While discussing spiritual warfare with my chaplain a couple of weeks ago, I began to reflect on my spiritual experiences after my baptism. And through her encouragement and insight, I realized a couple of things:
- Satan is terrified of the powerful woman of God that I am and will continue to become.
- Satan has no new tricks. He’ll continue to use the same tactics over and over again, so it’s important to learn them so we can shut them down.
- If Satan attacked Jesus at every possible opportunity, no doubt he will attack you, too.
In Matthew 4:1-11, we read an account of Jesus’ life post-baptism by John the Baptist, where He is tested and tempted in the wilderness for 40 days:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God‘”
Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”
Then the devil left Him, and angels came and attended Him.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
There is so much to unpack from this Scripture, about how Jesus showcases His humanity by responding that men are meant for more than physical food. Jesus is God. Jesus is man. Yet while Jesus is God, on Earth He was still susceptible to attacks from the enemy, from physical hunger, tiredness, loneliness, betrayal, and thirst. As a man, He was susceptible to desires for greatness on His own terms, like we all are. How many times a day do I have to remind myself that my life is God’s and that His will is better than mine?
I have to remember that He must increase and I must decrease.
Satan used three tactics to tempt Jesus into giving up His life’s purpose:
- Physical Hunger-This weakens our thinking and can force people to do all manner of things which they’d never do on a full stomach. I’ve had friends who’ve gone on dates just so they could eat dinner that day. When you’re desperate for your daily bread, whatever that is to you, you’re liable to behave irrationally and out of character. Satan knew this about humans. As ruler of this world, he had studied our nature quite well and knew what points to hit in Jesus’ humanity. Jesus responds that as a man, He gets His sustenance from God’s word.
- Throwing Himself Down–(This is how I and my chaplain have interpreted this part of the temptations, in this particular context, but it’s not necessarily the only way to interpret it) It doesn’t surprise me that after Jesus has been quite hungry for a few weeks, and after dealing with Satan constantly bothering Him, that Satan would choose this moment to tempt Jesus to test God by essentially attempting suicide. By telling Jesus to throw Himself, if the Father didn’t save Him, He would’ve died. Either way, it’s unacceptable to test God in this way. I’ve known people who have thought that they could attempt suicide and God would stop their hand. This is dangerous. It’s at our lowest that we can even entertain this, because deep down we want life, and Satan came at this particular moment to possibly try and make Jesus die before His preordained time, effectively canceling the beautiful work that Jesus was meant to do on the cross. If God saved Him, Jesus would have sinned by testing God. If He didn’t, Jesus would be dead. Jesus responded that testing God is a sin. He is not to be tested nor is the Father to be tried in this way. Satan tried to misuse Scripture to lead Jesus astray, as so many people do, but Jesus knew Scripture, too and used it to fight.
- Worshiping Satan-Those who feel as if they have no power or control of their lives will give it over to someone else who can give them a sense of purpose. We sell our souls to our jobs and do unspeakable things for more money. We worship the way we look, paying more than most people make in their entire lifetimes to look like the latest hot celebrity. We worship our romantic partners, giving them free reign over our lives, thereby being vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. Satan wanted Jesus to worship him. Through this worship, Jesus would rule the world. But Jesus was already meant to rule everything, at the time preordained by God. Satan wanted Jesus to bypass the painful parts of His journey on Earth, completely skip the cross, and cheat His way to a kingdom, through demonic means. Jesus rebukes Satan and remarks that God alone is to be worshiped. He is both God and man. He is to be worshiped and He worships the Father. This is a beautifully mysterious thing.
A couple of thousands of years later, Satan used these exact tactics on me after I was baptized in the summer of 2014. I was 20 years old, almost 21, and felt very grown up. I was looking forward to taking this next step in my walk with Christ. In the days leading up to my baptism, I was excited, like a bride on her wedding day. I was giddy at the prospect of performing this special sacrament and being obedient to Jesus in this way. I was curious to see how my life would change after my baptism, as I’d heard stories of people experiencing healing, gaining new spiritual gifts, or deeper spiritual insight after their baptism. My friends were traveling a couple of hours for the occasion, and my father would join us at the church, although at that time he was not a Christian and was not comfortable with what I was doing.
Everything seemed to be exactly as it should.
On the day of my baptism, my wonderful pastor, Pastor Torrey, gave me space and time to read my 5-page long testimony, single-spaced, and I used that opportunity to speak to my father and other non-Christians sitting in the pews, who did not know this Jesus I was so in love with. I used it to speak up about depression and suicidal thoughts, about how the Christian life isn’t a series of constant highs but a relationship like any other that requires work and has seasons of dryness, and about how God had used my Christian community in college to bring me to the place where I even wanted to be baptized at all. It was beautiful and profound. Parishioners remarked to my parents afterward that they had never heard a 20-year old speak or write so eloquently and powerfully and that this was certainly a way that God was going to use me for the Kingdom in the future.
I was ready for this new chapter of my life.
Pastor Torrey asked me a series of three short questions and after I responded “Yes!” to all of them, he held me and dipped me back into the baptistery. As I came out of the water, I felt this incredible warmth all over me, coming from inside and outside, spilling over and filling me. I felt at peace for the first time in my life and could not stop smiling and crying. The Holy Spirit had appeared to me as a dove, hovering over me, and I kept feeling that Jesus was smiling and saying, “Good job, little one. I’m so proud of you.” Afterward, my friends and I went to the beach, cooked good Puerto Rican food, and watched movies. Life was great.
The next morning ushered in a new normal which I had not been prepared for. I did not expect it and so when I tried to handle it on my own, I felt overwhelmed. If I dared speak about it with my Christian peers at college, I felt crazy. Satan had come at me hard, with everything he had, to destroy me and my life’s purpose. I have not ever turned stones into bread, although I totally believe that if it came down to that, the Holy Spirit could perform that miracle through me. So if Satan had told me to do that, it wouldn’t have made sense and I wouldn’t have fallen for his lies. He chose instead, knowing my nature as Gabrielle, to choose the latter two temptations to kill me.
From that morning on, for probably around 40 days, Satan told me to kill myself. Every single day, he told me to kill myself. I thought this was my old depression creeping up after four years of freedom. I didn’t recognize it as a tactic that Satan had used on Jesus after His baptism. So I began to become depressed, believing that I’ll never truly be free of my mental health issues, and lamenting that I was powerless to overcome the enemy. I didn’t know that God had given me His strength. I didn’t know that Satan had already been defeated. That God fought and fights for me. I knew so many people who had problematic theology surrounding spiritual warfare and thought, “Well, if this is spiritual warfare, I’m doomed. It’s best to brace myself for the attacks and just pray they go away. Satan will never stop attacking me.”
That last bit is true. Satan will never stop attacking me, but it’s not because I’m unworthy or lacking in some area, but because I am a powerful woman of God. I am a powerful woman of God who has a past, who deals with unhealthy habits in messy ways sometimes, who doesn’t know how to navigate adult friendships and romantic relationships after experiencing so much pain, and who doesn’t know where God wants her to go or what specifically He wants her to do or when. But, I know God. I love Him and believe that He is good. That He wants to redeem people for heaven but that He also wants to redeem people for living into the Kingdom right now. And if you can get people to hope that their life could become whole before heaven, that’s dangerous. That makes you susceptible to attacks. Satan likes a sleepy church that longs for the afterlife so that we’re essentially useless right now in the battlefield we live in.
When Satan noticed that I wasn’t killing myself, he began to shift his attack. Suddenly I was consumed by thoughts of worshiping Satan. This is something I have hardly shared with others because I know how it sounds to your average Christian person. Or to any person. It sounds absolutely insane. And I had dealt with mental health issues before, so was I indeed going crazy? Or was this Satan using another tactic he used on Jesus on me, too? I am a spiritually sensitive woman, and I can detect when something is not quite right in the atmosphere. I felt these attacks as a thick, cloud of darkness hovering over me. I felt the enemy creeping on my back, breathing down my neck, and desperately trying to murder me. At this point, I do want to say that there is a name for this experience: Scrupulosity. It’s a type of OCD that targets the religious life of a person. There is a fuzzy line between Scrupulosity and demonic attacks, so please do speak with a mental health professional should you find yourself encountering constant obsessive thoughts. I’m of the opinion that mental illness and demonic attack can occur simultaneously, but that there are mental health issues which are purely due to chemical imbalances and the brokenness we experience in this life. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help.
The temptation to worship the devil ran throughout my mind all day, just like the previous temptation to suicide had. It felt like obsessive thoughts that I could not control. I’d attempt to control them but they just kept running. At this point, I knew it wasn’t me. It was something else, something sinister sent to torment me. It felt like it was coming in from the outside, if you can picture that. Again, I didn’t know why this was happening or how I could be free from this. I chalked it up to my failings as a person and as a Christian, but six years later I am able to see that Satan was just doing to me what he did to Jesus. And in an odd way, that says something profound about me.
What about me is so threatening to the enemy of my soul and yours that he would pull out the big guns to try and bring me down with him?
What do I have that makes me dangerous to the kingdom of darkness?
I’m still figuring that out. At this point in my life, I think it’s an ever-present hope in God, no matter how small at times. It’s compassionate, deep love for my fellow human. It’s great openness to the differences that we have. And it’s a primal belief that every person matters. That’s a belief I’m willing to risk ridicule and reputation on. Let them say I’m too opinionated, too focused on justice, too angry, or too loud. That I make people uncomfortable by speaking prophetically. God wants me to speak and I will not be silenced, because as soon as humans figure out that we are all worthy of the same love and respect regardless of our color, disability, age, sex, status, education, or appearance, we will have won a big part of the battle that keeps raging, that keeps the church at odds with each other and ineffective against the kingdom of darkness and a world that’s crying out for redemption.
Eventually, after trying to handle this on my own, I knew I needed help. I e-mailed Pastor Torrey who, bless his heart, didn’t see the e-mail until months later. But when I received his response, I was encouraged. I began to see that these attacks had nothing to do with the weak parts of me, like my issues with depression and suicidal thoughts as a teenager. These attacks had everything to do with the woman that God is shaping me to be, and the great potential that I have to make a difference in someone’s life. Satan chose to use the parts of me that I was ashamed of to make me think that I had no future. While this experience was traumatic, painful, isolating, and scary, looking back as a woman who is about to be in her late-twenties, a woman who has experienced so much life throughout the past six years, I can say that I am grateful that God trusts me enough and believes in me enough to have let Satan sift me like wheat. Through this experience, by peeling back the layers of what Satan said to me, when he said it, how it made me feel, and what God had to say about me, my fear of Satan has diminished.
A few months later, as I began a new semester at school, I became a Bible study leader specifically for seekers. I led three people to faith. I helped a new believer in her battle with suicidal thoughts and how to submit her same-sex attraction to God’s loving care. I mentored a wonderful college freshman who needed to unlearn purity and rape culture. I reached so many people with the Gospel message, from various religious backgrounds, and experienced a lot of demonic backlash. I began having nightmares that seemed so real, where the enemy was coming after me. But at this point, I wasn’t afraid, because I already knew that he could not do anything to me. I took it as confirmation that I was doing the right thing. But be careful not to seek confirmation in this way. That’s a dangerous thing.
Prior to this experience, I was deeply scared of Satan and demons as I think most people are, even Christians. Although we know in our brains that we have the power to shut this stuff down, when faced with this unseen darkness that suddenly appears as a demon speaking through our family member or obsessive thoughts that try to get you to die, we shake in our boots. We don’t know what to do. Since then, since I’ve seen Satan for what he is, which is mostly a pest who torments us in the same exact ways over and over again, I am not afraid. The following year, summer 2015, I embarked on a two-month trip to India. It was my first time overseas and I was going alone to stay with a team of college students whom I had never met. I did not know what my living conditions would be. I didn’t know the people who were supposed to keep me safe. I knew nothing. I knew that I was going to India and that was enough for me. A few days before leaving, I received an onslaught of attacks from the devil. But this time, I knew his tactics. He spoke through a family member who cursed me and cursed India, telling me that I was going to be assaulted and violated and that my work in India would come to nothing. So I immediately knew that God would do something great in me while I was there. A classmate I hardly knew told me that I had a mental illness because I loved Indian culture and connected with it more than I did my Puerto Rican culture at the time. So I figured that my ability to move between cultures would deeply benefit me as I served Indians. I was able to see that these attacks had nothing to do with anything negative about me, but everything to do with what Satan was afraid I was capable of through God’s Spirit. He was afraid of the good things I would do in India and how I would grow and change through the experience. So, unafraid, I shut that down.
Over the past few years, I’ve had friends come to me when they experience spiritual warfare. When they get random thoughts in their heads that they’re going to die or that they won’t make anything of themselves. And I teach them to shut that down. I remember one morning, a friend I had made in India, a sweet teenage boy who was like my little brother, texted me about his irrational fear of dying that he began experiencing when he led worship at church. I helped him through it, explained a bit of spiritual warfare to him, and prayed with him. It was night-time in India, so he went to sleep and it was quite early in the U.S., so I went back to sleep. As I drifted off, I began hearing a cacophony of voices in my ear, high-pitched, sharp, flat, gurgling, low, growling voices in my ear. They yelled at me. And they all said one thing at the same time: “GO TO HELL!” So I picked my head up off the pillow, looked around the room, and said, “In Jesus’ name, you go to hell. You go back to hell!” I went back to sleep. I’ve had this experience another time, when I was feeling particularly low about myself, and I heard that same cacophony of voices in my ear, this time yelling at me, and then saying, “You’re a whore!” I responded with “That’s a lie. I’m a beloved daughter of God. In Jesus’ name, go back to hell.”
Readers, I truly hope that what you glean from this piece is not that fighting Satan is fun or exciting or something to be desired. I do not recommend seeking out demons or becoming obsessed with them. I think that’s a dark thing that gives me pause when I hear some folks tell me about their experiences with it. I used to envy my Christian friends who had no experience with spiritual warfare and the darkness that exists around us. I longed for that innocence. But, as I grow in Christ, as I see the things that He has called me to do, the dark places that I have walked for Him, I see that there is no way I could have done any of that if I had not been trained in this way. On the mission field, there is much darkness, and what use would I be if I were scared of Satan and had no idea what to do when a demon presents itself? My chaplain told me that God prepares us for the positions we are meant to have. Therefore everyone has different training. This has been a part of my training and I’m grateful to no longer live in fear of the enemy and to firmly be confident in my ability, through the Holy Spirit in me, to deal with spiritual warfare as is appropriate.
Ephesians 6:10-20 gives us the blueprint for standing firm in our identity as Christ-followers, because that’s what the enemy attacks: our identity. If he can get us to doubt who we are, he’s already gotten a big foothold in our lives. This is why we need others to remind us who we are as we continue to fight, always recognizing that Satan has already been defeated.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For 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. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And 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 Lord’s people. 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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
If you’re experiencing spiritual warfare, you are not alone. You have power in and through Christ. You can shut it down! Do not feel ashamed. Speak to your pastor or small group leader. Speak to me. And be at peace. You will survive and then thrive. God is with you.