We forget three-fourth of ourselves to be like other people. —Arthur Schopenhauer
Admittedly, we looked a bit odd. It isn’t every day that someone offers to clean the restrooms of a retail carpet store for free. I’m used to surprising people when I walk into their business wearing yellow gloves and carrying a toilet cleaning kit. But even I was taken aback by the response of the store manager this day.
I said, “We’re Christians and we’d like to clean your toilets to show you God’s love in a practical way.” Looking stunned, she answered in a high-pitched voice, “You’re what?”
“As Christians we believe it’s better to give than to receive. We would rather serve than be served. We’d like to serve you by cleaning.”
I think she overreacted with her response: “You know, I have a good mind to call the cops on you. Why don’t you get out of my store—now!”
In spite of her harsh answer, I couldn’t help but smile a bit as I imagined being handcuffed with my yellow gloves on and being hauled into jail—for cleaning without a license!
Something in her tone led me to believe God was moving in her heart, so I wasn’t surprised when she fired back a moment later, “Well, if it makes you feel good to clean our toilets, then go for it.”
We made quick work of the restrooms and I stopped by on the way out the door to let her know we were done. I didn’t expect her to thank us, but I was surprised when she snapped, “Before you leave, I want to talk to you.” As I sat waiting for her to finish with a customer, I felt like an errant child awaiting discipline from the school principal.
When she sat down I could see in her eyes she had experienced some above-average levels of pain in life.
“You guys are from that church down the street, aren’t you?” By her tone I suspected we had done something to offend her so I said, “Yes, that’s us. Did we do something wrong?”
Suddenly she did an about-face from anger to openness. “You know, I’m only twenty-nine years old, but I’ve managed to already thoroughly mess up my life. I’ve been addicted to alcohol and cocaine. I’ve had a child, though I’ve never been married. I’m in a dead-end job. My life seems shattered like a big bag of broken glass. As you were cleaning our toilets a question popped into my mind: Would an addicted, messed-up person like me fit in at your church?”
I was reeling over the rapid change of heart I had just seen and was unprepared for the surprise quiz she’d just thrown at me. I answered her candidly: “You would absolutely fit in at our church! And if you didn’t feel comfortable, we’d start a new one just for addicted carpet-store managers!”
I walked out of the store shaking my head at what I’d just witnessed. This woman had probably spent years outside the church critically watching Christians, but never once thought the message of Christ had anything to offer her. Before my eyes, in a matter of minutes, God’s love became real to her for the first time.
This is an example of what I call “servant warfare”—that is, using the power of kindness to penetrate the spiritually darkened hearts of people with the love of God. With this simple approach to battling darkness, virtually all of us who follow Christ can break the grip of darkness around us. Most Christians, however, have not recognized kindness as a useful weapon of spiritual warfare.
Pretend for a minute that you’re taking an ink blot test, and the words “spiritual warfare” flash before your eyes. What images would come to your mind? If you’ve rubbed shoulders with those in the Body of Christ for awhile, you’ve probably developed some common definitions of spiritual warfare. While there are many models for doing spiritual warfare, not all of them are easily attainable.
For example, some would picture the prayer closet approach: a white-haired saint faithfully “standing in the gap” for hours on end in the privacy of her intimate discourse with God. After years of faithfully developing her prayer skills she is able to plumb the depths of intercession on behalf of those in darkness. Prayer warriors like her pack great spiritual power, but their model for doing spiritual warfare is unattainable for most of us. Possibly one or two of these power house prayer warriors ushered you into Christ through faithful praying.
In contrast to this some would envision spiritual warfare as the actions of a revivalist preacher strutting about on a stage. Though something spiritual is taking place, few present can relate to the approach to ministry they see. The preacher’s volume is far louder than necessary, and he dresses to the nines, wearing expensive clothes, a gold watch and pinkie rings. But his most unusual characteristic is his ability to add an extra syllable to any word in the English language as he prays: “In the nameuh of-uh Jesus-uh, I rebuke-uh . . .” To first-timers his ways seem odd, but the veterans are convinced that everything about the evening is evidence that God is breaking the powers of darkness.
Some associate spiritual warfare with massive rallies where thousands of Christians in a city converge to pray in focused unity. These rallies may draw crowds of up to 50,000 to pray in earnest. The only problem with this model is the huge logistical challenge of gathering so many people.
Others see warfare as identifying and naming the powers that rule over a city or region, then coming against them specifically and binding them in the name of the Lord. Christians who practice this form of warfare consider it mandatory that evil be taken on with great fervor. They are convinced that taking a strong-arm approach is the best way to deal with the powers of darkness.
All these models of spiritual warfare are valid and are, in my experience, at least somewhat effective. However, they all have one problem: They’re too expensive! The average Christian can’t afford what these approaches cost in terms of time, experience, gifting or courage. Not many of us are prayer warriors or revival preachers or fervent intercessors. But that’s OK; there’s another option.
I’ve discovered that we can effectively battle darkness without significantly changing our current patterns of living. In recent years I have expanded my spiritual warfare arsenal to include a powerful weapon that has been all but overlooked in the church today. It’s the practical, non-threatening weapon that penetrated the defenses of the skeptical carpet store manager: kindness! Whether you recognize it or not, the kindness that already resides in you is a powerful tool for changing the spiritual state of things in your world.
I have often made the mistake of thinking that the words new and improved necessarily belong together. Perhaps you’ve had occasion to test a new product that promised an easier way of doing things, only to discover that the old, simpler approach worked better. That wisdom proves true in the spiritual realm as well as the physical one.
My dad had a friend who served in the Marines as a sniper during the Vietnam War in the early 1960s. Earl’s job, plainly stated, was to sneak up on enemy troops and shoot them. He was trained to use a high-powered rifle with a special scope that could pick off the enemy from several hundred yards. After some months of training he was adequate at handling his weapon, but the rifle just didn’t feel comfortable. Earl was raised in the Ozark region of southern Missouri where he developed skill in using homemade slingshots. As a kid he had hunted with slingshots and had bagged many game animals with his homemade weapons. He’d spent every day of his childhood summers exploring the woods near him with a slingshot almost constantly in his back pocket.
One day while out on patrol in the jungle of Vietnam, Earl thought, I could do better with the weapon I began with back in Missouri! On his own, without the permission of his superior officer, Earl gathered surgical rubber, some pipe, and ball bearings and assembled an Ozark-style slingshot. With a little practice he was able to hit a target accurately with great force. The best thing about his new weapon was its almost complete silence. While he was grateful for the technology available in the scoped rifle, he decided to go with the approach that worked best for him. His commanding officer was stunned to hear of this unorthodox approach to warfare, but no one could argue with his results. At the end of his duty Earl received an award of merit for his ingenuity!
If Christians are to make progress in spiritual warfare, I think we need to see an army of Earls raised up who are willing to move in the power of the Holy Spirit and be themselves in Christ at the same time. Earl may have been out of step with the standard procedures of his day, but he had the honesty and common sense to use what worked for him.
Most of us can’t relate to the complex or intense approaches to warfare that currently abound in the church and unfortunately don’t see ourselves as soldiers sent by God to battle darkness in an active way. The conclusion for most is, “Darkness is real, but I can’t do much to change it, so why even worry about it?”
The good news is that we all have a perfect weapon for battling darkness right in our back pockets. What we need is a little encouragement simply to be who we are in Christ and to use what we already have at our disposal. The power of kindness resides in every follower of Christ. When we learn to wield it, we change the world.
I became convinced of this truth when I attended a healing conference some years ago. As part of the prayer team I was asked to investigate a commotion that was taking place in a corner of the room. As I walked through the crowd watching the ruckus I heard one lady say, “It’s OK, the ones praying for the guy are pastors.” It was an odd sight: A man lay on the carpet with his back bowed so that only his head and heels touched the ground. Standing over him were three pastors, two trying to hold him down while the third waved his Bible and prayed loudly. Clearly they were not making progress, so when I offered to help they gladly handed the man off to me and offered to do anything they could to help.
I explained that I was no expert in these kinds of settings, but I would give it a shot. My first idea was to get the man a cup of water. The pastors asked, “How is that going to help free him from the power of darkness that’s gripping him?”
“After all of the intense groaning he’s been through,” I answered, “his mouth must be dry, so let’s help him out.”
After this man had been touched by my practical care, he trusted me enough to let down his defenses. Instead of opposing the aggressive approach that had been coming his way, he opened his heart and let me lead him in a prayer. Within a few minutes the bondage he had been in was broken and his body relaxed.
The pastors were curious about what they’d just seen and asked, “What was that all about? We were using the authority of the Lord, so why didn’t we get results?”
“Well, sometimes God’s authority comes in small, quiet ways,” I said. “You just need to expand your arsenal a little.”
1. What models or images of spiritual warfare have you encountered?
2. Do you see any problems with these models for the average Christian who wants to use them?
3. In what ways do you see these models as costly?
4. Do you consider yourself a “prayer warrior”? If yes, what price have you paid to become one? If no, what has kept you from becoming one?
5. Consider the definition given of servant warfare: using the power of kindness to penetrate the spiritually darkened hearts of people with the love of God. What is the tool mentioned here? What is the function of that tool? What is die ultimate result of the tool’s use?
6. If you could not picture yourself involved in spiritual warfare before, can you now picture yourself participating in servant warfare? If yes, what caused the change in your thinking?
7. Would an “addicted, messed-up person” fit into your congregation? How would members respond to this person?