be running for our lives in terror. Many would drop the crystals, holy water, incense and oils, medals and crosses, even our Bibles, and not even look back. We cannot imagine the cunning fury of an all out assault! So why haven't we experienced this level of assault yet? Because of good strategy. It's about the old story of how to cook live frogs. Don't throw them into a boiling water pot, or, as I just mentioned, they will jump out for their lives. Just put them into a cool pot and get comfy. Slowly turn up the heat. When you study the book of Revelations, you'll see that's the strategy. Before we realize it, unless we are paying very close attention, we are cooked.
Unfortunately, there is another reason why we are yet spared a full satanic assault. The army of the night is having too much fun watching us and doesn't want to stop their amusement. Jude writes: The people I am talking about are behaving like those dreamers, who destroyed their own bodies. They reject all authority and insult angels. Even Michael, the chief angel, didn't dare to insult the devil, when the two of them were arguing about the body of Moses. All Michael said was, "The Lord will punish you!" But these people insult powers they don't know anything about. They are like senseless animals that end up getting destroyed because they live only by their feelings. (Jude 8-9.) Did you get that? Even the chief of the heavenly hosts didn't dare speak for himself to the chief of the demonic hosts. He merely invoked God's name. We should follow such a fine example. But many don't. There is no need for a full satanic assault when we are doing just fine weakening ourselves.
Also note something interesting in the above scripture…a centuries old warning about living only by our feelings. But that is our modern psychology mantra! Opinion we argue. We challenge thinking. But when someone says, "I feel…" then we are taught that this is sacred. After all, we can't argue with feelings, can we? Or can't we? "I feel you are wrong," I feel you should…", etc., are not feelings, but thoughts and opinions. As noted above, the scriptures teach we are not to be guided by feelings, but by obligations, commandments, and spiritual imperatives regardless if we feel like it. "Love God…" is a commandment, a decision, not a feeling resulting from getting candy from God. Then when we get no candy, but a challenge, a reprimand, a kick, we, like little kids, question His love for us. "Oh, God, I don't feel loved by you!" God's answer, "Keep my commandments anyway. All else will follow."
Spiritual warfare (or any kind) is not for wimps! Nor for weekend warriors when they have time. If someone approached me with an obvious water pistol demanding my money, my immediate response would be laughter. This, of course, would get the guy more uptight and determined. He might say, "Hey mister, don't you know this is loaded with magical water?" In some cultures that just might work. As for me, I would now probably be on the ground having the greatest laugh of the week. Our sacraments and symbols of power are reminders of the true power of the Holy Spirit, which we can access in humility and gratitude. They are not to be confused with and used as the "real" thing, the real source of power.
So what about our "strongholds" of spiritual warfare, the churches? There is a new trend: "Church growth" is replacing "evangelism." As anyone just experiencing spiritual rebirth, these converts need to start feeding on the milk of the Gospel. As anyone growing, they soon will need solid food. After years, many altars are still lined with milk bottles. These new converts still require tremendous mothering. So Sunday after Sunday, many sermons still echo the same basic themes. The incomprehensible resources of the kingdom of God aren't being tapped. Spiritual warriors are not being groomed by many churches. They are still too busy parenting and dishing out the milk.
This is applauded by God's children. Rightfully so. A generation of spiritual baby-boomers is cause of rejoicing in the heavens. Ten years later, however, if all these babies are still babies, there is cause for concern. Paul expressed that frustration in the book of Hebrews. Jesus also expressed frustration and annoyance with His own disciples, remarking, "How long must I put up with you!" The second concern is the drain on the churches' resources in the need to continually cultivate spiritual growth with little return. Our churches need to also be cultivating powerful spiritual leaders, and not just a few of them…but rather as many of them as there are new baby converts. As in the physical world, the ratio between spiritual toddlers and mature adults in spiritual development should be roughly equal, assuming most toddlers grow up into productive adults. The "stay-at-home-moms" are vital to our children's growth. But this job is only temporary. The children grow up. Then the caretaker/nurturer and the child can join the world of productive leaders and contributors. Unless something is wrong with the child.
Why are so many of His children still at the toddler stage after five, ten, fifteen years of their rebirth into His kingdom? Why aren't we doing greater works than Jesus, as He said we would? Why do so many pastors substitute evangelism with "marketing"? Why don't they dare to continue services past noon on Sundays? Why don't they dare to hold services between 1 and 3 PM on Sundays? Why do they cater to the convenience of the people? Why does corporate worship of our Creator take second place to the convenience of the people? Because otherwise our churches would be just about empty. Sad that our spiritual lives are inconvenient!
Sad that we must "squeeze" our spiritual practices in between everything else. Sad that some churches are catering to this out of fear of losing their "church growth", to the point that there are now "drive-in" church services like the old drive-in movies where you don't even need to leave your car! How convenient.
Peter told them many other things as well. Then he said, "I beg you to save yourselves from what will happen to all these evil people." On that day about three thousand believed his message and were baptized. They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They broke bread and prayed together. (Acts 2:40-42.) This event indicated a massive descent of the Holy Spirit. This was not the first one, which occurred on the now celebrated day of Pentecost. The infusion of the Holy Spirit seems to be a processes, ongoing, reoccurring, not a singular event good for one's entire life…for only a little while later, it happened again.
Show us your mighty power, as we heal people and work miracles and wonders in the name of your holy Servant, Jesus. After they prayed, the meeting place shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and bravely spoke God's message. (Acts 4:30-31.) Please notice the interplay between prayer and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. While the scriptures are clear that the Holy Spirit wishes, beyond our appreciation, to indwell within us and does, they are also clear that the "filling" of the Spirit which leads to the manifestation of prayer on the physical level isn't a constant thing. The book of Acts describes how certain apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit at certain times, when needed or prayed for. Other times, the Holy Spirit seemed absent, for the early church leaders had their humanly-based disputes and personal huffs among themselves.
What is the final point? I contend that spiritual warfare is real. Even if you still insist on a metaphorical perspective of evil, remember that metaphors are real too. (A sunrise is a very real experience, although it is only an illusion. The sun never rises, but rather just hangs out in space 93 million miles away.) What the powers of darkness do not want is for spiritual newborns babies to grow up and have an impact on our world institutions and governments.
Some Christians will argue that evangelism is priority, that the Gospel must be preached throughout the entire world before Christ will make His Second Coming. Christians are doing a good and noble job. The Holy Spirit has already taken care of making sure the job gets done: I saw another angel. This one was flying across the sky and had the eternal good news to announce to the people of every race, tribe, language, and nation on earth. The angel shouted, "Worship and honor God! The time has come for Him to judge everyone. Kneel down before the One Who created heaven and earth, the oceans and every stream. (Rev. 14:6-7.)
So who will finish the job of making spiritual leaders and warriors from babies in Christ? The Holy Spirit of course. But note the angel in Revelations didn't force conversion or embracing of the Creator. He called for it. The Holy Spirit is standing by, waiting for our call to Him.
Our Creator is so respectful of His creation He endowed us all with free will. He doesn't force. He stands by in incomprehensible love. Waiting. Anxiously waiting to fill us. What is the form of our call to Him? PRAYER. I asked my son what his estimation of the average person's time in prayer per day. He was astonishingly astute with his answer: About 30 seconds. Prayer life is so crucial to spiritual development and getting off the milk onto solid food. People serious about getting physically strong are in the gym four to six times per week. An hour or two at a shot. They find the time. They rearrange their lives around achieving their goals. Musicians, martial artists, dancers, professionals practicing their art, all devote this time and energy. They know there is no other way toward perfection. We, as Christians, are commanded to seek perfection, but that cannot be done by trying to jam the discipline of prayer into our tiny blocks of convenience.
Our National Guard trains one weekend per month plus 2 weeks per year. Given the pressures of the types of duties thrust upon them, that doesn’t seem enough. But since I am not in that business, I can't really say. I do have a say in this one: Our call to the Holy Spirit and armor for spiritual warfare is through prayer. My call is for increased prayer. Let us follow the instructions outlined in Ephesians, to pray constantly, especially for others, in the power of the Holy Spirit. "Seek first the kingdom, then all else will be provided."
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services © June, 1999
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com
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