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Practical Spiritual Warfare in ISM 

Ministry to international students will, of necessity, involve spiritual warfare. .  Jesus told the apostle Paul that he was sending him to the Gentiles to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.  Spiritual warfare is the intersection between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan where Satan’s control is broken and God reigns in power.

When we engage in spiritual warfare, we see students who have been bound by Satan come to know and follow Jesus Christ.  Spiritual warfare takes place when students who are following the Lord but still have areas of bondage in their life are set free.  Spiritual warfare takes place when we who are workers among international students face spiritual resistance and opposition and overcome those things to advance the gospel. 

Let me give you some recent examples from my ministry of what spiritual warfare looks like in the context of international student ministry. 

 An international student we were serving just returned to a remote part of China to share the gospel.  The last time she visited this same area, she reported she was tormented by demons who enticed her to stop sharing the gospel and to kill herself.  She suffered greatly. Part of her reentry training was preparing her to face that spiritual opposition and overcome it. 

Another international student from India was having night terrors every night.  She sensed a presence in her room that would sometimes touch her on the side and was seeking to get inside of her.  As a result, she would stay awake all night until the dawn came and then she would only sleep a few hours. As a result of engagement in spiritual warfare, she was able to completely overcome these night terrors and sleep peaceably at night. 

Recently, an international student who began to study the Bible with me became sick every time he came.  Instead of being able to engage in Bible study, he would go to the bathroom where he would stay for a long period of time.  This was not because he was having some physical condition like irritable bowel syndrome, but it was because of spiritual interference. 

In another case, one of the small group leaders leading a Bible study for international students came to me for counsel.  She said that one of the people in her small group was being tormented by evil spirits and she asked me what she should do.  What would you have told her? 

We need be equipped to deal with such situations and we need to know how to equip international believers to be victorious in spiritual battle.  This is an essential part of their reentry training. The reality is this: the influences of secularism and naturalism in our environment have blurred our awareness of spiritual realities that the Bible speaks clearly about.  The word of God clearly tells us that we have three enemies.  We have the enemy of our own flesh, we have the enemy of the world system, and we have an enemy of Satan, who works through that world system and our flesh to keep us away from God and to cause us to sin and stay in bondage.  Many of the students that we deal with, however, come from cultural contexts where the reality of the spiritual world is very strong and where the rituals they perform and the traditions they are part of recognize the importance of protection from evil spirits that can harm them.  International students do not have this type of separation that we tend to have in the West. There is a danger in becoming excessively focused on this area and there is the danger of not giving it its proper attention. 

 In a significant part of Jesus’ ministry was freeing people oppressed by Satan.  In the Gospel accounts, Jesus had many encounters with Satan and demonic forces. Jesus identified a key aspect of His role as being the Anointed One was to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and to set the oppressed free.  Jesus said that when He drove out demons by the finger of God, this was a recognition of the presence of the kingdom of God, the reign of God in people’s lives. When Peter summarized Jesus’ entire ministry in Acts 10:38, he stated that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit in power and He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil because God was with Him.  John tells us in I John 3:8 that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s works. 

 Not only did Jesus practice it, but it was an important part of His discipleship training with the twelve.  In fact, we are told in Mark 3:14 that when Jesus called the disciples to be with Him, He did that so that He would send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.  The disciples practiced this as part of their ministry, although imperfectly and sometimes failing. Other disciples such as Philip, the evangelist, engaged in spiritual warfare, such as recorded in Acts 8.  Early church history reflects a very clear continued practice of spiritual warfare. In the early church, up until A.D 200, baptism was preceded by the type of freeing from evil spirits as a normal course. Jeffrey Burton Russel said in his book, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, “Until about 200 A.D., baptism was often preceded by a right of freeing people from demons.  Beginning about 200, the deliverance and formal renunciation of Satan were incorporated into the baptismal rite.” 

In the teaching epistles, believers are taught to engage in spiritual warfare.  For example, in Ephesians 6, we are told to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes.  We recognize that in our struggle, we are not struggling against flesh and blood, but against these rulers, authorities, and powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  While there is no direct command such as Jesus gave to His disciples to cast out demons, we recognize in passages such as 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, which talks about strongholds, and Ephesians 4:27, which talks about footholds, that the same concept is involved.  This is similar to the epistles not having a direct statement about making disciples, but the principle of making disciples is there. 

 In order to help people who are being affected by demons, we need to have a clear understanding of what demonization is.  There is a Greek word, daimonizomai, that is used 13 times in the New Testament and it means to be under the power or influence of demons in certain areas.  It can also mean to have a demon, but this does not mean possession. It just means there is an area of influence that demons are having in a person’s life, either in their mind or their emotions or in their body.  But if a person belongs to Jesus Christ and God has come into them and they are born again, they cannot be controlled in their spirit. 

We should also recognize that there are different levels of demonization.  Some people can be highly demonized, some people can have just one area of their life that is being affected by a demon.  We should recognize that there is a difference between having psychological problems, physical problems, and demon problems, although since we are a holistic people, these things interrelate to one another.  The difference between having thoughts that have been influenced by Satan and being demonized is these thoughts will come on a continual basis or they will be a regular part of a person’s life.

How does demonization occur in a person’s life?  The main access is through deception.  That is, when we believe lies, those lies provide the foundation for demonic activity.  It is also possible that through the influence of our ancestors are passed down into our life.  Third, if we have been sinned again, particularly experienced some childhood wounding or trauma where someone has done something wrong to us, that can also lead to an opening to demonic activity.  And then if we continually practice sin, over a period of time, and we keep yielding that place in our life to the evil, then that can provide an opening.  Lastly, if we are involved in occult activity or with objects related to the occult, that can also provide an influence.  This means it is very important for us to discover, when a person is coming to Christ, what type of influences are in their background, from their ancestors, from their worship of other gods, from their religious traditions, and from their patterns of sin in their life.  This would be very important as part of the discipleship process.  

 How can we recognize, then, if a person is being affected by demonic spirits?  We see in the Scripture some very clear indications of the activity of demons in a person’s life:

  1.     Restlessness, such as we found in Mark 5:5 and Luke 11:24. 
  2.     A tormented mind.  When a person has attacking, destructive, confusing, and accusing thoughts, then this is an indication.  This should not surprise us because Satan is characterized as an accuser in Romans 12:10. 
  3.     Another sign is that people are driven to do things – they have compulsions, such as we saw in the slave girl who was following Paul around and though she was saying something that was not incorrect, the way she was saying it was very compulsive.  Some of these compulsions can lead to uncontrollable anger, a desire to curse, the sense of guilt despite the fact that they have confessed sins, that could even mean they feel that they have committed the unpardonable sin, addictions of all kinds, desire to hurt or punish themselves. 
  4.     Another characteristic is an inability to concentrate on Scripture because we know Satan seeks to steal the word of God from us. 
  5.     The person also may have intrusive thoughts coming into their mind that are  almost a like a voice speaking to them in their mind. 

How can we help internationals get free from demonic strongholds?  First of all, we do not start here, but we test it out. Sometimes the students themselves are very aware that this is their problem.  Other times, they may not know that this is a problem. I highly recommend studying the life of Christ for His pattern of encountering the forces of darkness and overcoming them and also looking at how the disciples were trained by Jesus. 

The general approach is to take those areas that I mentioned before, the places where the influences come, through ancestors, through these ungodly beliefs or lies, through the patterns of sin in their life, and through these unhealed deep emotional wounds, and apply Scriptural truth to each one of these areas to help them.  If they break the pattern of sin in their life, if they separate from the ancestral practices, many times a demonic problem will disappear by itself. We also need to make sure that we teach, as part of our discipleship, the authority of the believer in Christ and understand what it means that we are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ. 

The key here is not to focus on learning a method, but being clear of the power of Christ, being able to recognize the problem, and then apply it to that person’s life.  Some of the principles that we should involve are:

  1.     We should always invite the Holy Spirit’s presence and protection.
  2.     We should use the authority of Christ to bind fear in a person’s life.  Fear is one of the biggest obstacles that we have to overcome and that often keeps a person from seeking the type of help that they need.  So we should pray offensively against fear and ask it to be stopped in Jesus’ name.
  3.     We want to ask the person to make sure they practice confession of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.  They need to ask forgiveness for participating in these sins, including anything such as ancestor worship or worship of other gods.  They should ask God for forgiveness and they should renounce those things. 
  4.     We should also invite God’s spirit to come and identify or make clear if there is any demonic spirits present in the person’s life.  We can pray together with the person on that.  Many times the person, as we are praying, will recognize an impressing thought in their mind that is a thought that we can recognize as a demonic thought.
  5.     Once sin is confessed and evil associations are renounced, we can order the evil spirits to leave a person’s life.

 As we begin to use the authority of Christ and pray, sometimes there will be a manifestation of these demons through the bodily movements of a person or the person may cry out, such as the people did in the Scripture, or they may actually say through the person the very things we read about in Scripture when Jesus encountered demons and they cried out about recognizing who Jesus was and knowing that Jesus had come to destroy them. 

 Let me tell about my own journey, as I have come to see the importance of this in international student ministry.  As a result of reading through the book of Mark, I noticed Jesus had many encounters with demonic spirits, but I had not seen demonic activity in my own life and ministry, I asked the Lord about this.  I said, “Lord, I know your word is true, I believe everything that is written in here, and I am wondering why you encountered so many people who are demonized and I have not seen anyone who is demonized.  Where did all the demons go?”

 A short time afterwards a person came to me from my Bible study group, saying that a person was saying that they were being bothered by evil spirits.  I told the person, “Bring her to me. Let us together see what is going on.” When she came and I explained to her that Christ had all authority and power and I quoted from Revelation how Satan had been cast down from heaven, this woman then fell on the floor, started moving like a snake, and a voice started speaking out of her, “Leave me alone,” and in a very different tone than the woman’s natural voice.  I recognized that this is it. This is the manifestation of an evil spirit. Then I simply did what I saw Jesus do in the Scripture. I commanded the demon to give its name and identified a particular activity that it was doing in the person’s life. Then I asked that woman to take a stand against that demon and to pronounce that she did not want to have anything to do more with that demon. I declared the truth of God as opposed to the lie of what that demon was doing in that person’s life.  

Through that process, then, we were able to command that spirit to leave that student’s life and the spirit left with a shriek.  There were actually several spirits presently working in that person’s life. But after those spirits left, the woman’s countenance changed.  She became very peaceful and her whole demeanor changed and as she was weeping very softly, not in a sorrowful way, but in a different way. She had a beautiful peace face and she told me that she was hearing a different voice in her mind, telling her that she was a beloved daughter of God, that God greatly loved her.  This was different than the accusing thoughts that she was having previously. 

When I saw that picture and it reminded me of the demoniac I had read about in Mark 5, after Jesus helped him.  He was sitting in his right mind, clothed at the feet of Jesus. I saw the beauty of people encountering the power of God and coming to a deeper level of freedom in their life.  I decided right then and there that I would want to make sure, as part of my ministry, that I was ready to help people who had demonic problems. Ever since that time, on a regular basis, it has become a normal part of ministry.  I would expect that if you have not had experiences in this area, but you go ahead and study and prepare yourself, then you will find there are people there who come to you for help or that you recognize spiritual dynamics that you had not seen before. 

 For the sake of the advancement of God’s kingdom, and for a holistic discipleship approach, and for preparing returnees who are going to go home and encounter these types of situations, let us press on to actively engage in spiritual warfare.  The victory is ours in Christ.

Engaging in Spiritual Warfare


Spiritual warfare is a topic often ignored, but Rich does not shy away from addressing what the Bible has to say about it. Rich candidly shares how he has seen the same spiritual warfare of the Bible active in his ministry. Are you prepared for battle?

Spiritual warfare is a topic often ignored, but Rich does not shy away from addressing what the Bible has to say about it. Rich candidly shares how he has seen the same spiritual warfare of the Bible active in his ministry. Are you prepared for battle?