By John Wimber
We are called to pray daily for boldness and opportunity to preach, teach, and demonstrate the gospel.
Several months ago I went to Australia with a team to minister at conferences in Sydney and Perth. Before leaving we
sensed that God wanted to do great things; we also knew there would likely be significant spiritual opposition.
So our 100-member team, which was drawn from the United States and Canada, began interceding in earnest for Australia. Shortly before we left for Down Under one of our key leaders, Brent Rue (a Vineyard pastor from Lancaster, California), told me about spiritual insights that he had gained while praying.
Well, actually he heard from God while sleeping. Let me explain.
One morning while interceding Brent became sleepy, and his personal prayer hour turned into nap time. However, the Lord gave him a dream that revealed there is a strong spirit that produces rejection in the nation of Australia.
Brent could see that this malevolent, invisible force colors the character of Australia, creating in many people poor self- images, weakness, and defeat, thus undermining the power of the gospel to free people to live fully for God. It was an evil spirit that possessed, in the words of former missionary Lesslie Newbigen, “…power and authority which is real, which is embodied in and exercised by individual human beings, but is not identical with them” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p.202).
When Brent told me about his dream I knew that we were about to be thrust into classic spiritual warfare, and our battle plans had to be biblical. One thing was clear: a cavalier or presumptuous approach to an evil spirit of this magnitude and power would have disastrous results for the people to whom we were ministering — and to ourselves.
So how are we to respond to a challenge such as this?
Scripture teaches that we are called to warfare. It is critical, though, that we understand the rules of war and what we
are fighting against. Paul sheds much light on the nature of spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of there world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we taker captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.”
Paul teaches that we don’t wage warfare as the world does — lining up on opposite sides, fighting, killing one another. We have an alternative means of warfare; we employ different weapons that have “divine power to demolish strongholds,” and we fight our battles on a different kind of battlefield.
Where does the battle take place? In the hearts and minds of men and women. The stronghold are “arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” The Corinthians were receiving false teaching and rejecting Paul’s message.
What can we learn about spiritual warfare from the Corinthian situation? There is a battle raging for the hearts and
minds of men and women, and Satan knows that if we believe his lies we will fail to love and serve God.
In Colossians Paul warns his readers of the influence of malevolent spirits — literally “elementary spirits” — on their
thinking. He is alluding to forces that influence the most fundamental values and attitudes of a society:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and basic principles [or elementary spirits] of this world rather than on Christ. …And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. …Since you died with Christ to the basic principles [elementary spirits] of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules…” (Col. 2:8, 15, 20).
Paul teaches that we need discernment to avoid being captivated by deceptive philosophy that is based on worldly
traditions and elementary spirits. His point raises at least two questions. How do we receive discernment about these spirits? And, once we gain discernment, what can we do about it?
First, we ask God for discernment concerning the nature and activity of the elementary spirits. When Brent interceded God revealed to him that an elementary spirit in Australia inclines many people — including Christians — to struggle with feelings of rejection and inferiority, which lead to an inability to receive God’s grace and acceptance in Christ (Eph. 1:6). Simply being aware of this influence helped us focus our prayers and preaching during the two weeks of meetings.
If we are open to God and listen for his voice we can be confident that he will speak to us (John 14:26; 16:13-15) —
Through dreams, visions, as a “still small voice,” and, of course, Scripture. In other words, he is a living God who reigns over the earth and talks to his children. All we have to do is listen. Second, we ask God to prepare our hearts and minds to do the work of the kingdom and to prepare the people’s hearts and minds to receive the kingdom. Paul frequently interceded that the early Christians might have discernment:
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:9-11).
The two-fold strategy behind Paul’s prayers is easy to follow. If we are filled with the knowledge of God — and to do
so we must remain free from sin — then we will recognize the lies of the devil and reject them. And if the people to whom we minister have their spiritual eyes opened to receive God’s truth, they will be freed from bondage to deception.
Third, we pray that God may anoint our preaching and teaching, and then we preach the truth with boldness:
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col. 4:3-4).
The proclamation of the word of God is the key to winning the hearts and minds of men and women. We demolish Satan’s strongholds by living in the light of Scripture and manifesting the wisdom of God (Matt.12:29; Eph.3:10).
Our prayers, therefore, should focus on asking that the knowledge, insight, and wisdom of God’s truth might be proclaimed through us. That’s exactly how I prayed for Australia. “Lord, shed the light of the truth of your word wherever we go. Demolish the stronghold of rejection through the clear teaching and reception of grace.” (I will say more about this point later in the article.)
Finally, the goal of our preaching is that the people pray, repent, seek God, and humble themselves. Long ago the Lord told Solomon:
“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chron. 7:14- 15).
These words, spoken to the Old Testament church, equally apply to us. Spiritual battle are won when we act on the truth of the word of God and turn our hearts to him.
Brent’s dream points to another aspect of spiritual warfare that Christians are now becoming more aware of territorial spirits.
Territorial spirits are powerful fallen angels — principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, authorities, rulers —
who exercise influence over cities, regions, even nations (Eph. 1:21; 6:10, 12; Col. 2:15). They influence every aspect of a culture much as a genetic code influences the make-up of different races. Lesslie Nubigin writes:
“The principalities and powers are real. They are invisible and we cannot locate them in space. They do not exist as
disembodied entities floating above this world, or lurking within it. They meet us as embodied in visible and tangible realities — people, nations, and institutions. And they are powerful” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p.207).
Daniel 10:12-11:1 offers remarkable insight into territorial spirits. It describes two territorial spirits that exercised
authority over Persia and Greece — “the prince of the Persian kingdom” and “the prince of Greece” (10:13, 20).
Daniel learned of their presence while praying and fasting. Earlier he had received a disturbing revelation about a “great war,” and he was seeking further understanding.
In answer to his prayer, God dispatched a messenger — described as “a man” (perhaps a high ranking angel) — who
appeared to Daniel in a vision. Daniel was so terrified by the vision that his “face turned deathly pale” and he “fell into a deep sleep” (10:9). A “hand” then touched Daniel and “set [him] trembling on [his] hands and knees” (10:10).
The messenger told him to stand up and said, “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” (10:12). The messenger fought for 24 days against the prince of Persia. Twenty-one days into the fight the messenger required help from the angel Michael to overcome what most likely was a demon that exercised influence over the Persian realm.
This passage offers two important insights into how we should pray about territorial spirits. First, it doesn’t teach
that we are able to deploy angels to do spiritual warfare. The messenger from God told Daniel that he come in response to Daniel’s prayers to the Father. The Father dispatched angels to Babylon; God alone rules the powers and principalities (Col. 1:15- 17).
Second, the most significant point isn’t the battle itself or which territorial spirit was involved; it’s who won the battle. God defeated Satan. The same point is made in 2 Kings 6:8-23, where Elisha opens the spiritual eyes of his servant, so he was able to see the victorious army of God.
We look for God’s activity in the world, because he always wins the battle. On the cross, Christ disarmed the powers and principalities. In the end, Christ will destroy them (1 Cor. 15:24).
When I prayed about Australia I asked God to come against the spirit of rejection. If he chose to deploy angels or send his Spirit to bind the territorial spirit, that was his business. My trust is in God and his strategy, and my confidence is in his victory — seeing people pray, repent, and seek God (2 Chron. 7:14).
Cosmic warfare is between fallen and unfallen angels. However, Ephesians 6:12 appears to teach that we engage Satan in pitched, hand-to-hand combat:
“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.”
I believe that Paul is describing a struggle in which our ultimate enemy is Satan and his demons.
Perhaps a brief synopsis of how armies in Paul’s day conducted warfare will shed more light on how to interpret this
passage. In ancient Near-Eastern conflicts, opposing foot soldiers faced each other on a battlefield, with their generals in the rear (preferably on the highest available ground) overseeing and directing the armies. The generals led through messengers and various signals (flags, hand signals, horns). Everybody fought, but each fought in his own way — foot soldiers, archers, horsemen, messengers and generals.
Now, the ultimate enemy of every foot soldier was the opposing general, though their preoccupation in the midst of
battle was the opposing soldiers.
This is analogous to our situation. We are foot soldiers on a cosmic battlefield, and our ultimate enemy is the evil general, Satan. Under Satan are commanders such as territorial spirits. But we are most likely to have spears thrown at us by his foot soldiers — low-level demons.
To deal with these attacks we need, in Paul’s words, weapons with “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2Cor. 10:4). What are these weapons? and how are we to use them?
Fortunately, the word of God provides specific instructions about how to fight the war. Ephesians 6:10-18 describes six pieces of equipment as analogies for spiritual weapons (plus one other that has no counterpart in Roman armor).
The first five are defensive armor, whose purpose is to equip us to occupy the land:
1. The belt of truth. Putting on God’s truth means living out his word — being honest and sincere in our faith, and not
full of religious hypocrisy. So the “belt of truth” refers to Christian character and integrity, a lifestyle that conforms to
2. The breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate protected the soldier’s heart. Righteousness is first of all a
condition of the heart, and the heart is what determines the course of our lives.
3. Feet fitted with readiness. We are to be prepared to share the gospel of peace at any time, which means knowing how to tell others about Christ and being open to the Holy Spirit’s leading in specific situations.
4. The shield of faith. The shield protected the soldier against dangerous incendiary missiles. When we take the great
commission seriously and go on the offensive in challenging Satan’s realm, he fights back with flaming arrows. He attacks us and everything associated with us: our church, spouse, children, business — everything. Our shield against these attacks is faith, a belief in God and in his ability to protect us, having confidence in his word.
5. The helmet of salvation. The helmet, of course, protects the head, the seat of our thought life. Satan bombards
us with fear, hatred, suspicion, depression, mistrust, false doctrines, and a host of mental distractions. Thinking
Christianly means much more than holding right doctrine; it means cultivating the mind of Christ. Our helmet, our protection, is salvation — deliverance from evil and sitting with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6).
Truth, righteousness, readiness, faith and assurance of salvation grow and mature as we live devoted and obedient lives that are marked by worshipful hearts, prayerful spirits, and minds conformed to the word of God. This is the defensive armor of spiritual warfare, and without it we are vulnerable to Satan’s attack.
Of course, we’ve been called to more than defense. The last piece of armor — the sword of the Spirit — is designed for both defense and offense. The sword of the Spirit, Paul writes, “is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
Paul here uses language that can be interpreted to mean a word that is received directly from God and spoken by us. I believe he is referring to words spoken by the power of the Spirit to assist us in defending ourselves against Satan and in inflicting harm on him.
David Watson points out that the spoken word may come through preaching, teaching, witnessing, or prophesying. To be authentic all words must be in accordance with the written word, and all must glorify the living Word, Jesus.
A primary purpose of Jesus’ coming is to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8), and he accomplished it through exposing him as the fraud:
“In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not
understood it” (John 1:4-5).
Jesus is the truth, the living Word of God; he is light and there is no darkness in him (1 John 1:5). So whatever he came in contact with he exposed — good as from God, and evil as from Satan. This is how he defeated Satan.
In another place Jesus told the disciples, “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.” (Matt. 12:29). For the gospel to bear fruit, Satan must be bound. And Satan is bound by exposing his darkness to the light of God’s word! We employed Jesus’ “expose-and-conquer” strategy in Australia. Our team went into the enemy’s domain in order to take back all that the devil had stolen. One of the first things we did was bind the strong man through preaching the truth about God’s grace and acceptance, and thus exposed the spirit of rejection.
Paul also mentions another weapon, one that has no counterpart in Roman armor: praying in the Spirit.
I mentioned earlier in this article that Paul regularly interceded that the believers be filled with the knowledge of God
and discernment, for the word of God is the key to destroying satanic strongholds in Christian’s lives. But there is another element to intercession that is critical to the defeat of Satan — prayer that God’s word may be spoken with boldness and power.
A closer look at the apostles’ prayers reveals much about intercession and spiritual warfare. One of the best examples is that of Peter and John in Acts 4. After preaching to the Sanhedrin and receiving threats, they returned to the Jerusalem church and reported what happened to them. Then they called a Prayer meeting.
They prayed that God might anoint them to “speak your word with great boldness…[and] stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders…” (Acts 4:29-31). God answered their prayers:
“After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31).
These are the kind of intercessory prayer meetings that will overcome Satan: appealing to God for boldness to fill our mouths with his words and anoint our hands with his deeds. In other words, praying for power evangelism.
Paul continually prayed for boldness, clarity and opportunity to preach. He also asked others to pray that he
would have ample opportunity and clarity in his preaching: “Pray 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…” (Eph. 6:19).
Paul’s prayer captures the heart of how our team interceded for Australia: “Lord give us opportunity and boldness to preach your word, that we might unmask, disarm and render powerless the evil lies of the spirit of rejection that have built a stronghold in the hearts and minds of the people.”
The Lord answered our prayers for Australia. We preached the gospel with an authority that I have rarely experienced before. Over 18,000 people attended the meetings, with hundreds being saved, healed, renewed and delivered from problems of rejection and defeat. God does truly answer prayer.
The above article appeared originally in the Spring ’90 Equipping The Saints magazine. Used by permission of Vineyard Ministries International.