Attentiveness: Demons - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Demons

Last week a friend made the following comment to me, “Well, you must be doing something right because it seems the demons are pretty active.” I don’t know if that is correct, but it did bring to mind a reading from the Ancient Christians about how to recognize spiritual attacks from demonic forces. “Having prayed as you should, expect the demon to attack you; so stand on guard, ready to protect the fruits of your prayer,” wrote Evagrios the Solitary. “What is it the demons wish to excite in us? Gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, rancor, and the rest of the passions so that the intellect grows coarse and cannot pray as it ought.”[1]

It is true that demons exist, and they oppose all that is of God: love, truth, unity, kindness, compassion, mercy, grace, and life itself. When people come to faith and turn their back on sin, selfishness, and greed, the demons are aroused. Yet, while we can expect the demons to attack, we need not fear. Jesus is the power over all powers.

Even so, we should be aware, attentive, and prayerful.

After thirty-seven years of ordained ministry, a dozen years of seminary leadership, and helping to produce a video on deliverance ministries, I have come to believe that demonic activity is evident in some basic strategic assaults.[2] This is no secret, or at least it should not be a secret.

First, the demons begin their insidious advance by creating doubt. They want us to doubt ourselves and especially to doubt family members, church members, even our colleagues at work. Trust is the foundation of any institution and the demons’ point of entry must begin by creating distrust and doubt. Once these have been effectively created among colleagues or friends, their battle is half won.

This means that when trust is being eroded, we need to be alert to the devil’s schemes. Where is this distrust coming from? Has the one I have come to doubt really done something reprehensible or am I on a slippery slope of demonic enticement? Am I being deceived?

And that leads to the second step of the demons. After creating doubt they then deceive. We become deceived and then distorted in our thinking about ourselves and others. We may begin to think too highly of ourselves and our opinions. We may begin to think that we know more and better how to run the church, how to run the organization, or how to think about politics. We see this type of deception all around us today.

Other deceptions concern how we might think of others. We may be deceived in thinking others are out to get us, or they are destroying the church. I continue to be amazed, in my own leadership role, how many people make very negative assumptions about leaders, often assuming the worst. This signals the work of the demons. In their deception they lead us to assume the worst motives and selfish desires in others. I believe that Zoom calls and emails instead of face-to-face conversations during these times can elevate the confusion, making things worse. When we actually sit down and look each other in the eye, it becomes more difficult to assume the worst and fall into deception.

But deception is not the end. The next step in demonic activity is to bring about division. God seeks to unite us (as in John 15 and John 17), but the demons seek to divide. It is happening all around us. The demons are creating tremendous divisions politically, in churches, in families, and even in colleges and universities. Again, through the cross and resurrection God has brought about reconciliation and life. If God brings truth (rather than doubt and deception) and unity, the demons will pull out the stops to bring about the opposite. Even beyond division, their ultimate goal is death.

God creates and brings life. The demons divide and bring death. I find it helpful to understand demonic activity in such stark terms. If they are exposed as the force behind doubt and deception, they cannot hide. They are the force that is dividing us, and we need to be aware of how we can unwittingly be “used” to advance the devil’s schemes.

Let’s call them out and pray against them.

Jesus, give us eyes to see the doubt that is being cultivated by the demons. Help us to see how we are being deceived and to stop and sit down and talk to others rather than assuming the worst about others, the very thing the demons desire. Forgive us when we find that we are so easily divided, which weakens our witness and makes it easy for others to discount the promise of the resurrection. Lord, we pray against the enemy that would kill; we ask for life, truth, grace and kindness to prevail, this day, in my life, and in our church, and in The Church, the very body of Jesus Christ who is our life and our only hope. Amen.

[1] “On Prayer” #49 and #51.
[2] Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance: A Panel Discussion

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.


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