While the spiritual world of angels and demons may not be a regular topic of conversation among many Australians and New Zealanders, in other cultural contexts around the world, including that of Papua New Guinea, spiritual activity impacting human existence may be seen as part of everyday life. Lutheran pastor and seminary lecturer Mick Hauser, who lives and serves in PNG, shares his thoughts on the need to be watchful in spiritual matters.

In St Peter’s writings to persecuted early Christians living in regions of Asia Minor, he is unequivocal about the dangers the devil poses. And he knows the value of being on your guard when it comes to spiritual warfare.

This is serious business.

‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’, he warns his readers in 1 Peter 5.

‘Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings’ (1 Peter 5:9).

In Christian literature we also read about the need to be clearheaded when confronted by evil forces.

‘There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils’, cautions British Christian literary giant and theologian CS Lewis in his satirical novel Screwtape Letters, a timeless classic about spiritual warfare. ‘One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist and a magician with the same delight.’

Even though in a work of fiction, CS Lewis’ words are, in his usual fashion, a fine example of how to be watchful and sober toward the spiritual realm.

You will find the same watchfulness and sobriety in John Kleinig’s Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, Harold Ristau’s My First Exorcism: What the Devil Taught a Lutheran Pastor about Counter-cultural Spirituality and Spiritual Warfare: For the Care of Souls, as in Dr Robert H Bennett’s work on ‘True Accounts from the Lutheran Church of Madagascar’, entitled I am not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare.

They are Lutheran resources dealing with this edition’s theme that are robust and practical, edifying the church against all types of spiritual attack, and yet they are also very grounded and ordinary. Indeed, God’s word calls us to a sober and watchful spirituality.

Stories of hidden spiritual realms are often dark and fearsome, told to provoke excitement and even to intoxicate as if the plot of a thriller or horror movie.

These hidden or secret things hold a great fascination for many people – increasingly so in a world that suffers various insecurities and uncertainty.

We can mistakenly think that delving into the secret places will bear fruits of success or salve for our ills in earthly matters. This drawing or attraction to hidden things is nothing new, even as it is dressed in new clothes in the supposed spiritual new age.

Nevertheless, it is a serious concern for our spiritual health. Dismissing the topic out of hand is not really watchfulness. Nor would obsession be sober-mindedness. Therefore, we seek to speak of things in truth, in a balanced way.

In my context of living and teaching within the Melanesian culture in Papua New Guinea, by accident I have needed to engage in all manner of discussions regarding the spiritual realm with students, pastors, friends and family.

I have had my fair share of ‘experiences’ as well. Just last evening a security guard at my home warned me of a visiting white owl who had displayed to him some kind of supernatural ability. It was the guard’s duty to warn me of such spiritual activity, as owls could be ‘spirits’ spying or wanting to carry a message or call out to people in my home.

Here, in Papua New Guinea, the hidden realm is understood, almost paradoxically, as part of daily life.

We are able to see glimpses or the shadows of spirits and demonic activity, yet never the full picture.

Certainly, because of the obscure nature of such talk or experience, and our inability to interpret them on our own, there is one thing that is sure about this realm – it gives people a fright.

While magicians believe they can control and manipulate spiritual realms, it is really more the other way around. The spirits trick, cheat, confuse and control them. This is why God warns us against delving into these dark arts (see Leviticus 19:26, Deuteronomy 18:10, Galatians 5:19,20, and Acts 19:19) – you can very quickly lose or destroy yourself. The devil devours you.

He without doubt outwits us as he dresses up as an angel of light, as St Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11:14. And perhaps this is the most intimidating aspect we should learn about the dark hidden realm. It is ultimately beyond our control. And yet, it is not apart from God’s reach, from the voice and command of Christ.

Discovering we are at the mercy of spiritual things is humbling and hence a pathway to calling out in fervent prayer to Jesus, the one who overcame the devil. We receive from him his good gifts because we have been baptised in his name. In this way, we are standing firm in the faith!

Troubled by the frightful darkness of the spiritual realm, we are led to the Word, the light of the world, and prayerfully ask questions of him, so that the Word would truly lead us in all things and witness to his power and authority and thereby comfort us with his word.

As we read in Mark 1:34, ‘And he would not permit the demons to speak’. This is just one such example of Jesus’ power and authority over the devil and his minions.

Christ commands the evil spirits to be quiet. Just as his word creates life, it also shuts up evil. He is Lord of all creation!

At the close of the gospel of Mark we hear, ‘Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover’ (Mark 16:16–18).

Through baptism and faith in his promises, Jesus saves us from the power of the devil and all evil spirits. Not in a magical way, as Dr Robert H Bennett points out in I am not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare: ‘The exorcisms of the New Testament are not magic. The power to exorcise demons does not reside within individuals, and the words used are not some sort of secret phrases that can be learned or purchased. Jesus is the actor in all true exorcisms. He has come into the world to bind the “strong man”.’

However, as Jesus speaks his promises, baptism ‘brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it’, as Luther’s Small Catechism explains.

Through this ordinary means of grace, Jesus himself entered the lives of all peoples who feared the spiritual realms, and he himself comes into our lives today in the same way, for the same purpose – to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Just as we baptise, pray and receive the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, we also cast out demons in his name.

So, we find we have three (not so) ordinary weapons in spiritual warfare; the holy name of Jesus (given to us in baptism), his holy word (spoken in Scripture) and our faith in him and his word (expressed through prayer).

As Jesus promises to come to us in his word and his sacraments, in watchfulness and with sober minds we pray for his coming. He comes with his angels in the glory of his Father (Matt 16:7) and, as he does, we can be confident of his spiritual protection because of his presence with us. Come, Lord Jesus, Come! ‘ … Let your holy angel be with me, so that the wicked foe may have no power over me. Amen’ (Luther’s ‘Evening Prayer’).

Pastor Mick Hauser serves as a missionary teaching at Martin Luther Seminary in Lae, Papua New Guinea.

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