Ministry is hard. Its demanding, its time consuming, its taxing, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And for those of us in ministry, we do everything we can here to prepare for those challenges. We study the Bible, we pray, we read books on leadership and church planting and outreach and endurance.
But one of the areas we perhaps neglect most to prepare for is the area of spiritual warfare.
I know that when I left Bible school I was not adequately prepared for this…and in reality there is a sense in which no one can be fully prepared. That’s because the enemy of our souls, the devil, doesn’t play fair. He not only can be the source of incredible pain in our lives, but he also exploits that pain as he tries to drive us away from God and participation in the mission of God.
I do not know a single person who has been in ministry for any length of time who has not gone through some really hard times. But when we talk about spiritual warfare, we’re talking about not just the sort of run of the mill challenges we all face, but rather the kind of attacks and events that are meant to derail you from not only ministry but from following Jesus altogether.
I’m reminded here of Jesus’ warning to Peter in Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
And what’s interesting here is that the work of Satan appears to be threat to Peter’s identity in Christ. Notice that Jesus addresses him not as Peter, but as Simon! And this is after Jesus has given him the name Peter (we see this in Luke 6:14—”Simon, whom he also named Peter”). In other words, there seems to be this notion underlying this text that what Satan wants to do ultimately to Peter is undermine Peter’s identity in Christ and get him to go back to who he was before Jesus came along.
And the attacks of Satan in your life and my life ultimately are meant to lead us away from becoming who Jesus wants us to be. This is true not only of Peter, but also true of Jesus. Remember his temptation in the wilderness? In Luke 4 the devil comes to him and says, “if you are the son of God.” What is that? It’s an attack on his identity! Satan even attacks God’s identity. In the garden when Adam and Eve sinned against God, they did so because the serpent got them to question God’s character. He got them to question his identity.
In other words, the enemy often attacks us at the level of our identity. And our identity is really the sum total of what we believe about our self. It’s the ongoing narrative that runs through our minds every minute of every day that tells us if we matter or not and if we have value or not and if our lives have meaning and purpose.
And when Jesus says, Simon, Simon, he seems to be indicating that Satan’s objective is to drag Peter back to a BC time in his life—to a before-Christ period! And we all have a BC season. We all have a way of thinking about ourselves and the world that defined us before Christ showed up in our lives and set us free and called us to follow him.
So let me sort of unpack this a bit more. The name Peter means rock (in Greek Petros is a proper name, but its very close to petra, meaning rock). And in Luke 6:47 Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.”
The name Simon comes from the Hebrew name Simeon, which means “hearer.” And so the idea seems to be that Peter was not just going to be a healer of God‘s word but I doer of God’s word!
And so by changing Simon’s name to Peter, Jesus is saying that he will be one who puts his trust in God’s word. But when he reverts to calling him Simon, he’s saying he will be someone who has stopped trusting in God’s word. And when Peter denies knowing Jesus in Luke 22, that’s exactly what he had done! He had stopped trusting in what Jesus said! When all of the sudden an arrested Messiah didn’t seem too promising, Peter quickly stopped being Petros and went back to being Simon.
And so I want to ask, what kind of spiritual warfare is going on in your life as it relates to your identity? Is Satan suggesting to you that your desires are who you really are even if those desires contradict God’s word? Is Satan telling you that you can’t really trust Jesus because if you could he would have healed your depression, or healed your chronic illness, or saved your loved ones, or kept your family member from dying of COVID? Or perhaps Jesus wouldn’t have allowed you to go through whatever it is you’re going through?
Its not without significance I think that this same Peter would later, after he repented and after Jesus restored him to a position of leadership, Peter would later write these words: 1Pet. 5:8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
And so when the enemy comes and says you’re all messed up…you’re a big pile of bad mistakes made by your parents or the people that raised you and you’re a product of all the bullying you endured in school and all of your own bad decisions…you have to remember that God says that you are fearfully and wonderfully made, the apple of God’s eye, a child of the King created in the image of God, righteous and holy because of what Christ accomplished on the cross!
And the great irony in all of this is that our identity is found, not in any of the popular “selfs”—not in self-fulfillment, self-discovery, or self-actualization (whatever that means). Rather, its found in self-surrender.
Matt. 10:39 “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
And so if you find yourself in the midst of a spiritual battle today, remember that the way out is to follow the lead of our Savior. It is through sacrifice and surrender, the way of downward, not upward, mobility wherein by trusting in the power and provision of the Holy Spirit, we say, “not my will, but your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”