Every born-again Christian is at war, the battlefield is the mind, and the enemy is the devil. When we were of the world, Satan had free access to our minds, and we readily implemented his ideas. After we became born-again, however, things changed. The Spirit of God came to indwell us and doors were shut in the devil's face. Satan no longer has the access he previously had; he can no longer control us. The Holy Spirit has begun a work of renewal in our souls so that we will no longer conform to the ways of the world but develop the mind and ways of Christ.
Although this work of renewal has begun, it is not yet complete. We are works-in-progress, and as a result, are vulnerable in our minds at certain times. The devil recognizes this, so like Pharaoh of old, he launches calculated and sometimes severe attacks on our minds, hoping to regain the control he had when we were of the world.
The mind is the place within a person where actions are initiated. When the mind accepts a thought, other parts of the soul follow suit almost automatically, resulting in outward action that is a product of the initial thought. Specifically, when the mind accepts a thought, the emotions get stirred up, the desires get activated, and the will is influenced into making a decision that results in outward action. This dynamic is the reason the devil wants control of our minds. He knows that if he gains control of our minds, he can control our actions, and if he controls our actions, he can destroy our godly witness.
The impact of the mind on our actions is profound. As the following story illustrates, the battle for a God-honoring life often must be won first in the mind:
Sam and Nancy have enjoyed a pleasant and fulfilling marriage for five years. In recent months, however, they have had several misunderstandings that have left both upset and hurt. Being practicing Christians, they have made the decision to forgive each other, let go of their hurts, and continue to interact lovingly.
But there is a problem. Sam and Nancy's decision to forgive and love each other has not been easy to execute. Nancy in particular finds her mind going back to the hurtful things Sam said a few weeks ago, and remembering those words leaves her feeling bad all over again.
Nancy desperately wants their relationship to get back to the pleasant phase she and Sam enjoyed in the past, so she prays to the Lord about her feelings, asking Him to help her let go of her hurts and to love her husband like she did before. Feeling certain the Lord has answered her, Nancy expects to see an improvement in their relationship soon.
Later the same day, as Nancy awaits Sam's return from work, she finds her thoughts drifting back to the same issues she's been trying to put away. She finds herself thinking about aspects of the issue she had not previously considered. "What if...?" thoughts fill her mind. As this happens, her warm feelings toward Sam cool, and she recoils inwardly. Her desire to have a pleasant evening fades, and her face tightens into an unfriendly scowl. Just then the door opens, and Sam walks in, full of smiles. He walks over to Nancy, notices her cold demeanor, and his heart sinks. He too had hoped they would enjoy a warm and loving evening together. When he spoke to her earlier in the day she sounded pleasant and friendly. What could have happened?
The same course of events continues until one day when Nancy makes a life-changing discovery. On this day, she observes that the negative thoughts and cold feelings she has toward Sam always occur just moments before he arrives home. It suddenly dawns on her that those negative thoughts are not really hers. In her heart, she wants to show Sam affection, but whenever she tries to act out her desire, a barrage of negative thoughts hit her, and from then on, things just get worse. As she ponders this trend, the Holy Spirit causes Nancy to see that those negative thoughts are baits from Satan, and up to this time, she has unknowingly embraced them as her own thoughts. Once she accepts the initial bait, more negative thoughts come, and soon she is emotionally sour with no desire to show Sam any kind of affection.
Next, Nancy realizes that God has already answered her prayer for the restoration of her marriage relationship. However, she has not benefited from His answer because the enemy lured her away from God's provision. He successfully implanted negative thoughts in her mind that adversely affected her emotions and dampened her desire for her husband. The resultant effect has been the weakening of a previously strong and healthy marriage relationship.
Nancy realizes that in order for her relationship to be restored to its former healthy state, she has to resist the devil and overcome him in her mind.
The thoughts we think determine the way we act. Proverbs 23:7 tells us, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." Even after we become Christians, our lives can only manifest the nature of Christ if we turn away from negative thinking and align our thoughts with God's way of thinking. If through the help of the Holy Spirit we think godly thoughts, we will produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. However, if we allow the devil to plant evil thoughts in our minds, we will produce fruits of strife, anger, resentment, envy, lies, worry, anxiety, unbelief, depression, worldly lusts, and other works of the flesh.
THE ORIGIN OF THOUGHTS
The thoughts that pass through our minds originate from three sources: God, ourselves, and the devil. Many of the negative thoughts we pass off as ours actually begin as suggestions from Satan. Of course, I am not implying that Christians are incapable of conceiving negative thoughts. However, I am saying that many of the negative thoughts that bombard the Christian's mind about himself, other people, and circumstances that surround him are seeds from Satan and his demons.
We can test the origin of our thoughts by checking the extent to which they can be controlled. Thoughts that originate from God are gentle and peaceful and do not overwhelm our minds. Our own thoughts are subject to us; we are able to direct and control them. The thoughts that come from the devil, on the other hand, are nagging and unruly. They are persistent and just don't let up. Take a moment to ponder what happens when a bothersome thought comes to your mind. Do you find yourself able to think about it only for as long as you want and then release it to the Lord? Or do you find that the thought continues to nag you in a persistent and pushy "you must do something now" kind of way? When the latter occurs, it is likely that the thought in question is from the devil.
Uncontrollable thoughts and an unruly mind are not from God. In James 3:17, the Bible teaches that the wise thoughts (wisdom) that come from God are gentle and peaceful. In 2 Timothy 1:7, it tells us that God has given us a spirit of power, love, and a calm, well-balanced mind. In Colossians 3:2, the Bible instructs us to set our minds on things above, where Christ is seated. And in Philippians 4:8, it instructs us to think on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of a good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. The Bible gives us these instructions because God has equipped us with the power (through the help of His Holy Spirit) to control our minds and our thoughts. He has given us the ability to maintain a calm disposition and to set our minds on things that align with Him and His Word. Therefore, thoughts that repeatedly upset or unsettle our minds, and resist being brought into subjection, are not of Him.
A second way of testing the origin of our thoughts is by evaluating their content. Negative, depressing or sinful thoughts about ourselves, others, and our circumstances never come from God. Although God sometimes allows us to discern negative intents and actions targeted at us or others, such discernment is always accompanied by positive assurances of His intervention and the constraint to walk in love and peace toward our adversaries.
As we seek to discern the origin of our thoughts by evaluating their content, we should note that the devil sometimes disguises his thoughts to look good on the surface. In 2 Corinthians 11:14, Paul warns that "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." To protect us against such deception, the Lord tells us not to believe every spirit but to test whether what we hear is from Him. A simple way of testing is by asking the Lord whether the thought or idea in question is truly from Him. If we wait for His response, the Lord will answer us in a way we are able to comprehend. As our walk with Him matures and our spirits get more attuned to His Spirit, we will find ourselves able to quickly sense an inner check whenever we accept a thought or idea that does not come from Him.
FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
God created us with the ability to control and direct our will, but we lost a significant part of that ability when Adam and Eve sinned and fell in the Garden of Eden. This is why we are naturally weak-willed in the face of the devil's thoughts and ideas. When we receive salvation through Christ, the process of restoring our will and other functions of the soul to wholeness begins. But this process does not prevent Satan from attacking us with his thoughts. So the big question is, "How do we fight Satan's attacks?"
The first and most significant step is to acknowledge that we do not have the power to overcome the devil on our own. To be victorious, our weapons and power must come from God. Rather than try to overcome negative thoughts on our own, we should earnestly call on the Lord and depend on Him for direction and victory. This is important.
The second step is to put on the armor provided by the Lord for this battle. Putting on this armor is not an outward activity; it is a process that occurs in the inner man as we submit to God and walk in His ways. Ephesians 6:14-17 tells us that putting on our God-given armor involves five steps:
1. Standing upon and holding fast to truth: Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). Truth is the antidote to the lies upon which Satan builds his weapons of attack. Truth reveals God's mind concerning every situation. Truth reveals the real condition of our hearts and the real nature of a problem or situation with which we are faced.
Putting on this weapon during spiritual warfare means knowing the truth, embracing it, and refusing to let it go. In the example shared earlier in this chapter, Nancy was only able to overcome the attack of the enemy when the Holy Spirit showed her the truth behind her sustained bitter feelings. Nancy learned that her negative thoughts about Sam often began when she accepted baits from Satan. She learned that she had the power (through the help of the Holy Spirit) to resist his baits and to open the door for warmth and love to be restored to her relationship.
In this example, Nancy faced the danger of believing that God did not answer her prayers for her marriage. This is a lie that could have led to other destructive thoughts, such as 'my marriage is doomed', 'my marriage cannot be healed', 'I do not love my husband anymore.' But thank God that He showed Nancy the truth. He showed her He had answered her prayers and indeed cared about restoring her marriage.
When faced with attacks upon our minds, it is essential that we identify and embrace the truth about our motives, attitudes, and beliefs. It is important that we know the truth about the motives and beliefs of other persons involved in our situation. Most importantly, we should know God's mind concerning our situation. We obtain these insights by seeking God's face and then receiving and believing His counsel concerning the situation. We also obtain truth by communicating with other persons involved in the situation as we are directed by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, simply asking a question or two can debunk false perceptions created in our minds by the devil.
As we gird ourselves with truth-seeking, holding fast, and acting upon it continually-we expose the lies of the enemy and overcome his evil attacks.
2. Having our hearts in right standing with God: Sin is an enemy of the believer, especially in seasons of warfare. When Israel went to war against Ai, they fled before this small city because there was sin in their midst. Sin robbed them of God's power and victory. Similarly, we cannot fight victoriously against our enemy when there is sin in our lives. Sin weakens us in warfare. Therefore, we should be watchful and tread carefully at all times, but particularly during seasons of satanic attack. We should be swift and diligent to confess our faults and receive our Father's cleansing for our errors. Our confession should be deep and sincere-we should call our sin by name, admit the pleasure we derive from it, and then ask God to deliver us from the unholy attraction.
3. Proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed: One of Satan's goals when attacking believers is to stifle us and thereby prevent us from doing damage to his kingdom. His attacks on our minds aim to bring us to the belief that we cannot afford to serve God because we are experiencing trouble in our own lives. But this thought is misleading and contrary to God's will. Therefore, when we find our minds under satanic attack and our Christian witness threatened, we should cry out to God to deliver us from the devil and continue to use us to deliver others from his kingdom.
4. Shielding our hearts from the darts of the enemy through steadfast faith in God: In one of his psalms, David said, "I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13). David had faith. In warfare, faith chooses to hang on to God even when we feel overwhelmed and unworthy. Faith chooses to believe that God will rescue us from the barrage of negative thoughts, emotions, and events we face and restore us to a place of total victory. This may look impossible when we are under persistent fire, but faith chooses to believe, hanging on to every Word of God and ministration of the Spirit it can grasp. The Bible says "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith" (1 John 5:4). As we hold steadfastly to God in faith, we obtain victory over our adversary and oppressor for good.
5. Filling our minds with the hope of our salvation: The season of warfare is a time to take a long-term view to our salvation. It is a time to remind ourselves of the temporal nature of our present struggles. It is a time to remember that our present afflictions are working in us a greater glory to be revealed in a time to come. The season of warfare is a time to reckon upon God's commitment to perfect the work of redemption He has begun in us:
Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
The season of warfare is a time to remember that the storms of the adversary cannot snatch us out of God's hand no matter how tempestuous they may seem: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).
When we clothe our minds with such glorious thoughts about the eternal nature of our salvation, believing these unseen truths to be more real than the things we physically see, we become uplifted by hope and protected from the paralyzing effects of temptation and suffering.
6. Wielding the sword of the Spirit by speaking the Word of God: Scripture tells us that words are powerful, and we can use ours to build or destroy our lives. When parts of our lives are troubled, it is tempting to keep confessing what we see with our physical eyes. But this does no good. We should rather confess what God says about our situation; His Word is truth and carries creative power. As we confess God's Word-and simultaneously cooperate with the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our lives-things that did not previously exist in our experience will come into being. God's power will create His reality in our lives.
It is good to develop a habit of speaking God's Word as part of our daily or weekly spiritual routine. Personally, I have been led by the Lord to develop and routinely confess a series of Scriptures over various aspects of my life, family, and ministry. I also use God's Word as a weapon of warfare against potential trouble spots, such as sickness, strife, pride, lukewarmness, calamity, and more. I have found these confessions to work powerfully against the devil and his forces of darkness.
THE ARMOR WORKS
The full armor of God is 100 percent effective against the attacks of the devil. However, our experience of its effectiveness will depend on the extent to which we put it on. The more we mature spiritually, the greater will be our ability to put on God's full armor.
You might wonder then "If I have to mature spiritually to be able to resist the devil effectively, how do I deal with the attacks I am facing now?" The Lord tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle, but with every temptation, He will make a way of escape. This means that God will always protect us from attacks that are too great for us, and that He will only allow us face attacks at a level we can handle. Those attacks might be challenging, but if we seek and follow His guidance, we will gain victory and grow through such experiences.
WHEN DOWN AND OUT
There are times when we feel too weary to stand against the attacks of the devil. At such times, we find our minds easily slipping toward discouragement and dejection. At those moments, we should remember that if we simply call on the Lord for help, He will intervene and deliver us from the enemy's squeeze.
In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, faced a similar situation. Judah was attacked by a great army from Ammon and Moab. Recognizing his inability to win the battle set against him, Jehoshaphat gathered all the people of Judah and sought the Lord. Jehoshaphat expressed his vulnerability to God saying, "O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You" (2 Chr. 20:12). Thereafter, all the people of Judah waited expectantly before the Lord.
God heard their cry and spoke to them, saying, "Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's...Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you...(2 Chr. 20:15-17). King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah rejoiced and the following day went into the battle praising God. Indeed, the Lord fought for them, and they won. Similarly, God will intervene to deliver us if we call on Him when we find ourselves drowning under the pressure of our adversary.
THE ROLE OF PRAISE
I believe the praises offered by the children of Judah in their situation strengthened their hearts and kept them focused on God while they waited for Him to act.
Praise is a weapon we can also use as we face our battles today. Praise lifts our focus away from the problem at hand and sets it on God and His ability. Hope springs up in our hearts and mountains become plains in our mind's eye when we praise God.
It is true that we naturally do not feel like praising God when faced with difficult circumstances. However if we open our mouths and begin to praise anyway, we soon find our spirits uplifted and our souls anchored in peace as we await the Lord's intervention in our circumstances.
David, a man who faced many trials said, "I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies" (Psalm 18:3). Here David spoke of prayer and praise as weapons of spiritual warfare. In Psalm 100:4-5 he also said, "Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting." Here, David spoke of approaching the Lord with a thankful attitude, knowing that He is good and merciful, and believing this is what He will be for us in every situation.
REFLECT AND PRAY
The Bible tells us our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour, so we can infer that attacks from him are inevitable. However, his attacks will only affect us adversely if he is able to defeat us in our minds.
Our heavenly Father does not want us to run away from the devil in fear. Hence, Jesus said, "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). God wants us to mature spiritually and, like our Lord Jesus Christ, keep the devil firmly under our feet. To facilitate this process in your life, here are some requests to take to the Lord:
- Ask God to help you become aware of the thoughts that pass through your mind.
- Ask Him to teach you to discern the true origin of every thought.
- Ask that He would teach you to take every thought captive to the Lordship of Christ.
- Ask Him to help you replace old thinking patterns with new ones that are based on His Word and interpretations given by His Spirit.
- Ask Him to help you seek, know, and embrace truth in every situation.
- Ask Him to help you mature in the use of your God-given armor.
- Lastly, ask Him to help you learn to reach for Him whenever you find yourself drowning under pressure from satanic attacks.
If you ask these sincerely, God will grant your petitions. But be aware that the process of renewing the mind takes time and requires patience. It requires that we firmly believe the Lord is transforming us even if we do not see changes immediately. It requires continually reminding ourselves that He who began the good work in us will be faithful to bring it to completion. As we trust and follow Him to the best of our ability, we will soon see what God has accomplished in us, and this revelation will bring us great joy.
FROM AUTHOR'S BOOK: Refreshment for the Weary Soul-Crossbooks, 2012.
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