Like all of you, I am looking forward to the end of this pandemic and when we can resume life on a normal basis. The Coronavirus has been more devastating than anything like it I have seen in my lifetime. It has taken over a million lives globally and has killed 220,000 in the United States. Among the lives it has taken was my next door neighbor who was a Biola graduate who had a significant inner-city ministry.
Nearly 2000 years ago, people living in the Lycus Valley of Asia Minor faced a devastating epidemic. Numerous people were sickened and died from the deadly virus afflicting the cities of Hierapolis, Colossae, Laodicea and beyond. The civic leaders of Hierapolis put together an official delegation to travel to the temple of Apollo just north of Ephesus to inquire about the cause of this plague and ask what could be done. The answer from the god was clear: the epidemic was caused by the wrathful displeasure of certain gods and underworld spirits. The solution: these gods and spirits needed to be appeased by a variety of libations and sacrifices.
Well, that was 2000 years ago and we know much better now. Evil spirits don’t cause epidemics, viruses do. And we don’t need to be concerned about evil spirits; we need a vaccine.
But wait. Doesn’t the Bible call Satan the destroyer—using the title Apollyon in Revelation 9? And doesn’t the evil one have the ability to carry out his destructive intent through plagues, epidemics and pandemics? He surely does. And his fingerprints can undoubtedly be found on the Coronavirus pandemic.
So how do we engage in Spiritual Warfare against the enemy of our souls and bodies in the midst of a pandemic? Ephesians 6—the key passage on spiritual warfare—gives us perspective and guidance on this. When it declares that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” we may not have thought about this previously in terms of afflicting us with a global pandemic. But it is very relevant to what we are facing.
Ephesians 6 presents seven different weapons that believers are given so that we can stand up against the evil one. The seventh weapon is perhaps the most important. It is foundational to all the other weapons and represents the essence of what spiritual warfare is all about. It is prayer. And prayer is calling on the Divine Warrior to fight on our behalf. It is what Paul means when he says to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
Paul mentions prayer last so that he can elaborate on it. He says, “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” He mentions prayer four times and uses the word “all” or “always” four times. Let me suggest five different ways that this passage should help guide us to pray during this pandemic.
- The very recognition that the pandemic may be a manifestation of spiritual warfare should motivate us to pray. The realization that we face powerful and intelligent spiritual opposition working to cause us harm should motivate us to call on our God to fight for us. Psalm 91 says, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.' For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.”
- Pray in the Spirit. The passage says, “pray in the Spirit on all occasions.” Before you pray, ask the Spirit of God to guide you into specifically how you should pray. Spend time being silent before God. Listen to the ways the Spirit may prompt you to pray.
- Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ. The Scripture instructs us to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” The levels of anxiety are very high because of this virus and the widespread impact it is having. Combined with the daily tensions we are seeing in the political sphere, the intensifying social pressures related to racism, seeing friends and family lose their jobs, we are experiencing a perfect storm. I have been using the words of Psalm 57 to pray for my family, my church, and our faculty, staff and students at Talbot: “Be merciful to us, O God, be merciful to us. For in you we take refuge. In the shadow of your wings, we will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. Send from heaven and save us. Send out your steadfast love and faithfulness.”
- Pray with people. After teaching spiritual warfare for over twenty years, I have come to the conviction that the most significant priestly ministry we can have as believers is praying with them. The evil one tries every angle to bring fear, discouragement, and despair and ultimately resignation. This is why Ephesians 6 says four times, “stand.” One of the most helpful ways we can pray for people is to ask God to impart his grace to them and to pray for his blessing over them. For some who are suffering a direct and powerful spiritual attack, it may be necessary to engage in warfare praying. Part of our authority in Christ is the ability to utter a direct command to a spirit and order it to stop and to leave. This is not being weird. It is recognizing spiritual realities as the Bible presents it and responding appropriately. This does not need to be dramatic; it can be as simple as calmly saying, “if there is a spirit causing this, I command you in the name of the Lord Jesus to stop this and to leave.” And I would encourage you to conclude such a time of prayer with asking for the filling of God’s Spirit.
- Pray for the spread of the Gospel. At the end of this passage, Paul says, “Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Scripture shows an unmistakeable pattern of God subverting what Satan intends for evil and turning it into a good. This pandemic has shown how vulnerable we are and how precarious life can be. Pray that God uses this to show people their need for him. Pray for caring boldness to share the hope of the Gospel with people you may know.
I pray that God may give us all a fresh glimpse of his power and his glory so that our hearts may be lifted up. And, ultimately, join me in praying that God may be exalted above the heavens and that his glory would be over all the earth.
For more on spiritual warfare, watch this message from Dr. Clint Arnold.