Do you remember years ago on September 11, 2001, when the first jet slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City? I was drinking my final cup of coffee before work when the morning news program I was watching was interrupted to broadcast live pictures of a gaping hole in the world's tallest building. The commentators speculated endlessly about the cause of the "accident." When told about the crash, President Bush was reported to have said, "That's one bad pilot!"
Many of us felt the same way. If indeed the crash had been caused by pilot error, perhaps the remedy for future accidents would have been to order remedial training for pilots, better navigation systems installed in planes, or more skilled air traffic controllers at airports.
But we soon discovered that this was no accident. When another plane crashed into the second tower, we immediately knew that America was under attack from a hostile force. For the first time in more than a hundred years, an enemy had attacked us on our own continent, forcing us to quickly formulate a strategy for defeating this new adversary. Knowing the source of a problem is crucial for developing a strategy to combat that problem. A navigational accident demands one response. A hostile strike requires a completely different strategy.
When The Other World Invades Your World
Every day our world is invaded by what are commonly thought to be random events . . . and we respond accordingly:
Couples divorce so we develop marriage enrichment seminars.
Drug use among children increases so we educate them about the dangers of narcotics and encourage them to "Just say 'no'."
Use of pornography among Christians rises dramatically so we organize accountability groups.
Churches fight and threaten to split so we hire arbitrators to help us with conflict resolution.
Christians complain of depression and thoughts of suicide so we medicate them with our latest drugs.
Please understand, I am all for marriage seminars, drug education, accountability groups, conflict resolution, and psychiatric medication when necessary. But what if the source of our conflicts is something more than just random events? What if the explanation for the problems that assault us regularly is something other than "stuff happens"? What if we are indeed under enemy attack? Would we change our strategy–or at least adapt it–to confront such a reality?
Meet Your Real Enemy
The Bible allows us to lift the curtain of our visible existence so that we can see the world as it really is. Through the lens of Scripture we discover not only that there is an unseen world . . . but it is a world at war. In perhaps the seminal passage in the New Testament about this spiritual conflict the apostle Paul writes:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).
Notice Paul's use of the personal pronoun "our." This war is not just a spat between two cosmic forces that has little to do with us. We cannot shrug our shoulders when we read about it and say "I don't have a dog in that fight" (a favorite Texan expression). We do have a stake in this battle. Why?
Whether you realize it or not, you are living in the crossfire of this spiritual war. You have an Enemy who is determined to destroy everything and everyone important to you. Those who dismiss such words as being "over the top", "sensationalistic", or simply secondary to "more important spiritual realities" do so to their own detriment. The late pastor Martyn Lloyd Jones wrote . . .
Not to realize that you are in a conflict means one thing only, and it is that you are so hopelessly defeated, and so "knocked out" as it were, that you do not even know it–you are completely defeated by the devil. Anyone who is not aware of a fight and a conflict in a spiritual sense is in a drugged and hazardous condition.
Admittedly, most Christians are not aware of this intense battle in which we are engaged. Although we regularly witness the fallout of the Enemy's assaults all around us–broken marriages, wayward children, divided churches, inexplicable acts of violence–we fail to connect the dots and understand the source of many of our conflicts.
How can we not only survive, but win the war that has been waged against us? Paul encourages us to "put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6:12). In my book THE DIVINE DEFENSE I use this passage to outline six simple strategies for winning 'the greatest battles of our lives." Yes, our adversary is formidable, but he is also defeatable.
Avoiding the Extremes
However, in addressing the subject of Satan and spiritual warfare we need to exercise caution. Satan is just as pleased by those who exalt him as by those who ignore him. Even though Satan and his forces are real and really powerful, we need not fear them, nor do we need to become obsessed with them.
Author Neil Anderson compares the world of Satan and his demons to the world of germs. We know that germs, though invisible, are all around us. They inhabit our food, our water, our air, and other people with whom we come in contact. Some people are absolutely phobic about germs and spend their lives trying to insulate themselves from any contact with them.
But the right diet, appropriate rest and exercise, and practicing some simple principles of hygiene will protect you from most infections. You do not have to obsess about germs to be free from them. Yet, without an awareness of these microbes–and the ways to protect yourselves from them–you would be more prone to illness and even death.
We need to exercise balance in our understanding of this complex subject of spiritual warfare. But please do not equate "balance" with "passive." As the ancient warrior Sun Tzu observed:
The art of war is of vital importance . . . . It is a matter of life and death, a road to either to safety or to ruin. Hence, under no circumstances can it be ignored.
You are in the middle of an invisible, though very real, war.
The stakes are high.
Your enemy is skilled, armed, and determined.
The possibility of losing everything important to you is real.
You must be aware of and prepared for the fight.
Adapted from The Divine Defense by Robert Jeffress (Waterbrook Press, 2006).