Spiritual conflict — A basic, practical “how-to” guide

Advancing the kingdom of God often results in facing intense spiritual conflict. How do we stand against spiritual attacks? How do we launch assaults against the gates of hell?

  1. Recognize the enemy, but focus on God. Satan is the father of lies. He wants to receive worship. He hates people so he wants to either keep people in darkness or distract and hinder those who have been set free. In stark contrast, Jesus is Truth. God is worthy of worship. He demonstrated his love and grace toward all people for all time on the cross, but he also continues to show his love today.
  2. Invite the Holy Spirit to lead when you start to pray. Ask the Spirit to open your eyes and give you insight. The Spirit is the gift of God in our lives.
  3. Worship God. The description in Psalm 22:3 is of our praises making a throne for God. By our worship, we acknowledge and declare our trust in the King of kings.
  4. Pray from Scripture. Many of the psalms are prayer-songs. You can also pray written out prayers (such as Ephesians 3:14-21) and promises God made.
  5. “Activate” the promises of God. For instance, Jesus said, “[I]f two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19-20). So by praying with a partner or in a triplet, then you can be assured of Jesus’s presence and the Father’s answer. Take special note of the promises regarding unity in Psalm 133, John 17:20-23 and 1 Corinthians 11:26.
  6. Listen for God’s guidance. The victory in spiritual conflict does not come from following certain steps or saying certain words but from allowing the Lord to reign over more and more of ourselves. When we take time to listen to God and then do what he says, we show our dependence on him.

Spiritual Conflict — It’s our reality

There are at least two big reasons we shouldn’t ignore the subject of spiritual conflict (also called spiritual warfare):

  1. If we want to see spiritual changes and even some physical ones, we need to be aware of what is going on spiritually. The advancing of God’s Kingdom is foremost a spiritual assault on the domain of darkness to bring liberty to captives (see Colossians 1:13, Luke 4:18).
  2. Many people who lack a personal relationship with Christ already recognize spiritual conflict. Their beliefs and actions often reflect what they believe will help them avoid becoming victims of evil. We must be ready to share and demonstrate Christ’s decisive victory and eternal authority over evil spirits.

In short, spiritual conflict is our current reality.

If you feel uneasy or intimidated or overwhelmed by the topic of spiritual conflict, please take a look at 2 Kings 6:8-23. This Scripture story provides much insight into the spiritual realm. Remember that the God who did amazing things in the days of Elisha is the same God today. You can trust Him to be your leader, your teacher and your helper.

Here are some prayer prompts drawn from the story (which can be adapted to specific contexts):

  • Pray for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s warnings so as to ruin the plans of evil spirits (v. 12)
  • Pray against fear and pray for reminders of God’s presence (v. 16)
  • Ask God to open our eyes to see spiritual reality (v. 17)
  • Pray for the Lord of hosts to surround His people (v. 17)
  • Pray for those who are living as enemies of God to be temporarily blinded so that they may clearly see the Creator (v. 18, see also Acts 9)
  • Pray for strength to love our enemies, as God loved us while we were still His enemies (v. 22-23)
  • Pray for the Prince of Peace to reign in all hearts and bring reconciliation (v. 23)

It’s Epiphany!

In some traditions, Epiphany (January 6) commemorates the wise men (Magi) finding and worshiping Jesus. The story found in Matthew 2 is a sign of the fulfillment of all nations worshiping the Messiah (see Psalm 72 for example).

Here are a few ways to pray from the story of the wise men:

  1. Ask God to connect the wisdom of various cultures to the Truth. How did the wise men know the star meant the king of the Jews had been born? This was something arranged by God. There are individuals and people groups who God has been preparing to encounter Christ in unique ways.
  2. Pray that diaspora brothers and sisters will help re-focus those who have been distracted. Herod, the chief priests and scribes knew the prophecies but they did not seem to pay attention until the wise men stirred them up. Today, immigrants vibrantly walking with God are moving into many places where churches have been losing vitality. Pray that these churches will listen to their brothers and sisters.
  3. Pray that God will speak through dreams and visions. We don’t know what happened to the wise men when they returned to their country, but we do know that they listened when God spoke to them in a dream. There are countless testimonies of people — even ones who were staunchly opposed to Christianity — starting to follow Jesus after a dream or vision.
  4. Pray that God will give us the courage and determination to joyfully bring Him the honor He deserves among the nations. The wise men dedicated their time, energy and resources to journey to meet the new King. When they found Jesus, who had been born in a manger and was being raised by a village carpenter, they could not contain their joy. How much more might we — who know of His life on earth, His death & resurrection and His Spirit — joyfully dedicate ourselves!

Happy Epiphany!

Thanksgiving – Gather around the table!

In the States, Thanksgiving is almost here. For many American families, this holiday means spending time with relatives and sharing lots of food. Each family has certain traditions — the kinds of foods prepared, the type of entertainment, the topics of conversation and the location of the celebration.

Because most schools and workplaces are closed for Thanksgiving, most diaspora people in the USA recognize that it must be a major holiday. (Many immigrants notice that the USA does not have many holidays!) This provides a great opportunity to build relationships across cultures.

Some churches and ministries pass out turkeys and food baskets and/or hold a large dinner the weekend before Thanksgiving. These can be effective ways to demonstrate love toward the general community, but for ministry among diaspora people, please consider an additional approach: invite diaspora people to celebrate with you on Thanksgiving Day.

By hosting diaspora people (or having them go with you to your gathering), you are also inviting them into a deeper relationship. In many cultures, celebrating a special family event together is understood as having a relationship. You may not perceive a friendship (in the mainstream American understanding of friendship) but a friendly relationship exists; inviting each other to special occasions is a way to build and maintain these friendships.

International students and other newly arrived immigrants in particular may be interested to experience this holiday. They may want to know more about the foods you eat, the story behind the holiday, the reason for the Black Friday sales, and so on. Immigrants who have been in the States for years may never have been invited to a home for Thanksgiving before; even if they already have other plans, they will know you are interested in knowing them more.

However you celebrate Thanksgiving, please do take time to encourage everyone to give thanks to God. “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” – Psalm 50:23

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hospitality: Let’s talk about shoes

In some cultures, a person’s home is where lasting friendships are built. Both extending and receiving hospitality are therefore usually important skills in cross-cultural ministry. Different cultures have different ideas about what hospitality looks like so it is also important to learn how to adapt for these various situations.

The question of shoe culture can seem so simple that I hesitated to write about it. However, I have seen well-meaning people of God be completely oblivious to the shoe culture of a home. Since shoe culture can sometimes reflect ideas about modesty or ideas about sacred space, learning how to adapt to shoe cultures can help you avoid offending a host (or guests).

What do you do with your shoes when you enter a home? There are three basic categories of shoe culture: shoes off, shoes on and no tradition. What makes adapting to shoe culture rather easy is that it’s usually not too hard to figure out which shoe culture a home has.

First, as you approach the front door, notice whether there are shoes just outside or not. If there are, this is a big clue that it is a shoes-off home. If I see shoes outside, I often remove my shoes then and there.

Next, if there are no shoes outside, then as you walk in, look for a bunch of shoes just inside the door. Also glance at your host’s feet. If your host is not wearing shoes, it may be a shoes-off home. If your host is wearing shoes and there are no piles of shoes nearby, it may be a shoes-on home.

While it is usually acceptable to match the host, feel free to ask directly about your shoes. In some cultures, it is rude to say “no.” So ask in an open-ended way, such as “What should I do with my shoes?” (

Also, wear slippers if your host offers them. This may be a standard way of welcoming guests and/or helping you look decent according to cultural standards.

If you are the host, try to help people from other shoe cultures feel “at home” in your home. Having slippers available for guests of the opposite shoe culture is one possible solution.

Enjoy building friendships!

First steps into the world of the other

Many brothers and sisters in Christ are gaining more perspective of the current unprecedented opportunity of diaspora missions — that is, of seeing the movement of people become the movement of the good news of Christ and His Kingdom. However, some brothers and sisters have little experience forming cross-cultural relationships and feel hesitant to try.

Diaspora missions is currently being highlighted by Christianity Today in a series of posts, including one from the president of Borderless. May the stories which Cody shares in this post encourage you to take those first steps if you haven’t already.

Maps: Finding hubs and virtual prayerwalking

Just as GPS turn-by-turn apps can be convenient to know how to get from one place to another, maps can be useful tools to initially get to know a location.

At peoplegroups.info, you can explore Chicagoland (and other metro areas around the USA) from a different perspective. Researchers, including ones from Borderless, have been mapping potential hubs where specific diaspora people may gather — places of worship, restaurants, ethnically-based or language-based associations, specialty markets and so on.

When you combine the information being collected at peoplegroups.info with a map app like Google Street View, you can do a virtual prayerwalk through different areas. You can also guide others (perhaps ministry partners who live far away) to become more familiar with particular neighborhoods or the metro area in general.

May these map tools be used by the Lord to lift our eyes, to gain insight and to move us to action.

Gospel and Cultural Traditions: essential vs negotiable

In cross-cultural ministry, it is helpful to become more aware of your own cultural biases. Our culture colors the way we view the world and even the good news. If we fail to recognize this coloring, we will inadvertently portray a limited version of the good news to people of other cultures.

In Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, Paul Hiebert designed an exercise to help uncover some of these cultural biases on various commands, practices and customs which have been in Church tradition. Which ones are essential to the whole church for all time? Which ones are negotiable — meaning they may be appropriate for a church in one particular time and place but not another?

As you reflect on your answers as well as your reasoning (“and that’s why it’s okay that I don’t greet others with a holy kiss”), you will grow in your understanding of how the practice of your faith has been influenced by cultural traditions. Then you can be more intentional to encourage culturally appropriate expressions of faith.

Who are oral learners?

Our Indian neighbor brought out from her pantry a box of cake mix. She asked, “Can you please show me how to make this cake?”

I was confused at first. My neighbor was fluent in English, spoken and written. She had a master’s degree. She cooked multiple course meals almost every day. Why did she need my help to bake a cake?

Then I remembered — my neighbor was an oral learner. Although she was perfectly capable of reading the recipe instructions on the box, she much preferred for me to explain the instructions to her, show her and do it with her.

Most of the people in the world — including the children — are oral learners. They prefer to get their information by listening to stories and proverbs, hearing songs, watching films or dramas, and looking at visual arts. If we want to share the Word with oral learners, we have to go beyond written texts so that they can truly see the Word made flesh.

To find out more about oral learners, you can visit the International Orality Network.

Dealing with fear

Last week, I was blessed to meet with a brother in Christ who works in the Middle Eastern region. In our conversation, we talked at length about the deep fear of evil spirits which is common in his country. In order to protect themselves from curses, people place special objects — what we might call good luck charms — in their homes.

These people are not living in remote villages but in modern cities. They can be well-educated. There is no mention in the texts of their religion (in this case, Islam) about using these special objects. But their belief in the power of these special objects is very real.

As we share the good news of Christ with others, we must remember to share His victory over all evil spirits. We may need to teach fear-filled people how to trust Jesus to protect against curses. We must pray for the truth that “perfect love casts out fear” to fill their hearts and minds.

Take a look at this overview of animism for more information about common beliefs in the spirit world.