Once upon a time, there was an evil king out to kill the prophet Elisha. Elisha woke up one morning to discover his city surrounded by a large number of the king’s soldiers, chariots and horses.
Elisha’s assistant was scared – maybe he counted the enemy, figured his slim odds of survival even – and Elisha said the craziest thing to him: “Don’t be afraid.”
“Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
Then he asked God to open his servants eyes to the unseen world around them, to let him see what Elisha saw, and God agreed. All around, the servant saw chariots and horses of fire.
Paul describes Elisha’s situation this way: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
For most of my life I’ve been too rational, too “smart” to believe in invisible bad guys. But then, one day a few years ago, I found myself surrounded, no way out. Diane prayed for me, taught me how to fight what cannot be seen, and my eyes were opened to a new dimension of life.
Most days, I’m aware of that dimension now. But when depression’s darkness enveloped me last month, I lost my spiritual eyesight. I needed to borrow Diane’s once again.
Diane is a motherly figure in my life, petite with an easy smile and kind eyes and a degree in management, not theology or psychology. She has an office at a church but she’s not on staff there. She teaches the bible expertly but isn’t titled “preacher.” She’s a beautiful enigma. Wise, yet humble. Understanding but embracing mystery. She’s at once as soothing as grandmother’s lap and as quietly intense as Dirty Harry. And I’m so glad she’s my friend and mentor.
I went to her office, told her what was happening, how scared I was, how embarrassed and ashamed I felt and she prayed. She asked God for insight and words. Then she spoke to the unseen. She told Satan that he and his “brothers” were not welcome, that they had no legal right to be in the room with us, and she informed them that God loved me and that He was about to set me free.
There was no hesitance in her voice. Just bridled confidence.
Then she spoke directly to Doubt, Fear and Fatigue, three things we both knew I was experiencing so intensely that I would not be able to think and pray for long. She spoke to them not like they were forces or demons in or on me but like they were people in the room with me. She said something like “Doubt, Fear and Fatigue, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth I command you to leave. You have no legal right to Shaun.”
Then we just talked. It was very much like counseling. She asked what I was thinking and feeling, asked follow-up questions, took notes on a legal pad. But, unlike a counselor, she would stop me fairly often, pick out a word or sentence I had spoken, tell me it was a lie or half-truth or accusation. And then she would help me speak to it.
For example, I kept using words like “insignificant”, “meaningless” or “small” to describe myself. She wrote those words down as I spoke them. They stuck out to her. And when I was through talking, she helped me speak to Insignificance. She had me look her in the eyes and repeat what she said. And I meant every word of it. “Insignificance, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth I command you to leave me alone. Go away from me. I do not believe your lie that I am insignificant. With the sword of the Spirit, which is the truth, I sever the unholy tie you have to me. This ends now.”
Then she had me ask God “What is the truth that will set me free from insignificance?” My brain was too confused to have a truthful thought. So we spoke to Confusion. My head cleared. And then I listened again for the truth that would set me free from Insignificance.
I was a blank. So she asked me how I knew I was significant to God. I gave her the pastor answer: “I am in Christ. When God looks at me He sees Christ. He says about me what He said about Jesus: This is my Son. I’m pleased with him.”
She smirked at me as if amused. “Do you love Gresham?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said through tears.
“How would you feel if he said he knew you loved him because, well, he knew you were pleased with him? Is that the depth of your relationship? Is he just what you and Becky made together? Is he just a good boy you’re pleased with? Is that all you want him to know and experience of you?” (I’m paraphrasing here.)
She went on to tell me some things that were very hard to sit and listen to, and even harder for her to say I bet. She told me that my version of God was big, powerful, awe-inspiring and grand but that I experienced Him as being far away. She told me I loved God, that I was a good boy, I obeyed and served him well, but that for some reason I didn’t truly perceive Him as father and friend. He was at arm’s length. “Is that true?” she asked. “Ask God if what I’m telling you is true.”
We talked about how I might have come to view God that way. I did some intense reflection about that one. Many minutes of silence. Lots of tears. Some anger. Confessed disappointments ad hurts. She admitted that God’s greatness and His personal love for me are an illogical paradox. But she showed me in the bible where God, in spite of his size and scope, is still experienced by people and deeply passionately intimately interested and involved in their lives. I knew all of this. But I wasn’t able to believe it and experience it. God Up Close had drifted from being a certain reality to mere theological concept for me over the last few years.
Then she pulled out the bible and had me read Jeremiah 29:11, a verse that, unbeknownst to her, was inscribed by a mentor on a gift he gave me in high school. Then she told me that God didn’t intend for Jeremiah 29:11 to stand on its own, that I needed to read on. So I did: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
“Now,” she said, “What is the truth that will set you free?” And I told her – no, I told Insignificance – that God sings over me like I sing over my children when they’re scared. I told Insignificance that God not only has a big plan for my life as a whole but that He’s involved and with me every day, that He hears me, sees me, knows me and wants to be found by me. I told Insignificance that God is the perfect father and wants my relationship with him to be more than doing his will or knowing he’s pleased.
This sort of thing went on for three hours. Identifying a lie, half-truth or accusation. Speaking to it. Replacing it with the truth. And doing the hard work of reflection and self-dissection to discern why that lie, half-truth or accusation was an effective weapon against me.
The lie of Insignificance, for example, was effective for (at least) two reasons: 1) Because I thought, without realizing it, that my significance to God was built on the same stuff as my significance to other people and 2) Because I’ve had a hard time experiencing God in America after experiencing Him much more vividly and dynamically in the third world over and over again. God, for me, has a third world address and I miss Him when I’m home.
Truth serves two vitally important purposes in spiritual warfare then: Telling the bad guys to go away in the name of Jesus and replacing their work with truth is great. But step two is to understand why those bad guys are the ones who came for me in the first place, why their attack works on me, then fortifying that area of my life with truth.
When I left Diane’s office, my feet were still heavy, I still couldn’t feel any pleasure, I was still technically depressed. I was still sick. But my head was clearer, I felt stronger, I knew I was not abandoned by God, and I even believed God was able to use depression to confirm His love for me and his constant presence. I was in good enough shape to fight the spiritual dimension of my depression without Diane around to feed me the words to pray.
So I continued the same process every day, all day, and will continue it now when I’m aware that I’m believing lies. It can be a mentally exhausting war when dozens of aberrant thoughts are coming at me all at once. But with the help of close friends like Diane and my family – especially Becky – I made it out better than before and will continue to push back the big and small lies in life. It works.
All my problems don’t go away when we fight like this. But I notice my thoughts and desires change. As one is replaced with truth, a new one takes its place. But God never leaves me, never stops helping me name my enemies and talk to them, never leaves me without a truth with which to replace them. And eventually, Satan just runs out of bad guys expert at exploiting my present weaknesses and insecurities. Resist the devil and he will flee, the bible says. And it’s true.
I do not believe, as some Christians do, that I have any power against Satan or any chance of defeating him apart from the power of God and the authority of Jesus. I believe that as the angel Michael had to use God’s name and power to defeat Satan, so do I. I have no authority apart from Jesus’. I have no power but God’s. I’m simply what Paul called God’s ambassador. I take with me the authority of my King wherever I go. Evil respects that authority because it’s backed up by the irresistible power of God.
Lastly, I do not believe that every sickness or bad day is demonic. But I do believe every lie, half-truth and false accusation can be traced back to Satan. And I believe not being aware of them and not addressing them with truth is dangerous. It wreaks havoc on us physically, spiritually, mentally and relationally. And it keeps us from experiencing one manifestation of God’s love and protection.
So, I pray your eyes are opened. See the lies, half-truths and accusations. Then, resist them. Take every thought captive. Replace them with truth. Fight. Stand your ground.
And the devil will flee.