Prayer - Blog

How to Pray Through Spiritual Warfare

Ross McCall

“Spiritual warfare” is a phrase you might hear some Christians use, but the truth is many people do not fully know what it is, or what to do about it.

One way to explain spiritual warfare is by comparing it to physical war. Historical battles were often about controlling territory for political or economic power. Spiritual warfare is the battle for control over people’s souls.

Whether you believe in and follow Him or not, God created you for a reason. He created you to know Him and experience His love. He created you for you to love others as you love yourself and to use your skills and talents for the good of the world — to point people to Him.

However, God has an enemy, who is known as Satan or the devil. Because he is an enemy to God and God’s people, he is sometimes referred to as simply “the enemy.”

Satan is committed to preventing people from knowing God and trusting Him with their lives. The enemy’s tactics may differ depending on whether someone is already a Christian or not, but his ultimate purpose is always to keep people from experiencing the love of God.

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” — 2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV

Whether you feel under spiritual attack right now, you know someone else who might be or you just want to understand spiritual warfare better, below are some resources to help you understand this topic and how to use one of the greatest tools God has given us in our battle: prayer.

Here are some essentials we will cover in understanding and praying about spiritual warfare:

How Are You Involved in Spiritual Warfare?

Spiritual warfare sounds like a battle between God and His enemies. So what does it have to do with humanity?

If you have chosen to begin a personal relationship with God, then you know that you have asked Him to be in control of your life. But part of you wants to take back control and continues to put up an internal fight.

You might even feel like there is a battle going on inside your mind some of the time. Do you have days when you struggle to believe what the Bible says about God, or about you? That’s completely natural. But lies — especially subtle ones — are one of the enemy’s favorite tactics.

Know Your Enemies

The Bible teaches that three forces are battling with God for ownership of your heart: the world, the flesh and the devil. Thankfully, God is stronger than all of them.

The world and spiritual warfare

Societies and cultures in the world encourage people to think and act in certain ways. Some elements of every society or culture can point you toward Jesus, some are neither good nor bad, and some directly conflict with your ability to follow Jesus and maintain a strong connection with God.

The things a culture values — whatever it focuses its attention on — are usually a clear indicator of the position God’s commandments are given in it. In our Western culture, physical appearance, personal success and freedom from responsibility to the wider community are just three examples of things the world encourages you to put before God.

Scripture states that to walk closely with God, you need to be alert to the ways you are influenced by the people around you.

For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world.
(1 John 2:16, New International Version)

Prayer tip:
As you pray regularly, ask God if there are ways you are putting something the world values before Him in your life.

The flesh and spiritual warfare

Although the influence of the world around you is very real, you also need to be aware that the struggle to turn away from God can come from within you — from your own sin and your own desires.

The apostle Paul, who helped spread the early church as a missionary and wrote much of the New Testament, struggled with his flesh. He gave us a great picture of what this struggle feels like:

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
(Romans 7:21-23, The Message)

Prayer tip:
Ask God to search your heart and make you aware of ways you might be choosing to be the god of your own life. As He reveals things to you, ask for His forgiveness and the strength to live according to His plan for you.

The devil and spiritual warfare

Ultimately, the devil has already been defeated by what Jesus did when He died on a cross. Jesus’s resurrection from the dead demonstrates that He won the victory over death. But the devil wants to blind people to the truth of what Jesus has done.

The devil’s attempts to send people off course in their relationship with God go right back to the beginning of the human story. He was the author of the first temptation humankind faced.

The temptation of Adam and Eve, which is recorded in Genesis 3, provides a clear picture of what you can expect from the devil:

  • He is more crafty than any wild animal.

  • He comes alongside you pretending to be an ally.

  • He deceives you by trying to bend the truth God speaks to you.

  • He tries to plant doubts in your mind about the things God has said.

  • He wants you to think God is restricting you when in reality He is protecting you.

  • He encourages you to rebel against God by telling you that you deserve to be the ultimate authority of Your life.

  • He uses your pride and your sense of shame to turn you against others.

Be mindful that your enemy, the devil, is real. He is single-minded and dangerous, so be wise in how you conduct your warfare with him. If you follow Jesus, God has given you incredible resources by placing the Holy Spirit within you, but you need to resist letting your pride tempt you to try to fight the enemy on your own.

Prayer tip:
If you feel under attack from the devil in some way, bring that to God in prayer. Thank Him for the protection only He can give and let Him fight on your behalf.

Fighting Spiritual Battles the Jesus Way

Throughout His life on earth, Jesus faced spiritual warfare in many forms. He was tested by the devil during His 40 days in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). He was provoked, falsely accused and verbally abused by people who did not like what He was saying. And it’s important to remember that Jesus was a man — fully human — so He faced all the temptations any other man would face.

But He never lost any of His spiritual battles. Even His wrongful conviction and execution on the cross, which looked like bitter defeat, were ultimately His greatest victory. So what examples does Jesus give about using prayer in spiritual warfare?

Jesus created space to be alone with God

Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
(Luke 5:16, NIV)

Many times in the Gospels, Jesus withdrew from situations interpreted as scenes of spiritual warfare. One example is when Jesus heard the news that His cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed by Herod. It never says that He retreated from His enemy. Instead, He withdrew from a particular place.

There is nothing wrong with praying in a coffee shop or while walking in a public place. But it’s important to take regular time alone with God, preferably as free from distractions as possible.

Jesus wanted to give God His full attention and spend time with His heavenly Father. If even Jesus needed to withdraw from crowds and His friends to be alone with God — and Jesus is God — how much more do His followers need to do the same?

Taking time alone with God reminds you that He is ready and waiting to spend time alone with you, healing your wounds and renewing your strength.

Watch this video to learn more about praying with your Bible and a journal.

Jesus combined prayer with fasting

Fasting can help raise your awareness of your need to depend on God. The Bible teaches that fasting can enhance your ability to hear from God as you prioritize Him above your physical needs.

It’s worth noting that Jesus was fasting during His forty days in the wilderness. This was immediately before Jesus began His public ministry. The devil must have felt threatened by what Jesus was doing given the efforts He went to trying to distract Jesus from His mission. Jesus saw fasting as a weapon of spiritual warfare.

Fasting is something that needs to be undertaken wisely given the physical implications. Learn more about this aspect of spiritual warfare by exploring this Fasting Starter Kit.

Prayer tip:
Look up verses in the Bible about Jesus praying and make a list of ideas that you can try yourself. Take time this week to practice one of the lessons you learn from Jesus’ example.

The Holy Spirit’s Role in Spiritual Warfare

God is three persons in one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the most often misunderstood member of this Trinity. But to experience consistent victory in spiritual warfare, it’s crucial to know and understand His role in your life.

After Jesus was raised from death, He appeared to His closest friends and followers. They were scared and confused. They did not know what was going to happen to them because they felt surrounded by enemies, including the Jewish authorities. But Jesus knew this, and He knew the spiritual battles that lay ahead of them.

As He met with them, He commissioned them for the work of making Him known throughout the world — the same work Christians today are invited to join and one of the reasons Satan is so determined to wage war on Christians.

Jesus wanted His friends to have peace and clarity for their spiritual battles. So He told them that their greatest source of strength, His Holy Spirit, would now live within them: “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.’ And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22, NIV).

God is someone completely separate and different from humanity. But Jesus entered humanity and experienced the same struggles. When He was leaving to return to His Father in heaven, He left the greatest gift He could. He offered everyone the chance to experience His own presence living within them — His Holy Spirit.

So as you experience spiritual warfare, you are not just looking for strength from outside yourself or from the tools God gives you, such as prayer and the Bible. God is working within you, giving you everything you need to live the way you are designed to as His child.

Praying With Other Believers

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
(James 5:13-16, English Standard Version)

Not only is it pleasant and encouraging to pray with other followers of Jesus, but it’s also crucial to your success in spiritual warfare. When you admit to others the things you struggle with, the sin that you’re wrestling with — that is, the decisions you make that go against God’s best for you — and even the sickness you experience, and you pray for each other, it is so you can be healed.

The fact that God designed for you to experience freedom from your sin, struggles and even sickness through praying with others clearly shows He doesn’t intend for you to go through spiritual battles or any part of life alone.

Engaging a community of fellow believers is vital to persevering and overcoming spiritual warfare.

What Does Victory Look Like in Spiritual Warfare?

God encourages you to be bold in the things you pray for.

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
(Mark 11:24, NIV)

If you feel like only God could win the spiritual battle you are fighting, you’re right. Bring it to Him in prayer and let Him do what He does best: fight your battles.

Spiritual warfare will often look like major challenges in your life. But you will also face battles that are more internal than external. The enemy wants to put as much distance between you and your heavenly Father as he can. His tactics often involve exploiting very human emotions, such as shame, disappointment, insecurity and loneliness.

Victory might look like overcoming a clear obstacle to your faith, such as persecution of some kind relating to what you believe. But on a day-to-day level, victory will often be demonstrated by your perseverance through any circumstance that might cause you to question whether you can trust God.

It’s very tempting to hold God responsible for things in your life that don’t go the way you want (and also easy to forget to thank Him when they do). But the Bible reminds us that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV).

When it comes to using prayer as a weapon of spiritual warfare, victory is fundamentally about trust. Do you believe that your battles are His battles? Do you trust that when you bring a heartfelt need to God, He hears you and will respond?

So your victory may look like your willingness to continue believing in a salvation that the world tells you is ridiculous.

When it comes to using prayer as a weapon of spiritual warfare, victory is fundamentally about trust. Do you believe that your battles are His battles? Do you trust that when you bring a heartfelt need to God, He hears you and will respond?

The Bible says the Lord will fight for you and that Jesus has already won the ultimate victory by defeating death on your behalf on the cross. His resurrection was the declaration of victory in the war to end all wars.

But until Jesus returns or calls you home to heaven, spiritual warfare will remain a reality in your life. God wants you to experience a sense of victory in the battles you face. Prayer is His chosen means of offering that to you. That’s why it is often said that victory in this conflict is won on your knees.

Scriptures That Help You Pray Through Spiritual Warfare

Try using the following verses from the Bible as prayers when you are battling the world, the flesh or the devil. You can even insert your own name or the name of someone you are praying for to personalize the verse.

  • 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NIV)
    “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

  • Isaiah 54:17 (NIV)
    “‘No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the LORD.”

  • John 8:32 (NIV)
    “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

  • 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)
    “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

  • John 15:7 (NIV)
    “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

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