Winning Spiritual Battles for Our Minds and Souls

When you think about heroes of the faith, what comes to mind? Great spiritual battles with demons? Fire called down from heaven? But some of the greatest spiritual battles are fought only with words. This makes the Word of God a very precious thing.

Once when I was in the Soviet Union I met a Russian Christian named Joseph. He told me that he had been in a labor camp for ten years. As we talked, I discovered that while in prison camp he had made a most unique Bible. It was his job to empty cement bags; he would tear off pieces of the thick brown paper from the cement bags and, with a pencil he’d found, write on them every Bible verse he could recall.

“I managed to fill twelve pages with these verses,” he said. “Often when I was alone in a quiet comer, I would be joined by other Christians. Then I would open my shirt, pull out my cement-bag Bible, and we would read the verses together.”

How he loved that Bible! My eyes filled with tears as he placed it in my hands for me to examine.A saying attributed to Karl Marx is, “Give me twenty-six lead soldiers, and I will conquer the world.” He was referring, of course, to the twenty-six letters of the alphabet to be found in a printer’s type bin. But those same twenty-six letters also can form the Words of Life. Seeing how valuable Joseph’s cement-bag Bible was to him and how it had sustained his faith and the faith of others in a time of great trial caused me to commit myself even more deeply to helping all people have access to God’s Word.

A Battle of Words

One of the greatest battles in the Bible involved a weapon we all know: words. It’s the story of David and Goliath told in 1 Samuel 17.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephesdammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the valley ofElah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. 

1 Samuel 17:1-3

Imagine the situation. On one side of the valley were the Philistines, armed to the teeth. On the other stood the army of Israel-with just sticks and dubs for weapons! Why weren’t they prepared? Because the Philistines who occupied Israel had driven the blacksmiths from the Land so there would be no chance for them to forge swords or spears. When an Israelite needed to sharpen his ax or sickle, he had to go meekly down to the Philistine’s camp and pay for the sharpening. Only the king and his son had any personal armor (see l Samuel 13:19-22).

Think about the humiliation that the enemy inflicted on God’s people by telling them they couldn’t have weapons or train their young men for battle. Compare that to the spiritual situation today. How outrageous for any atheistic government to determine how many Bibles the church can have in a particular country. How scandalous that any secular authority should restrict God’s people from training their children in the ways of the Lord. Is the enemy going to tell us, God’s people, how we are going to behave? Is the enemy going to curtail our activity so that we cannot obey God’s Word to win the world? Recognize the situation?

Almost the only thing the Israelites could do was talk.

The Power of Words

But that’s exactly what the Philistines were doing, too. Their champion Goliath strutted out onto the battlefield, “six cubits and a span” (l Samuel 17:4). If the biblical cubit equalled eighteen inches, as most scholars think, then Goliath stood a threatening nine and a half feet tall. Yet all he hurled were words: taunts, insults, accusations.

He stood and shouted to the ranks of lsrael, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us. … I defy the ranks of lsrael this day.”

1 Samuel 17: 8-10

Every morning, every night, Goliath shouted the same insults. He was actually insulting God for it was well understood among ancient peoples that their strength or weakness in battle was an expression of the strength of their god. Therefore, this defiance was hurled at the God of lsrael just as much as at the men in the army. We must not underestimate the impact of this kind of propaganda. For forty days, every morning and every evening, he shouted at the Israelites so that all could hear. There was no escaping it. Eighty times he delivered the same evil message: “You can never win! You’ll never be helped! You’ll never be free from sin; you’ll always be lost. You’ll never make it; you’ll always be slaves!” I call it brainwashing, and it had a powerful effect. The Israelites were so paralyzed by fear that they didn’t even dare to name the enemy. Instead, they said, “Have you seen this man who has come up?” (1 Samuel 17:25).

Seeing through a Challenge

This situation didn’t change until a young man named David arrived on the scene. His father had sent him to the Israelite camp to visit his brothers and bring word about their welfare. When David arrived, the Israelite army was making a show of going to the battle line, but turned and fled when Goliath issued his taunting challenge. In tune with God’s will, David immediately knew that the situation was not right in God’s eyes.

This is the first step heroes of the faith must take: seeking God’s will with the intent of acting on it. If we study the Bible merely for our own salvation or just to show off our great knowledge of the Word, it won’t do us or anyone else any good. We must be in contact with God with the goal of changing the situation around us. Then we will see life as God sees it.

Once David arrived, the real battle began. Shocked by the fear of those supposedly on God’s side, he immediately expressed his indignation: “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26).

David immediately called his bluff. This giant had no part in the Kingdom of God. How did David know? By the blasphemous words Goliath spoke. David was not afraid to identify him for what he was. He made a theological issue of it because it was a spiritual battle. It had nothing to do with the Philistines and Israel simply as civil nations. There was something far more important at stake: the honor of God. A holy indignation took hold of David; he could not restrain himself any more. He got mad. There was something burning within him, and he had to act.

Only that which burns inside you will come out in action.

Keeping the Issues Straight

The good news spread quickly through the camp: someone was accepting Goliath’s challenge! Before long, King Saul heard that a hero of the faith had arrived. Was there hope for Israel after all? Saul sent for him. When he arrived, David declared, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (l Samuel 17:32).

As has happened so often with the church, David found that Israel had gone into battle unprepared, without proper weapons. Only Saul and his son Jonathan had any weapons at all. But David focused on the real solution: to fight in the power of the Lord. That was the type of fighting he knew. But Saul had been so brainwashed that he didn’t see things that way. All he could see was that David was a youth – no match for the seasoned warrior giant. David tried to give the king a vision of what it was like to fight in the power of the Lord by reviewing his past experience:

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and smote him and delivered it out of his mouth; and if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him and killed him. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” 

Samuel 17:34-37

Again, David kept the issues straight. This was a spiritual conflict. It was the enemy’s defiance of God that elicited David’s action – not personal gain, not saving face, not even the physical freedom of the Hebrew people. The key to his success was that he acted on spiritual principle.

We Can’t Always Prevent the Evil of Others

David’s review of his past history revealed another important insight. Notice that even though David was present when the lamb was taken, he couldn’t prevent it from happening. He could only take action afterward. 

We all have to live in a world of realities. There really is an Iron Curtain, persecution, terrorism, famine, poverty. We haven’t been able to prevent those kinds of things. Nor was David able to keep the lion and bear from coming into the flock.

What made him especially indignant, however, was that the sheep were not his, but his father’s. That’s the sense of responsibility that must be ours as well. Where are the Christians who are willing to take care of the sheep just because they belong to our heavenly Father?

Carrying Out Our Duty

We consider David to be courageous, but all he did was carry out his duty, no matter what it cost him. He was responsible for the safety and health of these sheep, and the lion and bear had no business coming into his father’s flock.

It’s tempting to think, “What’s more important: the life of one lamb or David’s life?” That’s typical Western thinking, but it’s not how God thinks. Our life is worth nothing if we neglect our duty and fail in our responsibilities. We will never see miracles or God s intervention if we are more worried about ourselves than our calling. David’s perspective was: “I did it because those sheep belonged to my father.”

Often we calculate risks and then decide not to get involved, leaving the weak, the vulnerable, the threatened, to defend themselves. But they cannot. That’s why such a large portion of the world is suffering: under injustice, violence, persecution, and racism. Here David sets an example for us to follow.

At first King Saul was disappointed to find that David was only a youth – hardly a match, he thought, for the terrifying warrior giant. But David’s testimony impressed Saul. He realized he had finally found one man who would act on principle, armed with God’s presence and power. That’s all it takes to be a hero of the faith. With God, we can do all things.

Inner Integrity Produces Outward Strength

Because of his personal experience, David had confidence in the Lord’s power to deliver him, and because of his inner strength, he gave faith to the king that he could succeed where everyone else had failed. His private life of discipline, devotion, and faithfulness meant that he could succeed in the public arena.

The faith that David inspired in Saul was considerable. If David failed as Israel’s champion, the terms that Goliath had announced were that Israel would become the Philistines’ servants. It is not obvious whether that would have been any worse than the situation that already existed, but it was a serious thing to let this shepherd youth represent all Israel. Think how desperate they must have been!

Trying to be helpful, Saul gave David his own armor, which he should have been using to fight Goliath himself. We know from Scripture that Saul was a very big man – head and shoulders above most others. The fact that he even attempted to put his helmet and coat of mail on David suggests that David wasn’t particularly small. But the Bible says that “he was not used to them” and took the armor off.In fact, Saul’s weapons were worse than useless to David; they would have encumbered him and put him at a distinct disadvantage. He didn’t need Saul’s outward armament. God had called David as a shepherd boy, not a heavily-armed warrior. When God calls us, it’s to come just as we are. Don’t try to do great things in someone else’s capacity. We can only be effective in God’s service if we yield ourselves as we are, not pretending to be anything else.

Confronting the Giant

Finally, it was time for David to tackle the giant. Goliath made his eightieth appearance to taunt the Israelites and their God, but this time something was different. There was a shepherd boy in front of him, with a sling and five smooth stones.

Did you ever wonder why he picked five stones? Was he afraid he would miss the first few times and might need some more ammunition? I don’t think so. I think he chose five stones because Goliath had four brothers, including the giant who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot (2 Samuel 21:20-22; 1 Chronicles 20:4·8). David was implying that he was not only going to challenge one enemy but he was ready to deal with all the enemies of Israel.

Heroes of the faith are men and women of God who believe in total victory. There should be no negotiated compromises with evil. With five smooth stones, David demonstrated to all of Israel that if the nation turned in faith to God, they could be delivered from all their enemies.As David walked up to Goliath, the Philistine boomed, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” Actually, the answer was “yes!” David’s advance was a statement that there was no place in the kingdom for a man like Goliath, the enemy of God himself.

Spiritual Battles Require Spiritual Weapons

Goliath looked upon David with undisguised contempt, but David responded with the very weapon Goliath had used to intimidate Israel: words. Although Goliath was heavily armed with a huge spear and javelin and an armor bearer just to hold up his shield, he never had the chance to use them.Spiritual battles are never fought with material weapons but with principles. They are battles for people’s minds and souls, and most often they are fought with words. David didn’t mince his.

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

l Samuel 17:45-47

Wouldn’t that have been something to hear? This shepherd boy stood before an awesome fighting machine with only one special weapon: the Word of God. The battle was the Lord’s, but David still had to fight it. He fought not with just any words but with God’s Word. The moment he proclaimed the Word of God, it became God’s responsibility to give him the victory.

The outcome of the fight was exactly as David said it would be. Goliath was killed, the Philistines were routed, and Israel was freed. But did you ever wonder why the whole Philistine army fled when only one man had gone down? From a human perspective it could have been a lucky shot from a lone boy with a few rocks. Certainly the Philistines’ physical dominance over unarmed Israel was not dependent on one man, no matter how big he was. But the reason they fled was because the real battle was never a physical one anyway. It was a spiritual fight – between the God of Israel and the forces of evil. Therefore, God’s victory was made all the more dramatic by the contrast between a boy with some rocks and the highly skilled warrior giant. Ancient people understood the spiritual implications of this conflict as many modern people cannot; that is why the Philistines fled in terror.

If only we Christians had that same spiritual insight! But too often we get confused and think that our security is based on the tanks and bombs, courts and economics of the countries in which we live. But it’s the proclamation of the Word of God that makes the difference in the world. Without the courage of one young man to stand up “in the name of the Lord of hosts,” Israel would have been in chains.

Something More Precious Than Life

I think of another hero, Patrick Henry, who stood in St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, in 1775 and stated his principles, despite the cost:

Gentlemen may cry peace, peace, but there is no peace. War is actually begun; our brethren are already in the field. How can we stand idle? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

It’s time that Christians all over the world commit themselves to a war of independence, a spiritual war in which our own lives and happiness don’t count so much. I wrote a book about this, taking a line from Patrick Henry, and titled it, Is Life So Dear?

David didn’t count his life to be so dear that he couldn’t stand up for the name of the Lord God. He didn’t think and plan and scheme. As when he went after the lamb in the lion’s jaws, he knew his heavenly Father would feel ashamed of him if he ran away from danger rather than doing his duty.

Our calling is to use our wealth and knowledge and resources to spread the Word of God to nations that are enslaved, where the lion and bear have already come in. We have to admit that we were unable to prevent the situation; the world is full of realities we can’t get away from. It was a reality that the Philistines were in the land of Judah, only ten miles west of Jerusalem. But there was also the tremendous reality that God had a young hero prepared to give his all.

The situation today has been given to us, but it’s our duty to change it. God wants us to become warriors. Is that what we’re doing?

The Cost of Victory

Unfortunately, I believe that too many of us are playing spiritual Monopoly instead. We throw the dice and move along the board: “Go directly to Pentecost; do not stop at Gethsemane; do not stop at Calvary; pick up your hundred dollars.” It’s a deadly game, both for our effectiveness in the Kingdom and for the salvation of the world.

When I travel in communist countries I often meet young pastors who want to leave their country for the “free” West, preferably the United States. But I always say, “Don’t do it. If God has given you the responsibility to be a pastor, stay with your sheep; you should not flee. You must stay where you are and serve God. You can fight for God best where his enemies are strongest. If you flee from the battlefield and try to avoid the conflict, then you will not only be less effective, but you may also leave the place of his divine protection for you.”

The Danger of Pursuing Self-Interest

You see, I have discovered that many who leave their countries for a “safer” place often lose their faith. God has equipped them for the kind of fight they are in, but they are often not prepared to contend with the spiritual warfare of the materialistic society into which they go.

I once shared this advice with a congregation in Cuba. A pastor came up after my sermon, and in front of the hushed audience he said, “Brother Andrew, I have been planning to leave Cuba for America. My application papers are already being processed, but after what I heard you say about a shepherd staying with the flock, I have decided before God tonight to stay.” The congregation rose up as one and clapped their hands. They said, “Gracias, Padre; 0racias, Padre.” They were so happy that this man was going to stay. I later heard that he was greatly used by the Lord in Cuba.

There Will Be Pain

To be heroes of the faith, we must come into the battle realizing that indeed there will be suffering and wounds, pain and death. That’s only being realistic. How can warfare be otherwise?

This marvelous story of David tells how one man changed the course of lsrael’s history and – as an ancestor of Jesus – our spiritual destiny as well. Admittedly, he wasn’t an ordinary man, but nobody else knew that at the time. Saul, David’s brothers, and Goliath all considered him to be of no account. When we’re looking around for heroes, our tendency is to look for someone well known, above average, highly educated-certainly God has to do something great through that person. Nonsense! The heroes of the faith are often ordinary people, like you and me.

I’ll never forget the 1966 World Conference on Evangelism that I attended in Berlin. The list of speakers was most impressive. Some people required an entire page to document their accomplishments, how famous they were, how many books they had written. Yet as I paged through the scores of professors and doctors, I spotted one familiar name: Corrie ten Boom, Watch­maker.

Now, more than twenty years later, I’ve forgotten all the others, but I still remember Corrie. All that week, in that huge congress hall, wherever you saw a crowd of people, there was Corrie in the middle, ministering. She was not a professor, had no degrees, but she was a heroine of the faith. She knew God’s principles, had acted on them, and paid the price.

David, too, paid a price. His wasn’t an easy victory, and is pitiful little stones were certainly not weapons to impress the world. But he came in the name of the Lord, and because of that, the victory was his.

Are we willing to be heroes of the faith and proclaim the Word of the Lord, no matter what it costs us? If God could give a victory through David, he can do it through us. David had only a small part of the Old Testament to draw on, but he proclaimed it boldly. With the complete Old and New Testaments, multiplied translations, commentaries, great preachers television, and radio, why haven ‘t we conquered the world for Christ?

Let’s decide together that we will be heroes of the faith. God gives faith freely to anyone who wants to receive it and walk in his way. Are we willing to go out into a very dangerous world with only one weapon, the Sword of the Spirit? You may not be able to see it or feel its sharp edge, but it will make you invincible. No Iron Curtain, cultural curtain, or religious curtain can keep out those who move with the Word of God.

Enemies come with their pitiful weapons, but we come in the name of the Lord. The victory is ours!

This article is excerpted from A Time for Heroes, Chapter 4, by Brother Andrew with Dave and Neta Jackson, published by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA, © copyright 1988 by Open Doors International.

Top image is a composite of a Scripture quote and shadow of a cross, illustration from, ©  clearviewstock, stock photo ID: 6422355.

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