Attentiveness: Spiritual Warfare - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Spiritual Warfare

“The person engaged in spiritual warfare should simultaneously possess humility, perfect attentiveness, the power of rebuttal, and prayer. He should possess humility because, as the fight is against the ‘arrogant demons,’ he will then have the help of Christ in his heart, for ‘the Lord hates the arrogant’ (c.f. Prov. 3:34 LXX).”[1] These words of the seventh-century monk from Sinai, St. Hesychios the Priest, lend timely guidance for modern Christians for gaining victory in the unseen spiritual warfare with the demons.

In recent years, with increasing spiritual responsibilities, I have realized the need for leaders in any capacity (pastors, teachers, counselors, administrators) to be attentive—attentive to their own souls, to those around them, to the Spirit of the living God. This awareness has grown with increasing conflict and divisions that currently assail the church and society.

Attentiveness also requires us to increase our awareness of spiritual battles, conflicts, and demonic activity. “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” (Ephesians 6:12). As I read through the Bible every year, I am increasingly aware that the world of the Bible is also our world, with all the angels, demons, and battles for holiness and justice in which we are all participants, knowingly or not. But we are not without hope. Our Scriptures end with a great battle and spiritual warfare (Revelation) where the conquest comes through worship.

A few years ago, I quoted from a good friend, Rev. Dr. Richard Ray, who, after reading all the “Classics of Western Spirituality,”[2] commented on what he learned from the great saints: “They all knew it was a battle.” The spiritual life, the life in Christ, is a battle in this world. Warfare requires a certain state of mind or, more exactly, a way of being in this world.

This is not to make us anxious and fearful, for we know that Jesus is the conquering king. All evil will be vanquished; Satan will fall.

However, we should not be ignorant or foolish in assuming Satan is not on the prowl, looking for ways to deceive, divide, and eventually even kill.[3] As Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The evil one wants division, distrust, and anger among God’s holy ones. God seeks unity, trust, humility for the sake of our life and witness.[4] Again, as Jesus said, he came that we may live “life to the full!”

I believe the church is under attack and it is better to use this biblical and spiritual language in confronting it rather than the common language of politics. Christians need to be alert, united, humble, and attentive.

As part of this awareness, Gordon-Conwell recorded a panel discussion that will be released soon about deliverance ministries. Four Christian leaders involved in these ministries participated on the panel, giving good biblical advice on dealing with the demonic in and around the church. This will prove to be a valuable resource for both Christian leaders and our future students.

Thinking about that panel discussion this morning, I read the passage mentioned above from St. Hesychios, finding his advice to the early church to be remarkably germane for dealing with spiritual warfare in this day. The early church was all too aware of the spiritual world and the battles with the demons. Here is sound advice from the 7th century that is just as relevant today:

Four qualities of our own spiritual life are required to fight spiritual battles: humility, attentiveness, rebuttal, and prayersolid advice rooted in our life together in Jesus Christ. Of the four, victory comes through humility rather than through anger and earthly weapons. This is most power spiritual weapon because humility attends a self-emptying, which makes it possible for us to be filled with Christ.

However, connected to humility is the wisdom to use Scripture to rebut the evil one, not unlike Jesus’ response to spiritual attacks in Matthew 4: “it is written.” The power of God’s Word, and all of his words, must be affirmed if we are to see His Kingdom come to earth as in heaven.

Spiritual warfare is real. I believe we need to use this language in thinking about our distrust of one another, our church divisions, as well as the attacks on the church from the surrounding culture. A place to begin is to rehearse the prayer of St Hesychios, which shows us the way. In my words:

“King of Glory, our humble Savior, please give us your attentive eyes and ears to know the presence and persuasion of the evil one in our midst. Give us the humility to trust you to give us the wisdom and power to cast out the one who is evil and then to be filled with all that is Good and all that is Love; even Jesus Christ, our compassionate and powerful Savior. Bring back to remembrance your words so we can calmly and truly rebut the lies of Satan.

We thank you that the battles we fight in this world find their completion in the victory of the cross. This is our prayer, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

[1] From St. Hesychios the Priest, “On Watchfulness and Holiness” in the Philokalia, Volume I (New York: Faber and Faber), 1979. p. 165.
[2] He had read the over 100 volumes of the Classics of Western Spirituality series.
[3] 1 Peter 5:8
[4] John 17

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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