Unexpected Attacks and Spiritual Battles

The use of surprise is always quite handy in any war. If the enemy can catch you off guard, they have a real advantage. This was certainly the case on Sunday December 7, 1941 at 7:48 a.m. when 353 Japanese airplanes attacked Pearl Harbor.

The two waves of Japanese attacks were over in an hour and a half, but America paid a tremendous price during this brief but ferocious period. All up nearly 20 warships were sunk or run aground, including five battleships. Some 2400 Americans were killed, as well as 1200 wounded.

pearl harbour 1Of course 60 years later in another surprise attack on American soil, 3000 lives were lost. I mention all this because moments ago I was lazing on the beaches of Hawaii. Although it was Waikiki beach, it was also a Sunday morning. I, along with plenty of other folks, was enjoying the beach, the ocean, the views, the weather, the lifestyle.

Everyone was absorbed in this amazing strip of beach in Honolulu, with Diamond Head in the background. I could not help but think that things were much the same 74 years ago. Although it was a bit earlier in the morning, people back then were also enjoying the beach life, having a quiet Sunday morning, and just going about their business.

But all that was shattered as the Japanese planes did their worst. Things forever changed that morning. Within hours the US had declared war on Japan, and for four bloody years, war was on, ending on August 14, 1945, when Japan formally surrendered.

There could be no more business as usual after that fateful December morning. Things had to change, for the very survival of America and the free world was at stake. The same can be said of the spiritual realm. Planet earth is now under enemy occupation.

The Christian believes there is a real personal spiritual enemy, who attacks at will, often with surprise attacks. Yet most believers live as if there is no enemy, and there are no spiritual attacks. We just go about our business, enjoying what life has to offer, oblivious to the war going on all around us.

Because we are not on war footing, and are not even aware of the battles waging all around us, we are not even attuned to the moves of the enemy. So attacks come and go – whether surprise or not – and most of the church just sleeps through it all.

There are incessant attacks on marriage and family, on the sanctity of life, on the concept of truth, on morality, on the Christian faith itself. But how many believers live as if it were December 6, 1941, instead of December 7? We act as if we are in a time of peace, with no enemies.

We think life is a beach, and we can just take it easy. But the Christian life is never presented this way in Scripture. The Bible throughout presents the life of God’s child as one of conflict, of battles, of attacks, of incessant warfare. We have an enemy who is ever vigilant, ever seeking to derail our faith, silence our churches, and crush our spirituality.

Are we even aware of this? Or are we just living the good life on the beaches, unaware that a fleet of enemy aircraft are heading our way this very moment, seeking to inflict as much damage on us as possible? If we are in tune with the Spirit and the things of God, we will not be caught out by enemy attacks.

We will know that we have an aggressive enemy, we will be aware of his plans of attack, and we will have taken pre-emptive steps to deal with such attacks. We will not be blind-sided by the enemy, but have our own plan of attack put in place.

All the great saints have known of these truths. All have known of the place of battle and warfare in the Christian life. Because of this, they have not been surprised by enemy attacks, but have been properly prepared to fight for the faith. Let me cite a few of these great champions of the faith:

“The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once every week. But of the great spiritual warfare – its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests – of all this they appear to know nothing at all.” J C Ryle

“The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. The spirit of war is at the extremely opposite point to the spirit of the gospel. Yet nevertheless, the church on earth has, and until the second advent must be, the church militant, the church armed, the church warring, the church conquering. And how is this? It is in the very order of things that so it must be. Truth could not be truth in this world if it were not a warring thing, and we should at once suspect that it were not true if error were friends with it. The spotless purity of truth must always be at war with the blackness of heresy and lies.” C.H. Spurgeon

“Every Christian life is a constant fight against the pressures and pulls of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and his battle for Christlikeness (that is, habits of wisdom, devotion, love, and righteousness) is as grueling as it is unending. To suggest otherwise when evangelizing is a kind of confidence trick.” J. I. Packer

“The Christian life … is a warfare, it is a struggle. There is no grosser or greater misrepresentation of the Christian message than that which depicts it as offering a life of ease with no battle and struggle at all.” Martyn-Lloyd Jones

“When a nation calls its prime men to battle, homes are broken, weeping sweethearts say their good-byes, businesses are closed, college careers are wrecked, factories are refitted for wartime production, and rationing and discomforts are accepted—all for war. Can we do less for the greatest fight that this world has ever known outside of the cross—this end-time siege on sanity, morality and spirituality?” Leonard Ravenhill

Lastly, consider carefully the words of Charlotte Elliott’s Christian, Seek Not Yet Repose (1836):

1 Christian! seek not yet repose, Hear thy guardian angel say;
‘Thou art in the midst of foes: Watch and pray.’
2 Principalities and powers, Mustering their unseen array,
Wait for thy unguarded hours; ‘Watch and pray.’
3 Gird thy heavenly armor on, Wear it ever night and day;
Ambushed lies the evil one; ‘Watch and pray.’
4 Hear the victors who o’ercame; Still they mark each warrior’s way;
All with one clear voice exclaim, ‘Watch and pray.’
5 Hear, above all, hear thy Lord, Him thou lovest to obey;
Hide within thy heart His Word, ‘Watch and pray.’
6 Watch, as if on that alone Hung the issue of the day;
Pray that help may be sent down; ‘Watch and pray.’

[1226 words]

10 Replies to “Unexpected Attacks and Spiritual Battles”

  1. Hi Bill

    I was reading this quote in your article and it sounded precisely like a description of the Christian Church in Australia in 2015.

    Imagine my surprise when I realised it was JC Ryle written in the 1800s. As true today as it was in his day.

  2. “…ending on August 14, 1945, when Japan formally surrendered.”
    A small point, but important in its own way, since political correctness has tried to change history: the formal surrender from Japan took place on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri on 2nd Sept. 1945 (1st Sept. in the U.S. due to the time difference), which was then proclaimed as VJ-Day.

    It was not 14th August. That was when a communique came from the Japanese Imperial Govt that they would accept the terms of surrender from the Allied Powers. But the formal surrender did not come until more than a fortnight later.

    However, I endorse your thoughts on spiritual warfare and struggle. I know you don’t care much for prophetic interpretation, but an a-millennial reading of the opening verses of Rev.20 indicates that Satan will be let loose again at the close of the age. I have met many people who believe that this is what we are now facing, since it is world-wide and that we as Christians seem so helpless in the face of it. All the more reason for spiritual warfare. In Wesley’s words:
    Stand then in His great might,
    With all His strength endued;
    But take to arm you for the fight
    The panoply of God;
    That having all things done,
    And all your conflicts passed,
    Ye may o’ercome through Christ alone,
    And stand complete at last.

  3. And I so struggle with my laziness which works against the discipline of prayer, that I despair of ever being a serious warrior in the Lord’s army.

    Thanks for the reminders!

  4. Oh, another thing.

    The USA in 1941 at least learned from the devastation of Pearl Harbour – USS Missouri already under construction was the last battleship they ever built. WW2 was the war that demonstrated the decline of raw naval power, and the rise of air power.

    If an enemy crushes your most powerful strengths, then it’s time to learn where the new strength needs to come from.

  5. The very interesting thing about Pearl Harbor was that the aircraft carriers happened to be out on maneuvers when it happened. Was this just an off chance or did the top brass perhaps know of the timing of the attack or was it, as I believe, an absolute miracle? Battleships at that time were already an obsolete option and the war in the Pacific was largely won by the aircraft carriers. The Japanese battleships proved to be very vulnerable to aircraft attack as would have the U.S. battleships. Had the battleships been out and the aircraft carriers been in port at the time, the Pacific battle would have been completely different. Throughout history there are vast numbers of examples of how the outcome of war can turn on apparently minor events but two things seems to be consistent and that is the effectiveness of intelligent, believing and just leaders and God’s willingness to allow people to be overcome when they turn away from Him.

  6. Bill, another good topic that is constantly being impressed upon my consciousness. Besides the universal battles in which all of us are corporately engaged, we wage personal warfare in our private lives. My battles are unique to me; and, of course, everyone else is engaged in warfare in which only they are aware—at least, they should be. These personal warfares are so unique to the individual that few other individuals could even relate to them.

  7. Sorry this is a bit long but Matthew Henry is very thorough when discussing Christian Warfare in Ephesians 6 “Here is a general exhortation to constancy in our Christian course, and to encourage in our Christian warfare. Is not our life a warfare? It is so; for we struggle with the common calamities of human life. Is not our religion much more a warfare? It is so; for we struggle with the opposition of the powers of darkness, and with many enemies who would keep us from God and heaven. We have enemies to fight against, a captain to fight for, a banner to fight under, and certain rules of war by which we are to govern ourselves. “Finally, my brethren (v. 10), it yet remains that you apply yourselves to your work and duty as Christian soldiers.’’ Now it is requisite that a soldier be both stout-hearted and well armed. If Christians be soldiers of Jesus Christ,I. They must see that they be stout-hearted. This is prescribed here: Be strong in the Lord, etc. Those who have so many battles to fight, and who, in their way to heaven, must dispute every pass, with dint of sword, have need of a great deal of courage. Be strong therefore, strong for service, strong for suffering, strong for fighting. Let a soldier be ever so well armed without, if he have not within a good heart, his armour will stand him in little stead. Note, spiritual strength and courage are very necessary for our spiritual warfare. Be strong in the Lord, either in his cause and for his sake or rather in his strength. We have no sufficient strength of our own. Our natural courage is as perfect cowardice, and our natural strength as perfect weakness; but all our sufficiency is of God. In his strength we must go forth and go on. By the actings of faith, we must fetch in grace and help from heaven to enable us to do that which of ourselves we cannot do, in our Christian work and warfare. We should stir up ourselves to resist temptations in a reliance upon God’s all-sufficiency and the omnipotence of his might.II. They must be well armed: “Put on the whole armour of God (v. 11), make use of all the proper defensitives and weapons for repelling the temptations and stratagems of Satan—get and exercise all the Christian graces, the whole armour, that no part be naked and exposed to the enemy.’’ Observe, Those who would approve themselves to have true grace must aim at all grace, the whole armour. It is called the armour of God, because he both prepares and bestows it. We have no armour of our own that will be armour of proof in a trying time. Nothing will stand us in stead but the armour of God. This armour is prepared for us, but we must put it on; that is, we must pray for grace, we must use the grace given us, and draw it out into act and exercise as there is occasion. The reason assigned why the Christian should be completely armed is that he may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil —that he may be able to hold out, and to overcome, notwithstanding all the devil’s assaults, both of force and fraud, all the deceits he puts upon us, all the snares he lays for us, and all his machinations against us. This the apostle enlarges upon here, and shows,1. What our danger is, and what need we have to put on this whole armour, considering what sort of enemies we have to deal with—the devil and all the powers of darkness: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, etc., v. 12. The combat for which we are to be prepared is not against ordinary human enemies, not barely against men compounded of flesh and blood, nor against our own corrupt natures singly considered, but against the several ranks of devils, who have a government which they exercise in this world. (1.) We have to do with a subtle enemy, an enemy who uses wiles and stratagems, as v. 11. He has a thousand ways of beguiling unstable souls: hence he is called a serpent for subtlety, an old serpent, experienced in the art and trade of tempting. (2.) He is a powerful enemy: Principalities, and powers, and rulers. They are numerous, they are vigorous; and rule in those heathen nations which are yet in darkness. The dark parts of the world are the seat of Satan’s empire. Yea, they are usurping princes over all men who are yet in a state of sin and ignorance. Satan’s is a kingdom of darkness; whereas Christ’s is a kingdom of light. (3.) They are spiritual enemies: Spiritual wickedness in high places, or wicked spirits, as some translate it. The devil is a spirit, a wicked spirit; and our danger is the greater from our enemies because they are unseen, and assault us ere we are aware of them. The devils are wicked spirits, and they chiefly annoy the saints with, and provoke them to, spiritual wickednesses, pride, envy, malice, etc. These enemies are said to be in high places, or in heavenly places, so the word is, taking heaven (as one says) for the whole expansum, or spreading out of the air between the earth and the stars, the air being the place from which the devils assault us. Or the meaning may be, “We wrestle about heavenly places or heavenly things;’’ so some of the ancients interpret it. Our enemies strive to prevent our ascent to heaven, to deprive us of heavenly blessings and to obstruct our communion with heaven. They assault us in the things that belong to our souls, and labour to deface the heavenly image in our hearts; and therefore we have need to be upon our guard against them. We have need of faith in our Christian warfare, because we have spiritual enemies to grapple with, as well as of faith in our Christian work, because we have spiritual strength to fetch in. Thus you see your danger.2. What our duty is: to take and put on the whole armour of God, and then to stand our ground, and withstand our enemies.(1.) We must withstand, v. 13. We must not yield to the devil’s allurements and assaults, but oppose them. Satan is said to stand up against us, 1 Chr. 21:1 . If he stand up against us, we must stand against him; set up, and keep up, an interest in opposition to the devil. Satan is the wicked one, and his kingdom is the kingdom of sin: to stand against Satan is to strive against sin. That you may be able to withstand in the evil day, in the day of temptation, or of any sore affliction.(2.) We must stand our ground: And, having done all, to stand. We must resolve, by God’s grace, not to yield to Satan. Resist him, and he will flee. If we distrust our cause, or our leader, or our armour, we give him advantage. Our present business is to withstand the assaults of the devil, and to stand it out; and then, having done all that is incumbent on the good soldiers of Jesus Christ, our warfare will be accomplished, and we shall be finally victorious.(3.) We must stand armed; and this is here most enlarged upon. Here is a Christian in complete armour: and the armour is divine: Armour of God, armour of light, Rom. 13:12 .”

  8. I have a question for Bill and anyone else who cares to answer. I think we may be facing a situation that Israel had when the Babylonians were going to take them away. Was it right for Israel to kill the enemy rather than be hauled away to be beaten and enslaved? And didn’t Judah fight against Israel? Well, if they didn’t but if they had would it be right to kill their own countrymen? We see different sects in other countries fighting and killing each other. What if that happens here, if the government tries to enslave the nation to create a one world government and people like the Patriots fight back? Is it okay for them to kill their countrymen when fighting against evil? You can pm me.

  9. Thanks Susam. There is a place for morally licit killing, as in just war and in self-defence. See here eg:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/12/20/self-defence-and-scripture/

    And it has happened where brothers fight brothers or countrymen fight countrymen, as in the US Civil War, or other conflicts.

    Jesus warned about divisions within a family, etc. And at the very least, there is a place for civil disobedience:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/02/christians-and-civil-disobedience/

    And maybe even just revolution:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/07/11/is-revolution-ever-justified-part-one/

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