Never forget that you are in a spiritual battle and that a formidable array of evil allies is camped around you, standing at attention for the moment of battle when they will pounce on you as their prey.
There I was, come into the important city of Philippi, come to bring the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Greeks. We went on the Sabbath to the place of prayer by the river and there met a most extraordinary woman named Lydia. She was a seller of purple from Thyatira, a God fearer. As we sat talking, the Lord opened her heart, she believed and was baptized with her household.
Unlike some of the other cities I’d been in, Philippi seemed a hospitable place, and I anticipated spending much time there preaching and establishing the church.
One day, as we went to prayer, we were met by a pythoness, a slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination, whom the locals believed to be inspired by Apollo. This girl brought her masters much profit by her fortune-telling and therefore was greatly valued by them.
The girl began to follow us and cried out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” At first, we chose to ignore her. But she persisted for many days. I pitied the girl and what others saw as a means of great fortune I saw as terrible bondage.
You might think that because what she spoke was true I would welcome her words. But I knew that those who heard her would consider the source. They believed she had her power from Apollo, and if he was the one who gave her this power and her words were confirmed, Apollo, and not the Lord, would be the one glorified. For the many who had an imperfect knowledge of who God Most High is, her words could be a trap.
When the Spirit had sufficiently pricked my conscience, I turned to her one day, angry at both her bondage and the false-testifier within. “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ, who is God Most High, to come out of her!” The spirit came out, and we began to minister to the slave girl.
But what God means for good, the enemies of God mean for evil. The girl’s masters were livid, for I had taken away their easy and corrupt source of income. They grabbed Silas and me and dragged us into the marketplace before the authorities. I didn’t think they had much of a case, but you could never tell with Roman magistrates.
Their first charge was that we were Jews who were troubling the city. I had to give them credit: they were cleverly avoiding the real reason they wanted us tried and portraying us as enemies of the state by our creating disorder and arousing the prejudice of the local population. Then they accused us of teaching customs which were unlawful for Romans to observe.
The charges worked, for before the magistrate could come to his own conclusion, they had stirred up the multitudes, which was the purpose of their words. Seeing a riot taking root, the magistrate tore his clothes and commanded us to be beaten without hearing our defense. Furthermore, he threw us into prison, commanding the jailer to keep us securely. This jailer, an obedient man, put us into the inner prison and fastened our feet in the stocks.
What began as a relatively simple exorcism became an occasion for the Enemy to imprison the servants of the Lord. Arrayed against us was a host of the Enemy’s accomplices: the spirit of divination, the owners of the slave girl, the magistrate, and the multitudes.
But then again, whoever said that spiritual warfare would be easy?
You and I, believe it or not, are in the middle of the same spiritual war that St. Paul fought every day. The names and countries of the Enemy’s accomplices may have changed, and the battle may be on different terrain, but you and I are in the same spiritual war that St. Paul was.My life doesn’t take me into dark places that have never heard the gospel, places where I’m likely to be thrown into prison or beaten. I don’t run across many possessed people, and I don’t live in a country where the official religion is contrary to my own.
And yet every morning when I wake, I face the Enemy and enemies of God. They’re not just in ancient Rome and not just in possessed girls or believers in pagan religion. They are right here beside me, in my life and all around it.
In my life, they’re usually more subtle and invisible than in Paul’s life, just as the Spirit in my life is more subtle and invisible. But they’re there alright. In the work to which God has called me, I don’t minister primarily to those who violently oppose Christ but more to those who are already believers.
But make no mistake: the Enemy is willing to cross the line and work within our camp. In my life he may not bring many who openly oppose the work to which God has called me, and yet the battle continues. I see resistance in those whom I have been called to disciple. I see those enticed away by the world, so busy doing the things of this world that the heavenly realm remains a young child’s Sunday school lesson. If the Enemy can keep the Lord and His Kingdom in this immature state, I think he’s happy.
I see resistance from within, from the fallen nature of those to whom I minister, and I see it from without. The battle is not only over there but right here, and in here, in me.
Yesterday, we meditated on ways to be more open to the work and calling of the Spirit in our lives, and yet here I am again today, unable to hear the Spirit as I desire. Have you ever had the feeling of déjà vu?
But rather than be discouraged that there is a spiritual battle and one that I often appear to be losing, I have plotted a different strategy for today. First, since there is a spiritual war to which I have been called, I resolve to be ready for it by putting on the armor of God, which is Jesus Christ Himself. Since my own vantage point is too limited, I resolve to communicate with the general and ask Him to show me the larger scheme of things. From where He sits, He can see that I’m not fighting alone, and He sees the invisible armies of the Lord camped around me. He rallies His troops, including me, by encouraging me to fight the good fight, even when it feels like I’m losing. He assures me that if I maintain contact with Him and obey His orders that the battle and the war cannot be lost.
And today I choose to believe Him. Like the army of the enemy, waiting for the word to attack you and me, I stand at attention, waiting to carry out the commandments of my Lord, delighted that He has chosen me to serve in His army today!
Prayer: Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous;
Teach me to serve thee as thou deservest;
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labor and not to seek reward,
Save that of knowing that I do thy will. Amen. (Ignatius of Loyola)
Point for Meditation:
1. In what ways is there spiritual warfare in your life? What are the major battles to which the Lord is calling you?
2. How well have you been preparing each day for this spiritual warfare?
Resolution: I resolve to prepare for today’s spiritual warfare by spending time in prayer with God and asking Him for His help.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson