There is an expression people often use when we are talking to another person and getting absolutely nowhere. When they just don’t seem to be listening and whatever we say we can’t make them understand. They just couldn’t care less about what we are talking about. “It’s like talking to a brick wall,” we say. For so much of the time, when it comes to evangelism and witnessing and sharing our faith, it seems as though we are talking to a brick wall! Our words make no impression. It’s as if there is a thick solid brick wall between us and them and people just can’t hear what we are trying to say.
Sometimes that is our fault. Sometimes the walls can come from us and from the way we try to share the gospel. We fail to communicate, we use jargon, they really cannot understand a word we are saying. But at other times the walls come from the people we are speaking to. Consciously or unconsciously, many people have built up barriers of resistance to anything we could say which would unsettle their comfortable lives, anything which would get them thinking about the important issues of life and eternity, anything which would remind them of their own mortality.
And sometimes it is actually the devil who has built those walls to stop people who are lost from ever getting found! There can be genuine spiritual barriers which mean that our preaching and witnessing are ineffective.
2 Cor 4:3 Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
How can we help these people blinded by the devil to see God? What can we do to bring down these walls which stop people from believing in Jesus and being saved? That is the goal of this series on Spiritual Warfare. To equip us for those spiritual battles so that God can use us to set people free from the grip of evil and bring them to salvation in Christ.
The experience of church history and of churches in many parts of the world today suggests that some places and some people can be particularly influenced by evil spirits often as a result of activities in the past or present. So the first step in confronting evil is to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in discerning whether evil powers have any claim over any particular places or people. Then if there are any evil spirits present, we are called to challenge and rebuke those evil spirits. This is one way we fulfil Jesus’s commission to His church, not only to proclaim the gospel but also to bring healing and deliverance. As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. (Matthew 10:7-8)
Driving out demons was a central activity in the Ministry of Jesus. One third of all His miracles were miracles of deliverance. The same pattern is there in the book of Acts and that ministry of deliverance continued through the first three centuries of the Church.
In the second century AD the church Father, Tertullian, maintained that any Christian who did not know how to exorcise deserved to be put do death! Throughout the world even today, particularly in Africa, India, South America and the Far East, churches and missionaries coming into contact with people who worship idols and false gods frequently find themselves involved in deliverance ministry and in “power encounters” with the demons behind those false gods.
Over the last 30 years or so Christians have been realising that demons are not only found in the Third World. There are spiritual battles to be fought in USA and Europe and even in England! And there has been an explosion of books on the subject of “Spiritual Warfare” “Territorial Spirits” and “Spiritual Mapping”. Let me be honest. The majority of those books are not worth reading. Many are positively confusing – I do not think Frank Peretti’s books are at all helpful. Some books are just wrong. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let me point you to at least two authors who have vital insights for us in this field of Territorial Spirits and Spiritual Mapping.
Peter Wagner is Professor of Church Growth Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical theological college in USA. For 20 years he has been the world expert in the field of Church growth. Anybody thinking about church growth and evangelism has to take Peter Wagner seriously. And he has written and edited a number of books with titles like Territorial Spirits, Breaking Strongholds in Your City, Wrestling with Dark Angels and Engaging the Enemy. Then there is another good book written by John Dawson: Taking our Cities for God.
These writers not only quote the experiences of churches and missionaries but also look from scripture at the theme of Spiritual Warfare – approaches to prayer and evangelism which take seriously the fact that mission is a spiritual battle between good and evil, light and darkness. Behind the scenes of our efforts to spread the gospel, there is a spiritual war on!
Ephesians 6:11 Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For 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. 13 Therefore put on the full armour 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.
I deliberately repeat myself when I say that the experience of church history and of churches in many parts of the world today suggests that some places can be particularly influenced by evil spirits as a result of activities there in the past or present. Spiritual Warfare is concerned with confronting and driving out any evil powers which may, in some sense, have a claim on a particular area, so that the people there will be able to respond to the gospel with their eyes opened rather than blinded.
There is still some controversy over whether it is meaningful to suggest that the powers of darkness actually can “claim” a particular place or group of people as their own. The experience of missionaries supports this view. And in my judgement, the Bible does support the idea of such “territorial spirits” having influence and even control over particular places or areas or groups of people.
The tenth plague of the deaths of the firstborn was in God’s words `judgement on all the gods of Egypt’ (Exod 12:12). Behind all human idols are demonic powers.
Jesus referred to Satan as `the prince of this world’ (Jn 12:31), and Paul talks about `the God of this age (who) has blinded the minds of unbelievers’ (2 Cor 4:4).
In Daniel 10:12-13 the angel who was sent to Daniel says this:
12 “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.
This opposition of `the prince of Persia’ to God’s angel implies an evil spirit controlling an area. In the same way, there may well have been demons behind the earthly kings of Babylon and Tyre we read about in Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-16.
We can read about demons in Jewish literature written in the period between the Old and New Testaments and we can presume that much of their understanding about the activities of evil spirits underpins the New Testament understandings. It is particularly significant that we read that the demons in Legion seemed to fear being sent out of `their’ region (Mark 5:1-20). In the book of Revelation, Pergamum was the place `where Satan’s throne is’ (Rev 2:13). The Bible says relatively little about demons, but what it does say is consistent with the idea that demons can at least sometimes be associated with particular places.
And not only with places, but also with groups of people. The Old Testament teaches that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children (Lev 26:39, Jer 32:18) even to the fourth generation ( Exod 20:5, 34:7, Num 14:18). This may sometimes happen by demons gaining a hold on particular families. There is strong evidence from cultures which practise ancestor worship that demons can pass from parents to children or grandparents to grandchildren, what could be called “generational spirits”. And then Christians around the world in every place where the peoples around practise magic or voodoo know very well where that curses and spells have real power.
Books on Spiritual Warfare stress the importance of identifying WHETHER, repeat, WHETHER, there are evil powers at work in a particular area. God gives spiritual gifts of prophecy, discernment, knowledge and wisdom to His church. The Holy Spirit at work in every Christian allows all of us to hear God’s voice and be led by Him. We should always be listening for specific guidance about the approach we should take to evangelism, and for discernment about the presence of evil in particular places.
Some books give a name to this process of identifying any unseen spiritual powers at work in an area – they call it “spiritual mapping.” Peter Wagner defines SPIRITUAL MAPPING as `an attempt to see the world around us as it really is, not as it appears to be’. This involves research into historical and spiritual factors which could be influencing an area, as well as using all the spiritual gifts especially prophecy and discernment to discover the nature of the enemy’s activities.
The ways that demons might come to have some kind of “claim” on a particular area or group of people are the same as the ways that demons gain hold of a particular individual’s life. Most obvious would be in a place where different forms of the occult have been practised over the centuries. We have also talked before about Discerning The Spirits and some of the Doorways to Danger by which people can open their lives to the powers of evil. We mentioned MAGIC, spells and curses and all kinds of attempts to manipulate the spirit world, to gain power over enemies or to help friends. In these days we also have the many faces of the “New Age” movement as well as people dabbling in ancient Celtic religions and traditional British mysticism, not to mention White Witchcraft / Wicca / “The Craft” and explicit worship of Satan. We have talked about FORTUNE TELLING in all its different forms and also about SPIRITISM or SPIRITUALISM – attempting to communicate with spirits of the dead for various purposes including seances and Ouija boards. The Bible condemns all these occult practices very clearly because of the dangers of contact with demons. And over the years we have been called to help a number of people whose lives have been wrecked by demonic activity.
The gospel is spiritual warfare. Evangelism is spiritual warfare. In Acts 26:18 Paul tells us that the mission God gave him was to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
So how in practice can we engage in Spiritual Mapping? We have talked before about Prayer Walking. We saw that prayer walking is just a way of praying not at home or at church but “on the hoof”. We know that prayer is vital if we are to break down the barriers which can stop people from hearing and responding to the gospel. When we are praying for other people who we don’t know, why not go to their streets and their neighbourhood and pray for them there!
In prayer walking we will be doing a number of things.
1. Praising and worshipping God
Mark 16:15 Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole of creation.
2. Praying for the homes you pass
3. Listening to God as you walk using the gifts of the Holy Spirit in spiritual mapping
4. Blessing the homes you pass
The closest thing to prayer walking we find in the New Testament is the way that Jesus sent out both the Twelve (Matt 10:5-15) and the Seventy-two (Luke 10:1-12) to heal, to minister deliverance and to preach the gospel. In Luke 10:5-6 Jesus gave these instructions. “When you enter a house, first say, `Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.”
This command, to “give peace to a household” may seem strange to us. Jesus was teaching that the words His disciples spoke would convey the blessings of God’s peace on those who received them, or equally bring God’s judgement to the people who rejected them.
Jesus has delegated HIS authority to his disciples and to his church. So Christians have the power to pronounce God’s blessing – to declare how God will bless. And when we do this, it will not just be empty words, nor even an optimistic prayer. Those words will be authoritative and declarative. Because we speak on behalf the Lord Jesus Christ, representing God, the blessings we command WILL happen.
And then there is a fifth aspect of prayer walking which is
5. Proclaiming Christ’s victory – claiming the ground
Beyond expressing our faith and obedience, praising God and praying for people, listening to God and declaring God’s blessings, prayer walking is also an activity of “spiritual warfare”. In prayer walking we are praising God and declaring Jesus’s victory over all the powers of evil. So our prayer walking will be an exercise in Spiritual Warfare.
For this purpose Christ was revealed – to destroy all the works of the evil one! 1 John 3:8.
Jesus said to his disciples, not once but twice, first in Matt 16:19
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
And in case they had missed the point, Jesus repeated exactly the same words two chapters later: Matt 18: 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Christ has entrusted to His church the authority AND the responsibility to drive out demons wherever they may be found. We are not to become preoccupied with the demonic.
Luke 10:17 ¶ The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
We are not to become preoccupied with the demonic. But we are to engage is the spiritual battles which are just as real and as significant as any human battles!
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:4
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We have the weapons of prayer and praise and holiness and truth and love and faith and unity and sacrifice and all the armour of God – and God calls us to use these weapons in rebuking the powers of evil and bringing people out of darkness into light.
Just as faith and obedience brought down the walls of Jericho, so faith and obedience will bring down the barriers which stop the people of North Springfield from hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith and obedience, expressed in prayer. You may not be convinced yet about Territorial Spirits and Spiritual Mapping. We don’t need to understand completely in order to trust and obey! But as we trust and obey and pray and keep on praying, we will see the walls come tumbling down!