This morning as I prayed in the Spirit I felt like my prayers were ones of warfare. I’m certain many people would agree that below the surface of the differing opinions on social media or the civil unrest around us, in the places we cannot see, a battle rages for our hearts and minds. It’s a spiritual battle, and as the enemy tries to wreak havoc, sending his demonic forces to whisper discouragement and deception, the prayers of God’s saints strengthen the angel armies who surround His children with protection. The thing is, Satan is pretty good at what he does. I mean, he’s not called the Great Deceiver for nothing! He knows exactly where to plant his troops, but he’s not inserting his soldiers where you might think.
No, it’s not on the streets or in the gutters where he plants the enemy’s whisper. It’s not in the strip clubs, bars, or prisons where you would see the greatest battle for good, if you could see in the spiritual realm. My husband is fond of saying, “if you’re looking for the devil, don’t try the home of sinners. Look in the church instead.”
That’s a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow, but the truth usually is. You see, if someone is a slave to sin already, the powers of darkness don’t have to work as hard to keep them down. But believers? Now those are the devil’s favorite people to blind and fool.
I can remember a couple of years ago deciding to unfriend a very pious, self-proclaimed “prophet for the Lord,” Facebook friend of mine. I had known her for over twenty years, and in fact, the first time we had met, in church, with me as a brand new believer, she had introduced herself not by name, but with a comment about how something I was wearing was “demonic.” Talk about speechless. I remember not knowing what to say back then. Did I leave? Did I say I’m sorry, I had no idea. In the end, thankfully, I let the hurt leave my mind as quickly as it entered. Instead I learned why my earrings could be seen as occult, and why as a believer I should stray from such things. I let her abrupt manner not harm me, but this first interaction wouldn’t be our last.
When I finally decided to separate myself from this woman who had done nothing but discourage me every time I interacted with her, I wondered if she even knew the devil used her to crush the spirit of fellow believers. I considered the many times she argued with me as I tried to learn more about scripture, or the way she answered me condescendingly when I sought wisdom from others in the church. I remembered all the other times I had seen her attack multiple Christians (without provocation) for their feelings or beliefs, in a public manner, like she was the judge and jury for Jesus Himself. It grieved my heart to think of the people trying to find the love of Christ, but encountering her hard judgment, callous behavior, and obvious disdain for those she considered less learned than herself. I couldn’t imagine how many people she might have pushed away from His throne, so she could throw herself there in unrealized hypocrisy.
Yeah, I know, my words sound pretty harsh, but after so many years of watching people leave Christianity because of other believers in Christ, I am feeling pretty harsh. I’m angry. I’m mad that my brothers and sisters allow themselves to be used by the enemy to keep others from seeing Jesus. It’s the greatest tragedy of our time.
Back to my early Christianity, I can recall so many instances where members of the church unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) discouraged me. I can recall a year into my walk with Christ having the desire and call to become a missionary. I was on fire, y’all! I wanted to share the Good News that had saved me. I did all the leg work, and was over halfway through the fundraising for my discipleship training when I decided to beseech my home congregation to help me financially. Look, I never would expect someone to give where the Lord isn’t leading, but this incident hurt me deeply.
I sought the help of the small, Southern Church I had attended for twelve years of my life, a church devoid of the Holy Spirit in many ways. For although I had attended this church since the age of eight, I sadly didn’t understand a relationship with Jesus until I found it in another congregation. But still I had stayed loyal to my parent’s church, attending there on Sunday, and then going to the congregation where I discovered the realness of God and how much He loved me on Sunday nights. I hope this isn’t confusing.
It was the dead, Sunday-morning building I decided to ask for help. The one that had seen me grow up and even dunked in their baptismal. Not that they had explained at the time what baptism was supposed to mean. Although my Spirit-thriving, Sunday-night church of Jesus lovers had already contributed to my missions without being asked, I found it necessary to attend a business meeting to submit my request for an offering, approved by the deacons and an elder vote, to see if I could get assistance from the church that held my “membership letter.” What is that anyway?
To make a long story short, they voted not to help me financially, giving the reason “if we fund your mission work, we’ll have to fund the mission work of anyone else in the congregation who asks. We can’t afford to help everybody.”
As an on-fire, new (true) believer in Jesus, their behavior hurt me, but it didn’t put out my fire. Of note, that particular story is just one of many.
I could tell numerous stories of discouragement and judgement I’ve seen through the years. Times where I tried to fit into the “Christian kids” clique, but my parents didn’t make enough money, or my family didn’t have a good enough reputation to make the cut. I can tell you times I was discriminated against as a young woman by Christian adults for the clothes I wore or the tattoo my mom had let me get at seventeen. I can remember being removed from a drama stage or barred from a team for these things that should have caused these more seasoned believers to take me under their wing and mentor me instead of publicly humiliating me. I can remember when I had a problem with alcohol being condemned rather than encouraged that the Lord could help me break the cycle of alcoholism in my family. Welcome to life in the Bible Belt.
With all the discouragement I received from believers, it’s amazing that I remained one. I wasn’t taught from birth the love of the Lord like I’m teaching my children. I didn’t have that stable foundation to keep me grounded when temptation came my way, or worse, when the devil used fellow followers of God to try and break me. It is only by the grace of God, the forgiveness of Jesus, the love of the Holy Spirit, and the guidance from true Christians, in word and deed, that kept me from leaving the church forever. It shouldn’t be this way.
The thing is, the lady I mentioned finally unfriending, she was the member of a really wonderful church of believers. See, you can find a really great barrel of apples, but there’s always that one rotten one that will try and ruin the whole thing for you. Don’t let them!
The devil and his minions are in the church, y’all, and I’m sure if you’ve seen the posts of some of your friends on social media lately, you’ve seen some not very loving behavior. He wreaks havoc, causes division, and cultivates pride. He whispers offense, steals peace, and replaces it with rage. He loosens tongues to speak words that are better left unsaid, and he manipulates the truth worse than even your most deplorable politician. Why are we falling for it, time and time again?
In times of attack from enemy forces, you have to pull out your weapons of warfare, starting with The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. It’s the thing that will cut through the lies. So, keep reading your Bible, my friends.
If you’re finding yourself discouraged, I would encourage you to apply the helmet of salvation. If you have been saved by the blood of Jesus, they can try to beat you over the head with the parts of the Bible they choose, but they will not break through your armor. Jesus has set you free from the yoke of sin, and don’t let anyone make you feel like a failure.
If you’re like me, and you find your heart broken by all this hypocrisy, put on the breastplate of righteousness. We are in this world, but not of this world. His righteousness guards our hearts.
Use your shield of faith to stop the enemy’s arrows. Your heritage as a child of the king is the only thing that makes you who you are. You are precious in His sight, and this is the truth that will keep you by His side when the enemy attacks. Sadly, many times he attacks through God’s people. I wish it wasn’t so.
My best advice is to find your people. There are congregations and believers who walk in Spirit and truth, who care more about your adoption into the family of God than who your earthly family is. Find your family of true believers who don’t care so much about the outfit you wear, but more about the fact that Jesus has given us all garments of white. Find your Godly mentor, that spiritual parent, who will speak truth and life, and teach you, not diminish you. I promise these people exist. Don’t allow the loud, hateful voices to drown out the true ones.