Spiritual Warfare Series- Understanding Satan’s Favorite Schemes

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- Ephesians 6:10-11 NIV

At some point in their spiritual journey Christians have to face the fact that for followers of Jesus this life will never be all sunshine, daisy chains and good vibes (John 16:33).

This is because we live in a world at war (John 10:10, Job 1:1-22, Luke 22:31, Ephesians 6:10-13, 1st Timothy 1:18-19).  

Christians have a very real enemy who wants to destroy us spiritually, morally and psychologically (1st Peter 5:8). Doing so, takes him a long way towards his ultimate goal of rendering as many Christians as possible ineffective at glorifying God and leading others to Jesus.   

 Thankfully, followers of Jesus sit squarely on the winning side of the war (Revelation 20:10). Nonetheless, ultimate victory does not exempt us from battle in the here and now (Philippians 2:25, 2nd Timothy 2:3-4, Philemon 1:2). The good news is that God has given us every weapon we need to be victorious. Our success is guaranteed if we learn how to use those weapons properly (Ephesians 6:13-18, 2nd Corinthians 10:3). 

One of the most powerful weapons we have in our arsenal is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26, Ephesians 6:18). Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our guide (John 15:26). A healthy connection to the Holy Spirit will give us spiritual eyes to see through the schemes and tactics of the enemy (2nd Corinthians 2:11, Ephesians 6:11). When we understand our enemy, we are far less likely to become collateral damage in the battle (Hebrews 12:1). 

We underestimate Satan’s craftiness at our own peril. That being said, he is not a particularly inventive creature. As a result, he tends to use the same strategies over and over again. If we learn to recognize those strategies the Bible calls his “schemes” that knowledge will empower us to live every area of our lives victoriously and lead others to faith in Jesus (2nd Corinthians 2:11).  

It’s a win win for team Jesus. 

Satan’s favorite schemes are as follows: 

The twisting of God’s words- 

This is was the very first scheme Satan used against humanity (Genesis 3:1-5). It was so off-the-charts-effective he stuck with it. Satan twists God’s word around in our minds in such a way that we end up doing the exact opposite of what God wants us to do. For example, I know a person who as a teenager was told (correctly) that Jesus said lusting in your heart is a sin (Matthew 5:28). This person concluded that since that temptation was a sin every temptation must be a sin. It seemed logical to them that if every temptation is a sin then they might as well just do the thing they were tempted to do because they were already guilty.  Sadly, the enemy created a lot of heartache for them before a good pastor straightened out their doctrinal errors. This scheme is dealt with most effectively through consistent church attendance and spiritual community. Messy theology is far more likely to be corrected when we habitually fellowship and study with other Christians. 

Discouragement or difficulty anytime we choose a higher level of obedience- 

It would make total sense for obedience to always equal obvious blessings and a trouble-free existence. Alas, that would be a fast track to one-hundred-percent obedience on our part all the time. Satan is categorically not a fan of spiritual growth or obedience. So, one of schemes is to go out of his way to make our lives difficult and complicated anytime we choose obey God fully or pursue Him on a higher level. 

A smooth path when we choose disobedience-

Interestingly enough, periods of rebellion can be some of the easiest, most stress-free times of our Christian life. When we are rebelling against God in any area Satan has nothing to worry about from a spiritual perspective, so he leaves us alone.  Our sinful choices have already rendered us ineffective.  Consequently, Satan will go the extra mile and find ways to make our path smooth in times of rebellion because a smooth path makes us unlikely to self-reflect and reverse course. Constant self-reflection is the key to overcoming this scheme. We should examine ourselves regularly and ask God to reveal any areas of sin  

Our thing- whatever that thing is- 

We all have an underlying or besetting sin that trips us up in life— usually without us even realizing what it is. Satan knows what our thing is even if we don’t and he uses our desire for that thing to trip us up every chance he gets. Our thing might be greed, lust, power, a fear of man or a desire to be in control or whatever. If you have a recurring theme in your life—and most of us do. Ask God to show you the sin at the root of the recurring theme.  There is one. If you figure out what IT is Satan will lose his power over you in that area.  

At least half the battle in spiritual warfare is understanding the tactics of our enemy. The other half is of the battle is trusting God with our lives and making the choice every day to walk closely enough with the Holy Spirit that we SEE those tactics at work so we can do something about them. 

The Art of (Spiritual) Warfare-

 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. 

That said.

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. 

Beginning with:

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. 

How we Give Satan a Strategic Advantage in our Lives-


Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour
– 1st Peter 5:8 NIV

For a good part of my life in Christ preferred to ignore the devil and demons. I believed in those things, but, like most post-enlightenment Christians I simply preferred to focus on “less weird” aspects of the spiritual realm. Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit and angels were my jam and I would have been perfectly happy to keep it that way indefinitely. But, then the world went to hell. 

Literally. 

Right before my very eyes.  People began believing the most crazy-town stuff imaginable. It became fashionable to claim there is no such thing as objective truth. People actually started to believe we all have our unique little truth we are entitled to believe even without any evidence to back up the existence of our “reality”. However, if your “reality” includes saying or believing the “wrong thing” you would be “cancelled” and lose your reputation, livelihood an the right to live in “polite” society.  Full-grown adults bought into the notion that gender is “fluid” and therefore changeable. Universities began offering free tampons to “men” having their periods. Parents and teachers began encouraging kindergarteners to discover their true gender.  People were willing to throw a perfectly good country out the window because the founders of that country were fallible human beings.

Everything went to hell in a handcart and Ephesians 6:12 is only plausible explanation for the madness that has engulfed the world. 

It says: 

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.”

 The devil is real. 

He is a created being who turned against God (Luke 10:18). He hates those who love God and it is critical we understand his tactics. Satan wants to steal our ministry opportunities, turn us against God and eradicate our influence in this world. He does this through attacks where he plants lies in our minds and tempts us to behave in ways that steal our effectiveness, kill our love for God and destroy any positive influence we have (John 10:10). Satan waits for just the right opportunity to attack us (1stPeter 5:8). We give it to him when we do the following:

We don’t pray or we suddenly stop praying-

I do not understand everything there is to understand about prayer. However, one truth I do understand is that regular prayer provides a powerful form of spiritual protection (Matthew 26:41).  When we stop praying regularly or never really form a habit of prayer we give the devil an opportunity to gain a foothold in our thinking (Ephesians 4:27). Once the enemy has traction in our minds he can plant all sorts of foul seeds that eventually grow into deception, dissatisfaction with God and curiosity about sin.   

We wander where we don’t belong-  

There are some places God’s people simply do not belong. Watching other people sin can awaken a desire within us to sin. Therefore, we should avoid any entertainment that presents sin as normal or healthy behavior. Being around Christians who are willfully and proudly sinning breaks down the natural desire all Christians have to remain holy and please God (1st Corinthians 5:11). It is spiritually strategic to avoid anyone or anything that makes sin appear attractive (Matthew 13:41, Matthew 18:6-7). 

When our primary sources of information come from the world-

In Colossians 2:8 Christians are warned that they can be “taken captive” by “deceptive philosophies”. This is most likely to happen when we get most or all of our information on life, current events and how to do life from those who don’t know God or understand how Christians are to live in this world. There is nothing wrong with an occasional secular book, podcast or seminar. That said, getting all or most of our “how-to” information on living life from worldly sources gives Satan ample opportunity to take our thinking captive. Once our thinking is captive our actions will always devolve.

When we have the wrong kind of self-focus-

There are two types of self-focus. The first is when we think endlessly about making ourselves happy, being successful and getting our own needs met. The second is when we put our attention on where we need to grow and how we can become emotionally healthier, godlier, wiser versions of ourselves so we can glorify God and make the world a better place. The devil loves the first kind of self-focus but hates the second because the first inevitably leads to self-destruction and a life of sin. While the second always leads to a life of profound joy that inevitably points others to faith in Jesus (Matthew 5:19, Colossians 3).  

When we haven’t submitted our lives or some part of our lives to Jesus-

Seriously. Disobedience and rebellion are open doors the enemy will always walk through. Deal with those issues. Pronto. 

We refuse to forgive- 

Refusing to forgive leads to bitterness and makes us more likely to sin (Acts 8:23). Satan would be a fool not to take advantage of that kind of opportunity to plant bitterness, rage and every other kind of evil in our lives (Hebrews 12:15). Forgiveness is never easy but is is the most spiritually freeing thing we can do. It is more than worth the effort. It is essential to our spiritual survival.

For too long most Christians have lived as if the devil is a joke, a fantasy or an exaggeration. This has resulted in a feeble church, worldly Christians and a world in crisis. We must endeavor to live lives that thwart the enemies plan and take back ground for the Kingdom.  We do that through constant prayer, a commitment to forgive quickly, submission to God, becoming the best version of ourselves and looking to the Bible and other Christians, not the world for answers to life’s questions.  

What Does one of Satan’s Schemes Look Like?

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- Ephesians 6:12 NIV

There are subjects associated with Christianity and the church bound to illicit some obvious discomfort and perhaps even a flight response from unbelievers. Expressing biblical views concerning the wrath of God or any topic pulled out of the book of Leviticus will for sure make most non-Christians visibly uncomfortable and perhaps even a bit sweaty. 

There are also biblical issues that make some Christians super squirmy and uncomfortable. Ask why a good God allows evil, or exactly how predestination works, or simply start a conversation about premarital sex, women in ministry, or demonic possession and most Christians will nervously check their watches and begin searching frantically for the nearest exit. 

But perhaps the most of uncomfortable topic of all the uncomfortable topics for both believers and unbelievers is, drumroll please:

Spiritual warfare.

There are good reasons for this. There is simply no other subject in the Bible that can get weirder faster than spiritual warfare. This is partly because the Bible is somewhat vague about the particulars of the subject. We know that there are angels and demons and that the angels are the good guys and the demons are the bad guys. We also know that Satan is constantly scheming to distract people from the truth of God (1st Peter 5:8). He also wants to discourage and demoralize Christians (Daniel 10:10-14, Zechariah 1:7-11 Ephesians 6:10-13).  But, the ins and outs of how all of that works is a bit hazy and we are left to fill in some of the blanks.

Some Christians fill in the blanks rather dramatically. 

Every Christian has an auntie, nana or cousin who sees a demon under every dumpster and the devil at the core of every problem or minor inconvenience. These folks sincerely believe EVERYTHING is a scheme of Satan. Flat tires, bad weather, tired children and head colds are never just the result of poor planning or living in a fallen world. They are always from the devil. This causes many Christians to simply dismiss the spirit world altogether or to accept the idea that the spirit world exists but avoid thinking about or discussing it. For the record, I do not judge Christians who choose to adopt those polices. The latter was mine for a very long time. 

However.

There are problems with that policy.  Christians are commanded to resist the devil and stand firmly against evil (James 4:7, Ephesians 6:13). It’s difficult to resist something or stand against it when we are doing our best to ignore the fact that the thing exists. Anytime we deny the reality of the spirit world we become less discerning about spiritual things in general. The good news is it IS possible to know for absolute certain if a movement, idea or undertaking is a scheme of the devil or just a bad idea.

Evil ideas and Satanic movements ALWAYS have three characteristics to them: 

Evil ideas look helpful but lead to despair-

Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2nd Corinthians 11:14). He also wraps his most destructive ideas in an altruistic façade. The modern-day environmental movement is one clear example of this. Environmentalism was (mostly) a good thing until it was hijacked by weirdos who want us to eat bugs and dead people (I am not making this up. Google it).  Past environmentalists sought to solve problems and create community around the task of caring for the planet. The early environmentalist movement brought us Arbor Day, recycling and environmental cleanup programs. However, around the time The Inconvenient Truth was released environmentalism became despair driven and began pushing an insane anti-human agenda. When humans live sensibly and in submission to God they really are the answer to problems that concern the earth (Genesis 1:28). However, the modern environmentalist movement continuously tells us that humanity is the problem and the only hope for the planet is for all of us to hurry up and die already. 

 Evil ideas destroy human life and rob people of their dignity-

Satan hates humans and his first ambition is to end human life if at all possible. Legal abortion is an example of one of his most successful schemes. At least fifty million fewer humans exist today thanks to that idea.  If he cannot influence people to take a life he does the next best thing. He influences them to surrender their God-given dignity by getting them addicted to drugs, alcohol or some weird form of sexual bondage. 

Evil ideas lead to hate, division and death- 

Satanic schemes lead to death, division and conflict. They never bring harmony, prosperity or respect for both sides of an issue.  Therefore, we should always look at the fruit of political movements, social crusades and ideas. For example, communism sounds fantastic, even kind of Christian, at least on its surface. In the communist ideal everyone contributes what they can and everyone has what they need to survive and thrive. HOWEVER, no communist regime has ever delivered on these promises because socialism ignore the reality of the fallenesss and evil of human nature. So, instead of solving our economic woes socialism/communism has instead killed at least a hundred-million people over the course of the last century, sown hate and divided millions. Socialism will never succeed anywhere because it ignores human nature and is built on a foundation of envy and envy always leads to hate and division. 

The times we live in are getting stranger and scarier by the day (2nd Timothy 3:1-3, 2nd Peter 3:3). It is imperative Christians be discerning about the political and social movements that are being presented to society as “good” and helpful”.

Most are just old Satanic schemes wrapped in shiny new packaging for a less astute generation. 

The Spiritual Pitfalls of “Being Offended”

Many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many~ Matthew 24: 10-11 NKJV

 My Mother-in-law is a wise and perceptive woman. Unfortunately, sometimes I’m not. 

A few years back my Mother-in-law attempted to warn me about the character of a person I thought at the time to be a very close friend. Rather than simply taking her warning to heart, or perhaps probing a bit to try and find out what exactly caused her to come the conclusion she came to about that person- I took offense. I got mad at her for telling me something I did not want to hear.

 Long story short, I continued to share way too much information that person, who turned out to be not at all trustworthy. I will not bore you with all the details of the long-term consequences of my idiocy. I will tell you that to this day I am paying a heavy price for ignoring wise counsel.

 I recently found myself on the other side of a similar situation. It all started when I attempted to warn someone to some potential pitfalls I perceived in a particular situation. The person I tried to warn took obvious offense and assumed I was being critical rather than helpful. As soon as I realized I had caused offense I apologized and moved on.

 Finding myself on the receiving end of someone else’s offended-ness got me thinking about the whole issue of offense. Unless you have been living in a cave for the better part of the past decade you know we live in a society full of people who are easily offended by pretty much everything.

 I recently read about a group of women who have decided it is a form of cultural appropriation for white women to wear hoop earrings (no lie). These women have posted some rather intriguing rants describing in vivid detail exactly how offended they are that white women wear hoop earrings.

 Seriously. Google it.

The definition of offense is a feeling of displeasure caused by the words or actions of others. We all get offended from time-to-time, and there are times when the feeling of offense is truly justified. However, making the choice to live life in a state of offense and hurt will damage us in at least four ways:

 Offense sets us up for deception-

 In Matthew 24 Jesus describes what life will look like prior to His second coming. Jesus predicted that as we near the end of this age people will take offense at just about everything. Offense will lead to hate and betrayal. Out of all that hate, betrayal and offense, false teachers will arise and lead people away from truth. Jesus was doing more than giving as a vision of future events in this verse. He was providing insight into the very nature of offense. Offense by its very nature causes us to become heavily focused on feelings. When feelings are running the show we become unwilling and/or unable to comprehend truth that doesn’t line up with what our feelings are telling us. As a result we become sitting ducks for false teachers who tell us what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear (2nd Timothy 4:3).

 Offense derails us from God’s mission for our lives-

 Most people do not drop out of church or stop participating in ministry because of big doctrinal disagreements, insurmountable scheduling conflicts or lack of time. Those are the excuses people use to drop out of church and ministry. Most folks drop out of church, and derail God’s plan for their lives in the process due to some petty personal offense they decided not to let go of. 

 Offense produces bitterness-

 Offenses and insults that are not quickly forgiven and forgotten inevitably breed bitterness. Hebrews 12:15, teaches that bitterness is a choice, a choice that defiles and ultimately destroys those who choose that path.

 Continually picking-up offense is a sign of pride-

 Usually we become offended because someone tells us an unpleasant truth about ourselves or points out a fact we missed.  Pride was the sin that motivated my knee-jerk response to my Mother-in-law’s wise insight concerning my “friend”. I have since learned it is the height of pride to believe that we are so clever we never need to be enlightened, taught or redirected. Proverbs 16:18 tells us that pride comes before a fall. Falls nearly always occur because a warning went unheeded. 

 Because offense causes us to become dangerously self-focused, we are never more open to pride, bitterness and self-deception than when we are offended. It is impossible to live in this world without becoming offended, but it is possible to assume the best about other people’s motives and to forgive quickly when we do become offended.