A few days ago I had a rough start.
One always hopes to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and energized and full of purpose. On this day, though, I woke and immediately realized that my mind had been racing through all the things that are stressing me out in life. This had been going on for maybe an hour before I woke. To top it off, there was this voice of condemnation that was laying it on pretty thick. It seemed like someone had taken the weight of every failure in my entire life and stacked it all on this one pressure point on my chest.
Not how you wanna start your day.
Waking up to spiritual warfare can be massively disorienting. I try to begin my days anchoring myself in meditation, prayer, a breathing practice, and some scripture. So it really seems unfair when the enemy comes after you before you've even had the chance to get out of bed and put your armor on. The enemy is not known for fighting fair.
I tried to snap out of it but it felt too difficult even to string a few words of prayer together. I had to admit those words of condemnation that were running through my head really had a lot of merit to them. So I just got ready and headed to work at my office. I felt like Christian, the main character from the Pilgrim's Progress, before his burden had been released.
Things had not improved by the time I got to my office so I opened up my laptop and went to find this video of early Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox choral music that I find to be helpful when I need some emotional and spiritual anchoring. I was looking for something sacred and full of gravitas to fill the air.
As I opened the app though, I saw a thumbnail for a recommended video and immediately heard the Spirit say, "You need to watch that." This video looked pretty stupid with a cover image that had a yellow smiley face that said "Jesus Loves You" and a picture of Jesus with a dialogue bubble that said, "It's true! I do!" The title of the video was "A Reminder: You are DEEPLY Loved and Delighted in by Jesus Christ." This kind of campy 90s Christian aesthetic is a huge turnoff for me normally but I was a little desperate and I saw the video was from a channel I enjoy called Pints With Aquinas, so I played the video.
Within a few minutes I was laying on the floor with my hands stretched out just basking in the love of Jesus. In the video there was this quote of Saint Teresa of Avila that really got me, "It is the blind hope which I have in his mercy–there is my only treasure. Why should this treasure not be yours?" I felt like she was in the room asking me that question. There may have been a few tears of relief. The heavy cloud of warfare dissolved and I spent about ten minutes just soaking in the love of Christ and letting him minister to my spirit.
This is War
So what was that all about?
Why did I wake up in such fear and anguish?
Did I eat a bad burrito the night before or was there something spiritual going on?
First off, this is a false choice. Lots of things influence our quality of life and our mindspace. Poor sleep and diet and lack of exercise can certainly trigger a spiritual crisis and the enemy is not above taking advantage of such things.
Also, we have a sin nature.
Also, we have wounds and brokenness from our past that shape our experience of reality.
Also, other people can bring spiritual warfare into our lives, not least through witchcraft and cursing.
All of these influences can work together at times to create a cluster bomb of warfare. Sometimes it feels like taking a sledgehammer to the chest, sometimes it's more subtle.
Intense spiritual warfare can seem totally out of the blue and often leaves me in this WTF? state of mind. But it is not random. The specific instances of spiritual warfare we experience are the tactical execution of a strategy the enemy has been deploying since very early in the story.
What story? The story of God, creation, fall, salvation, ascension, the mission of the Church in exile (you are here), return, and resurrection.
Who is this enemy? They are Spiritual Powers who are in rebellion against the Most High, Creator God: Father, Son and Spirit.
What do they want? They want to sit on the throne of God. They want to overthrow God.
What is their strategy? The Enemy knows they cannot overpower God, so instead, they opt for doing their very best to destroy the image of God. That's us. People, collectively, bear the image of God and so the Enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy us body and soul. Underneath this grand strategy the Enemy deploys many sub-strategies. Two strategies we see in my story above could be described as:
- Attack someone's ability to trust God
- Make someone forget about the Good News of salvation in Jesus and instead crush them with condemnation and hopelessness
Anyway, we live in the midst of a great, cosmic war and sometimes it looks like a really crappy morning. Weird, I know, but accepting this fact is extremely important for us because it changes how we interpret what's going on and what we do about it.
What We Do About It
So what do we do when we're taking fire? There isn't one pat answer to this question obviously but here's what it looked like for me on the morning in question:
- I should have asked for help. I didn't in this case but things would have been easier if I had. When I'm taking fire I will often text any of a number of trusted friends who carry the Gospel faithfully, know the ways of spiritual warfare, and are reliable to ACTUALLY PRAY for me as soon as they se the flare go up.
- Rather than trying to muscle it out I dropped everything I was doing and sought refuge in something God has used many times in my life: beautiful, ancient, choral hymns. I don't speak Latin, but my spirit seems to.
- I cried out, listened, and obeyed. I cried out to God and, when he spoke by telling me to watch a stupid-looking YouTube video, I obeyed (after a moment of hesitation admittedly).
This last point is critical. Recently, the Father has been lovingly discipling me in the area of disobedience. You would not believe the number of times I can repeat the mistake of disobeying God. Though really it often looks like turning him down when he makes an invitation. It looks like refusing his love.
Just the other day I was experiencing another round of heavy duty warfare with a similar sense of hopelessness and desolation. I was driving west, facing the mountains, and said to God, "What are you going to do about this? Do you see what's going one here? Everything is a mess and you don't seem to care."
His ever-so-gentle response was to say, "You see those mountains? How many times have I invited you to meet me there? I designed you in such a way that being in wilderness gives you life. That's where we'll talk."
I was skeptical but begrudgingly I said something like, "Fine, I'll go there now. I don't see how going for a hike is going to fix my problems and I don't even really believe that's you talking but I'm going to go there anyway just to check this box and get it out of the way."
I know, I know. Sometimes our hearts can sound a bit childish when we're speaking out of hurting, broken places. What do you do?
So the next thing I know I'm sitting on the edge of a wall of rock, looking out over a beautiful scene of boulders and glade and mountains and I feel the presence of God with me and I can breathe again.
I don't know what he'll tell you to do next time you're in the fog of war but listen up, don't talk yourself out of believing you heard him, and take him up on whatever he offers. It takes practice, and sometimes we hear wrong but there's grace and the scriptures and the discernment of our brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in the faith to help us.