For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory– Proverbs 24:6 ESV
A few years back, my son gave me a gift. It was a copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. I must have looked as perplexed as I felt because Alex looked at me knowingly and said: “Read it Mom. You’ll love it. I promise”.
I read it and to my surprise I did love it.
Sun Tzu was a 5th century Chinese general, military strategist and tactical genius. Most of his advice is remarkably pithy, relevant and astute for a guy who’s been dead for well over fifteen centuries. For the record, Sun Tzu was not a follower of Jesus and like all non-Christian sources of wisdom his writings should be read with a degree of discernment.
Sun Tzu’s advice can easily be applied to a plethora of twenty-first century leadership situations and conundrums. Just insert the word “leader”or “pastor” anytime he says general or commander and a lot of times you are left with what can only be described as leadership gold. A few of my favorite tidbits of his include: “a good commander is benevolent and unconcerned with fame” and “it is the business of a general to be upright and thus ensure order.
Sun Tzu also said some things that relate shockingly well to spiritual warfare. My favorite is: Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster. I have observed that Christians are losing more spiritual battles than we are winning these day. I am convinced it is mostly due to ignorance of this principal (1st Peter 5:8). So, in the interest of changing the outcome of the many spiritual battles we find ourselves in these days I would like to offer a little insight into the schemes of the enemy.
Satan uses ignorance of our own nature to gain an advantage in our lives-
Christians tend to look down on the pursuit of self-knowledge as worldly, self-absorbed and even a bit narcissistic. It is true that self-knowledge can become all of those things if it’s not pursued in the right way for the right reasons. However, Jesus warned Peter, Satan wanted to “sift him like wheat” immediately following an argument Peter had with the other disciples that revealed some motivations he was clearly ignorant of. Specifically, a wish to rule over others rather than serve them (Luke 22:24-31). Being successful in the realm of spiritual warfare means we seek to learn as much as we can about our own strengths, weaknesses and hidden motivations. Self-knowledge is not an excuse to continue on in our unhealthiest behavior. No Christian should ever say “that’s just my personality” when confronted with their sin. Rather, self-knowledge should give us a starting point to begin seeking the growth and transformation that should always be a part of our spiritual journey. Tools such as the Myers-Briggs Indicator, Strength Finders and the DISC assessment can all be helpful in the process of self-discovery.
Satan will attempt to discourage us anytime we do something worthwhile or good-
We tend to think doing something good for God, the church or another person should automatically exempt us from difficulty and hardship. Unfortunately, this is not how things work in the realm of spiritual warfare. Instead Satan intentionally attacks us when we are doing good in an effort to discourage us from our task. He has enough experience with humans to know we tend to give up when the going gets tough. We also tend to get angry at or even turn away from God anytime we experience hardship, difficulty or pain. It is critical we remember that contrary to popular belief Christians are not promised an easy time of things here on earth, even when we are doing good things with our lives (John 16:33, 2nd Timothy 4:5). Instead, we should remember we are soldiers and soldiers don’t let circumstances discourage them from fulfilling the mission they were called to (2nd Timothy 2:3-4).
Satan loves it when Christians are lazy-
Most of the time we know exactly what God wants us to do (Colossians 1:9-11). Some of the things He might want us to do could include apologizing, praying more, having hard conversations, learning the Bible, being more vocal about what we believe, confronting hard issues, taking more of an interest in our child’s education or friend group or getting more involved in the life of our church or community. We don’t do those things for one reason: we’re lazy. Plain and simple. We just don’t want to. Those things are difficult and inconvenient and we know that doing them will cost us something. So, we don’t and truth-be-told, Satan loves laziness almost as much as he loves sin. The void our laziness creates gives him space to do his best work (John 10:10).
Finally, Satan wants us to fight spiritual battles while completely discounting and ignoring the weapon of prayer (Matthew 26:41, Ephesians 6:18). Twenty-first century people tend to see prayer as a feeble and passive time-waster. Why pray when we could do something? Conversely, Satan sees prayer as a powerful act of warfare. He knows prayer is our number one source of wisdom, strength and discernment. (Ephesians 6:10-18). For that reason, he will do anything in his power to distract us from using this weapon to our advantage. If we want to practice the art of spiritual warfare we should always pray first and do second.