Clive Staples Lewis famously said in his book The Screwtape Letters,
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” (C.S. Lewis, Screwtape, p. IX)
In the West, we often downplay the supernatural. We think, “Everyone who believes in science knows that angels and demons are not real, but myth. Just own up to your problems and deal with them.” This is an arrogant statement. If you think this way, as a non-Christian, then you dismiss what a vast majority of the world believes — that the supernatural exists, which explains much of what happens in the natural world. Many in Africa or Asia, with experiences wholly different from our own in the West, have had encounters with the supernatural. Many religions worldwide attempt to tap into spiritual forces through various activities like Tai Chi or Yoga (more on this in a future blog). But in the West, we turn to psychology for explanation. To medications to solve our body chemistry. To self-help books to fix our character flaws. But what has happened over the past 70 to 100 years in America and Europe? As we have sought natural explanations for sin and human nature there has been: an increase in depression and those on anti-depressants; increased suicide; an increase in sexual activity outside of marriage with increased family breakdown or abortion to get one’s life back on track; an increase crime; an increase in the prison population; increased sadistic behavior and interests of people; an increase in homelessness; an increase in drug use; an increase in technologies with increased porn use, increased social media usage, increased loneliness, etc. (for more on this listen to Tim Keller on Spiritual Warfare, episode 60 – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/timothy-keller-sermons-podcast-by-gospel-in-life/id352660924?mt=2&i=1000117673576 )
Sadly, Christians are not much different from the world, statistically. Which means one of a couple things. Either there are a lot of people who claim to be Christian who are not and who wreck the statistics for true Christians. Or increasingly we don’t know what it means to be Christian and we are in desperate need of discipleship (which means submitting yourself to a teacher [a more mature Christian] who can guide you).
What I am about to say might sound rude, but the fact is that sometimes Jesus said things that sounded rude: it is the height of arrogance for a Christian to assume spiritual warfare is not behind our struggles. Sure, our flesh and sin nature is very much a part of each of our struggles. But when a Christian says to another Christian, “Don’t blame it on spiritual warfare, you just need to own your own sin and overcome it!” that person: 1) implies Christianity is a works-based religion by making it about what you do; 2) implies they know all, which they don’t – only God knows all. How do you know if there is or isn’t something spiritual behind a person’s struggle? and 3) that person intones they have it all together, which is unlikely – some people who come across as having life figured out may actually have deep struggles, which they suppress. Those closest to them see it, even try to point it out, but they arrogantly shut those people out through methods of control to avoid facing reality. So when a person makes a statement like, “Don’t blame the devil, just own it and overcome it!” That statement might actually come from the work of the demonic to create a stronghold in a person or situation, which they will likely never overcome.
Let me explain.
The devil (diabolos, or accuser) sets himself up to work on the mind and heart of a person using their natural bent. If a person doubts or has a low self esteem, the accuser exploits their own doubts to make them feel worthless. For those who are strong and confident, the demonic plays on their pride so they look down on those who struggle and think, “What’s wrong with that person!? I’m not gonna give them any of my time.”
So in one person the demonic appeals to their pride to make them feel like they are in the right; in another person the demonic appeals to their doubt and they wallow in despair.
Now the demonic can never posses a Christian (for we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of God for the day of redemption – Ephesians 1). But the demonic can and does influence Christians through demonic oppression (see Ephesians 6:10ff.) And the demonic will target those who are striving to be effective for the Kingdom of Heaven. The demonic will target churches to get them off track, and the accuser will target those who are arrogant and those who emotionally struggle. When the enemy exploits this, we need to recognize it and turn to the Lord instead of our natural instincts.
So how can you tell there is the beginning of a supernatural struggle in which you need to turn to the Lord in prayer? When you or people around you begin to become irrational. Some of this might be a chemical imbalance in one’s brain or hurts and hang-ups from one’s past that create a filter of understanding and response. But as we develop the attitude of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12), we will interact with people in these situations differently. We (Christians – see Matt. 5:1-2) are called to take on Christ’s nature (Galatians 2:20), reflecting His character to become a beacon of light (Matt. 5:14-16), a safe harbor for people to seek God and be transformed by renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). It is then we experience freedom.
If you become annoyed and look down on someone when they begin to struggle, check your pride and pray. Offer to seek the Lord with that person and encourage him or her through prayer with them. If you begin to struggle, know that by seeking the Lord in prayer, He will calm your spirit and bring peace, which surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:4-7).
As this relates to Dare2Share coming up as a church, of course the accuser will play on your doubts if you don’t want to do it; and the accuser will play on your pride if you look down on those who don’t desire to do it. In both cases, pray. What does God want for you, and then obey.