This article was posted on the Gospel Coalition website.
After a few months on “our” mission field—a post-communist, dead, atheistic region—my family and I were reeling from shock. No, not culture-shock, though there was plenty of that. It was the shock of coming face to face with demonic forces beyond our comprehension.
Numerous strange events transpired: liters of urine poured into our stroller, blood splattered on our apartment door, a small hole drilled into our front door indicating a planned break-in (the hole is used to insert a small probe camera), much sickness, poor sleep, and even sensing an evil presence in our bedroom.
At first we thought we must be imagining things, but the horrid climax was the nightmares that tormented our 2-year old son. For many months he’d wake up screaming bloody murder, and we could not easily settle him back down. At two and a half, he was finally able to verbalize what he’d been dreaming about for the past few months. One of his most vivid dreams was about a woman with black hair and red eyes who wore only a bra and black pants and would offer him a basket of rotten fruit and force him to eat. His nightmare was X-rated, not a typical toddler-being-chased-by-a-bear dream.
Satan was not playing fair. Now the shock turned to anger. I scanned the recesses of my brain. What had seminary taught me about demonic activity? I couldn’t recall any class where we had discussed anything remotely similar to what we were experiencing. “Demonology 101” wasn’t even offered! But seminary did teach me not to panic in the face of theological conundrums. It gave me a lens through which I could see everything from the perspective of God’s sovereignty.
As Christians, we can be sure of the existence of Satan and demons because the Bible plainly depicts them as fallen angels who work in the world to oppose God and his people, and deceive and blind unbelievers to the truth of the gospel. We have a very real adversary who roams around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Pe 5:8). As the apostle Paul explains, “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” (Eph 6:12). The Devil is bent on destroying Christians and their testimony, and stopping the progress of the gospel.
What we experienced was “normal” for our context, and many other missionaries can testify to similar kinds of things. I call these sorts of scare tactics “demonic bullying.” In a place where the number of Christians is less than 1 percent and the rest of the population is consciously or unconsciously worshiping the enemy, this is not at all surprising. Satan does not want people rescued out of darkness and brought into the light. He will use ordinary, frustrating events to harass the believer, and occasionally he will employ extraordinary means to bolster his scare tactics, as was the case of my son’s dream.
Satan, demons, and their power are real, but they are not allowed to toy with us, even though that is what it feels like sometimes. The Devil is only permitted to do what God has decreed. I love the story of Job because the author pulls back the heavenly curtain for us, and we see Satan entering the stage of God’s courtroom. God himself brings Job to Satan’s attention. Satan is allowed to afflict Job, but within limits, albeit with severe consequences for him and his family. In Job’s case, Satan is not allowed to take his life. God’s sovereignty has always trumped Satan’s power.
From this side of the cross, we know his doom is sure. Our ultimate victory over Satan is guaranteed because our life is hidden in Christ, and he has already conquered all evil through his death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit, who indwells believers, is the down payment on our eternal inheritance. Since the coming of the Holy Spirit, the enemy can only harass, and he certainly cannot possess believers.
Our Counter-Action Plan
Because we were so overwhelmed with our situation, we needed help. We called our teammates to come pray with us. While our son was asleep, we prayed at his bedroom windows, that God would not allow any evil to enter into his room and that he would sleep peacefully. The next morning I asked him, “Did you have a nightmare last night?” His toddler answer was flabbergasting: “Yes, but this time the woman was outside my window, and she couldn’t come in.”
We don’t typically enjoy the privilege of seeing when and how God is acting in the supernatural world. But this time, we did! It was as if God were pulling back the heavenly curtain for us, just for a moment. God, in his sovereignty, was ministering to my little boy, protecting and comforting him in ways I could not. We were given a sneak peek into how God uses the prayers of his people to accomplish his will. How that glimpse ministered to our souls during that dark season!
This answer also spurred us on to pray more fervently. We started teaching our children to wield the weapons given to us and described in Ephesians 6, especially prayer and God’s Word. We came to expect attacks and be alert but also not become paralyzed by them. When we started evangelistic meetings in our home, one of our five children inevitably became sick, every week without fail. Satan’s attacks became so predictable, it was almost laughable.
Instead of canceling the meeting, we would call one of our dear teammates to come babysit and pray on the top floor while we held the meeting downstairs. We learned not to be intimidated and to pursue our calling anyway. We have never experienced an attack of that order again, but we have taken advantage of the gift of prayer on behalf of new teammates facing similar onslaughts. It is an honor to speak from experience and comfort them with the truths of God’s sovereignty.
We labor in the land of Martin Luther who summed up our experience quite well when he penned the words to the famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress”:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through him who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.