3 Truths I’m Learning About Spiritual Warfare

My friend Alana and I have co-hosted a podcast about prayer for several years now, and our top episodes continue to be those that deal with spiritual warfare.

Recently we led a 24 week study on the book of Ephesians, and through that study God opened my eyes to three truths about spiritual warfare that might seem pretty straightforward at first, but that God allowed me to see with new eyes, and which have really transformed my prayer life and outlook on the spiritual battle.

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3 Truths I’m Learning About Spiritual Warfare

1. Know the Real Enemy

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.

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

So many times in life we come up against conflicts with others that range from mildly annoying to life-changingly devastating. Because we live and operate in a physical world, many times I think we fall prey to the deception that our “enemies” are the people involved in those conflicts. Whether they are friends, family, strangers, bosses, political leaders, or even pastors, ministry partners or other people within the Body of Christ. 

The truth the Bible teaches in Ephesians 6:12 is that our struggle is not with flesh and blood. Those struggles are simply symptoms or fallout from the real forces at work behind the scenes. Let’s just call them who they are: Satan and his demons. Fallen angels who are real entities despite not being perceived by our worldly senses. And I think that’s part of the way we’re deceived – by not knowing them. Not realizing how real they are and how they operate. By pushing the theology of the “spiritual forces of evil” into the corner as we attend our pot lucks and worship services, which are seen, heard and frankly way less awkward to talk about.

But we need to know our Enemy. And we need to first understand that the people we come up against in this world are not the source of the trouble. They are children of God, created in His image. They are fallen children, and so vulnerable (as we are) to the influence and attacks of our real Enemy. As I’ve come to recognize this, it has transformed how I see people and conflicts. It has helped me tremendously to see that Satan has been working overtime to cause division between God’s children – and I would venture to say his focus is often on the Church.

This realization has helped me to examine my heart before speaking, to pluck out the sprouts of bitterness by the root before they’ve had the chance to really take hold in my heart. And most of all, it’s helped me to target the real Enemy with my prayers! 

2. Don’t Underestimate the Enemy

 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Mark 9:17-20, 28-29

The second thing I’ve been learning about spiritual warfare is that we should never underestimate the Enemy. I think as modern Christians we’ve been lulled into this sense of security, claiming the protection of Jesus and sometimes being too casual about how we engage in spiritual warfare…maybe even treating Satan as a myth or a caricature of who he really is, like the cartoon version with a pitchfork and horns. 

This is a mistake. 

The disciples apparently didn’t take the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 as seriously as they should have. In some accounts they’re told they didn’t have enough faith. In Mark 9 Jesus adds that they should have taken time to pray, or even fast (which is seen in some manuscripts) – implying that just invoking the name of Jesus wasn’t enough, that they had to tap into God’s power in a deeper way by connecting through prayer and through faith in Him, rather than their own strength to fight their foe. Maybe they’d become proud and overly secure in their abilities to carry out the healing work of Jesus. 

Isn’t it true of us too? We pray in our prayer groups for things, maybe going down the laundry list of requests asking for God to dispense our wants and needs like a vending machine. When we see the results we want, we bring back good reports. When we don’t we push those aside as “unanswered prayers.” 

Let me be clear: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being in a prayer group and listing our needs and wants to God. We’re told that there are blessings beyond what we could imagine as children of God! (Ephesians 3:20) And James 4:3 says we have not because we ask not. But I think the Enemy can work in very sneaky ways to numb our spirits, to encourage us to go on autopilot and speak words and go through motions that are based on culture and tradition, but could be devoid of faith and true connection with God.

The tricky part is that two people can go through the same motions and outwardly look exactly the same, while one is living out a faith-filled powerful prayer life and the other is simply doing and saying the right “Christian-y” things. I remember hearing someone say they thought if Satan had his way the world wouldn’t be filled with open sin and chaos. Instead, church pews would be full to overflowing, but the gospel wouldn’t be preached. People would have an illusion of faith without the substance. This is one of the many ways we underestimate the enemy:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (emphasis mine)

Related Post: The Key to Spiritual Warfare

Sometimes the Enemy can work through the pursuit of comfort to numb me into seeing God as a Cosmic Santa. When I pray for things I want or need and get that thing, I celebrate and chalk it up to answered prayer. But that sets me up for great disappointment when my next grocery list item doesn’t get delivered, or at least not fast enough. It’s like a prayer consumer mentality. 

I’ve been learning that one powerful way to combat the Enemy by not underestimating him in this more subtle way of operating is to look for movement in my life – whether I consider that movement “good” or “bad,” then invite God into it and pray for eyes to see His hand at work. I don’t think this means we need to ditch our prayer lists! But I think we need to incorporate this idea of God at work in all things into our prayer lives, so we don’t condition ourselves to this prayer consumer mentality, which can be a way Satan drives a wedge between us and God. 

3. Don’t Overestimate the Enemy

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Revelation 12:9 (NIV)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7 (NIV)

Finally, I’m also learning not to overestimate the Enemy. There is no surprise ending. In fact Jesus has already won! The moment he died on the cross he crushed sin. The moment he was resurrected, he crushed death…and we are co-heirs with him in the glory he is experiencing at the right hand of God the Father. Let that sink in.

As we seek to know our Enemy better by looking at scripture and by recognizing recurring patterns, and as we seek not to underestimate him, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of fear. It’s like when Peter was walking on the water, but looked around at the waves and became afraid and started to sink. 

In my own life I sometimes find myself believing Enemy lies, or falling into the traps he’s set for me. I shared in a previous post about how I picture it as if Satan were convincing me I’m in a jail cell with no way out, when in reality the door was never locked. Because of Jesus, I’m free from the bondage of sin and death. I am free to move forward, knowing that my prayers are working to unleash the power of God’s Kingdom in heaven here on earth – where Satan is the temporary Prince.

But there is only one King.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus helps us to remain free of fear, to help us not to overestimate our Enemy, or fail to recognize the powerful truth that Jesus wins… Period!

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Join the Conversation on Spiritual Warfare

What has God been teaching you lately about spiritual warfare? Did any of these lessons resonate with you? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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