Category Archives: Spiritual warfare

Where your headquarters should be

fortressAt Grace Church we support a ministry called AIM (Agape International Missions), an organization devoted to abolishing sex trafficking in our generation. A number of years ago AIM shut down a horrifying brothel in Svay Pak, Cambodia where young, elementary age girls were employed as sex slaves. In the center of the brothel—the place where virgin girls were kept—there was a brightly painted room called The Pink Room. Through a series of powerful events AIM was able to shut down the brothel and tear apart The Pink Room, and today the former Pink Room is now a part of their ministerial headquarters!

Before King David could set up his headquarters in the city of Jerusalem he too had to drive out some enemy occupants. The Jebusites, entrenched in their Jerusalem stronghold, had defied Israel for many decades until David came along and dispossessed them (2 Samuel 5:7).

Often, strategic centers for mercy, truth, and justice have to be taken before they can be occupied.

I wonder where your headquarters needs to be established?

You might not need to convert a brothel or evict an army from a mountaintop, but you still need a place to set up shop. You need a command center, from which you will conduct your ministry to the world. Perhaps that place is a former stronghold in your life. Perhaps your ministry will flow from an area of former weakness.

  • If your marriage has suffered, perhaps it’s marriage ministry.
  • If you’ve struggled with dishonesty, perhaps it’s a new life of integrity.
  • If you’ve been addicted, perhaps you will bring freedom to others.
  • If you’ve floundered as a parent, maybe you’ll turn a fresh page.

Regardless of its nature, we all have areas in our character and our story that need to be renovated and re-purposed, and sometimes our internal strongholds are harder to defeat than external ones. The proverbs writer said, “He who rules his spirit (is better than) he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32 NASB).

Let’s add our story to that of AIM’s and King David’s…let’s be men and women who rule our spirits, capture our strongholds, and use those places as beachheads for the glory of God.

Distracted on Saturday depressed on Sunday

punching-bag discouragementPreachers, teachers, and pastors often express a nearly universal weekend sentiment: they are distracted on Saturday and depressed on Sunday. The pre-preaching preparations start to settle over them by mid-afternoon on Saturday, and the post-preaching depressions start kicking in shortly after their services end on Sunday.

This isn’t always the case of course. Indeed some of our Saturday nights are peaceful and fun, and some Sunday mornings leave us feeling bold and inspired. Unfortunately though, that’s not usually the norm. Usually for us pastors, varying levels of distraction and discouragement mark our weekends.

The distraction and discouragement aren’t inherently bad things—after all, we’re excited to preach and we want to positively impact our hearers—and they can be useful tools to help us grow and draw us deeper into God’s presence and perspective. However, if they’re allowed to gain too great a hold on us, they will inevitably take us out. We will turn too much of our focus inward and we’ll lose precious time with family and friends. We will be present but absent at the same time, and instead of celebrating what God is doing, we will end up fixating on ourselves.

Fortunately, there is a remedy, but you have to love boxing to understand it. It’s called the counterpunch, wherein a fighter throws a swift, countering blow right into the middle of his or her opponent’s barrage. It’s how Evander Holyfield KO’d Mike Tyson back in 1996. A 25 – 1 underdog, Holyfield counterpunched Tyson into submission, ultimately scoring the greatest upset in boxing history. It’s how Floyd Mayweather Jr. has remained undefeated in 49 professional fights.

The counterpunching strategy is simple. When hit, hit. When pushed, push back. Pray. Read a Scripture. Speak truth to yourself. Say out loud that you are rejecting the discouraging lies of the enemy. Pray for someone else. Go for a run. Do something to shake the wet blanket of distracting discouragement, so you can get back in the saddle and carry on.

Although directed at a pastoral dynamic, this post applies to all of us. Whatever your vulnerability is and however and whenever you get hit there—hit back. Counterpunch. It’s the path to boxing upsets and victory in spiritual warfare.

The twin six-shooters of spiritual warfare

lone rangerAre you old enough to remember the original Lone Ranger? In addition to the mystique of his mask, his horse, Silver, and his best friend, Tonto, I always loved his twin six-shooters.

The bad guys usually only had one gun, while Tonto, had one gun plus a knife. The Lone Ranger, however, always carried two. He could draw twin guns and pepper the enemy with silver bullets from two barrels simultaneously. If one gun missed, the other hit the mark. If one gun ran out of ammo, the other one still had a shell left in the chamber.

It’s a pretty good metaphor for how we approach spiritual warfare.

The Bible identifies Satan as “the accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Revelation 12:10) and as “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and the most fertile landing strip for demonic lies and accusations is in our human relationships. When hurts, misunderstandings, or offenses arise, spiritual warfare—demonically induced activity and agitation—are not far behind.

We know that we are under spiritual attack when our minds keep ruminating about worst-case scenarios, vendetta-laced conversations, and when we fail to trust our friends or give them the benefit of the doubt. Unchecked spiritual warfare, landing on real-life hurts and misunderstandings, can sink even the most solid of relationships.

So what are the twin six-shooters that can curb the assault and bring the enemy down?

The first is spiritual—prayer, the proclamation of Scripture, and a faith-filled resistance of the warfare. And the second is natural—taking all practical, necessary steps to repair and heal the relationship. It’s amazing how natural practices like humility, truth, and repentance can neutralize the spiritual power of demonic forces.

Spiritual warfare is not all spiritual; it is also very natural. Consequently, we need both a spiritual and a natural six-shooter to bring it down.

Choking what chokes you

prince phillipDo you remember the epic scene from Sleeping Beauty when Prince Phillip cuts and hacks his way through the enchanted wall of thorns in his efforts to reach the princess?

It’s an inspiring, stirring thing to watch him battle past the very elements that were bent on choking the life from him.

And have you also noticed that choking scenes show up in nearly every action film? Invariably, there is a scene where the good guy and the bad guy start grappling on the ground, each looking to strangle the other. In some versions of these choking scenes one of the assailants holds a knife and attempts to slowly drive it through his opponent’s temple.

But whether it involves knives or knuckles, there is a predictable moment in every action flick when the hero gets choked.

The same is true in your life.

In Mark 4 Jesus warns us that the worries and cares of this life would love nothing more than to throw a full nelson chokehold around our necks and slowly suffocate us. He goes on to tell us that if we fail to break free from their grip, the very word of God can be stolen away.

It’s important that we push back. It could save our spiritual lives to remember that busyness, stress, and overcrowded schedules are not merely annoying inconveniences—they’re chokeholds bent on strangling our life and suffocating our word.

Let’s be Prince Phillip. Do you remember what his sword was called? The fairies named his weapon, “the Sword of Truth” and with it he struck back, choking the very things that wanted to choke him. Let’s take charge of our lives and do the same.

Preaching among lions (for pastors and ministry leaders)

lionsDo you preachers and ministry leaders remember the obscure, 2 Kings 17 story about the priest who was recruited to preach among lions?

The story goes like this. The Israelites had been defeated in war and subsequently deported to Assyria; however, when the Assyrians moved into Israel to replace them, they were attacked and mauled by marauding lions. Their post-mauling conclusion was that they were being victimized since they “did not know the custom of the god of the land” (verse 26).

To counter this, they recalled a deported priest who could teach them the customs of the God of Israel in the middle of their lion-infested cities.

It’s an interesting story…and it just might sound like the context of your ministry.

Every preacher and ministry leader must do his or her preaching and teaching among lions.

  • There are lions that attack our people, threatening to overwhelm and discourage their faith.
  • There are lions of busyness, stress, and general disinterest in our message.
  • There are lions of conflicting worldviews that are blatantly hostile to the Gospel story.
  • And there are lions of spiritual warfare that descend on us in waves of discouragement, apprehension, and intimidation.

The thing to remember about lions though is that they’re the perfect backdrops for God’s power.

Hebrews 11:33-34 gloriously reminds us that through faith there were those who “shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength and who became powerful in battle.”

Let’s not lose heart. Let’s keep a vision of God’s power in front of us. It’s really quite an honor to preach and teach among lions.

Don’t Forget Pastor Saeed

pastor saeedToday’s constant barrage of crisis-fueled news reports combined with the mind-numbing effects that statistics can have on the human brain can sometimes make us forget some things that need to be remembered. Pastor Saeed Abedini is one of them.

It is likely that you’re familiar with the story of this Iranian-American Christian pastor who was arrested for planting Christian house churches in Iran. He was arrested for propagating the Christian religion, not for being involved in any other sort of criminal activities, and he has been held in prison for approximately eighteen months, separated from his wife and children.

His mistreatment has been significant and his physical condition has deteriorated accordingly. Please be praying for a divine intervention on his behalf.

The annual Bible reading schedule that we follow here at Grace Church currently has us in the book of Acts, which contains multiple stories of angel-led jail breaks. Both Peter and Paul were the beneficiaries of this angelic activity and were miraculously rescued from their bonds. (Acts 5:17-20; 12:5-7; 16:25-27)

Whether Saeed’s angel takes the form of Iranian government officials, prayerful Christians, or literal angels from heaven, let’s remember him and his family and stake ourselves to their need in prayer.

“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5).

“Resist him (Satan), standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9b).

The Blues Brothers

blues brothersDid I please God? Did I preach well? Was I thorough enough without being too deep, and fun enough without being too shallow? Did I make a difference? Did I strengthen anyone’s faith? Did hell shudder? Or did I just facilitate a colossal waste of everyone’s time?

I’m not sure what kind of thoughts stir in you after a significant effort in your job, but these types of questions frequently plague us pastors in the aftermath of weekend church services. If we’re not careful, these questions will overwhelm us until we sink into states of excessive self-evaluation, skewed perspectives, exaggerated feelings of failure or inadequacy, and an overall case of the blues.

In these moments pastors need to remember several things:

  1. Their bodies are recovering from an adrenaline spike and crash
  2. Their hearts are recovering from being worn on their sleeves in front of potentially mixed responses
  3. Their souls are experiencing spiritual warfare in the form of aerial discouragement assaults
  4. And God is calling them deeper

Beneath the highs, lows, successes, and failures of church ministry, God is beckoning His servant-leaders to stay connected to what really matters. He is calling His ministers to remember that God is not limited to either our strengths or our weaknesses. The church, the people, and the world are HIS responsibility—ours is to faithfully love and serve them. Spirit-led, Spirit-powered ministry will produce “fruit that remains” if we don’t give up.

Just as pastors need to identify the anatomy of their discouragement patterns, so you might need to make some assessments too. What triggers your discouragement? What are its messages? What happens to you if you indulge in it? And what is God’s deeper message to you?

If you need to sleep, sleep. If you need therapy, get it. But at the end of the day, climb back in the saddle and remember Paul’s faith-filled words to Titus on the island of Crete: “For this reason I left you in Crete that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city…” (Titus 1:5).

There is a purpose in our current assignment—whether inside or outside of the church—and our calling is to carry on until that purpose is a reality (and elders can be found on every street corner).