Conversatio Divina

Part 6 of 18

Like a Roaring Lion

Richard Foster

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

—C. S. LewisC. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan: 1980), 3.

Realities reside in our universe that go far beyond what we can see and touch and smell. There are immense spiritual realities. God, of course. And angels, God’s messengers. The Bible is actually a book full of angels. Please, I do not mean fluffy white beings with flowing robes and feathered wings. Nor do I mean the childlike nudes of Raphael or, even worse, the chubby cherubs of today’s clip art. No, in the Bible when an angel appears on the scene, the angel first must calm the utter panic in humans. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, we are told that Zechariah “was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him” (Luke 1:12, NRSVUEUnless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition, copyright © 1989, 2021 The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.). Also, the angel population evidently is enormous, for we are told in Revelation that surrounding God’s throne are angels who number “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11).

Angels then are spiritual beings of considerable power of an order higher than human beings, but, like humans, they are endowed with free will and not immune to temptation and sin. Hence, Satan and his devils appear on the scene. They are angels—Satan being the chief— who by the abuse of their free will fell and became the enemies of God. And of us. Satan is called many things in the Bible: the devil, Beelzebub, the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air, and more.See Matthew 10:25, John 14:30, Ephesians 2:2.

I have used one of the biblical descriptions of Satan for the title of this article. Peter provides the description: “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). So the diabolical wickedness of Satan and his minions is clearly something for us to reckon with.

But we must remember that Satan is not co-equal with God. Satan is a created being, a fallen angel. He does not have ultimate power. He is limited in knowledge. C. S. Lewis put it well: “Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.”Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.

True, Satan is “a roaring lion,” but I want to remind you that there is another Lion who is greater than Satan: Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5). This is the Lion who has conquered sin and death and hell. John declares, “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). And again, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). James tersely admonishes us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

I say all of this so you may be aware of Satan and his diabolical works of destruction, but also so you will not have an excessive fear of him or of his works. This awareness is important as we deepen in our understanding and experience of prayer. Satan and his minions do seek our destruction, and they will attack us even in times of prayer . . . perhaps especially in times of prayer. So whatever we can learn about Satan and his devious ways will fortify us against being tricked or fooled or drawn astray.

01.  Learning from Jesus

Jesus is the Master Teacher of life, and his experiential knowledge of Satan and his tactics can instruct us in multiple ways. The most central passage has to be Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. In that single event we see a lifetime of the practiced ability to overcome evil.

We notice at the outset that it is the Spirit, not Satan, who leads Jesus into the wilderness. The Spirit is in charge of all that occurs. Jesus fasts for forty days and only then is Satan allowed to come to him. The fasting was for the spiritual strengthening of the Master, and the Spirit does not allow Satan near Jesus until he is at his strongest point.

God allows the evil one to come at Jesus with three great temptations—temptations that Jesus undoubtedly had dealt with more than once in the carpentry shop and that he would face again throughout his ministry as a rabbi. Yet these are not just personal temptations; they are also temptations for Jesus to access for his own use, the three most prominent social institutions of the day—economic, religious, political.For an elaboration of this line of thinking, see Donald B. Kraybill, The Upside-Down Kingdom (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1978). See also Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 1–22.

The economic temptation is for Jesus to turn stones into bread—for Jesus, the glorious miracle baker, to provide “wonder bread” for himself and the masses. What a temptation in a hungry world! But Jesus knows how short-lived all such solutions are and so rejects the live-by-bread-alone option.
The religious temptation is for Jesus to leap from the pinnacle of the temple and, by having angels catch him midair, receive God’s stamp of approval on his ministry. God’s dramatic rescue within the sacred boundaries of the temple will surely guarantee the loyal support of the priestly hierarchy. On this occasion Satan even buttresses his appeal by quoting from scripture. But Jesus sees Satan’s temptation for what it is, and he directly confronts institutionalized religion—not only here in the wilderness but throughout his ministry—wherever and whenever it becomes idolatrous or oppressive.

Satan’s ultimate goal is revealed in his third temptation, the promise of “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if only Jesus will fall down and worship him (Matthew 4:8–10). This mountaintop temptation represents the possibility of worldwide political power—not only coercive force but also the glory and acclaim of sitting on the world’s highest pinnacle of influence and status. Satan knows this fits in perfectly with the messianic hopes of the day for a Savior who will cast off the oppressive Roman occupation. But Jesus knows that domination and force are not God’s way. He rejects coercive power because he intends to demonstrate a new kind of power, a new way of ruling. Serving, suffering, dying—these are Jesus’s messianic forms of power. Hence, Jesus stoutly resists: “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’ ” (Matthew 4:10).

In those forty days in the wilderness, Jesus rejects the popular Jewish hope for a Messiah who will feed the poor, bask in miraculous heavenly approval and shuck off oppressive nations. In doing so he undercuts the leverage of the three great social institutions of his day . . . and of ours—exploitive economics, manipulative religion and coercive politics. We too must learn to defeat Satan precisely in these realms.

There is more. The Gospels tell multiple stories of how Jesus confronts evil in every form, not only casting out demons but healing sicknesses of all kinds and applying gospel medicine to darkened minds. “Jesus went throughout Galilee . . . proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, people possessed by demons or having epilepsy or afflicted with paralysis, and he cured them.” (Matthew 4:23–24). The apostle Paul’s word certainly rings true that in Jesus God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13–14).

In chapter ten of Luke we see a pinnacle insight regarding the defeat of satanic power. Jesus had first sent out the twelve and then the seventy, instructing them to “cure the sick . . . and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9). They return ecstatic, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (Luke 10:17). Now, assured that the power to overcome demonic wickedness is transferable to ordinary disciples, Jesus exclaims, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18, NIVScripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™).

Jesus is here seeing the crushing of satanic powers. It is also a prophetic vision of that ultimate day when the one who is called Faithful and True, astride a white battle stallion, will go forth conquering, and to conquer, and “on his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ ” (Revelation 19:11–16). On that day of ultimate and final victory, Satan and all his minions will be cared for once and for all: “And the devil . . . was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur” (Revelation 20:10).

02.  Practical Considerations

Now, I want us to turn our attention to several practical concerns regarding demonic forces and the life of prayer. First, we are all aware of the great interest today in a whole host of occult practices: witchcraft, astrology, the seeking out of spirit guides, palmistry, tarot readings, Ouija boards and divination of all sorts. Now, I hate to be so blunt on this matter, but these practices are forbidden for the follower of Christ. Demonic spiritual forces can influence and even inhabit such practices.

The early Israelite community faced many of these same practices in the nations around them, and God was quite direct on the matter: “No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10–11). You may remember the time King Saul consulted the medium at Endor. He encountered spiritual realities there that he was not prepared for, and the end of the matter was not good, to say the least (1 Samuel 28:3–19).

Second, in prayers for the demonized I would counsel great caution. These settings are often crowded with people who fancy themselves “exorcists” and who will brashly rush into the holy of holies of another person’s soul. Such people are often intoxicated with spiritual phenomena and usually lack any real compassion for the person being prayed for. If we are moved by genuine compassion, we will tread lightly and listen prayerfully. If a person is concerned about demonic influence or fearful of it, we may then speak a simple prayer of faith in the love of Jesus and dismiss this troubling spirit, whether real or imagined, giving it into the hands of Jesus. Then we pray for the light and love of Jesus Christ to fill up all the empty spaces in the person.If you would like to pursue these matters further, I suggest you turn to Agnes Sanford, The Healing Gifts of the Spirit (New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1966), and John Wimber, Power Healing (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).

Third, we should not give Satan too much credit. I have found that we do a fairly good job of beating up on ourselves without any help from Satan. Once a dear woman, beset by uncontrollable fears and traumas and evil spiritual influences, came to a good friend of mine, one well-trained in compassionate ministry for the demonized. He listened silently to the bizarre story of this tortured woman. At last he placed his hands on her head in the sacramental way and prayed quietly for her. No shouts or stern commands, just compassion-filled prayer ministry. The woman sighed and became calm, and healing entered her soul. Later my friend explained simply, “Oh, she had a great big hurt and a little tiny demon.”

Fourth, I commend to you prayers of protection for all we do and whenever we pray. Spiritual realities abound in this created order of ours, and they are not all benevolent. Satan and his minions seek our downfall and destruction. So we ask the Holy Trinity and all the heavenly host to surround us and keep us from all ill: physical, spiritual, emotional. Here is a prayer of protection I like very much which comes out of the Celtic tradition of Lindisfarne in the northeast of England:

Circle me, Lord,
keep protection near
and danger afar.

Circle me, Lord,
keep light near
and darkness afar.

Circle me, Lord,
keep peace within;
keep evil out.

In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.

Frequently I will pray for protection in a highly Christocentric manner:

O Lord, I pray that you would . . .
Surround me with the light of Jesus Christ;
Cover me with the blood of Jesus Christ;
and Seal me with the cross of Jesus Christ.
This I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

In all of this we need never fear. The Almighty God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—will surround us and protect us and keep us from every evil influence. We can count on it.

03.  A Final Word

I would like to close by returning to the passage in the first epistle of Peter that is the source of the phrase “like a roaring lion.” Peter certainly minces no words about the wiles of the devil and the reality of human suffering. But the overriding message of this passage is fixed firmly upon the great reality of God’s sovereign power over all. This is the message that needs to root itself deeply into our hearts and minds. Listen:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6–11).

04.  Light in the Darkness

Cindy Bunch, Section Editor

I recently found myself in a dark, oppressive place—under the influence of warfare. I found myself bursting with anger at odd moments. I had been heavily into the editing of a book dealing with the sex trafficking of women and children and the account of how the author, who was doing undercover investigation, spiraled into darkness. I met with my spiritual director in this time. She encouraged me to address that project with two weapons: (1) asking friends to be praying for me; (2) soaking myself in Scripture, especially the Gospels. once friends began praying for me, I quickly felt the oppression ease up and was able to finish the project.

This is a prayer that my friend Keith prayed for me while I was feeling the oppression of warfare:

Lord God, deliverer and defender of the vulnerable, oppressed and unprotected, give Cindy back whatever this loving and self-sacrificing work of editing may have taken or drained in her spirit, refresh her and lift the burden she has carried in bearing with the sufferings of these precious sons and daughters, assuring her that there will be a great kingdom power of restoration and deliverance set loose by the witness of this work, the same power that worked in your son, and raised him to your right hand, and is even now putting all other powers in heaven and on earth, under your feet, especially those that dare touch your little ones whose angels keep before your eyes in loving and jealous care. Amen.

Just reading these words in an email was a huge lift. When we reach out to one another in Christian love, God works powerfully.


Taken from Richard J. Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011) Used by permission.

A Note from the Editors: Our current issue theme, “the problem of pain,” creates space for conversation about all manner of evil—natural, moral, metaphysical—and its impact on our lives. We knew that the last category, metaphysical evil, would be the most difficult to write. So we wanted to bring a respected voice to the table. Richard J. foster provides a very balanced overview of the dark side of spiritual reality, Satan, and then offers practical considerations in dealing with demonic forces, the most central being what we can learn from Jesus.

Richard J. Foster is founder of Renovaré in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of many books, including Celebration of Discipline and Streams of Living Water and is coauthor of Longing for God. This article is taken from his new book, Sanctuary of the Soul (InterVarsity Press).