I'm not sure when the term "spiritual warfare" was coined, but in my research I've discovered it mentioned as early as the 1600's.
Spiritual warfare is depicted (without using the term) back to the writing of the New Testament as Paul stated:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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 6:11-12)
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
spiritual warfare is very real.
Spiritual warfare doesn't have to be some weird, confusing, overly spiritual thing. It can be recognized, clearly labeled and endured in God's strength.
Here are 4 proven ways to stand strong in the face of spiritual warfare:
1. Don't call everything spiritual warfare
We will all face hardship in this life. Even as believers, we will face hardships - sometimes even because of our faith! Jesus promised this, and the Church has always experienced this reality.
Not every hardship in life is spiritual warfare. As they say, "don't look for a demon under every rock."
Sometimes what we perceive as spiritual warfare may actually be God testing and refining us (Psalm 66:10, 1 Peter 1:7, Isaiah 48:10, Proverbs 17:3), or it could even be us reaping what we've sown. (Galatians 6:7-8, Proverbs 19:3)
That being said, we should also recognize that sometimes there's a spiritual reality to what we are facing.
How do you recognize spiritual warfare? Here is what it often looks like:
- Spiritual warfare most often happens right before or after God uses us for powerful ministry impact, or right before or after God moves in our own spiritual lives in a significant way.
- Spiritual warfare often comes in an attempt to steal our happiness in God and His work in our lives. If God has opened a door of opportunity for you, or is furthering you along in His calling on your life, and suddenly something happens that dampens your joy, that could very well be spiritual warfare in an attempt to draw you away from your joy in God.
- Spiritual warfare may look like unusual adversity that has unusual timing right before or after God uses you for kingdom impact, or does something significant in you.
- Spiritual warfare can also look like unusual temptation right before or after God uses you for kingdom impact, or does something significant in you. Years ago, I read Jim Elliot's journals, and noticed he experienced unusual temptation the month before he was martyred for bringing the gospel to an unreached tribe. The story of his sacrifice has impacted millions of believers to abandon all for the sake of getting the gospel to the unreached.
- For pastors, spiritual warfare often comes in the way of unusual relationship struggles, where a deacon or member in the church causes abnormal issues for the pastor, causing them to be exhausted and discouraged. My grandfather in-law and father in-law led our church for a half century, and most often their greatest challenges were specific individuals in the church, especially a deacon, who would cause abnormal issues that resulted in most of the pain of their ministry. My grandfather in-law would often take it to private prayer. His prayer was, "God, change their hearts or move them out."
2. Double back on your joy & peace in the Lord
Spiritual warfare often comes right before unprecedented seasons of God's blessing. If you are experiencing unusual adversity and the timing seems odd as you are simply trying to make an impact for the kingdom of God, be encouraged that God may be about to bless your efforts significantly.
Often spiritual warfare is the enemy's attempt to steal our happiness about what God is doing in our lives. Don't take the bait! Double back on your peace and joy in God, and His sovereignty over every situation in your life.
Nehemiah told the people, "Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10) In moments where God is moving, and blessing and spiritual warfare comes your way, don't let it steal your joy - enjoy, and be satisfied and grateful for everything God has done for you, and is about to do through you!
If you need to, pray with David, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." (Psalm 51:12)
Jesus promised he would give us a peace that this world cannot take away, and that surpasses understanding. (John 14:27; Philippians 4:7)
3. Know you're making a difference
Spiritual warfare often comes when we are about to make a dent for God's kingdom which brings glory to God.
If you are encountering spiritual warfare, know that God is using you, and you are making a difference. In fact, the greater the spiritual warfare likely means the greater the impact you are having for the kingdom.
My friend Jon Bloom (he's also my favorite author!) shared a powerful blog about spiritual warfare that has helped me immensely. He writes:
In war a breakthrough only really matters if it occurs at a strategic location. And the evidence that a location is strategic is almost always revealed by the amount of enemy forces amassed to protect it. An enemy led by skilled generals plans to ferociously protect what it prizes highly.
But we must keep in mind that strategic ground is not yielded easily. Whether we’re battling for breakthroughs against our own stubborn sin or the unbelief of a loved one or breakthroughs in the missional advance of our local church, reaching unreached peoples, rescuing persecuted believers, orphans, sex slaves, or the unborn, we are up against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We don’t know exactly what that means, except that these forces are very strong.
So if you are encountering spiritual warfare, you may be about to see a strategic breakthrough for the kingdom of God, for freedom in people's lives, and for the glory of God. Keep going!
4. Keep praying & trusting the Lord
The Bible tells a story about the disciples praying for a boy to be delivered from demons and it didn't work. Jesus came along and the boy was set free. The disciples had already been used by God to see this in other people's lives - what were they failing to do here? Jesus said, "This kind can only come out by prayer." (Mark 9:29)
Jesus was teaching them about prevailing prayer. Some things must be prayed through over a period of years. Never lose faith that God can and will move on your behalf.
But Jesus was also trying to teach them to take their prayer life to another level. For the battle you are facing, one of the greatest ways you can stand strong is to step up your prayer life:
- Begin a season of extra prayer. Pray more than you normally set aside time to.
- Invite several prayerful friends to seriously pray along with you. Share your struggles or challenges with a confidant, and have them pray along with you.
God's Word tells us to "Endure suffering, as a good soldier of Christ." (2 Timothy 2:3) There will be seasons in life where we simply need to endure, and we can stand strong by stepping up our prayer life, and deepening our trust in God and his goodness.
"I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living." (Psalm 27:13)