In my last post, we talked about the reality of spiritual warfare and how believers can fight back against Satan’s schemes. It sounds like a cliché Sunday School answer, but our main weapons in this battle are regularly reading the Bible and prayer (they become clichés for a reason!). Prayer is both an offensive and defensive weapon. We can pray for God’s protection against spiritual attack; we can also pray for God’s strength and deliverance when we’re being attacked.
1 Peter 5:6-9 provides a striking description of Satan, as well as advice on what we need to do to resist him:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
It requires humility to acknowledge that we are dependent on God and can’t control our own lives. Before we can cast our anxieties on God, we have to admit that we need His help, and pride often keeps us from doing that. I like the way the ESV study notes put it: “Worry is a form of pride because it involves taking concerns upon oneself instead of entrusting them to God.” It’s very difficult to acknowledge our own powerlessness. God is mighty; we are not. And God often uses very anxiety-provoking situations in order to teach us that exact concept. We can either succumb to the anxiety, or we can rely on God’s strength to bring us through.
I think it’s significant that the same phrase “stand firm” is used both in this passage and the Ephesians 6 passage on spiritual warfare. Satan is our enemy and he wants to destroy us. We need to be alert, watching for attacks, and this passage gives us two ways to help in that endeavor: don’t allow pride to prevent you from praying; and turn your anxieties into prayer, because God cares. A common way Satan attacks us is by convincing us that God doesn’t care- but that’s a lie from the Father of Lies, because we know God’s Word is truth!
Another lie Satan tells us is that we’re all alone in our struggles. We may think that no one else understands what we’re going through, or that no one else has as much trouble as we do in certain areas of life. This not only contributes to our anxiety, but it also causes us to become envious of others who seemingly have easier lives, discouraged about our hardships, and less likely to reach out to other believers in the Church who could help and pray for us. But Peter assures us that we are NOT alone. Suffering is being experienced by our fellow Christians all over the world. Believing that we are the only ones dealing with trials is another form of spiritual attack.
Philippians 4:4-9 has a very similar idea about replacing anxiety with prayer:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me- practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
This passage doesn’t directly mention spiritual warfare. But I think it has major applications to that topic. God cares about every situation in our lives (He says do not be anxious about ANYTHING) and doesn’t want us to worry. Instead, we are told to pray and leave it in His hands. The result of entrusting our requests to God is that He gives us immense peace that the world can’t understand. It defies logic. This peace guards our hearts and minds. The word “guard” is interesting, and I think it conveys our need for protection. What do our hearts and minds need to be guarded from? Spiraling into further anxiety or fear? What about spiritual attack, which anxiety makes us more susceptible to as we try to handle situations on our own instead of trusting God? The peace God gives us as we entrust our lives to Him through prayer keeps us fixed on Christ, and protects us from being overcome by fear and worry, no matter what we are going through.
Paul doesn’t just tell us what not to do; he also tells us what we should do, giving us some hints of how to stay on the offensive against Satan. First, we are told to rejoice always. It’s hard to fall victim to spiritual attack when we are constantly looking for things to rejoice about. Similarly, we are told to pray with thanksgiving. Having a thankful heart is very often the antidote to many sinful behaviors and attitudes that would make us vulnerable to spiritual warfare as we indulge our own fears, selfishness, and discontent. Lastly, we are told to keep our minds focused on honorable, true, excellent things. If we are consistently filling our minds with things of this nature (primarily found in Scripture), there will be very little opportunity for Satan to overwhelm our minds with harmful thoughts and ideas. By living this way, we will experience God’s presence and peace.
James gives us this instruction and promise in James 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” It sounds so simple, and in some ways it is, but it requires a lot of vigilance and discipline over our hearts and minds, which so easily stray away from God and towards the devil. Don’t make yourself an easy target in this battle by neglecting to read God’s Word and pray. Put on the whole armor of God each and every day. Be alert, stand firm, and resist the spiritual forces of evil that seek to harm us and render us ineffective for the kingdom of God.