Two Battles: The Sequence of Attack

A great hymn of triumph opens with “Lead on, 0 King Eternal, the day of march has come; henceforth in fields of conquest, your tents shall be our home.” Tents-that’s where the battle is ultimately won or lost. That’s why I passionately believe that spiritual warfare prayer must never be carried out apart from revival prayer-because only to the degree that God wins the battle inside the church will Christ’s kingdom outside it prevail.

This thesis took a while to shape up for me. In the early 1990s, I participated in a “roundtable discussion” with some leading spokesmen on prayer and warfare. As our letters crisscrossed the country, we were happy to find many points of agreement: that our primary focus in such prayer should remain on the character and ways of God . . . that praising God is key to breaking Satan’s strongholds.., that our fascination must not be with demonic activity, but with the manifestations of Christ among us and the nations. . . that the battle is real, the forces of darkness are vicious, and the power of the cross alone can defeat the enemy The focus of the debate~ however, was the sequence of events in God’s battle plan. Reflecting upon that debate, my convictions about the “two battles” emerged.

I believe there are two battles going on-one outside the tents and one inside-and that winning the battle by prayer inside the church usually precedes sustainable victories on the outside. As leading missiologists concur, the greatest barriers to the advance of the gospel among the nations are found inside the church-disunity, lack of holiness, slavery to consumption, ignorance of God’s Word, fears, prejudices, and selfish ambitions. God’s own people are often at war with Him-fighting His claims on their lives, opposing His Word, resisting His Spirit, robbing Him of His glory. Through it all, Satan relentlessly seeks to sabotage Christ’s mission. He exploits Christian flesh in its carnal struggle against the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17) and transforms our skirmishes with God into internal “strongholds” that paralyze us and deny a fuller revelation of God’s Son in us and through us (2 Cor. 10:4-6). I agree with Ed Silvoso’s definition of a spiritual stronghold: “A mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes the believer to accept as unchangeable something that he or she knows is contrary to the will of God.” Destroying such blockades requires revival-a spiritual awakening to Christ, which impregnates us with hope in God.

Revival in the Tents

Christ must first come into our tents- and by revival conquer us-before He can lead us into other fields of conquest. God must invade the church and assault the strongholds we have raised up against Him. As the late John Wimber concluded: Instead of first bringing down the “hierarchies” in order to advance the kingdom, our strategy should be the other way around. Get the kingdom fully operative inside the tents. “If effective kingdom work occurs,” said Wimber, “then demonic darkness and powers retreat, because ‘the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it’ (Mt. 11:12).” In other words, routing Satan and his strongholds means the entire church must be possessed with the power and presence of Christ. Dr. J. Edwin Orr was correct to observe, “Revival is the Holy Spirit at war with the devil.” Revival produces a dramatic, God-given revelation of Christ in and through the saints, scattering the darkness and silencing the tumult of war.

Internal Warfare in Scripture

Warfare inside the saints’ camp is a frequent theme in Scripture. Joel called for a sacred assembly because the locust plagues, conveyers of God’s discipline, had invaded the land (Joel 2:15). Jesus told the church in Pergamum that He would “fight against them with the sword of [His] mouth” if they did not repent (Rev. 2:16). Jeremiah lamented, “The Lord is like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel” (Lam. 2:5).

To a generation whose sins of “rebellion and treachery against the Lord” (Is. 59:13) have “hidden his face” (Is. 59:2) from them, God promises to “put on the garments of vengeance” (Is. 59:17) and “come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the LORD drives along” (Is. 59:19). That’s violent imagery. But it’s how God wins the battle inside the tent.

In times like these, revival means surrendering, striking terms of peace with God, opening wide the doors of the camp that the King of glory might come in and “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). And as Joel promises, when we do this there will be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that restores the years the locusts have eaten. Then God can gather and mobilize His people to confront the enemies outside camp-in the valley of decision where He can roar His judgments from Zion like a victorious lion (see the latter half of Joel). Liberated, the saints will arise and shine with His glory upon them, to defy the thickest darkness covering nations and peoples (Is. 60:1-2).

So in spiritual warfare, God must really win two battles: inside, and then outside. Let me give an example. Most practitioners of spiritual warfare concur that a primary battleground with Satan is in the area of relationships. Dark forces not only build relational barriers between us and unreached peoples, but they also create social havoc among those trying to reach them. Ask any pioneering mission team.

My observation, even from my earliest years as a pastor, is that Satan delights in driving wedges into our relationships with Christ and with one another. A carpenter will tell you that a wedge in a block of wood starts by only slightly penetrating it. But as it is pushed forward, it gradually widens the gap in the wood, eventually splitting it in two. In the spiritual realm we call that a “stronghold.” Or, as Paul says in his discussion of relationships within the body of Christ, “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27). No matter what we call them, footholds are a big part of the battle inside the church. And-I’ll say it again-to the degree God wins the battle on the inside, the battles will be won on the outside.

Revival-always fatal to footholds- makes us less vulnerable to Satan’s schemes. In revival, we submit to God, draw near to Him, cleanse our hands and hearts, and, as a result, resist the devil James 4). Chuck Kraft paints it this way: Garbage attracts the rats; if you remove the garbage, the rats will go away Often, how the church responds to its “garbage” determines how effective it is against the principalities in our cities or nation. If we’re honest, we must confess that the condition of our world is due in large measure to the spiritual refuse from our battles with God-battles that have allowed dark powers to remain unchallenged, further entrenching their dominion over communities, structures, territories, and peoples.

Revival shuts the door on evil.

Historically, however, there are innumerable examples of true revival that effectively shut the door on the devil. During these revivals God’s Spirit came upon His people, bringing a fresh experience of Christ’s manifest presence and binding and routing the powers of darkness. These times were for the church an “approximation of the consummation.” a Dreview of the day when all heaven and earth will be permanently exorcised. Revival leaves the church with the fullness of Jesus (Lk. 11:20-26). But that’s only half the story.

Once the church takes up the battle outside the tent, displacing works of darkness, it must in equal measure replace them with something better. That something better is always the exaltation of Christ through praise, prayer, and the proclamation of truth; through workers who press for awakening in every corner of the enemy camp; through Christ-centered movement toward reconciliation, healing, compassion, and justice; through works of art and education and medicine that point to the Savior. But this can only happen if Christ has already won the battle with us and restored His preeminence in our hearts. The battle inside the tent must have priority.

That’s why prayer is the strategic initiative in spiritual warfare. If we pray the way Jesus taught us, we will keep the sequence right. Jesus’ model prayer begins with a kingdom vision in three bold requests: hallow Your name, bring in Your kingdom, and do Your will. But notice the order of the next three requests: meet the needs of Your people, keep us in the bond of forgiving love, let us triumph over the evil one.

Or take John 17. Jesus’ prayer focuses almost entirely on what happens inside the church and how that will bring glory to God. But in the midst of it, Jesus’ prays for His people to be kept safe from the evil one (v. 15). The implication? There’s potential for division in the body but it can be avoided if the disciples remain full of the glory of the Son (vv. 22,26) and fully submitted to His Word (v. 17). Then the battle for the destiny of unbelievers can prevail (vv. 20-23).

Whether we look at the prayer meetings of Acts (1,4,13) or the grand petitions of Paul’s letters, a study of New Testament praying confirms that Christians gained victory over darkness because, as they prayed, the strongholds among them fell. While praying, they

  • clarified the centrality of Christ and their hope in Him,
  • rectified illusions they held (about God. themselves. Satan. their mission),
  • identified and renounced residual forms of idolatry,
  • solidified their allegiance to Christ and each other, and
  • magnified their passion for Christ.

As a result, they were able to

  • mobilize a mighty army to penetrate enemy strongholds,
  • glorify Christ among the nations, and
  • defy and neutralize the powers of darkness.

Did you catch those verbs? That’s a lot of action! And where does it happen? On the inside, and then on the outside. The sequence is key to successful spiritual warfare. So “lead on, O King Eternal!” Within us first of all. For the day of march has come!