But after Patrick the eviler gods shrank in stature and became much less troublesome, became in fact the comical gargoyles of medieval imagination, peering fearfully from undignified nooks, and the belief grew strong that the one thing the devil cannot bear is laughter.Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, p. 149
“You see those peacock doors?” my friend asked as we drove along a major road in our new neighborhood. “That’s where The Sheikh lives. He is super rich from all the people that come to him for – what do you call it in English? You know, when someone uses paper and verses from the Qur’an to curse someone’s enemies?”
“You mean spells?”
“Yes! Spells. He charges $35 for a basic spell – and dozens of people come to him every day. So many women come to curse families that they are fighting with. And he’s been doing it for decades.”
“Is that legal? Does the whole city know about him?” I asked.
“Ha! Yes, the government won’t stop it. And he’s super famous. Everyone knows what he does.”
“So do people come to him for blessing spells as well? Like if they want their child to recover from an illness?”
“Oh yes, that too. Spells for cursing and for blessing. And $35 is only for the most basic ones. He charges a lot more for the bigger jobs.”
“It’s just like Melanesia,” I said, shaking my head. “Every village had a man called a sangumaman, and he was basically the village witch doctor, cursing and blessing (for the right price), helping people try to manipulate the spirits.”
We drove along and passed a shiny new shopping mall, a place seemingly proclaiming the triumph of globalized commercialism over the superstitions of the past. It felt a world away from the strange peacock doors we had passed just a few minutes beforehand. I remembered again the subtle trap of believing that modernization in terms of businesses and other external infrastructure was actually changing the inner worldview of the culture. It isn’t – or at least it isn’t any time soon. What do they do when their child is deathly sick? That was always an important test in Melanesia for locals and professing believers. I didn’t expect it to have such a direct parallel here in Central Asia. Apparently folk Islam is still alive and well and running a profit right under our noses.
“You know,” I said to my friend, “someday one of us believers might need to challenge The Sheikh, and tell him that his most powerful spells can’t affect a faithful believer who’s got the Holy Spirit living inside of them. Now that would be an interesting contest. And when his curse failed, then I bet the whole city would know about it.”
“I’m down bro, when do we do it? He has destroyed so many families. Let’s take him down!”
I smiled at my friend’s enthusiasm. That day could very well come. But we certainly won’t go searching out that kind of confrontation. If the Lord clearly asked us to confront him, we would. I’ve read enough missionary biographies to know that the witch doctor has real power – but that he doesn’t stand a chance against the Holy Spirit. And though we are planning for a subtler route for gospel impact, sometimes that kind of direct confrontation is exactly what is needed for breakthrough.
I am reminded one of the main points of Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Holy Spirit. That point is simply that over and over again when the Holy Spirit appears in the Old Testament, it it for this purpose: to go to war. Sooner or later, He will come for The Sheikh. And on that day all The Sheikh’s little spells will fail him.
One of my refugee friends had come to faith. In the rough and tumble season of his early years as a believer, he had a very hard time believing the Bible in some of its teachings about the spiritual realm. This friend had a mixed religious and philosophical background, with Central Asian communism being one of his main influences. Hence the skepticism about angels and demons. At one point of crisis he lost his housing and moved in with another Central Asian refugee, S., an Iranian man who had claimed to be a Christian and who had been granted religious asylum in the US. My friend had only been there a few weeks when he called me up, sounding very disturbed.
“Brother, let’s go for a drive. I really have to talk to you about something,” he said.
“Sure thing, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
At that point we lived in an apartment complex full of Americans living in near-poverty and refugees who had been resettled from several dozen nations. I drove over to the complex next door, where my friend lived. This one was mostly full of Nepalese refugees, but had a few Central Asian residents like S. My friend came out and hopped in the passenger seat of my little ’95 Honda Civic, which my Iraqi friends had dubbed “baby camel” because of its amazing gas mileage.
Not for the last time, my friend and I went on a meandering drive together, working our way around the roads of south Louisville while discussing something of deep spiritual import.
“Brother, I now believe in demons!” my friend started off.
“Really?” I said as I turned to glance at him. “Well… good. They’re biblical, you know. What happened?”
I remembered back to the numerous conversations we had had about the spiritual realm, where my friend had stubbornly refused to believe in demons as the Bible presented them. It was not that I was so very experienced in this area myself, but I had grown up on the mission field (in an animistic culture) and my parents had been involved in at least one direct encounter with the demonic. Then there’s all the sober accounts from missionary biographies and church history, which present quite a strong case to even the most skeptical Christian. Beyond all these, there’s the Scriptures themselves, which talk about the demonic as a quite literal fact of life in this fallen world and an enemy particularly exposed through the ministry of Jesus Christ. The Bible also presents demons as an enemy still occasionally dealt with by Christ’s followers in the beginning of the Church, without any indication that they would disappear entirely in this age.
“Brother,” my friend continued, “Since moving in with S., I’ve been sleeping on the couch. It’s only a one bedroom apartment. Well, last night I fell asleep while reading my Bible. But I was woken up in the middle of the night by the television turning on and off by itself.”
As usually happens when friends describe things like this to me, the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
“It was flickering on and off all by itself, then other lights started flickering on and off by themselves also!”
“So what did you do?” I asked.
“Well, I was laying there under my blanket, afraid to move. Then I heard S. laughing and I saw a glimpse of him running up and down the hallway. When I got up to see what he was doing, I looked in his bedroom and saw that he was still in bed, fast asleep! But then at the same time I whirled around, hearing him laughing hysterically and running around the kitchen! He was somehow, impossibly, in two places at once – fast asleep yet running around the apartment laughing. This was when I became truly terrified.”
We sat still at a traffic light, somewhere on Dixie highway, my eyes open wide in astonishment. My formerly materialist friend had no motive to be making up this story about his new roommate who had just graciously given him a place to live. He continued.
“I went back to the living room, turned on all the lights, and started reading my Bible out loud. I didn’t dare stop for the rest of the night. Nothing else happened, but I was too afraid to go back to sleep. Then this morning at breakfast, I confronted S. about it.”
“Wow. What in the world did he say?”
“S. confessed to me that he’s always had this problem. He said, ‘They follow me wherever I go. So I move houses a lot. Whenever I move, it seems to get better for a while, but then they always come back. Whatever you do, don’t try to talk to them or stop them,’ he said. ‘One of my former roommates tried. They got angry with him and hit him in the head, and he lost his hearing.'”
My friend was clearly shaken up by this terrifying night. He continued, “I don’t know what to do. But I now know they are real, just like the Bible says. I was a fool to remain a materialist in this matter.”
“Well,” I responded, “I’m sorry this happened. But I’m glad you believe what the Bible says now about this. S. probably thinks they follow him, but the Bible seems to teach that they are somehow within him. Demons are almost always connected to people in the Scriptures. That’s probably why he can’t get rid of them when he moves houses. Let’s make a plan, you and me. The next time you see S., ask him if we can pray for him. Together with maybe a couple other believing brothers, we’ll gather and lay hands on him and pray. I’ve never done this before, but I believe that we can help S. if we gather, pray over him, read scripture, and trust in the power of Jesus over whatever is going on with him spiritually. There’s some phony stuff that some churches get into, but Jesus’ followers have done this sort of thing quietly for 2,000 years.”
“I’ll ask him,” my friend agreed.
“Bro,” I said, unable to avoid feeling a little vindicated. “You should have believed the Bible! What a terrible way to find out the demonic is real!”
“I know!” my friend said, laughing and shaking his head, “I know. I have been thoroughly convinced.”
We both shivered, trying to shake off the creepiness of the whole affair.
Our plan set in place, I dropped my friend off and sent out a text for prayer. Strangely, right after this, S. disappeared, abandoning his apartment and never coming into contact with us again. I can only speculate as to why he ran off, but it probably had something to do with the fact that we were ready to pray for him. Perhaps the spirits tormenting him got wind of this plan and caused him to flee. Years later I heard from other refugees that they had seen him, that he no longer professed to be a Christian, and that he had gotten deeply involved in drugs. I pray that wherever he ends up, there will eventually be a community of believers who will be able to befriend him and pray over him, that he might experience the freedom from the demonic that Jesus gives.
As for my friend and me, it was a good but hard lesson in believing the Bible, even when it contradicts our experience. Whatever our “enlightened” cultures might claim, the demonic is real. We need not be fixated on it, but I pray that if we ever get another chance to directly pray for a demonized person, that we will be ready, and that we will see the delivering power of Jesus displayed in that unique and merciful way.
Make sure you listen until the song takes a defiant turn just after the 3:20 mark. What a difference is made by knowing the identity of Wormwood and one’s own identity.
... I have always known you You have always been there in my mind Now I understand you And I will not be part of your designs I know who I am now And all that you made of me I know who you are now And I name you my enemy I know who I am now I know who I wanna be I want to be more than This devil inside of me ...
“Dear Wormwood” by the Oh Hellos.
It’s becoming somewhat well-known that many Muslims have a dream about Jesus as a part of their journey to faith. These dreams don’t save them, but they are often full of biblical language and imagery. They function as an important piece of how a Muslim comes to realize the gospel is true.
This dynamic might seem strange or suspicious to Westerners. But when we step back and take the big view of biblical history and church history, we see that God has regularly used dreams to advance his purposes. Among the faithful, spiritual dreams have not served to undermine God’s inerrant written word, which many believers are rightly concerned about.
It’s really only in the last couple hundred years in the West that spiritual dreams have become abnormal. Apparently, even the Southern Baptist Convention has a history linked to dreams. During the first Great Awakening, Shubal Stearns became the founder of the Sandy Creek Association, the Baptist church-planting movement in North Carolina that sparked the planting of Baptist churches all over the southern United States. Why did Shubal Stearns leave New England to plant churches in the South? According to the Baptist historian Gregory Wills, he had a dream where Jesus told him to. So he went to North Carolina and got to work. Church history overflows with these kinds of stories. Stearns’ story may be obscure, but Patrick’s is definitely not. Neither is the testimony of the late Nabeel Qureshi.
If God can use dreams to advance his purposes, it shouldn’t surprise us that the enemy would also seek to use dreams. It’s clear from scriptural example that God and angels have access to the dreams of believers and unbelievers (Gen 20:3, Gen 31:24, 1 Kings 3:5, Dan 2:28, Joel 2:28, Matt 2:12-13, Acts 16:9). It’s not quite as clear from scripture that the enemy has access to dreams (Deut 13, Jer 29:8), but if we remember that Satan and his demons are simply fallen angels, then by inference there is a case to be made that they also can have access to dreams. Many have certainly experienced this on the mission field.
Here is a prayer update from one of our teammates last week:
Pray for my friend. He has heard the gospel for many years and has always claimed to not care about spiritual things or eternity. Recently, he’s been straying from Islam and his mother received a dream warning her that her son was distancing himself from their faith. She confronted him, asked that he return to their faith, and he came back, more devout then ever. However, he confessed to me he is not satisfied and was disturbed by this dream. After sharing the gospel with him he now seems more open to following Jesus than ever.
What is going on when something like this happens? This young man has very close friends who are followers of Jesus who have been regularly sharing the gospel with him. Someone or something is playing serious defense. The enemy apparently sent a dream to this man’s mother, hoping that it would have the powerful effect of scaring them all back into a stricter Islam. Why would God allow this? Interestingly, it looks like this disturbing event might be used by God to make this young man even more open to Jesus than he was before. In other words, it may backfire.
Pray that it does.
We shouldn’t be overly fixated on dreams. Yet an honest survey of the scriptures, church history, and even contemporary evangelical missionaries makes a good case that we should probably find spiritual dreams somewhat normal – though always subject to testing by the word of God. Honestly, the modern propensity to make it merely psychological seems to be the outlier here.
What do we do when God or the enemy sends our friends a dream? Same as always – make a beeline to the Scriptures, share the gospel, and recommit to earnest prayer. Dreams do not save. But God does use them powerfully, and the enemy attempts to also.