Story Time: My First Experience with Spiritual Warfare
We have started a new series on spiritual warfare called Unseen, and I am pretty excited. Well, as excited as is socially appropriate given the topic. But it is a topic that we find throughout the entire Bible, and one that is rarely addressed. This verse has helped set the tone for the topic:
Ephesians 6:12, “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.”
The reason I am glad we are talking about this is because I distinctly remember the first time I experienced spiritual warfare, and I rarely get to talk about it, because well – you can’t really start out any conversations like, “you should hear about the time I felt evil” because thats a “downer” and no wants to “hang out with you anymore” and they want you to “stop calling.” But if you are brave enough to endure a fairly long story, read on friends.
Freshman year of college, we had a weekend missions experience to our very own Nashville. On Saturday night, we went to a weekly church service in the roughest of neighborhoods. The service was a haven for the kids of the neighborhood, and 88% of the people in the room were either freshman in college or 6th grade or younger from the nearby housing projects. As the night ended and the kids were leaving, we were told to only walk them to the end of the sidewalk in front of the church, to not cross the street. Plain and simple, it wasn’t safe. As we stood there watching a group of about 9 kids walk, and laughing, there was a sudden change in the air, almost that feeling of a storm coming. I know that sounds crazy, but it was palpable. Without warning some of the older kids, probably 4th graders, grabbed a girl around the same age, and threw her into a chain link fence with shocking force.
From half a block away we stood stunned as the kids began to violently beat the girl they had thrown on the ground, kicking and punching as she cried and screamed. I took off running, yelling for my friend Matt, who I played basketball with, to come with me. You may be shocked that I was a little worried that my rock solid 130lb freshman self wouldn’t hold up, but it’s true, I was worried, and well, Matt was strong. So we take off running and I plow through the kids and scoop up the girl, who is bleeding, cut, screaming and crying.
Before I come off sounding good, please know this was terrifying. I cradled her and tried to cover her from the fists and feet that still flung out at her. This stunned the other kids, and they took a couple steps back and started taunting her and saying combinations of words that I had yet to experience in my 19 years. Being as I hadn’t thought this through, we all just kind of stood there, as they mocked this girl. Through her tears, the girl in my arms was trying to to tell me something, and barely through the chaos I started to understand the word “brother.” I looked at Matt, and said, “find her brother.” The group of kids heard me too, but we had no idea who her brother was. All of a sudden, everyone heard the small crying of a 4 year old boy who had been standing back watching everything. It was like everything clicked. The group of kids lunged for the boy, and were just two seconds behind Matt’s lightening quick reflexes, pulling him into his huge arms.
I said to the girl in my arms, “you have to tell us how to get you home.” She was still crying, but started giving directions, and Matt and I started walking quickly, pushing through the kids. About 6 steps away from the mob of kids, I felt something against my back. I sort of turned around to see what it was and was hit again. The kids were throwing rocks – granted not big rocks – but some of them had some girth. I covered her as I felt a rock hit my head. The girl told me I was bleeding and I laughed, which in hindsight, was a pretty creepy response to blood and I emphasized the need for her to tell me where to go. We started to jog, and the kids went after Matt & I. Grabbing and punching, clutching and throwing rocks, taunting us the entire time. At some point, Matt handed the little brother to a girl from our school who somehow was with us, named Marty. We were now about 6 blocks from where were supposed to be, and Matt was kind of keeping the kids away as they continued to throw rocks at Marty and I. We crossed a final street, and walked into the project housing neighborhood, up the sidewalk.
Now, in the moment, I had no idea how to process this, but it felt so surreal. Everything I was experiencing was so outside of my everyday life that to this day I have no idea how to articulate everything that was happening, but I do remember the moment on the sidewalk. I do remember when we passed some sort of invisible line, and it stopped me dead in stride.
It was evil. There is literally no other word for it. I felt evil, and to this day, if I were to feel it again, I would absolutely know what it was. It was like walking into a wall, my body literally stopped, holding this crying girl, sobbing out directions in the black of night. Every single hair on my body was standing on end. I wasn’t prepared for it, but in my head, I was scanning every piece of scripture my brain could stumble through, wondering what am I supposed to do. I couldn’t physically move. Coming up with nothing, I just started saying the name “Jesus” under my breath, because, in all honesty, it was the only word I could think of. I kept saying it and was able to start walking again. The kids kinda fell back, but the sidewalks were lined with people, I am sure to watch the now noticeably bleeding teenages carrying crying kids and under my breath, I just kept saying “Jesus” because I had no other idea what to do. We got to the girl’s house and their mom was crying and pulled them both inside and shut the door suddenly.
And we stood there with the closed door in our face, not sure what to do on a dark night and not saying anything, we just took the next step. As we walked back through the neighborhood. I could feel the goosebumps, the adrenaline, the hair on my head & arms still standing. And we just kept walking, Marty, Matt, and I, past the people-lined sidewalks, back to the main street. And I remember stepping down off that curb and feeling the chill of the night, feeling the weight of what had just happened, of the emotion, and wanting to sprint back to the church. But the three of us walked in silence, slowly, steadily, back to the church where the emotion of the day and of the moment was already being processed.
When I read in the Bible that we are up against powers of this dark world, it doesn’t surprise me. I know I have felt it, and not in a weird way, but in a very tangible, real way. That neighborhood has sense been torn down, but these memories still stand.
I’ll always remember taking the next step. Taking the one thing I could focus on that moment – muttering the name of Jesus and stepping out in that reality, when it literally felt like I was being physically restrained. There was nothing bold, there was nothing overtly weird. No demons entered pigs who subsequently jumped off of a cliff, but it was real, and it was tangible, and I will never forget those moments.
And I will never forget that we serve a real, tangible God. Every moment of that night was a reminder that we get to play a part in the greater story of a God who relentlessly pursues his people in the midst of darkness. We are called to act, even if it is merely by taking the next step in faith.
When I think about that night it is hard not to think about tonight. Or last night, or the next night. Am I taking the next step through darkness? Am I following the One that has been true when evil is pressing in from all sides?
We are pressed on all sides by one that tries to deceive, accuse, and push against a fence. Am I prepared and willing to face this not out of any pride or strength of my own, but out of my own weaknesses, relying on the One that took my place, the One that surrendered to this evil on the cross, the One that already won the war, even as I feel locked in a battle?
I don’t know what your experience with this topic has been, or what it will look like, but I do know that we do not go at this alone, and it is through that grace, love, and peace that we can take the next step through the darkness, when all we have is the name of Jesus.
So that was a long story, but I would love to hear yours… do you have any thoughts on mine? Questions? What has your experience been with this topic? Has there been a singular event for you or has been more subtle? I’d love to hear your stories. Thanks for letting me share, and now it’s your turn.