Starting Gospel Movements on Campus: Spritual Warfare

by Paul on January 7, 2010

I received a text message from my wife while I was overseas:

“Really feeling down today. Don’t know why.”

Needless to say, her text caught my attention.  My wife had battled depression in the past, but there were always identifiable triggers.  This time it was unexpected and coincided with my overseas trip to train church planters who work in a closed country.  Things didn’t add up, so I decided to activate my prayer network.  I tweeted to my Christian friends:

“Think my family is dealing with spiritual warfare while I’m out of town.  Would appreciate prayer.”

Several of my friends responded – @ replies or through direct messages – to let me know that they were praying for us.  The next day I called my wife.  She was much better, able to get on top of the depression rather than the depression being on top of her.  She couldn’t figure out anything that would cause her to go down so quickly.  I told her that I felt we were dealing with spiritual warfare and that I sent out a Twitter request for prayer.  I felt that her ability to get on top of the depression so quickly after I asked people to pray was an indicator that this was a spiritual attack.  I told her that we needed to make sure we were talking with God regularly and asking for His protection.

What is spiritual warfare?

When we press forward into the dark parts of our community to bring the Gospel to the lost, we cause ripples throughout the spiritual realm.  God loves it when we obey Him and disciple the lost into a relationship with Him.  Satan, on the other hand, hates losing souls he thought belonged to him.  Consequently, Satan (or his demons) responds to the obedience of the saints negatively, hoping to cause them to abandon the battle entirely.

There are evidences of this spiritual conflict throughout Scripture.  The prophet Daniel gives an account of spiritual warfare between an angelic messenger and the Prince of Persia:

Daniel 10:1-21 (New International Version)

1 In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.

2 At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, 5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6 His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

7 I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. 8 So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9 Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

15 While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. 16 Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I am helpless. 17 How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.”

18 Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. 19 “Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.”

20 So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; 21 but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince.)

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we fight a spiritual battle:

Ephesians 6:10-20 (New International Version)

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For 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. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Jude tells us about people who do not understand spiritual warfare:

Jude 1:8-10 (New International Version)

8In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. 9But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” 10Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them.

It is important to note that spiritual warfare was a reality in the Old and New Testaments.  Even after Christ ascended, Christians had to handle the realities of spiritual conflict.  We deal with this conflict even today.  David Watson writes:

“In areas where the Gospel has never been preached, or in areas where traditional religions have reigned for a significant amount of tie, it is not unusual to find those engaging in Church Planting Movement activities confronted by spiritual conflicts that range from annoying to life-threatening.”

C.S. Lewis, as part of his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, wrote:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

If you seek to engage the lost with the Gospel – online or offline – you are engaged in a spiritual battle and will be affected by spiritual warfare.  David Watson warns:

“One does not have to seek out spiritual warfare when planting churches.  It will find the one doing the planting.”

How do we recognize spiritual warfare?

If you put a frog in hot water, the frog is smart enough to jump out.  If you put a frog in room temperature water, and slowly heat it, the frog will stay in the water until he dies from the heat.  If spiritual warfare was like the hot water – obvious – we would recognize it immediately and know what to do.  Unfortunately, Satan is much smarter than that.  He would rather turn up the heat gradually, almost imperceptibly, so that we never recognize the trouble we’re in.

Consequently, a lot of spiritual warfare takes the form of everyday stress and conflict.  Here are some examples:

  • Personal Conflict
  • Unexplained personal attacks by strangers
  • Illness
  • Depression
  • Series of Minor Incidents
  • Sleeplessness
  • Bad Dreams
  • Stress

Now, there is a problem with spiritual warfare looking so much like natural events.  People can become hyper-sensitive and see spiritual conflict where there is none.  They become too focused on the spiritual realm and miss natural reasons for the stress they face.  For example, there is depression that is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.  If someone is convinced their depression is a result of spiritual warfare, they may spend a lot of time praying and never seek the help they need to address the physical cause of their depression.  At the same time, there is a depression that is caused by spiritual conflict.  Looking for physical answers to a spiritual attack can be equally ineffectual.

So how do you know the difference?  When normal stressful events happen with uncommon frequency and coincide with expanding the Kingdom into areas of darkness, then you probably face spiritual warfare.  Additionally, unexplainable event that create stress and conflict can be indicators of spiritual warfare.  Unexplained conflict between friends and coworkers over minor issues can be indicative of spiritual warfare.  In my wife’s case, her unexplained depression that coincided with my work with church planters was a strong indicator of spiritual warfare.

What do I do when I think I’m facing spiritual warfare?

Ask people to pray. The Apostle Paul did not hesitate to ask people to pray for him. (Romans 15:30-31; 2 Corinthians 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19; Colossians 4:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2)   Neither should we.  If we’ve taken the time to set up a prayer network, these network becomes the first place we go for help.  Tools like Facebook groups, Facebook pages, Twitter, email and instant messages should be leveraged to provide prayer support.

Read God’s Word every day. God’s Word reminds us of the truth of our relationship with God.  The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to convict us of sin and bring us to righteousness and assure us of judgment.  God’s Word can also encourage us to press forward and continue to obey God and live righteously.

Ask God to reveal areas of disobedience. We sin.  We listen to the desires of our flesh and choose to disobey God.  This causes stress, conflict, and damages our fellowship with God.  Consequently, what we may believe to be spiritual conflict may be the natural consequences of living in disobedience.  Sometimes we are blind to our disobedience.  We need to ask God to reveal our sin so that we can make things right with Him and rule this out as possible cause for the conflict we face.

Fast. I’ll confess that I don’t understand why going without a meal matters to God.  When I fast, I confess this to Him and let Him know that my fasting is recognition of my need for God’s intervention in my life.  I know I can’t twist God’s arm to get what I want when I fast.  Instead, I allow my hunger to remind me of my need for God.  Every time my stomach rumbles, it reminds me to pray and confess that I cannot face this spiritual conflict without Him.  When I approach fasting this way I find that God draws near, convicts me of sin, and encourages me to continue in obedience.

Call your team together and discuss possible indicators of spiritual warfare. Satan wants everyone to believe they face spiritual battles alone.  When we take the initiative and share what’s going on with our team, we often find they are facing similar conflicts.  This realization is a powerful moment in spiritual warfare.  Now, we can pray for one another more specifically and know to extend grace to our teammates during this time of conflict.

See the results. When we see God answer our prayers and feel the spiritual conflict lift, we must take the time to recognize what God did.  Give glory to God.  Worship Him (as a team) for being righteous and for fighting the battle in a realm that we cannot see.

David Watson says, “Living in obedience is the best preparation for Spiritual Warfare.”   I think it is important to note that living in obedience also invites spiritual warfare.  In our team, if we aren’t experiencing spiritual conflict, we ask God to show us what we are doing wrong.  We don’t want to live passive lives that do not press forward into the heart of darkness to plant the Gospel and bring glory to God.  We don’t look for conflict, but we are ready for the spiritual conflict we know will happen as we obey the Great Commission.


Every once in awhile I like to create scenarios that require me to think about implementing Gospel planting strategies and applying tactics in new environments.  This is this is the 8th of a 21 part series talking about ways to use Gospel planting strategies with online and offline tactics to catalyze Gospel Planting Movements on a University Campus.

Also, these posts come from things I’ve learned from David Watson.  I’m applying them to what God has called me to do.  I encourage you to read David’s blog.

Other posts in this series:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

James January 8, 2010 at 12:49 am

Timely word. Thanks for putting this out there as it's helpful stuff.

John January 10, 2010 at 6:44 am

Just finished reading "God at War" by Greg Boyd. Warfare is so real, especially when we are seeking to be obedient to God. We must stay alert.

drdonlynch February 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Good stuff. However, consider the statement: "the best prep for warfare is obedience." Consider that obedience puts us into warfare. As we pursue the purposes of God, we run into our enemy who is opposing God's will. Warfare is not us picking a fuss with hell or hell picking a fuss with us as much as it is warfare over the will of God.

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