Facing Spiritual Attack
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” – Charles Baudelaire
My very favorite author of all time is C.S. Lewis. Clive Staples has written countless classics, but among them is a true treasure everyone should read: The Screwtape Letters. In this allegorical story, Lewis shares the correspondence between a junior and senior tempter who are tasked with bringing their assigned humans to hell. The letters outline their strategies and their overwhelming frustration with God – they just can’t comprehend why He loves His “little vermin” so much.
The Screwtape Letters is particularly edifying because one can find themselves in every chapter. The tempters use daily situations and little quirks to drive the humans mad. They throw distractions and pleasures and questionable thoughts into the human’s path like grenades, desperately hoping that one of them will go off and win the human to their side forever. There are many quotable statements, but one of the best is this:
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
Satan works in the darkness. He doesn’t want to draw attention to himself and he creates shame in us so that we don’t bring our struggles into the light. That’s why spiritual attack is so effective. It’s so sneaky that we can feel tempted to believe it’s no big deal.
Spiritual attack is a real thing. Satan is real. We don’t talk about it often enough, because the ideas of Satan and hell and spiritual attacks are frankly terrifying. But like everything in life, once we can put a name on our experience it holds far less power over us.
I’m writing this piece during a lovely bout of spiritual attack. Just last week, I was talking to my spiritual director about how much peace, joy, and faith I was feeling about my future. God has been loving me really well through this quarantine and I was enjoying surfing the waves of grace (shaka shaka). His wise advice was to “Thank God for this consolation, and be sure to remember it when desolation comes.”
Those waves of grace crashed into a cliff this past Monday. All of the sudden, I found myself questioning God’s promises. Did He really care about helping me find a new housing situation? Did He actually care about my Vocation and my dreams and desires? If I can’t see Him or feel Him, how do I know He’s there? These doubts pushed me to a dangerous train of thought I board all too often: I don’t need Him, I’ll just figure it out myself.
In a season of spiritual attack, there are high highs and low lows. My times of prayer might bring tremendous peace and comfort, while the smallest things throughout my day can send me into a spiral. On one hand, I know, trust, and love a God who loves me and is taking care of me. On the other hand, I’m doubting and questioning every past wound, current trouble, and future fear. I feel like my heart is at war.
This, my friends, is a spiritual attack. It comes out of nowhere. The voice is sneaky; a quiet whisper that tiptoes into our minds when we are least expecting it. It’s a voice that lies – spouting the same lies over and over again. We forget to trust that God’s promises are good, and that He speaks to us with love, not condemnation.
So what’s a girl to do in the face of spiritual attack? Here are my three well-worn reminders. I keep them in the notes section of my phone, so that when I start to hear and believe lies of the Enemy I can remind myself God is far more powerful than Satan will ever be. (Check out the screensaver at the bottom of this piece and save it to your photos/favorites for when you need the reminder too!)
1. Satan is not creative
If you pause to list out the common lies you hear while under spiritual attack, you’ll be quick to notice that it’s pretty much the same things over and over again. Satan is not creative. He uses well-trodden paths to get to our hearts, using the same wounds, lies and fears to paralyze us.
If you are experiencing spiritual attack, start to write down the words you hear. If you hear something more than once, start a tally next to the words. I can guarantee you that you’ll probably end up with a list of four things that have multiple tally marks after each. At the end of the day, look at your list and laugh at how boring Satan is.
God, on the other hand, is incredibly creative. He will woo us and pursue us in countless ways. He knows our hearts because He created them. Never forget how much more powerful God is than Satan.
2. God does not speak in anxiety or urgency
Moments of spiritual attack can make us feel like we must make a decision or take action right now. Common refrains can include, “If I don’t fix this then all hope is lost,” “I’ve made the wrong choice and I need to reverse it before it’s too late,” or, my favorite, “If you don’t do this right now, you’re going to mess up God’s plan for your life.”
God uses everything – even our mistakes – for good. “Too late, all hope is lost, and right now” are wrought with anxiety and fear. God convicts us with grace, peace, and clarity. He does not fill our hearts with anxiety or drive us to quickly take actions into our own hands.
If you made a decision or took action in a time of consolation, a time of desolation or spiritual attack is not the time to question it. If God wants you to change a decision you made in peace, He’ll reveal that to you with that same peace.
3. Bring the lies into the light
Spiritual attacks only hold power when they are kept in the dark. Satan has no dominion in the light. He hates when we talk about spiritual attack because it strips his words of their power.
When I feel compelled to keep secrets or make big decisions in private, it’s usually a big flag that I should question my intentions and bring them to someone for guidance. If it’s from God and good, my holy friends will help me discern that. If it’s not (and most of the time the things I want to keep secret are not) they’ll call me out and call me higher. They won’t let me make the rash, ridiculous decisions that could ultimately hurt me and others. Instead, they’ll speak God’s peace and joy into my heart. They’ll remind me of God’s truth and His promises.
Name it and claim it. He’s counting on you to keep everything in the dark. Don’t fall for it.
Remember, Satan wants us to ignore him and to forget that he exists. But when we stay alert and aware, we’ll be much quicker to expose his lies and fill up with God’s truth.
“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:8-9
When we talk about our spiritual attacks together, we are helping one another to be stronger, braver, and more courageous in the face of evil. Satan is on the prowl. Find good community, a good spiritual director and strong, holy friends and commit to sharing your spiritual attacks with one another. Let’s live in the light – and tell Satan to go to hell.
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Jane Kennedy lives in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and works in criminal justice reform. When she’s not working or writing, she’s probably catching up with friends on FaceTime, getting lost in Rock Creek Park, quoting C.S. Lewis, or trying to recreate Salt and Straw ice cream at home.