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Bob Larson: "Understanding Prayer as Warfare Against the Devil"

The first time I encountered a demon was in Singapore some 40 years ago. As a young single man and a comparatively new Christian, I had embarked on a long solo trip through many countries. I ended up in Singapore at just the right time to witness a Hindu ceremony called Thaipusam in honor of the god Shiva and the goddess Kali.

Demons are more overt in many places in Asia and India than they are in the United States, where they invade academia and the intelligentsia and hide behind “scientific inquiry” and “reason.” When you talk to Asians and Indians about the spirit world, they know what you’re talking about because demons make their presence known there on an almost daily basis.

The day swirled with sights, sounds, and strange rituals, including the self-mutilation of devotees. One of them took three-foot steel skewers and pushed them all the way through one cheek and out the other. Another one extended his tongue, took a sharp knife and pierced it vertically, and left the knife in so he could not retract his tongue. Others took hundreds of fishhooks and put them into their backs and chests—and then they would hang objects from the hooks in order to rip and tear at the flesh. Some took spike shoes with the nails pointed upward and strapped them onto their feet. Others ailed themselves with knives or inserted huge meat hooks into the muscles of their backs so they could tow an idol through the streets. Hundreds of people, mostly men, were doing this. In spite of all the torture, I never saw a single drop of blood.

I asked people, “Why don’t you bleed?” the answer was always the same: “Our god does this to show his power.” Though I was new to my faith, that idea seemed like the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus. It was a bloodless gospel that was not really good news to anybody. These people were so far gone in a trancelike oblivion that they didn’t even know what was happening to them. They would start at one temple and end up six or eight hours later at another one miles away without any memory of the torture.

At one point, a young Indian man had been chanting ecstatically from the sacred Hindu scriptures. Abruptly and unexpectedly, his features contorted and his eyes bulged out unnaturally while an unseen force jerked his head backward and he screamed, falling to the dirt in crippling spasms.

“What is happening to him?” I asked a bystander.

“The spirit of Kali has entered him,” the man stated, “and her entrance always affects people like this." 

As unsettling as this entire experience seemed, it confirmed for me much of what I had been sensing and learning, which was later reinforced by in-depth study and one-on-one ministry experiences in the United States.

Confrontational Ministry

I began to realize that God had called me to confront the powers of darkness in an aggressive way. Even though most people try to steer clear of spiritual warfare, I became convinced that the Kingdom of God would never be able to advance unless more believers came to understand that the devil and his demons are unquestionably real and that each one of us has a personal and vital role in taking them on.

You don’t have to be in a developing country to run into demons. In fact, you probably encountered some already this week as you went about your daily routines. Without expecting a “demon behind every bush,” you can learn to see the demonic elements in the intractable-seeming conflicts and circumstances that occur in your life and the lives of your family and others. And you can learn to deal effectively with them.

Won’t all this attention to demons create an unbalanced emphasis? Not if you take it as only one component of your spiritual experience. Set into the context of wholehearted faith (and I mean that both in terms of zeal and a wholeness of spirit and soul), the ongoing and malicious opposition of satan and his evil minions becomes just one more thing to discern and deal with.

Each of us needs to take hold of our whole calling as sons and daughters of God. Jesus calls us His own, and He has given us His authority, commanding us to do the works that He Himself did and still does (see John 14:10-12; Luke 4:18). What does that mean for us? Well, what did Jesus do?

Jesus came to Earth as a man in order to defeat the devil (who was holding the world in captivity) and to obliterate his works. e apostle John wrote, “...For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

With His Spirit dwelling in our spirits, we carry on His devil-defeating work today. e same devil who was known as lucifer when he asserted him-self against God and was thrown down from Heaven (see Rev. 12:7-12) is the evil one we are fighting today. Although he was defeated definitively by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, he still “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8 NASB).

In other words, the battle has been won already, but it has not yet been entirely enforced. Who are the enforcers? You and I are called to impose the victory of Christ on the devil and his demons.

You are in a Battle

The devil is the prince of this present age, the god of the atmosphere, and the job of driving him out is too big for just a few people. Every single Christian has an assignment in this ongoing battle.

We are in a war, like it or not. Naturally, a lot of Christians do not want to be involved. They would rather think about Heaven. They don’t want to take risks or get their hands dirty. They think that if they ignore the battle that rages all around them, they won’t have to get involved and that its consequences will not touch them.

But they are involved by default. The first thing you need to know is that every child of God who has confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is involved in this battle. In fact, even if you’re not saved, you’re involved simply by virtue of having been born on this planet. We are living on a battlefield where conflict rages day and night between two opposing forces.

When I was a kid, I remember riding the train. It had a cord you could pull to signal the engineer to stop. I’m sorry to have to tell you that the world we are riding on is not like the train; you cannot pull a cord to make it stop, and you cannot get off.

This battle between God and satan affects everything—every human being and every cultural, social, political, and moral realm of every nation on the Earth. Ceaselessly, evil battles with good, right clashes with wrong, dark- ness comes against the light, and the counterfeit struggles to supplant the real. e powers of the devil are not equal to the powers of God, but they take the offensive wherever they can. It’s our job to put them on the defensive—and to drive them away, establishing the Kingdom of God in as many places as possible.

Satan is Persistent

We are fighting against the devil, who is an intelligent strategist and an obstinate fighter. He refuses to acknowledge defeat until he has lost everything. Even then, he will fight to get it back.

Remember the Israelites and the Promised Land. Even though God told Moses and Joshua, “I have given you the land” (Num. 33:53), which was stated in the past tense as an accomplished fact, Joshua and his warriors did not relax once they got there. They couldn’t. They were too busy enforcing and possessing the promise. They were fighting. They were waging war to conquer city after city. And then they had to guard what they had conquered from being recaptured or lost.

In the same way, we must fight to possess the promises of God. We need to crumble walls in order to obtain the health and abundant provision that is on the other side. We need to lay claim to our inheritance and secure our rights. Once we win a city, we have to defend it. The enemy will never give up trying to get it back. If he fails on Monday, he will come back on Tuesday.

In all of my contending with demonic forces, I have never once heard a demon say, “You know what? You Christians are right. I’m giving up.” No, they do everything up to the last second to hang onto whatever foothold they have. They wangle and fight and bargain and do not give up until they are forced to. Apparently, even though the devil realizes that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection made him a loser, he’s just too proud to admit it.

Praying at All Times

We have our work cut out for us, but most people do not know how to wage this war. They think that prayer is intended to be a way to prepare for battle. But prayer is not merely preparation—prayer is the battle.

Paul knew this. That’s why, after describing our spiritual armor in his letter to the Ephesians, he insisted that we “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18 NASB). He also knew that we find ourselves in enemy territory from the day of our birth, so that when we start praying, we are marching into territory that already belongs to the devil. Our environment—government, culture, marketplaces of commerce and entertainment—was long ago donated to demons. No wonder the enemy works so hard to take away our prayer lives. Our prayers spell his doom.

We must accept the simple fact that we have a ruthless enemy, put on our Spirit-provided armor, and start fighting. The Bible tells us that the whole world lies in the hand of the evil one (see 1 John 5:19) and that the prince of the power of the air is the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience (see Eph. 2:2). The Bible also says:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).

The reason that some Christians have so much trouble is because they are ignorant of reality. Too many Christians go through their lives oblivious to the activities of the evil one. To them, he is an abstraction, and they seldom hear him preached about in their churches. They prefer to see the devil as a figment of human imagination, a concept left over from less sophisticated generations. Regrettably, as Hosea wrote, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge...” (Hos. 4:6).

You Have Been Drafted

You are not a volunteer soldier in this army; you cannot choose whether or not you want to participate. You were drafted into the Lord’s army on the day you said, “Lord Jesus, I receive You into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior.” By confession of your belief in His virgin birth, His blood atonement on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead, you were conscripted for life into the army of God, like it or not. Every blood-bought believer is in this army, so you have lots of company. There is no provision for conscientious objectors. 

When you were drafted into the Lord’s army by your Commander-in-Chief, it’s as if you suddenly switched sides. By default, you used to be on the devil’s side, although you probably didn’t realize it, and now you’re on the Lord’s side. That means that you have automatically, implicitly declared war on the devil. You don’t really have a choice about it. Your only choice is whether to go AWOL or to pick up your weapons and fight. Do you want to run, or do you want to stand strong in the strength that your Commander supplies? Do you want to go absent without leave from your Commander-in-Chief, or do you want to stand up and fight in the name of Jesus?

You have been caught in cross re—for your soul. Your decision to fight or retreat has eternal consequences. Your salvation has been secured in any case, but you don’t want to enter Heaven as a cowardly soldier who hid behind others when the battle got fierce. You want to march victoriously to your eternal destination knowing that you have fought the good fight and kept the faith.

When you become a soldier in the United States Army, you sign up for conflict. The commanding officer never promises that you will be safe or never shot at. He doesn’t assure you that you will never have to hurt anybody or that you’ll never see any blood. Far from it. In fact, you are taught how to fight and how to use weapons. It’s the same for Christian soldiers. I am glad that I’m fighting in the Lord’s army. I’d rather be ducking enemy re coming toward me than getting shot in the back running away.

Picture a young, good-looking soldier. That serviceman has been sifted and trained and tested. A recruiter didn’t simply scoop him up o the street, give him a uniform, and send him straight to the front lines of battle. No, he’s been thoroughly trained first. Besides being given weapons and taught how to use them, he’s been trained in teamwork and loyalty and obedience. His resolve has been tested and tried. What’s his commitment like? Is he willing to fight for his country to the death if necessary? Besides being drafted into the Lord’s army, you have been equipped to do the fighting you will be required to do. Jesus’ name alone puts terror into the hearts of His enemies. Jesus declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). And His Father in Heaven. 

...has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth (Philippians 2:9-10).

What is Warfare Prayer?

By invoking the name of Jesus, you are praying warfare prayer, which hinders evil operations in a place or in a person’s life.

But there is a difference between spiritual warfare praying and other kinds of praying, and that difference can be seen in one particular aspect—where your prayers are directed. When the devil has invaded somebody’s life, you do not pray, “Lord, if it be Your will, deliver this person from the devil.” No, you look that demon in the eye and say, “In the name of Jesus, come out—now! Not tomorrow, but right now!” You refuse to give him in inch. Your prayers should not sound like, “Let my people go next year”; or, “Lord, would You please let my people go free?” Instead you charge the enemy himself, ordering him, “Let my people go, now!” You direct your words to the devil, and you tell him what he must do. You never tiptoe around, worried lest you offend him.

Certain prayers do not bother the devil at all, even when they are verbose, eloquent, and deep. They may sound effective, but they don’t mean a hill of beans to him. Direct warfare prayers, however, really worry him. And worship (which doesn’t necessarily mention the devil, because it gives honor and glory to God alone) really perturbs him.

You are there to exorcise demons, not to pretty them up. We already have too many spiritual cosmetologists in the Body of Christ, people who pray pretty prayers and put makeup on problems. What we need are warrior-surgeons who can take the Sword of the Spirit and cut out the problem in the name of Jesus.

Most Christian leaders hold back from getting involved in deliverance because they are too intimidated by their own demons (too bound and too frightened to admit it) and because they just do not know how to confront the devil. Nobody explained spiritual warfare to them in Bible school or seminary. Or even if it was explained, they missed the part about Jesus’ authority—which is significantly weakened if a person has unrepented-of sin in his or her life. When you get involved in deliverance and you are practicing hanky-panky on the side, the devil is going to call your bluff. You have to walk the talk, live the life, and be bold with both the authority and power of Jesus Christ, bold enough to march into the jaws of hell, look the devil in the eye, tell him he is a loser, order him to get out now, and insist that you will never take “no” for an answer.

Doing What Jesus Did

I have devoted my whole ministry to praying warfare prayers. Yet I don’t want people to rely on me or any other expert to get the job done. I want everybody to know how to pray against the devil successfully. 

The Gospels record time after time when Jesus delivered people from unclean spirits—and commissioned the disciples to do so too. He taught them what they would need to know in order to combat the enemy of their souls. If you never thought about it before, just open your Bible and read Matthew 16:19; 25:41; Mark 1:12-13;23-28,34,39; 3:14-15; 6:7; Luke 4:1-13, 33-35; 10:17-20; and John 8:44-49. Jesus and His followers were confronting the devil at every turn.

Understanding how the devil robs and harms people gives fresh meaning to Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:30-37). After the man who had been robbed and beaten got bypassed by both a priest and a Levite, an ordinary Samaritan man came by and took it upon himself to help the victim. Jesus told this story, and then He said to His followers, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). That’s what He’s telling us to do, too.

You and I fight shoulder-to-shoulder in the Lord’s army. Let’s pray and persist in this cosmic war until the end of our time on Earth.

- Bob Larson, author of Demon Proofing Prayers

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