There is something about Africa that opens our eyes to spiritual warfare.
I recently spent two weeks in Swaziland with a mission team from our church. Swaziland is a New Jersey-sized kingdom surrounded on three sides by South Africa and on one by Mozambique. This was the third trip for me, the fourth for my wife.
Some people get off the plane and sense the spiritual darkness of a place. I’ve never had that experience. Instead, I can only sense spiritual darkness the old fashioned way: I have to know people who are in darkness. I am a decent listener; I am wretched at sensing or intuiting. On this trip, however, spiritual darkness and oppression were more palpable themes because our team included a deliverance-oriented pastor, our host pastor favored deliverance approaches, and they were predicting that warfare was ahead. And, of course—it was.
The world is organized by kingdoms: darkness and light, the dominion of Satan and the reign of King Jesus. The light of Christ has come, and darkness is loosing its foothold, but Satanic darkness does not give way to clever planning or theological orthodoxy. Prayer, as we all know, is the essential weapon.
The battle became apparent late in our first week. We traveled to six different locations in order to help with the church planting efforts of our Swazi partners. One place tends to be our favorite. The area is called Madadula and it is the site of our first church planting effort. In a rural and sparsely populated area, we set up a tent four years ago and suddenly five hundred people appeared and were ready to hear about Jesus. We have since built a permanent structure, and we just celebrated our first service in that new building. Madadula and its people have a warm place in our hearts.
On the day we were scheduled to go to Madadula, we loaded trucks with boxes of clothes (we fill a container with donations in the US and pass them out at the various Swaziland sites), our medical team made sure it was loaded with supplies, and off we went to embrace our friends. Two years ago eight-hundred people were waiting for our visit, last year a thousand. This year we were expecting more.
When we arrived there were a few adults sitting under a nearby tree, about ten children were playing in the adjacent field, and no one else was in sight. Either there had been a localized rapture or people were staying away. Maybe no one received word we were coming. With such a small turn out we decided to play with the kids, whose numbers quickly swelled to well over a hundred, set up a small clinic, and wait for another day to distribute the clothing. That night our host pastor explained what happened.
“When the gospel goes forward the Evil One puts up a fight,” he began. “People in the area have been told not to attend when you come. They are being threatened by local leaders and even some of the pastors of small churches in the area. When we go back to Madadula make sure you stay together because your life could be in danger if you go anywhere by yourself. This is spiritual warfare.”
Sobering words. A few members from our team were concerned for their safety when we returned to Madadula, and rightly so. You don’t take spiritual warfare lightly.
Are there local demons that have influence in a particular place? There certainly could be. Were there local demons that had influence in Madadula? Probably. And we would pray that God’s kingdom would come with new power and love to our friends. Where sangomas (witch doctors) are the spiritual advisors, and ancestor worship is the rule, would Jesus Christ break through as the true Lord? These were some of our thoughts. Yet there is more to say. Demonic influence, like Spiritual influence, is a partnership. Satan and his demons enlist imitators of themselves, and this imitation is unmistakable. Lies, for example, are Satan’s native language. Find deceivers and those who cover up the truth and you will find spiritual bondage. Or be alert to anger. Satan is a murderer. He has been angry with God’s people from the beginning. Though we might miss the connection between anger and murder, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, reminds us that they are identical expressions of the selfish, demanding heart. Find anger and you have found spiritual warfare. This means that if you find division, a necessary consequence of anger, you will notice Satan’s fingerprints all over it.
Lies, anger and division – these are essential to the culture of darkness. Add jealousy and you have discerned Satan’s character and the character of his people.
Jealousy is a form of anger that has yet to receive the attention it deserves.
Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? (Proverbs 27:4)
In other words, if you think anger is bad, don’t mess with jealousy. “Mine, Mine,” it insists, and those words are overtly Satanic. Satan assumed he had full control over human beings who had voluntarily aligned themselves with him, but he was wrong. All human history is the story of God pursuing and then redeeming people to be his own. And Satan will have none of it.
The rabble-rousers of Madadula were imitating Satan in their jealousy. They had watched people being drawn to a church in unprecedented numbers, and they were jealous. They saw a building being erected, and it wasn’t their own. Leaders who used fear to maintain power were loosing their grip. They had moved beyond smoldering frustration and had given themselves over to jealousy. In that, they were perfectly in tune with their dark lord.
Here is the lesson. In Africa, spiritual warfare is the prominent interpretation for most difficult events. Typically, this means that there is an active spiritual world outside of us and we must identify it and cast it out. The emphasis is not on our heart’s voluntary partnership with the Evil One. In the United States, we are less quick to identify spiritual warfare, and we are more prone to pointing the finger at the human heart. These interpretations, of course, merge into one. Spiritual warfare is most frequently expressed in the human heart. For Africans, that means that the diagnosis of demonism should lead us both into prayer and knowing individual people. We pray that God would break demonic strongholds and we humbly confront those who imitate Satan in their lies, anger and jealousy. In the United States, this means that an everyday experience such as jealousy is not merely a private snit. It is not merely something going on within me. Instead, it is a casualty of spiritual warfare. Jealousy is a relational connection. In our jealousy we are aligning with Satan’s kingdom, at least temporarily, and with such alignment bondage and blindness are sure to follow.
Perhaps we should say that there is nothing like Africa and counseling to remind us of spiritual warfare. And there is nothing like Africa and counseling to remind us that the Spirit of power and liberation has come. When we returned to Madadula three days later the people came from everywhere. Jealousy, apparently, had been tethered. By the end of the day everyone who came had been served with clothes and everyone who needed health care spent time with our skilled medical staff. Meanwhile, today, back in the U.S., in a suburban counseling office, I watched spiritual warfare in its extreme. I saw a woman repent of her anger and move toward the offending person with humility. What power! A few hours later I talked to a drug addict who turned from lies and spoke honestly about his problem for the first time. I watched the light of the Kingdom of Christ enter where darkness once ruled.