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Spiritual Warfare is the struggle against demonic forces that are trying to harm or destroy us. It is the starting place for really understanding mental illness. Without the knowledge that there really is a Devil (and a multitude of demons), you will never understand what is happening to you, or why it is happening.
If you are unsaved, you have no ability to be victorious over Satan. It is necessary to first get saved.
There is a war going on between two invisible kingdoms, between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the Devil. The Bible states: “The thief (i.e., the Devil) does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:9-10 NKJV).”
We are in a spiritual battle with the forces of darkness. It is God’s will that we be successful in this battle—not that we be spared from it. Going through trials is necessary to build your faith, demonstrate your fidelity to God and develop your Christian character.
To simplify, when I use the term “Devil” or “Satan," I mean the activities of Satan and/or demons. This applies to all articles published on this site.
Satan is not equal with God. God is infinitely more intelligent and powerful. Once we became saved, we also became indwelled with the Holy Spirit. This indwelling makes it possible for us to be victorious over Satan. Satan is wiser and more powerful than man, but man—indwelled by the Holy Spirit—can defeat the Devil. The Bible tells us how we can be victorious.
I'll start with this Scripture: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8 NIV)." The Devil is the adversary of every Christian. The battleground is primarily in your mind. Satan will try to hurt you in any way he can. However, his power is limited; he can only do what God allows. (e.g. Job 1:1-12).
Here are some common things that the Devil does: He may put disturbing, discouraging and/or destructive thoughts into your mind (Examples: “It’s hopeless.” “You’re a loser.” “I want to kill myself.” “I want to get high.”).
Satan can put evil, violent, gross, perverted, jealous, critical or foolish thoughts into your mind. He can seek to get you to dwell on an unpleasant event such that you become angry, worried and/or depressed.
Sometimes these thoughts involve the distortion or misapplication of Scripture. Satan can and does pretend to be the voice of God.
Satan can also sometimes influence others so that they create problems for you.
Then there’s what psychologists refer to as auditory/visual/tactile hallucinations: Some people hear voices, see corresponding visions of someone talking to them and/or feel bodily sensations that are without physical explanation (e.g. “I get raped every night.”). In my estimation, most of these “hallucinations” are, in fact, demonic.
Also, anytime you find yourself doing something to hurt yourself or others, it is likely that demonic forces are involved--especially in these two ways: 1)You are hurting yourself to relieve emotional pain caused by a satanic foothold (e.g. Cutting to relieve the emotional pain associated with having been sexually abused). 2) You are harming others--especially involuntarily--as a result of demonic pressure (e.g. Involuntarily making disrespectful comments about others as part of your Tourette's Disorder).
Here are some things the Bible says about Satan. He is a deceiver (1 Timothy 4:1-3, Colossians 2:8). He seeks to distort or misapply Scripture for his own purposes (Matthew 4:1-11). He is a liar and murderer (John 8:44). He encourages child abuse—up to and to the extent of murder (Psalm 106:37). He is the spiritual author of false religions (2 Corinthians 11:1-15). He seeks to impede believers in their endeavors (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He tempts us to sin (Genesis 3). He encourages envy and selfish ambition (James 3:14). He torments with mental illness (Mark 5:1-20).
Satan will sometimes acquire footholds—especially as a result of unforgiveness (Ephesians 4:26-27). A foothold allows Satan to produce emotional distress and/or depression at times of his choosing.
Satan's ability to harm Christians is very limited unless he first gains power. Satan gains power in two ways.
The first and most important way Satan gains power is as a result of our sin. I remember one pastor who told the story of an incident earlier in his life: He stole some avocados in order to sell them and then use the money to do something fun. His whole day was ruined. He felt emotional distress and couldn’t enjoy anything. Satan had gained power as a result of the sin. Satan used the power to create emotional pain. This is a common experience among Christians.
For sure, non-Christians also have a conscience. In my experience, however, I could sometimes do wrong things before I got saved without any adverse emotional consequences. Sometimes, I didn’t even see them as wrong.
There is a second way that Satan gains power—but it is rare and far less important: Sometimes God grants Satan power for reasons that may have nothing to do with sin. Two examples follow.
First, the book of Job describes a righteous man tormented by Satan as a test allowed by God. Job passed the test in a number of ways: For example, he did not sin by accusing God of wrongdoing (Job 1:21-22).
Second, a church counselor told me this story: A man with no history of depression would tell his fellow Christians to "just get over it" when they told him they were struggling with depression. Then, for no apparent reason, this man began to suffer with depression which lasted for years. Then, "the depression disappeared as quickly as it came." This is rare, but it does illustrate God's sovereignty.
The next topic is the most important: How to avoid being defeated by Satan.
The Bible says: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7 NKJV).” There is a critical point here that must not be overlooked! You need to do two things continuously to be successful in spiritual warfare: 1)You must make a good-faith effort to obey God's word at all times. 2) And you must use prayer and the Word of God in resisting the Devil every time he attacks.
The Bible continues:“Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8 NIV).” Thus, complying with this Scripture involves not only our behavior, but guarding our thinking as well.
Sin is inevitable. Whenever you become aware of it, the best response is to immediately confess the sin to God and make an effort not to repeat the sin in the future. This will restore your relationship with God. It may also eliminate the need for God to punish you for the sin. The Bible states: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NIV).”
Before continuing, I want to address one common misconception: The Bible does not promise a life free of burdens and difficulties. Problems are inevitable—we all experience them. Rather, we can learn to have more and more peace despite the difficulties that we all have to deal with. The Bible states: “These things I (Jesus) have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33 NKJV).”
Here are some additional suggestions to help you become successful in spiritual warfare.
First: Read the Bible every day—preferably in the morning. Pray before you begin reading. It is essential that you spend some time reading the Bible every day. Try to read a chapter of the Bible every day. When you find yourself really resistant, just pick a short psalm (e.g. Psalm 1). If nothing else, you can always put a copy of the Bible in the bathroom.
Look for Scriptures relevant to what you are struggling with, and figure out how you can apply them to your life.
Second: Select Scriptures to memorize based on what you are struggling with. Write these Scriptures on 3X5 cards and review one or two of them every day. Generally, these selected Scriptures should be short.
Third: Use these Scriptures that you have memorized. When you come under spiritual attack, use the Scriptures just as Jesus did (Matthew 4:1-11): Say “it is written” and then the Scripture. There is supernatural power in the word of God: "For the word of God is living and powerful . . . (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV)."
Fourth: Stay in touch with God throughout the day. Thank Him. Praise Him. Pray to Him whenever you can use some help. The Bible says to “pray without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5:17 NKJV).” The Greek adverb translated “without ceasing” is the same word used for a hacking cough. The idea is not to be praying 100% of the time, but rather, to return to prayer repeatedly during the day despite the interruptions of daily life. Staying in contact with God will help you to not dwell on negatives.
Fifth, pray in faith: "For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says (Mark 11:23 NKJV)." Of course, prayers answered must be in accordance with the will of God (1 John 5:14-15).
Sixth: Get others to pray with you and for you (Matthew 18:19-20). Prayer is more effective when you pray with another Christian--this can even be done over the telephone. When you have a particularly difficult issue, get a group of Christians to pray for you. And don't do this just once! If the issue is particularly sensitive, the prayer request can be for a "health problem" or an "unspoken request."
Seventh: Allow God to carry your burdens. The Bible states: “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken (Psalm 55:22 NASB).” Once you've done this, don't take the burden back by again dwelling on it! It's God's problem now. Think about the issue only when it is really necessary.
Eighth: God will not only carry your burden, he will also guide you. Once you’ve surrendered a problem to Him, wait until He makes it clear what to do. The Bible states: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-8 NKJV).” This guidance will come in the midst of relative peace--not panic.
Ninth: Get counsel from other Christians, the more the better. The Bible states: “A wise man is strong, And a man of knowledge increases power. For by wise guidance you will wage war, And in an abundance of counselors there is victory (Proverbs 24:5-6 NASB).”
Tenth, focus on God--not on problems. The Bible states: “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3 NKJV).” Whatever burden you are facing, it becomes emotionally more challenging the longer you think about it. But when you instead focus on God, the problem becomes less burdensome even if nothing changes.
Eleventh, rebuke the Devil/demons in the name of Jesus and command them to leave. The Bible states: "The seventy (disciples) returned with joy, saying, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name' (Luke 10:17 NASB)." This is another one of your spiritual weapons. Try it with your particular issue and see how well it works. Do not try this unless you are saved; that is potentially dangerous (Acts 19:13-17).
Twelfth: Put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). This is a critical spiritual truth that is explained by picturing a Roman Soldier. Every Roman soldier was well equipped. His success in battle depended on both having on, and using, all his equipment. Likewise, we need to know, and use, all our spiritual weapons in order to defeat the Devil. Study these verses carefully--and make sure you are using all your spiritual weapons. Also, read my article: Ephesians 6: Putting on the Armor of God.
Thirteenth, ignore the Devil: If you suspect a thought is coming from the Devil, it probably is. Ignore it. It doesn't matter what it is. Focusing on what the Devil wants you to is a sure way to get upset. Never debate with the Devil.
Finally, ask God to increase your wisdom. The Bible states: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does (James 1:5-7 NIV).”