This post has been republished by the Exponential Network
When I embarked on the journey to plant a church in the city of San Francisco I had been a pastor for a decade. I had served in various congregations in California and the suburbs of Chicago, I had taken on various roles from youth pastor to worship pastor to director of ministry. Each and every one of these roles helped to formulate some thoughts and ideas surrounding spiritual warfare, but being that I am not from the charismatic/pentecostal stream of theological thought, spiritual warfare was seen as more of an inconvenience instead of a hard and fast reality.
In the past, spiritual warfare was often just an excuse. The reason why no one came to the marriage retreat? It wasn’t because we planned it during Memorial Day weekend. No, it was spiritual warfare. The reason the sound system blew out? It wasn’t because we continually pushed it to “11″ during youth group. No, it was spiritual warfare… the Devil doesn’t want us worshipping on Sunday mornings!* The way in which we have used spiritual warfare in the evangelical, non-Pentecostal/Charismatic church has eroded away our understanding of what actually takes place behind the scenes. I would argue that we have actually succumbed to one of the world’s greatest lie’s succinctly stated by Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
I had never had an encounter with what I could undeniably call “spiritual warfare” until the journey to plant a church began. We had been in the city for almost a year, preparations for launching were well underway and we were closing in on our official public launch. I was excited and ready to see all the fundraising, the training, the dreaming, the conversations, the vision casting finally come together for a Sunday morning gathering.
One October night, I went to sleep with tremendous excitement, with such an overwhelming exuberance that I thought I was going to explode! The next morning I left the apartment in a much different state.
During the middle of the night I was jolted awake. I began shouting and kicking as hard as I could, “Get off me! Get off me!” My wife who was sleeping beside me was instantly thrust out of her sleep and tried to calm me down. “Are you okay?!” She repeatedly asked. “Yeah,” I responded. “Just a bad dream.” She went back to sleep, but for the rest of the night I laid wide awake. This, however, wasn’t a bad dream.
I had been jolted awake by someone or something grabbing my legs and pinning them down. I was completely paralyzed, unable to move, unable to kick, unable to do anything… I couldn’t even open my mouth. The room was overtaken by a great darkness, darker than anything I had ever experienced, and as I struggled with every fiber of my being to move, I could not. This lasted for what seemed like an eternity but was only a few minutes and then, all of a sudden, it loosened its grip. That’s when I was able to kick and scream and startled my wife out of her sleep.
When I got out of bed in the morning I was paralyzed with fear. I couldn’t explain what had happened, I was in a state of confusion and shock, and I didn’t know how to wrap my mind around the experience. I went about the business of the day but I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I didn’t tell my staff team, I didn’t tell my coach, I didn’t tell our management team, I didn’t tell our project manager, I didn’t tell a soul. I couldn’t. I simply held it in for fear that people would think I was a crazy person. That’s when the real suffering began.
For the next 3 months I dried up relationally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally. Every fiber of my being was robbed and I began shutting down.
I shut down with God. I lost interest in prayer, in Scripture, in journaling. I felt at a distance and disconnected from Him. I shut down with the staff. I was carrying this unfathomable experience around and I didn’t know how to process it or how to talk about it. So, I didn’t. I shut down with people from the congregation. I blamed it on stress, I blamed it on being busy, but I began to separate myself bit by bit from the people I was charged with caring for. I shut down physically. I stopped running, I stopped exercising. All I wanted to do was sit on the couch and watch television all day. I was becoming a shell.
For three months this continued until God broke through and I snapped out of it. Except I never fully recovered from this experience. This greatly affected the first three months of the life of IKON in ways that I’m not sure I’ll ever fully grasp, and as time went on it affected and threatened the entire existence of IKON.
I wish I could say that this was the only time this happened, but it wasn’t. A few years later, in May of 2012, I experienced an identical situation. I was jolted awake, paralyzed completely by a darkness that pinned my legs down and breathed heavy on me. The moment I was able to speak I spoke with as much authority as I could muster, “In the name of Jesus, get out!” In an instant the darkness was gone.
For the next week I recognized the same pattern was beginning to emerge. I was shutting down emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally. This time, however, I decided I would not go down the same road. This time I spoke up and began reaching out. I emailed our management team and asked them for prayer. I let my church planting network in on the situation. I asked various leaders in our church to pray for me. This time was going to be different.
This was a battle like none I had ever faced. I continually found myself slipping in and out of what felt like catatonic states but this time there were people praying, a lot of people praying, and I could feel the difference.
There are moments, even in the recounting of this experience, that I still feel crazy. I have questioned myself over and over again on whether or not to actually publish this post for fear of what others might think or say. But I believe this is one of the most important things that I learned as a church planter: Spiritual warfare is frighteningly real and it’s a lot different than I thought.
Here are some things that I learned, and by no means is this comprehensive. My hope is that you’ll at least begin to think through some of these things and have a course of action to take at the very least.
- You have authority through Jesus… remember that. In the midst of whatever attack you are facing, call upon the name of Jesus.
- Tell people. You cannot shoulder this burden alone. It is far more than you can handle by yourself. There are people in your life that love and care for you and will pray with you, for you, and continually check in to see how you’re doing. So, tell them. Have them pray for you. Ask them to check up on you, you’ll need people to be proactive in this. Don’t hold it in alone.
- Pray + Read Scripture. Don’t allow yourself to disconnect from God during this time. Immediately pray, set up reminders on your phone or in your calendar to pray. Be proactive about this and don’t let it slip. You need to allow an experience like this to drive you closer to God rather than to drive a wedge. At the same time, do not neglect Scripture. Read it. In fact, I would encourage you to deviate from your reading plan and spend time praying through the Psalms. There will be a great sense of comfort and encouragement there as you read and pray through the prayers Jesus prayed.
- Write it down. Record your experience in a journal. Spend time recounting what happened with as much detail as you can as soon as you can. Don’t wait to long. Over the course of the next week begin to take stock of where you are Relationally, Physically, Mentally, Emotionally, Spiritually. Perhaps grade yourself on a scale of 1-5, and then evaluate what has changed in you since the attack. This will be valuable not only in processing what has happened, but also in how you pray and for how other people pray for you. It will also be an invaluable tool for you if you experience the exact same kind of attack again. You’ll be able to spot patterns more quickly and mitigate the damage. (I really wish I would have done this.)
I am quite sure there is more that can and should be done in the wake of an experience like this, and I hope you will do some investigation. My goal with this post is to awaken you to the realities that demonic attacks can take place in the life of the church planter, and that you will at the very least have a course of action.
Remember, you are breaking new ground. You are establishing a beachhead for the Kingdom. You should expect real and serious resistance. But know that God has called you to this and although it may not feel like it at the time, He will always be there fighting alongside you.
* These are pretty ridiculous, and not actual events… but they are indicative of how we’ve used spiritual warfare as an excuse in the past.