Before delving into my blog entry, please note that this is not a typical Juicy Ecumenism article calling on the Church to strengthen its social witness on issues such as life, marriage, and religious freedom. Instead, the following piece recounts a personal experience with spiritual warfare and my own thoughts and questions that were birthed from the encounter.
My intention is not to sensationalize the supernatural. My contribution is, however, meant to remind myself and fellow Christians that supernatural, spiritual warfare is not strange or unusual; it is normal.
Consider Ephesians 6:12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Sunday school teachers ensured that I memorized this Scripture verse as a child. Raised in a charismatic Pentecostal church, I accepted spiritual warfare as a fact. I accepted the reality of Heaven, Hell, Satan, and his demonic henchmen. I’ve witnessed the Holy Spirit manifest among Believers and, conversely, heard accounts of present-day demonic manifestations. However, these latter stories only came from visiting missionaries who were exposed to undeveloped regions of the world. Demonic possessions weren’t exactly common in my middle-America neighborhood.
Like most Millennial Americans, I admit that I am desensitized to demonic entities by the cheesy television shows about teens combating the supernatural and movies glamorizing forces of darkness. So while I accepted spiritual warfare as fact, I did not truly grasp the weight of its reality.
That is, until this summer.
Two weeks ago, I traveled to the Northeast to speak at a Christian conference tailored for Ivy League college students. The conference was hosted by Charismatic Christian leaders. So, it was no surprise to me to hear the term “spiritual warfare” assigned to everything that obstructed our journey to the conference.
At first, I found nothing odd about the airline canceling every flight to Connecticut because of a summer thunderstorm. However, my fellow conference travelers were convinced that this was, “the enemy’s intervention.” More strange and uncomfortable, at least for this introvert, was piling into a ten-passenger van full of strangers for a five hour ride to Connecticut.
To be fair, my fellow van passengers were conference speakers, leaders, and student attendees. One passenger was a young, prominent African-American worship leader who had just flown in from Los Angeles. Sick the entire van ride, he asked for our prayer. Most intriguing was that my new friend referred to his pain as an “incantation.” Immediately, doubt crept into my mind. I had never heard “incantation” used among the spiritual warfare lingo I was familiar with.
No, I’ve never had any medical training, but that didn’t stop me from offering my own diagnosis to the doubled-over worship leader. “It’s probably a kidney stone, or perhaps your appendix is rupturing,” I offered. “Should we take you to a hospital?”
“No,” he said. “I went yesterday. The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. He said I’m in perfect health.”
Still skeptical of an “incantation,” I felt compelled to pray for God to heal whatever infirmity plagued by new friend.
So far we had cancelled flights, the leadership’s late arrival to the student conference, and an ill-stricken worship leader. But I recognize now, how this was just the beginning of my encounter with spiritual warfare.
Finally, we arrived at the conference long after registration and orientation took place. But what was important is that we arrived. The worship leader sang praises to our Holy Father through his pain and all other logistics seemed to smoothly flow.
On the second day it happened.
During a lecture on the Holy Spirit, a young female student lay undetected in the fetal position under a pew crying and moaning. Few understood what was happening until her friend left the sanctuary quivering in search of help. Soon, pastors and prayer intercessors gathered around the young woman, who by this time was screaming.
I admit that my initial reaction was utter confusion. Was she hurt? Did she need help? It took me a few moments to process what I was seeing, hearing, and sensing. Then I heard the young woman speak to the ministry leaders huddled around her. It was not the voice of the young woman that I had encountered earlier in the day. Her voice was soft, but this tone was much higher pitched. But it wasn’t the sound or tone that convinced me. It was the words spoken from her mouth. The demon began to mock and taunt those praying for her. I might have been in shock, but the situation was not totally unfamiliar to me. I knew of a similar encounter in the Bible.
Acts 16:16-17 recounts the demonic manifestation within a young girl who is “possessed with a spirit of divination.” The girl, who is enslaved as a fortuneteller, spots Paul and Silas on their way to pray. The Scriptures tell us that she followed them around for days taunting them with, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” Finally, Paul gets fed up and finally puts an end to her tormentor. Verse 17 reads, “But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour.” Why it took Paul days, I’m not sure.
But like the story in Acts, this wasn’t the elaborate exorcism the blockbuster films portray. This scene was confusing, then pitiful, and finally joyful, as an hour and a half of prayers in Jesus’ name later, the demon(s) left the girl.
If I were reading this blog before the conference, I’m ashamed to say I’d probably be doubtful of this account. Perhaps you are thinking this very thought. Maybe you’re rationalizing the travel delays and the worship leader’s undetectable abdominal pain. Or maybe you’re skeptical of a present-day demonic manifestation.
I understand your doubt, but remember this was an Ivy League college student whose entire academic career rested in scientific evidence, facts and data. She was not seeking some warped attention. Prior to this manifestation she did not act childish or silly, but was instead very serious about her public impression. I do not doubt that she experienced—and I witnessed—a demonic possession.
With fresh eyes I have reread the accounts of Jesus driving out demons or acknowledging forces of evil. You can read them here:
In the end, this subject matter might make for an unusual blog entry. But writing my experience has helped me to process it. Now I am left with are certain questions. How should I respond? How do I engage in this spiritual battle beyond simply writing about it or studying? Maybe you wonder too?
*Dear readers, as a Millennial I am still learning. (Actually, I hope to always be “still learning” throughout every season of my life.) Most of our JE readers are wise, faithful Christian ministers and laity. As such, your knowledge, reflections, and comments on this issue are most welcome here.