The Bible talks much about spiritual battles that take place behind the scenes as part of the divine drama being played out between Satan and his forces and the Father and His forces. In the book of Daniel, we find this man of God praying desperately for his people, storming heavens gates with his prayers and petitions.
In Daniel chapter ten, Daniel is praying, fasting, and mourning for the plight of his people who are in captivity – their world had come undone in a very big way. One day he was standing on the banks of the Tigris River (present day Iraq) in Babylon and he had a vision of a man “dressed in linen with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (Daniel 10:5-6).
Then this heavenly messenger told Daniel why he had not come sooner. “Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before you God, your words were heard and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” (Daniel 10:12-14).
Even as Daniel had been storming the gates of heaven, God had been at work behind the scenes but there was a literal struggle between God’s emissary and Satan’s forces in the unseen world to prevent God’s messenger from getting to Daniel. The story behind the story is that there is an unseen world where spiritual forces of good and evil are battling it out and we are the characters in the drama that they are fighting over: Satan to steal, kill and destroy and the Good Shepherd to bring life to the full (John 10:10).
As Paul reminds us “Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12).
Here is why prayer is so central, so important and so crucial when life comes undone. Here is the heart of the matter. We have an adversary who delights in hurting us, sidelining us, taking us out of the game, discouraging us, and destroying us. He is the thief of John 10:10, the one called Satan who stole the wonderful creation God intended and the fellowship He wanted with us. At the same time, God has heavenly forces at His disposal to help us, encourage us, protect us and help us overcome the adversary.
The key to this spiritual battle, this story behind the story, is to understand that life is not random but that we are part of the divine drama of redemption, God’s wonderful plan to redeem what has been made bad. Therefore Paul tells us “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert (watchful for what Satan is up to) and always keep on praying for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
When I lay in United Hospital battling for my life, the consistent theme of my most intimate prayer partners who came to St. Paul to pray for me was that this was not primarily about illness but about a spiritual battle being fought behind the scenes. The only way to fight a spiritual battle is through prayer. Thus the greatest gift we can give one another as Paul wrote above is to keep on praying for all of God’s people.
The evil one thinks he has won when bad things happen to us – when life comes undone. He is counting on the fact that we will respond with bitterness and forsake God: that we will blame God and turn our backs on him. But every time we respond with faith and trust, he is defeated. Every time we turn toward God in boldness and embrace His will Satan is proven to be the liar, thief and fake that he is.
When we, like Job continue to trust in the face of the destruction of the evil one he loses face, loses the battle and God is honored. When we say, like Jesus, not my will but yours be done he is utterly defeated. Every step of faith, every step of trust, every bold prayer is a defeat for Satan and his forces. And God’s people all around the world prove that Satan is defeated every day in their faithful walk with God in spite of their circumstances. Each of us is part of that divine drama that will one day defeat Satan and his forces for all eternity.
One day we will understand how our particular situation fit into the story behind the story and we will be amazed. And the wonderful thing to know is that Satan has already been defeated – God’s D Day was the cross. But the battle continues until Christ returns and reclaims creation with His people and a new heaven and a new earth. In the meantime, we become the champions of God’s power and grace as we trust Him in the face our own situations.