|St. George and the Dragon|
When we realize the similarities between physical and spiritual warfare, we see the dangers of sending novice believers into battle, under the pretense of “claiming their authority in Jesus.” Just as physical warfare is not for the young or weak or untrained, so spiritual warfare is not for those who are unprepared for battle. Entering the fray without proper spiritual maturity, strength, or training would be spiritual suicide. So the purpose of this study is to prepare the believer for the spiritual conflicts that every Christian must at some point face.
In 1988, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart suffered the humiliation of a ministry spoiled by his involvement with an exotic dancer. His denomination, the Assemblies of God, mandated that he leave ministry for a time, but he resign his pulpit. His reason: the devil made him do it. The only catch was that while comedian Flip Wilson had been attempting humor when he said it, Swaggart really meant it. Citing demon possession as the culprit, he took no personal responsibility for his actions. Instead, he reported that his friend and fellow televangelist Oral Roberts had cast demons out of him during a phone call. Because he’d been delivered from this oppression, he was now fit for ministry. So Swaggart continued on, business as usual, ignoring the ecclesial authority of his denomination.
While I make no judgment as to the reality or fiction of Swaggart’s demons, I will say that evangelical Christianity gained a renewed perspective on demonic possession. Many believers began to see demons hiding in every shadow, ready to pounce with their temptations and attack with their treachery at any moment. Instead of taking personal responsibility for their sin, they felt justified in blaming Satan and his devils for their misdeeds. They ignored James 1:14-15, which says, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Certainly the devil can and does tempt believers to sin, but we often do a very good job on our own, thank you very much. We make his job easy, so that all he has to do is provide the catalyst for temptation, letting our own depraved souls do the rest.
Christians do need to take spiritual warfare seriously, but I fear that all too often we misunderstand what it means. While demon possession and witchcraft certainly are realities, the truth is that most believers don’t come into overt contact with them very often. Certainly angels and demons still do battle in the heavenly realms, even as they have done since Lucifer’s rebellion. Yet our theater of war is more often the spiritual battle that wages in our own souls, rather than in celestial regions. Most believers face spiritual conflict in the day to day decisions they make in life, and on their knees in prayer, rather than in some exorcist’s office.
This inner warfare of the soul is the subject of our study. While we will make reference to the many New Testament and Old Testament scriptures pertaining to spiritual warfare, we will focus primarily on the book of Psalms. No book delves deeper into the inner person than the book of Psalms. For this reason, Psalms has been a favorite book of spiritually-minded Christians for generations and indeed, since the dawn of our faith.
Most Christians don’t set out to sin—they just stumble into it. Sin creeps up on you where you least expect it. It begins with something as simple as walking in the wrong direction. Imagine the alcoholic who decides to go for a walk. The road forks to the right and to the left. The road to the right leads to his church, where nearby live many of his new Christian friends and mentors. The road to the left leads to the downtown district where he used to frequent bars and liquor stores. He stands at the crossroads, deciding which way to walk. He doesn’t say, “I think I’ll go and have a drink.” He simply decides to walk down the road to the left and see what there is to see. He’s walking in the counsel of the ungodly.
The left-hand road leads to the streets where he finds his old drinking buddies on the corner. They see him, and invite him to stop for just a bit. He doesn’t say, “I think I’ll have a drink with them,” but he does decide to stop for a chat. He goes from walking in the counsel of the ungodly to standing in the path of sinners. It’s a subtle degeneration—one that he doesn’t even perceive. But just watch the trouble it causes!
“Why don’t you come in and take a load off your tired feet?” one of his old friends says to him. He doesn’t intend to do anything but have a seat for a while, but before you know it he’s gone from standing in the path of sinners, to sitting in the seat of scoffers. From walking, to standing, to sitting—and now he’s got a glass in his hand. That glass that he never set out to find, has now found him. It’s not because he decided to misbehave from the beginning, but because he just wasn’t careful about the little decisions he made along the way.
Psalm 1:1 pronounces a blessing on the person who does not follow that kind of path. Instead, verse two suggests a better obsession than the sin that so easily entangles: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.” When you set your mind on the things of God, His word that lives in your heart will help you decide, when you stand at the crossroads.
Psalm 48 is a meaningless psalm to most believers, when we interpret it literally to be about Mount Zion. However, it is a deeply profound psalm if we understand that the heart of the believer is the temple of God. Then, this psalm is no longer about a holy city and now is about a holy heart.
Have you ever driven through a city, or part of a city, that was falling down and in disrepair? Likely the city did not have enough resources to maintain itself the way it once did. Perhaps it had fallen along way from its past glory. Maybe the city officials didn’t take enough time to maintain it properly. It is the duty of every Christian to “12 Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, 13 consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”This means that the Christian should “walk circumspectly in the world (Ephesians 5:15).” It also means we should take an introspective look at the heart’s condition. Though Israel had a king, he could not always focus on local matters—so cities had the equivalent of a mayor. God is the King of the believer’s life, but He leaves the believer to be the mayor of his own heart, able to examine his own condition, shore up any defenses, and take stock of spiritual and emotional provisions. Verses 12-13 show that when the mayor of a city takes proper care to maintain its walls, towers, bulwarks, and citadels, he assures that another generation will survive to lean of God’s goodness.
God’s desire is that your heart “be beautiful and lofty, the joy of all the earth…the very center of the world and the city of the great King (v. 2).” This doesn’t mean that God wants believers to be proud and boastful, arrogant and egotistical. It means that when the believer finds his center, when God becomes his center as the Temple was in the center of Jerusalem, then God will in turn make the believer the one to whom the world turns to find its center.
“God is in her citadels. He is known to be her sure refuge (v. 3).” Jerusalem wasn’t great because the Jebusites had made it so; it was great because the king chose to make it his stronghold. So too the Christian who achieves greatness can take no credit for what he has achieved. It was the King of kings, making His home in the believer’s heart, that made the Christian great.
Vv. 4-8 show the result of a city that is strong in the Lord, inside and out: “4 For behold, the kings assembled, They passed by together. 5 They saw it, and so they marveled; They were troubled, they hastened away. 6 Fear took hold of them there, And pain, as of a woman in birth pangs, 7 As when You break the ships of Tarshish With an east wind. 8 As we have heard, So we have seen In the city of the LORD of hosts, In the city of our God: God will establish it forever.”
As the Temple is at the heart of Jerusalem, a God is at the heart of ever believer, v. 8 is at the heart of this psalm: “We have waited in silence on Your lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of your temple.” It could appropriately be rephrased, “We have grounded ourselves at the Holy of Holies and prayed, waiting on Your lovingkindness.
This is the core. This is the center. This is the heart: to wait on God in silence, to “be still, and know that [He] is God (Ps 46:10).”
What is the result of a centered soul resting in God, waiting on God? V. 9 says, “Your praise, like Your name, reaches to the world’s end.” The believer becomes a beacon of praise, spiritually broadcasting God’s Name to the ends of the earth. Through meditation, through emptying himself of anything but God, the believer becomes a conduit of divine love, that extends to the world’s dark corners.