There’s a lot of misunderstanding about spiritual warfare. Despite what you see in movies and read in some Christian novels, spiritual warfare is not a cosmic death match with flaming swords. It’s a battle of the mind against discouragement and wrong thinking.
Right living and right believing depend on right thinking. And when you’re trying to devote yourself to God, Satan will try to distract you with what Thomas Brooks calls “vain thoughts.” These are worries, worldly cares, discouragements, and arguments against Christ and his kingdom. They can wear you down and “put you off” from serving the Lord.
By casting in a multitude of vain thoughts, while the soul is in seeking of God, or in waiting on God; and by this device he has cooled some men’s spirits in heavenly services, and taken off, at least for a time, many precious souls from religious performances.
Winning this battle is about engaging this wrong thinking, taking hold of it, and countering it with a healthy dose of truth. In Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices, Brooks explains seven ways to do this.
Remedy 1: Prepare for discouragement
What is Costco Wholesale’s number-one selling item? Their Kirkland Signature bathroom tissue. Where do they locate it? At the farthest possible point from the entrance. Why? They want you to see and smell as much of their goods as possible before you get there.
Why does your favorite grocery store place milk and eggs against the back wall? The same reason. They expect you’ll fill your cart with other items on the way to get your gallon of 2-percent. Even if you’re just running in quickly for one or two items, something will likely catch your eye or nose, something you’ll remember you needed anyway.
The store even knows which aisle you’re likely to travel to get to the milk. And they fill that aisle with the most irresistible and highest-margin items. This is why shopping the store’s perimeter is better for your budget and health.
Why am I going on about groceries in a blog post about spiritual discipline? The principles are the same. Just like we should fill our carts with nourishing foods instead of junk, we should fill our minds with choice thoughts about God and his goodness instead of the “junk” thoughts our enemy offers us.
Satan will always lob his prepackaged discouragement grenades in our direction. But we decide what occupies our minds while we worship and serve the Lord. Regular time in God’s Word is the primary source from which we can fill our thoughts and hearts with what Thomas Brooks would call “choice goods.”
The apostle Paul provides clear advice in this area of discipline:
Remedy 2: Press on through discouragement
Jesus’s well-known admonition in his Sermon on the Mount – “ask, seek, knock” (Mt. 7:7; Lk. 11:9) – is excellent advice here. But the way you have likely read this passage may not be the best translation.
The HCSB has it well: “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” The three imperative verbs in the original Greek demand continuous action, not one-time obedience. They insist on persistence. They expect diligence. They anticipate unrelenting effort.
Pushing past a previous personal recored can make an athlete stronger. Studying and analyzing beyond a perceived mental capacity can help a student ace a test. Choosing to worship and pray despite creeping doubt and futility can lead to undiscovered riches of joy and peace.
Picture the beautiful, iconic Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco’s bay. Now imagine a single, small segment of its span missing. Despite the billions of dollars it would take to build that bridge today, the entire thing would be worthless without that missing piece.
Satan will whisper his lies and deceit when you draw near to God. Use his intimidation to fuel your devotion onward. Doing so may lay that final stretch of road that leads to a sweetness of fellowship you have never known.
Remedy 3: Confess your discouragement
I wrote in an earlier post about minimalism and tiny houses. Some people take extreme measures to declutter their lives and be free from materialism.
There’s a simple principle at work there: The less space you have, the less room there is for junk.
Now, I’m not suggesting a secret technique for reducing space in your mind for what Thomas Brooks calls “vain thoughts” (ahh … wouldn’t that be nice, though?). What I propose is actively denying room to the thoughts Satan proposes that inhibit and discourage us from devotion.
Note that Brooks recommends actively bringing these thoughts to God in prayer. Acknowledge them, confess them. He already knows you have them! If a child gives his friend a dangerous object, isn’t it wiser for the friend to immediately let his parents know than hide it away somewhere?
So, when the enemy tries to derail your devotion with discouragement or doubt, make that part of your prayers instead of pretending you aren’t experiencing the struggle. Your heavenly Father has greater resources to combat such evil than you can imagine.
Remedy 4: Rejoice in discouragement
Viewers have called it of the greatest bits of nature documentary work ever filmed. Narrated by David Attenborough and scored by film composer Hans Zimmer, the first episode of Blue Planet II features a heart-racing chase sequence that rivals any action movie.
Only in this case, the “actors” are wild animals, there was no script, and the stakes were real.
Watch this and try not to be moved.
It truly appeared that the baby iguana was not going to survive. And yet, its efforts won in the end.
Living things struggle to survive. It is a sign of life. In the same way, Christians filled with the new life Christ has given them struggle against the schemes of the enemy who comes to kill, steal, and destroy.
When wicked thoughts trouble you, be encouraged that the troubling is evidence you are safe in God’s hands.
Remedy 5: Be filled with the Spirit
Brooks’ fifth point is similar to his others. We must keep in mind two questions: What are we holding in our minds, and what are we excluding? But this point has more to do with a general spiritual attitude, which is about being filled with the Holy Spirit.
For years I misunderstood what this means, because I had the wrong mental picture. I had long thought of this as being like a vessel, a cup or glass. Just let the Spirit fill you up, and then try not to tip over or spill any. It’s a silly notion that doesn’t capture this principle’s essence.
Paul admonishes the churches in Ephesus:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart … (Ephesians 5:18–19, ESV).
The Greek verb translated “be filled” is not a one-time occurrence, but a continual, never-ending filling. That doesn’t work well with the vessel motif at all. If you continue to “fill” a glass, you’ll make a mess and create waste.
So, instead of a cup, think of a sail.
A sailor knows how to point a ship’s sails to catch the wind, to move the ship in the desired direction. Air continually fills a full sail, as long as the sail remains pointed correctly.
That’s the idea with the Holy Spirit. Point yourself in the direction He moves, which is always toward Christ. As a result, your mind will less likely fill with the enemy’s vain and discouraging thoughts.
Remedy 6: Stay committed during discouragement
Marriage counselors work with couples struggling to relate when the passion and warmth of love have cooled. Sometimes their advice is to love each other through the down times, to press on despite waning desire. The principle is that feelings follow function.
It’s easy to love a person when they inspire feelings of love in you. It’s much more difficult when they don’t. But a good marriage counselor knows that if two people can hang on and devote themselves to the relationship when they would rather give up, the marriage will survive. And the wonderful surprise is that those newlywed feelings often return as a result of the victory.
Arranged marriages were once the norm in the West. How do you suppose persons in those marriages ever leaned to love each other if their relationships were not based on choice or attraction? They operated out of duty. Then, the feelings followed.
An Asian man whose arranged marriage lasted his lifetime remarked: “In the West, your marriages start like a bonfire and end in ashes. In the East, our marriages start like a candle flame and end like a bonfire.” That kind of passion is the fruit of faithful devotion, the result of consistency in practice.
We often see “duty” as a four-letter word in modern Christianity. But we owe Christ devotion. Yes, we should desire to serve him in response to his first-love for us. Sometimes, however, when Satan’s flaming darts fly around us, “keeping up holy and spiritual affections” is what will return us to the passion we lack.
Remedy 7: Avoid distraction when discouraged
What Thomas Brooks calls a “multiplicity of worldly business” is what we might call multitasking today. It’s more a seeing Christianity as an additive than the core of your being. Business isn’t bad. Busyness isn’t either. The problem begins when worldly cares crowd Jesus out of your life.
Read Luke 9:57–62. Jesus’ admonishment seems harsh at first, apart from this passage’s context. But our Lord requires immediate obedience. Compare these three reactions to his calling with those of his disciples, especially as the Gospel of Mark recounts them. They “immediately” left their boats, nets, tax-collecting booths, and everything else to follow him.
And those disciples said as much to him.
Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:28–30, ESV).
We can love our families, neighbors, and friends while loving Jesus. We can address our responsibilities, do our jobs, and serve our communities while serving Jesus. His Lordship must inform all these good things. They must never supersede his authority.
Put your hand to the plow. Don’t look back. God will plant fruitful seed in the rich earth of your obedience.