Another area where real discernment is required is in the whole area of spiritual warfare. There are some Christians who see every disaster and every mishap as spiritual warfare. But sometimes things go wrong simply through our own fault or because we failed to see the consequences of our actions. If I eat the wrong things and end up with a stomach ache, that is not spiritual warfare. It is me ignoring what I know is good for me.
But on the other hand we should not dismiss spiritual warfare as an antiquated doctrine that has no place in the modern world. It is something clearly taught in Scripture.
We are told in Ephesians 6:12 that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Or again in 1 Peter 5:8 that Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
So is it right to see something as spiritual warfare? My experience over the years suggests that spiritual warfare can be discerned when there is a combination of factors beyond our control which seeks to undermine our witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, last Saturday I was laid pretty low with a virus. On the Sunday morning at St Michael’s the technology refused to work properly. Some people who would have loved to be at the service were unable to be there. That suggests to me that some spiritual forces were trying to disrupt what was going on!
How then do we respond when we discern spiritual warfare? First of all, we need to remember that Jesus is Lord. In ways beyond our understanding He is sovereign even when things go wrong. This is the great message of the book of Job. Satan goes out to provoke Job into cursing God, but even he is ultimately under the Lord’s control (Job 1). Sometimes the Lord permits suffering in order to test and to refine us. In some small way we are entering in the suffering of Christ who faced the full power of the evil upon the cross. Hence Peter advises his readers: Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Pet 4:12-13)
And this leads to the second point, that the suffering of Good Friday leads to the joy of Easter Sunday. Even though the opposition may seem overwhelming, the victory is ultimately ours in Christ Jesus. We may during this season of Lent identify with Jesus who was being tempted by the devil, but thanks to Jesus’ obedience even unto death, we know that evil does not have the last word.
So when it comes to the subject of spiritual warfare… don’t be scared, but be prepared! And remember, the best antidote is to find fellowship with other Christians, who will pray for you and stand by you. On our own we may be weak. But together we can stand upon the rock of Christ knowing that as Jesus said the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matt 16:19). That’s some promise, isn’t it?