Is the spiritual realm real?

Is there a spiritual realm, an unseen dimension to what happens here on earth? Is spiritual warfare just our imagination? Does what we do spiritually make any difference to what happens here on earth?

Understanding the reality of an unseen dimension that affects what goes on here on earth  jolts us out of religious complacency and a legalistic, religious Christianity.

Knights

For many years we were involved in a church plant in the East End of London in the UK. At that point in time, the area was not the gentrified place it has since become. It was a very run-down, neglected area of around 120,000 people, with 93% government housing. The unemployment rate, if I remember rightly, was about 17%. Within our church, (effectively a network of home groups) we had maybe 10 or 12 people who had been out of work for some considerable time with no prospect of employment.

As a fellowship we decided that this wasn’t just a natural problem but it had a spiritual component to it. So in one particular gathering, we put all the people who were looking for a job in the center of the room, while the rest of us prayed for them. Someone suggested that we treat it like the battle of Jericho, so we actually marched round them 7 times, shouting praise to God the final time. Then we prayed for each person individually.

Were we crazy? It must have looked crazy to any outsider. But over the next few weeks, every one of those people found a job.

Another example from a similar time period: There were riots going on in London, and they were approaching our area of town. The fear in the air was so palpable, you could almost smell it. There was a small corner store across the road from where we lived, and I remember looking out our living room window and watching the owner board up the windows. In the front yard of the house next door, a young teenager was preparing his arsenal of weapons to throw. We pulled together a few people and started praying, using the spiritual weapons of praise and the Word, believing that God would intervene and that Satan had no right to come onto “our ground.” As we listened to the news, the reporters gave a street by street blow on which areas of town were affected. The riots stopped at the very first street we regarded as our territory.

The spiritual realm is real!  In 2 Kings 6, when Elisha is under attack, surrounded by the troops of the enemy,  he prays that his servant will see the reality of the spiritual realm. All of a sudden, his servant can see horses and chariots of fire. God delivers them from the hand of the enemy. We need to have our eyes opened to see what’s really going on.

I’d love to hear some of your stories too.

You want to see someone become a Jesus follower? Try spiritual warfare

For the past two months Tony and I have been engaged in some of the most intense spiritual warfare of our lives.

We were in Taiwan when we received a phone call detailing a situation very close to the heart of our family.  God challenged us to be willing to pray and intercede over it, and especially that one of the people concerned would surrender their life to the Lord–something we had been praying about for years. We knew from previous experience what this could mean–every spare minute engaged in intercession and warfare. It would mean that some nights we would be up half the night in prayer–not because we had chosen to but because the Lord would wake us. No more lazy evenings watching TV. Up early in the mornings so we could fit in extra prayer time.

The verses that we sensed we were to pray over particularly come in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

A book by Paul Billheimer, which I highly recommend, called Destined for the Throne: How Spiritual Warfare Prepares the Bride of Christ for Her Eternal Destiny first alerted me many years ago to the fact that these verses apply primarily to non-believers. We are to destroy every proud obstacle that keeps them from knowing God. And the way we do this isn’t through human logic or argument and discussion, but through the spiritual tools Jesus has given us–praise  and thanksgiving (Psalm 149:6-9), the Word (Ephesians 6:17), claiming his promises (Romans 3:4; 2 Corinthians 1:20), binding and loosing (Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18), the blood of Jesus and the word of our testimony and the fact that are willing to lay down our lives (Revelation 12:11).

Within two days, we saw our first, very small breakthrough.

Shortly after this at one of our home church gatherings, everyone broke into small groups to pray about the “impossible situations” they were facing in their lives–for example, two families wanted to pray for people with serious drug and alcohol problems. Maybe 5 or 6 people were prayed for.

Within a month, the person Tony and I were praying for had found the Lord due to a remarkable series of circumstances–thank you Jesus, we are so very grateful–and had led someone else to Christ.  Another one of the other “impossible situations” had become a Christian too  And it is very clear that God is working in two more.

Yes, the timing was right in our particular battle, but spiritual warfare will result in people finding Christ.

The end of this story has not been written yet–it is still an ongoing journey. We have won the first battle and that gives us confidence that we can press through to see the war won. We know that Jesus has won the  overall victory.

If anyone would like a list of the verses we use in spiritual warfare, let me know.

I’d love to hear any stories where you have seen something similar.

 

 

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Our spiritual weapons: praise

I often picture spiritual warfare like storming a castle in medieval times using a battering ram to destroy its gates. You cannot break through with one blow; it has to be done repeatedly until eventually the gate yields.

When our business looked as though it might go bankrupt a few years ago, praise was one of the main ways we fought back against the enemy. We would march around our office praising God for the victory that we couldn’t yet see. We thanked him that the empty tray on Tony’s desk would soon be filled with contracts. We glorified God that companies from the north, south, east and west wanted to do business with us. We praised him that he has victory over every evil force that was out to destroy us (John 10:10). Gradually, the forces of darkness yielded to the spiritual pressure. Finally, we were solvent again and rapidly became profitable.

There are two notable pictures of praise as warfare in the Old Testament. The first is in the battle of Jericho. As the Children of Israel marched around the walls the seventh day, they shouted as loud as they could and “the walls came a-tumblin’ down.”

The second comes in 2 Chronicles 6. King Jehoshaphat is facing a vast army from Edom. There’s no way he can win. As he seeks the Lord’s face and reminds him of his promises, the Lord assures him that he has the battle in hand. So Joshua takes God at his word and sends out singers before his army. At the very moment they start singing and praising God, confusion spreads among the enemy and they fight each other. All that’s left for Jehoshaphat and his army to do is collect the spoil.

A key passage on praise as spiritual warfare comes in Psalm 149:6-9

Let the praises of God be in their mouths, and a sharp sword in their hands—
to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with shackles and their leaders with iron chains,
to execute the judgment written against them. This is the glorious privilege of his faithful ones.

As we praise God and use the Word of God (the sharp sword–Ephesians 6:17), we cause the enemy to flee.

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Our spiritual weapons–the Word of God

I suffered from many diseases when I was in medical school–all of them imaginary, and all based on the most painful and potentially fatal conditions I happened to be studying at the time. But the fear was not imaginary–it was frequently crippling and overwhelming.

I had a spirit of fear.

One day, the realization came to me. “None of these fatal illnesses have come to pass. The problem is in my thinking.” I recognized that demonic powers were  behind the fear.

I remembered that Jesus had used the Word of God when he fought Satan in the wilderness. “It is written…”  and he would quote Scripture.

So I armed myself with several verses that talk about how Jesus has overcome Satan, and I set out to do battle. As soon as a fearful thought came into my mind, I would quote verses–”It is written that God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7). I stand against every fearful thought and spirit of fear in Jesus’ name.” And the fear would leave. Sometimes it would come back again within a few minutes. “God’s word says that if I resist the devil, he has to flee from me (James 4:7). I resist you in Jesus’ name.” Always the fear would go.

At the beginning, I had to battle many times a day, but as the days went by, it became less and less frequent, until after a couple of months I was set completely free.

Second Corinthians 10:4 says that the weapons of our warfare are not natural, but they are spiritual and can pull down strongholds. The Word of God is one of the most powerful weapons in our armory. It is our sword (Ephesians 6:17; Psalm 149:6-9). As we learn to wield these spiritual weapons God has given us, he trains us to wage warfare effectively (Psalm 18:34).

Have you found the Word to be effective in your battle against the enemy?

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If any of you tried to download my e-book on hearing God and couldn’t get the link to work, my apologies. It has now been fixed

Where does our authority lie in spiritual warfare?

Picture this: A police officer stands at the center of an intersection, directing the traffic. Even giant eighteen-wheelers obey his signals.  Now imagine that same police officer, but this time in his regular clothes attempting to do the same. People would assume he was crazy.

The uniform indicates that the person wearing it carries the full force and authority of the law. “In the name of the law” carries weight. The person wearing it represents the government of their nation, and he/she has the authority to stop traffic, to arrest people, to quell violence, protect people and maintain the peace.

In the same way, we dare not approach spiritual warfare in our own strength. But Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore…”  (Matthew 28:18-20) When we involve in spiritual warfare, we do it in the authority that Jesus gives us, that same authority which he cemented through his death on the cross and his triumphant resurrection (Colossians 2:15).

Jesus mission on earth was to destroy the works of the devil (I John 3:8). He healed all who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38). He set free those who were held captive and oppressed  (Luke 4: 18-19). When Jesus was with his disciples, he gave them authority to do the same works he did (Matthew 10: 1, 8). After his ascension into heaven, the disciples continued this work using his name.

The scriptures tell us that the name of Jesus is far above all other rulers and authorities and powers and dominions (Ephesians 1:20-22). That at his name, every knee has to bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue has to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). God has made Jesus’ enemies to be his footstool (Acts 2:34-36).

Just like the policeman, invoking the name of Jesus, not as some kind of mystical talisman, but understanding that it carries the full weight of heaven behind it, the church can wage warfare and see victories won for the Kingdom.

We’ll look at how to do this in the next post.

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Spiritual warfare–offensive or defensive?

It’s 1981, and race riots are spreading across London. One of the riots is centered on the East End where we live. The  fear in the air is palpable. Listening to the radio, where a reporter is on the ground, we realize that the riot is coming our way–rapidly.

I glance out of our living room window. The Indian owner of the little corner shop across the road is nailing boards across his windows. His store is a likely target. A couple of doors down, a boy who can’t be more than 12 or 14, is gathering together a stash of weapons, mostly broken bricks and rocks and putting them in a pile behind a wall. Both are ready for whatever is coming.

The phone rings. It’s the other couple with whom we started the church. “This is our territory they’re encroaching on. It belongs to God. We have to stop what’s going on.”

So we conduct spiritual warfare. We use the spiritual authority Christ won for us in his death on the cross to tell the enemy that these streets belong to us and he has to leave. The riot ends just before the very street that we regard as marking the beginning of “our territory.”

This is clearly defensive warfare. It’s interesting that of the spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6, all but the sword are for defense.

Fast forward a few years. The unemployment rates are at a high in the area–more than 20%. Several of the people in our network of home groups have been unemployed for months with no prospect of any jobs on the horizon. One Sunday morning when we all come together, we decide to pray about it. The Lord leads us into a prophetic type of warfare.

We put all those who are unemployed in the center of the room while we enact the battle of Jericho around them. Everyone marches silently round them six times. On the seventh time round, we raise the roof with our praise. Within a few weeks, all but one of them have jobs.

This was offensive warfare. (I’m not aware that we’ve ever repeated that prophetic act since then and I’m certainly not suggesting this is any kind of formula. As always, you have to listen to Jesus and do what he tells you.) In Matthew 16:16-20, Jesus says to Peter about his declaration that Jesus is the Christ, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

In this analogy, gates are defensive and the church is going to breach them. It reminds me of a battering ram. As the Lord leads us to hammer repeatedly against the forces of darkness, eventually they give way before us. We are on the offensive.

Have you seen anything similar?

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Spiritual warfare prevents an epidemic: a story

Mozambique, in the year 2000.

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Half the country is under water because of massive flooding. We are working with Rolland and Heidi Baker doing medical relief work. (Tony and Rolland went to school together, so when news of the floods come, it’s a natural reaction to go help.) A team consisting of the two of us with about 10 young people including our two teenagers have arrived by land rover at an inaccessible refugee camp in the middle of nowhere. It’s late afternoon.

A man in ragged clothes addresses us.

“I’m the Red Cross worker. I’ve seen three cases of cholera today.”

We ask him to describe the symptoms. It certainly sounds like cholera. The nature of an epidemic is three cases today, twenty tomorrow, and a hundred the day after that. And we are responsible for the health, not only this team of young people, but the refugees in the camp. Neither of us has ever seen a case of cholera.

The man offers to take us to his Red Cross tent. “It’s just over there,” he says.

After about 10 minutes walking, we come to the camp’s water supply. It’s a hole in the ground filled with muddy water. People are dipping plastic containers into it and drinking it. We are horrified. No wonder everyone has intestinal problems. Another thirty minutes of weaving through makeshift huts brings us to his army style tent. He has one cot, a plastic bucket filled with water from the well and a box of packets of rehydration fluid. Not a dressing, an aspirin or an antibiotic or antimalarial in sight.

Arriving back at our own tents, we ponder what to do. It’s clearly a dangerous situation. We have a limited supply of drugs we’ve brought with us–certainly not enough to cope with a cholera epidemic.

We remember a story from the Old Testament. The story comes in Numbers 16 and is the story of Korah’s rebellion. After the rebellion, the people get angry with God for destroying Korah and his allies, and God sends a plague. But Moses tells Aaron to take a censer filled with burning coals out among the people , standing between the living and the dead and so the plague stopped.

We send our team out to pray over the tents in the camp. They are to pray to stop the plague of cholera. Using spiritual weapons, we stand in faith for the health of the camp. This isn’t a pleading with God, “Please God, don’t let people catch cholera.” This is claiming protection in Jesus’ name, using the authority he has won for us to stand against the powers of darkness.

We don’t see a single case of cholera during the two to three days we are there.

I remember clearly our last evening there. We are cooking supper over a gas burner. As dusk falls, a line of women comes dancing towards us, singing praise songs in that hauntingly beautiful harmony that is so typically African. They have become Christians during our time with them.  A church has started in this camp. Rolland and Heidi will send one of their trained pastors to help them.

Spiritual warfare has prevented an epidemic.

What other areas does spiritual warfare address?

 

Where is our battleground in spiritual warfare?

I’ve often heard it said that the battleground in spiritual warfare is for our minds. That’s certainly true, although I’m not convinced it’s the whole truth.

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Jesus tells us that our enemy is a liar (John 8:44), that he seeks to steal, kill and destroy (Jn 10:10). This can certainly affect our minds. For example:

  • He destroys our peace–we suffer from anxiety and fear
  • He steals our joy–we become depressed
  • We believe his lies–we suffer from low self-esteem and guilt

What gives him the opportunity to attack us in this way? I find it useful to think of five main categories of opportunity for Satan to gain a foothold in our lives, for convenience, although somewhat contrived, all beginning with an “S”:

  1. Sin–three sections here:
    • Our own sin–for example, we don’t deal with anger in a godly fashion. We can go from the occasional sin to becoming an angry person, to having anger dominate our life (Ephesians 4:26-27).
    • We have been sinned against–for example, all kinds of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, Another example: a baby is born to an unmarried mother, As he/she gets older, she may suffer from rejection. It wasn’t her sin, but a parental sin that allowed the enemy in. When this door is closed, she can be set free.
    • The effects of sin being passed down from one generation to another. We can inherit a tendency to certain traits such as depression, alcoholism etc.
  2. “Seance”: Any contact with the occult–ouija boards, fortune tellers, illegal drugs that affect the mind and thinking
  3. Shock: A sudden surprise can give the enemy a foothold. For example, one day I returned from the store and surprised a burglar inside our house. For some time I experienced fear whenever I unlocked our front door. Natural? Yes maybe, but it disappeared when we prayed against it.
  4. Siege: It says in Daniel &:25 that Satan wears out, or oppresses the saints of the Most High. We all know what it’s like to feel under pressure for a prolonged time. Finances are tight, there’s a painful medical condition. Satan takes the opportunity to undermine in every way.
  5. Subtlety: Satan can attack our minds in ways we don’t recognize. For example, we are fascinated by a TV program we would never choose, simple because we’re too lazy to change the channel. It leaves us feeling contaminated.

Praise God, He has given us spiritual weapons to fight against Satan, and we know we are on the side of victory. We’ll cover our weapons in a future post.

But where else can this warfare take place?

Who rules the earth? Jesus?

Here are two apparently contradictory statements:

God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. (Acts 17:24)

We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (I John 5:19)

I once asked the Lord how these two statements can be simultaneously true. How can Jesus be Lord, and yet the whole world lie in the power of the evil one? He gave me an illustration.

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The picture I had was of a low-income housing project, filled with violence, drugs dealing, prostitution, very similar to the one where we started a church a few years ago. Then the Lord asked me a  question:

“Who rules this housing project?”

I thought for a while. “If you ask the people who live there, many would answer, ‘The drug lords and gang leaders,’ and that would be true. But actually the government has ultimate control.” I realized that the only way that the authorities could change the area in the natural would be to move everyone out and to raze the place to the ground. In Hong Kong there used to be an area called the Walled City which was an ungovernable settlement ruled by organized crime syndicates known as Triads. In 1987, the Hong Kong government rid themselves of the problem by evicting the tenants and demolishing the area.

However, the people who live in the projects have a choice. They can live as though the drug lords rule or as though a righteous government is in control. And when a group of people choose to live a Kingdom lifestyle and to stand up for what is right, it has an impact.

Could that make a difference? I believe so. When we started a church in the projects, our friends who lived there reported that the level of violence decreased and some of the drug dealers moved away. Our prayers and spiritual warfare over the area made a difference.

My original question was answered by this illustration the Lord gave me. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth. But Satan is in control of the earth, and the only way for God to completely remove Satan’s presence would be to destroy the place. But God loves us so much that he didn’t do that. Instead he sent his Son who, in his death on the cross and subsequent shattering of the bonds of sin and death through his resurrection, defeated all the powers of darkness. It’s now up to us to enforce God’s Kingdom rule. We do that through spiritual warfare.

What do you think?

 

A cautionary tale on the reality of spiritual warfare

Spiritual warfare is real–sometimes very, very real.

We were in India, and it was hot! Our church planting conference was taking place on a rooftop under a canvas awning. Below us was the living accommodation of a pastor and his family, including a small, basic kitchen. We were sharing, along with Victor Choudhrie, a good friend who is experiencing one of the most remarkable church planting movements of our time.

The previous day, Victor had suggested that everyone get up early, at around 4am and go out and prayer walk around various temples, shrines and places of religious significance in the locale. The reason for the early hour? The activities at these temples do not begin until a little later than that.

I would like to tell you that Tony and I were part of the prayer walking and spiritual warfare team. It wouldn’t be true. We slept in.

When everyone came together that next morning, people were sharing, excited about what they had seen as they prayer walked.

All of a sudden, there was a commotion. People started scurrying around, looking anxious, and there seemed to be a lot of activity around one of the stairwells that led to the kitchen. Finally someone thought to tell us what was going on. A fire had started in the kitchen. It could easily take over the whole building. Everyone began praying.

We went to the stairwell where we could see what was going on. Flames were exploding out of the kitchen door; the whole room was an inferno. It took the local fire department twenty minutes and a full tank of water to put it out. It turned out that a new propane tank had been incorrectly installed, and when someone had gone to light the stove, the whole thing had caught on fire.

Afterwards, we went to inspect the damage. Amazing! Apart from one burned towel and a melted plastic container, there was no damage to be seen. No smoke damage. No blistered paintwork.  Even a row of glass jars immediately above the stove weren’t cracked. I was incredulous. If I hadn’t seen all of this with my own eyes (first the fire and then its lack of effect), I wouldn’t have believed it. Thankfully the lady who lit the stove was totally unharmed too.

“Victor, what happened?” we asked.

Victor explained. The person organizing the conference had been asked to make sure there was prayer back up for the conference, and especially for the prayer walking time; this hadn’t happened. So the fire was the enemy’s retaliation for the warfare that was conducted against his work. The prayers of the saints prevented any harm to either people or building.

Traditionally, India is a land of 330 million gods. They are to be seen in shrines and temples on every street corner. Here in the West, spiritual warfare isn’t quite as obvious. But it is needed just as much. We need the Lord to open our eyes to the activity of the enemy so that we can fight against his work. Praise God, Jesus has won the victory for us and gives us all the authority we need to wage war successfully. Jesus came to destroy the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8)

Do you have an example of where you have seen spiritual warfare waged successfully?

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