A Contested Universe


Guest article courtesy http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/spring/contesteduniverse.html?paging=off

A woman named Laura was creating real problems in our college ministry. She was creating conflict, dividing people, slandering people. She had a pattern of trying to break up friends, accusing people of things. Eventually another pastor and I started to counsel her, and soon it became clear that a spirit beyond Laura herself was involved.

Although opinion is divided as to whether it was wise for us to do it this way, we decided to speak to the evil spirit and asked, “What is your name?” And through Laura’s mouth the spirit snarled, “Try Ephesians 6on me.” The voice was so sarcastic that we just couldn’t get anywhere. One day, in the midst of all this, Laura calls me at about 11 o’clock at night and said, “I have been battling Satan all evening and I believe that I am now free. I’m just calling to tell you that.” I said, “Well great, Laura. Let me pray with you over the telephone so that you can get a good night of sleep.” As I began to pray, a spirit took over her vocal cords again and hassled me for about 20 minutes. Among other things he said, “I caused Laura to hate you so that she wouldn’t hear a thing you said at Moody Church.”

“Even when we are in the hands of the devil, we are still in the hands of god. satan is always subject to god.”

We’re certainly are not experts in this, and sometimes we don’t know why people remain bound. Despite our prayers and counseling, she didn’t find freedom. She left Moody Church but years later she wrote me a fantastic letter. She thanked me for the work that I did with her, even though she wasn’t delivered. She said that she went to another church and discovered that because of abuse in her background and because she refused to give up the hatred in her heart, she could not be freed. But once she decided to finally deal with the sin of hate, then all of this demonic activity stopped.

I believe this story is instructive. Neil Anderson says, “If you want to get rid of flies you have to throw the garbage away.” If Satan has a claim to some ground in a person’s life, and says “This is my territory here because of all this sin that you’re unwilling to repent of,” it’s almost impossible to find freedom from a spirit that claims the right to maintain control. Dealing with sin helps undercut the evil spirit’s claims.

What power does the evil one have on earth right here, right now?

He has as much power as God allows him to have—and not one whit more. This is where I differ from some others in the spiritual warfare movement. The subtitle of my book, The Serpent of Paradise, is “The incredible story of how Satan’s rebellion serves God’s purposes.” We should never give the impression that because Satan is the god of this world, God kind of says, “Well, what am I going to do? He is the god of this world. I just have to let him do whatever he wants.” I believe, that yes, Satan is the god of this world but he cannot so much as wiggle unless God gives him permission.

Look at the statement of Jesus to Peter, “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you.” Satan has to come to Jesus and say I’d like to sift Peter, and Jesus has to sign off on it. Or think of the story of Job. Satan couldn’t act against Job until God said, yeah, you can do this but not that. I don’t know the exact extent to which Satan can do his thing, but if we see his activity as always under the controlling hand of God, this births faith in our hearts. Why doesn’t God banish the devil and put him on a faraway planet? It is because the Lord hath need of him; yes, God uses the devil to further his (God’s) purposes. All of Satan’s power is delegated.

In Revelation, Jesus says to the church in Smyrna, “Satan is going to throw you into prison for 10 days.” I maintain that if Jesus says 10 days it can’t be 11. And then he says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Does Jesus allow the devil to kill us? Yes. But he says, “Fear not him who is able to destroy the body. There’s nothing more he can do. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” So yes, God will even allow Satan to take our lives. But even when we are in the hands of the devil, we are still in the hands of God. Satan is always subject to God.

If a person is still subject to Satan’s snares, temptation, what does deliverance accomplish?

I think the only way you can answer that question is to speak to people who have been delivered. Those of us who have never had a demon attached to us probably can’t fully appreciate the freedom. But people who have been delivered will tell you that there was an evil presence that was with them and no matter what they did, that presence went with them and it was always there. Sometimes it can be ignored. Sometimes it can be suppressed, especially if you take drugs and so forth, (I’m not opposed to taking meds under certain conditions) but there’s something within them that lets them know that there is another personality present that constantly causes a sense of guilt and self-hatred. Fred Dickason is absolutely right when he says one of the things the devil wants to do is to destroy our self image, our sense of self-worth. He wants us to get so down on ourselves and tell us we’re evil, we’re hopeless, we’re doomed to be a failure, and convince us that God could never love us.

Of course none of us is worthy. That’s true. But God loves us totally independently of our worth. But Satan does not want us to know such truths or act upon them. And so there are many people who are stuck in an emotional and spiritual rut, constantly aware of an evil presence. And when deliverance comes, they have a whole new freedom. They have hope. People can’t live without hope. If you feel that you are locked into this evil presence that is always going to be there, it can get very discouraging, and life can be incredibly difficult. You hate yourself so you think God hates you too. Deliverance changes all that.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructed the disciples to pray “Deliver us from the evil one.” Is this what he was talking about?

Yes, and in John 17 Jesus says, “I pray that you will keep them from the evil one.” Of course we wish that this keeping from the evil one were absolute, that the evil one might be totally walled in, unable to touch us. There are those who would take this passage and other similar ones and say that’s why a Christian can never have a demonic problem. Maybe someone can be tempted, we are told, but that’s all. They ask, “How can the Holy Spirit occupy the same territory as a demon?” Well, that’s a difficult question, but I don’t know if we can think spatially about this issue. I don’t know if we can say the Holy Spirit occupies the same coordinates in a person as a demon. We’re talking about the soul, which is immaterial. Another question I’d ask is this: How can the Holy Spirit put up with our flesh? Our flesh really isn’t much better than Satan, often. And somehow the Holy Spirit manages to coexist with our flesh. So I can imagine that maybe somehow the Holy Spirit manages to exist in the proximity of unclean spirits. I believe that a Christian can be demonized but not helplessly controlled by an evil spirit; and most assuredly any claim of ownership Satan makes about a believer is bogus. He does not own us, God does.

Ananias and Sapphira were probably believers. Well, Satan filled their heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. I don’t think that we should say therefore they were unbelievers, because after all, they were part of the church. They were not kept from evil influence. So the “keeping from the evil” may not mean that we are exempt from real serious spiritual warfare. What it might mean is that in the end we are kept by the power of God unto salvation. In the end Satan does lose. But between now and then we’re in for a hassle.

Is that struggle something each of us has to do for himself or herself?

No. Satan is best fought within the community of the church. When I’ve preached on the shield of faith I was told shields in those days were beveled. They were linked together, so that one warrior was next to the other. It was like a wall going into battle. In the same way, I believe that it is in community where there is deliverance. It’s in the context of community that we can find help, and where there is intercessory prayer, we fight together. So it isn’t just you and the devil. It’s you and other believers against the devil.

The other day I was watching the Animal Channel, and I saw something that really struck me. There was a huge herd of buffalo and about six or seven lions. And the lions were plotting to have a buffalo for dinner. Well, they found one buffalo that had strayed from the herd, maybe a couple hundred yards, and they went after that buffalo. So how do a few lions stop a buffalo? Well, as it happened, one lion grabbed the heel of one back leg of the buffalo, the other on the other back leg. And they just hung on until that buffalo slowed to a stop. Then one lion hopped on his back, another went after his stomach. And from there on you can just visualize what happened. It was gruesome.

But here’s what shocked me. There were perhaps 100 buffalo, if not more, all standing and staring and watching this go down. I don’t know if buffalo can think. But if buffalo could think, you know what they’re thinking? Boy, am I ever glad that’s not happening to me! Imagine if this herd had decided we’re not going to let those lions get away with anything, and together they ran thundering in that direction with their horns down. Those lions would have scurried away immediately. The lions would never have a buffalo for lunch, if the buffalo stuck together.

There’s a lesson for us there. First of all, Satan separates somebody from the herd. He makes them mad at the church and Christians, or angry because of some other reason. Once they’re away from the herd, he intensifies his attack. And then when we hear of the spiritual/demonic struggles that a person faces we say to ourselves, Boy, am I ever glad that’s not me! What we have to do as a congregation is to hang together. We have to close in and say we will not allow the devil to do this to our people.

I think God wants us to humble ourselves, not just before him, but before others. Many people have been delivered from strongholds when they begin to share and other people intercede for them. It’s in community that God grants victory. The spiritual resources are ours; we just have to use them.

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