ROTC Field exercises in the suburbs of Chicago

Desert camouflage looks out of place in the suburbs of Chicago. But it communicates loud and clear that somewhere, most likely in a desert, we have enemies to guard against.

Hundreds of students have returned to the Wheaton College campus for fall semester and that means the ROTC army scholarship program does its field exercises and parade line on the football field at 6:00 am on Friday mornings. Their discipline both physically and mentally challenge all who see them. We used to make fun of them in the breakfast line, but only because we were too embarrassed to salute.

Our spiritual enemies are more dangerous than the physical ones. I’ll never forget my first encounter with demonic activity in Brazil. The young man had been acting strange all night, so when his friends told me he couldn’t talk or stand up straight, I immediately prepared to take him to the hospital. Thankfully, before we got too far up the dirt road, my boss, Pastor U., met us returning from church with his family. He asked what was wrong. When I explained, he commanded us to turn around and come back to campus.

U. and I took the young man aside and after a few simple questions, and to my surprise, the pastor, formerly a military policeman, said forcefully, “Come out of him you unclean spirit in the name of Jesus.”

I found out later that the pastor had seen signs of demonic activity in this young man for some time. That night he would not look us in the eye, his joints were stiff and his speech was slurred. The pastor had seen this before. I hadn’t.

But what happened next surprised me even more. The young man began to laugh. He laughed at us! The others a few meters away watched and giggled a little too. I began to doubt but not U. He said with even more authority, “You have to leave him in Jesus’ name. Any hold you had over him is broken by the blood shed on the cross.”

It took a minute, but the 17 year-old leaned over and sat down on the gravel road, still laughing softly. It almost looked like he was deflating. He bent down until his head was on the ground and then he went sound asleep. After a few moments Paster U. squatted beside him and shook him softly calling his name. He opened his eyes and looked at us groggily. He had no idea why he was sleeping in the street nor any memory of what had happened to him. U. asked him if he believed in Jesus and encouraged him to kneel and pray then and there for the forgiveness of his sins and to completely surrender his life to the Lord. He did that and as far as I know he never looked back.

Nothing motivates you to study the Bible and seek the Lord more than a demonic encounter. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t happen more than it does. Sometimes the enemy exchanges his fiery darts for tranquilizers. After living in São Paulo for 20 years where spirit sacrifices appear in plain sight on the street corner and demonic possession and oppression is relatively common, the midwestern suburbs seem deathly quiet. I keep asking where the enemy is.

An older missionary told me recently that he believed the weakest link in missionary preparation was spiritual warfare. Are you and I prepared and alert against the prowling and roaring of the devil and his angels?

Others have covered the bases of spiritual warfare better than I could, but here are some battle strategies that help me:

1. Stay Alert! Remembering there is a battle is half of the battle. The Bible clearly warns that Satan and his principalities aggressively seek to devour us. See Ephesians 6 and I Peter 5 for starters. If you’re prone to forget the battle, take a cold shower or wear a camouflage T-shirt under your clothes to remind you to stay alert.

2. Our weapons are spiritual. Don’t try to outsmart or even understand the devil. He’s smarter than we are. Like a physical shield, faith blocks our view while it protects us. Believe God’s promises as recorded in the Word and the tantalizing lies of the enemy will have no power over your mind and heart. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

3. Call in reinforcements. The only defenses sheep have against wolves are the shepherd and the flock. Stay as close as you can to Jesus. Call out loud for His help when temptation is strongest. Walk in fellowship and transparent communion with other believers. Prayer support weakens the enemy’s defenses. Temptation gains strength when we are on our own.

4. Offense is the best defense. The gates of hell cannot withstand the onslaught of Christ’s church unless she refuses to advance. Lethargy and laziness give the hounds of hell room to attack.

On the night of September 11th, 2012, islamic militants attacked the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya and killed the ambassador and a foreign service officer. The evidence suggests that those in charge at the time did not expect the violence of the attack. Even though highly trained military personnel were on the ground nearby, they were not deployed in time to save the ambassador’s life.

Pastor U taught me that working with street children was living with your hand in the devil’s pocket. Our enemy is not playing around. He is real and he has those we seek to save in his grasp. The fight is on! Are you ready? I hope so.

One good book on spiritual warfare is this one by my friend Dr. Scott Moreau. Scott joined us as one of the speakers at the ACTION Jubilee celebration last summer at Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada.
Thomas and Susanna Smoak served the Lord among the abandoned children of Brazil from 1995 to 2016. They have six children and live in Wheaton, Illinois.