ESSAY: Land of the Spirits: An Exploration of Spiritual Warfare in the African Context

index  A Lengthy Essay Explaining What Is Truly Meant By the Term “Zombie”

Spiritual warfare is prevalent in every country and continent on the globe, however, not everyone is aware of the tremendous impacts it can have on individuals and entire nations. In the West, there is a temptation to relegate spiritual warfare to the sidelines thinking that it is not a topic that is that relevant to daily living. Even within many Christian churches, warfare is considered to be something that only pertains to missionaries in the majority world, far removed from what churches experience here in North America. Yet, for the African population, spiritual warfare is something that is a very real and serious presence. To the African people, warfare occurs daily, is often the cause of much stress and tumult, and is something to be feared. Many Africans remain unaware of the power of Christ that could free them from this evil presence and yet there are not enough missionaries who go to Africa being fully equipped to deal with this reality. Instead of having missionaries teach them about how Christ triumphs over the darkness, Africans are finding that the missionaries from the West often deny the ever present reality of the demonic, or else do not know how to exercise the strength and authority they have in Christ. The thrust of this essay, then, will be to explain the need for Western missionaries to receive proper training and to become fully aware of the role that Spiritual Warfare has in the African context if they are truly to reach out to this nation. Through using a variety of written resources as well as occasionally nuancing personal stories of missionaries and native Africans from the field, this essay will draw out some key beliefs that the Africans share about spiritual warfare and its dangerous effects as well as provide modern relevance to western missionaries, and finally provide a framework for the breaking down on strongholds. While each African nation might have slightly different culturally and theological practices in terms of warfare, this essay will seek to highlight the views which are shared by the majority of the African contexts.

The African Spiritual Climate: To begin with, it is very important that Western missionaries understand the culture to which they are entering into when they step foot onto African terrain. African culture is very different than Western culture in that whereas Western culture often ignores the reality and seriousness of the demonic, African culture knows it all too well. This is because the very basis of spirituality in the African perspective encompasses “the whole range of life” with humanity being only a very small part of it.[1] Instead, everything exists because of invisible beings and as a result all African religious practices, doctrines, and attitudes consist of making sense of these invisible beings.[2]

In Africa there are many different traditional religions known as ATRs. At the core of the ATRs is a belief that there is a hierarchy of gods and goddesses which includes both spiritual beings as well as impersonal magical forces.[3] These gods and goddesses then each have special forces and include certain religious rites which are the basis for the accumulation of power.[4] Some of these links may include such aspects as: maintaining and exercising spiritual control through amulets, incantations, witchcraft, sorcery, and charms, the bestowal of certain names which have significant spiritual power, rituals that restore and balance spiritual power, and finally enlisting the help of a spiritual person who can mysteriously communicate with the other world of ancestors, spirits, and ghosts.[5] The people who possess these powers are often knownvin the African context as being spiritists, diviners, mediums, witches, wizards, and sorcerers.[6]

In the African context, nothing happens simply by chance but every consequence whether positive or negative is the result of spirits, demons, and ancestors. Spirits are the cause of one’s misfortune or success, one’s future possibilities, and even of the moral fabric of the society.[7] Everything flows from the reality of the spirit world: the very foundations not only of religion, but also of philosophy, politics, the economy, and socio-cultural realities.[8] It is largely accepted that these beings are neither inherently good nor bad but rather choose to reward or punish individuals, families, and tribes according to the way people choose to respond and show allegiance to them.[9] Therefore, by appeasing the gods and serving them, it is thought that misfortune can be prevented from occurring to an individual. Conversely, if an individual chooses to disobey the spirit through breaking a religious taboo or neglecting sacrifices these beings will then cause severe trouble to the individual and his or her tribe and family through creating disharmony, behavioural difficulties, illness, or even death.[10] These attacks, then, serve not only as a warning to the person in question, but also as an invitation or initiation of a potential “ongoing relationship between the spirit and victim, perhaps to the mutual advantage of both.”[11] It is believed that when a terrible event occurs, the reason behind it can always be explained as demonic or of a different cause if brought to the attention of one who has the gifts of divination.[12]

In the African context there three main types of spirits not all of whom are evil or cause division and hardship. To begin, the strongest and perhaps most important spirit is that of the ancestor.[13] Although departed from their earthly existence, these spirits are still very much seen as being members of the family and are revered as such.[14] They are often invoked to bring good luck, to bring a bountiful harvest or good hunt, and to hear and intercede for the prayer requests offered by their families.[15] These spirits are generally not wicked but rather represent the values and ideals of a group of people, in this case their family.[16] They are generally good spirits who protect the family and help individuals fight against the evil spirits and natural disasters which can take place.[17] They have a special standing within the clan as mediators and guiders who provide caution and warnings to families.[18] They also often create harmony amongst family units when prayers for success and fertility are addressed to them.[19] These benevolent spirits exist within the framework of hierarchy, beginning with immediate ancestors and moving up to other greater spirits until finally the Creator God is reached.[20]

The second type of spirit commonly referred to in the African worldview is Zar or Bori. Unlike the ancestors which have links to moral order, these spirits set out to create disruption often choosing individuals to afflict at random.[21]   These spirits may enter into an individual and then cause extreme pain, illness, or even death.[22]

Lastly, there are tribal gods which war against other territories and villages. These gods war against each other in order to maintain allegiances generally based on ethnicity and territory.[23] The winning or losing of a war is then dependent on the success or weakness of the gods or spirits.[24] These gods, which take up residence  in a specific geographical location or even in an inanimate object seek to protect individuals who live within their realm, yet if defeated, the allegiance the individuals have to the god must be transferred over to the more powerful god who won the war.[25] When a shifting of allegiance takes place, it frequently mirrors the “power encounters”  described in dramatic conversions to Pentecostal Christianity.[26]

How the Demons Got There: In African understanding, the entire world – in, above, and below consists of spirit beings such as gods, ancestors, ghosts, and even nature spirits.[27] Gods inhabit humans, animals, inanimate objects, and geographical locations.[28] These gods often serve as persecutors, intimidating and cajoling others into giving their allegiance to them and vying for power through fighting other gods in order to accumulate more respect from the clan.[29] Their main purpose is to control and manipulate the will and minds of the peoples, tribes, and nations that they have influence and perceived power over.[30] Yet, one may wonder how the spirits originally found their place in the lives of the African people.

Evil spirits gain entrance in a variety of ways and due to a variety of factors. Spirits like the Zar and Bori, find a gateway through improper burial, death away from home, identification of witches, dead animals, and even spirits who were always created as spirits.[31] Others may gain entrance through demonic strongholds such as curses proclaimed by slaves or through sorcery and dark magic.[32] In one specific case, Van der Meer has identified five major strongholds in Mali: “pride, mammon, Islam, disunity, and a territorial spirit with [sic] a symbol of three crocodiles.”[33] This is one example of what strongholds are present in this continent.

Once the spirits have initially gained entrance, they remain for a variety of reasons. In some instances they demand certain favours to be carried out in exchange for protection and blessings on the individual.[34] In the case of ancestral spirits they may remain until a taboo has been amended or the fault has been acknowledged and paid for.[35] They also may be summoned if dormant by a witch or wizard who calls them forth through evil magic and bids them to inflict the mind of an individual so that that person begins to act insane or to cause that person economic misfortune.[36] Spirits can also be summoned through the use of magic medicine, occasionally producing good results in the patient but in an ungodly way.[37] Lastly, it is even thought that certain person are truly “children of the devil” if they act wickedly, thus implying that they are being used by demons to bring about certain ploys.[38]

Another severe demonic stronghold in Africa results from the slave trade.  The history and present context of which still impacts the current spiritual climate of the African continent.  The horrors of the American slave trade are common knowledge. While this essay will not get into any demonic influences on the part of the Americans who bought and sold Africans, it will highlight some of the ways that African attitudes may have created demonic strongholds. Many Africans went through tremendous pain and suffering in this era and so it is of no surprise that many of them proclaimed curses on themselves, on their ethnicity and pigmentation of skin, and even on Africa as a whole.[39] While Westerners must exercise extreme compassion in this case putting themselves in the position of the slaves and understanding the atrocities they went through and why this would be a natural response, one cannot ignore the fact that the curses spoken by the slaves then developed into having significant spiritual impacts on their descendants both in “the Caribbean and Americas as well as in the continent of Africa.”[40] Therefore, in order to reverse these curses, intercessory prayer, “identificational repentance, and  proclaiming release in the spiritual realm” are necessary in order to break these bonds and undue the effects the slave trade had on this nation.[41] While not ignoring or downplaying the terrible incidences which took place, such proclamation frees the continent from having to continue to face further slavery due to the being in bondage to the spirits which have claimed them due to these  curses.

The second way that slavery has had a profound effect on the African nation is through the use of zombies. Despite the West’s fascination with the so-called “Zombie Apocalypse”, zombies are a serious issue in African spiritual warfare; which should not be taken lightly. In Africa, witchcraft is one of the biggest economic factors explaining material inequalities and helps people understand the way power and wealth is amassed.[42]  Witches continue to build up their economic repertoire by kidnapping individuals and then forcing them to work as night labourers most often in agricultural fields, yet occasionally in other ways such as in shops or markets.[43] As in typical cases of slavery, zombification exploits gender and age imbalance with the person of perceived power, usually a member of the family who is older, taking a younger person who is poor and using them for the witch’s own purposes.[44] This imbalance of familial power, however, is not uncommon in the African worldview which often finds the majority of its attacks coming from within familial units.[45] Once enslaved, the zombies are ill-treated, not offered proper nutrition and often having  to resort to cannibalization.[46] The cannibalization results from witches sending recruits to hospitals where infants who have died at birth are stolen. The flesh of the babies is then eaten by the zombies which has occult significance as the “consumption of flesh and blood suggests the destruction of the reproductive process as it is in the small babies that are consumed.”[47]

In his synopsis, Hasu describes two main variations of zombies in the African context. Firstly, there are individuals who are perceived to have died a suspicious death but in reality have been claimed by witches as zombies.[48] Often, when these zombies are taken, a fake death and funeral is staged, yet the real person remains hidden from view only seen by the witches.[49] The second variation of a zombie is those who are spiritually dead in these cases there is no allegation of a physical death.[50] The good news is that due to pastoral support, prayer, and deliverance, these zombies are able to be brought back to the present world and when this happens it is often interpreted as the biblical injunction of raising someone from the dead.[51] Yet, for the full deliverance of a zombie, all evil spirits must be cast out of him or her so that their true soul can remain.[52] The process must then be finalized through the shaving off of the zombie’s hair in order to sever any ties the zombie still has with the witch he or she was enslaved under for witches often use hair, clothing, and saliva for the purposes of witchcraft.[53]

Warfare and Dedications: In African culture, dedications of people as well as inanimate objects are normative and both provide gateways for the demonic. In personal dedications, people may become possessed due to familial or personal involvement in the occult.[54] In these instances, the doorway is open because a person has consciously made the choice to follow a spirit other than Christ and to be subject to it and to serve it. At other times, a child could be dedicated from birth to a specific god or spirit that is really a demon.[55] Therefore, in these cases families which wish to adopt a child from African countries should be very careful to claim the authority of Christ over this child in case they or someone in their ancestry line was falsely dedicated to an idol.[56]

Moreover, entire territories have been known to dedicate themselves to a god or spirit before.   Such is the case in territorial cults. Although less common now due to colonization and the influence of Western Christianity, these cults exalt a territorial spirit who can produce rain, the longer the people exalt this god the longer he will remain among them.[57]

Secondly, there is the dedication of objects. Given that animism, a belief that spirits inhabit many different items both animate and inanimate, is at the heart of African life, it is no surprise that Satan would use impersonal articles as a means to further his destruction on this nation.[58] These objects are usually dedicated through vows and sacrifices to a spirit and include personal items such as rings, pots, and sticks.[59] As a result, demons often attach themselves to these objects or to the house or building itself which houses these objects.[60] One specific example of this is “Devil’s Hill” located in Sierra Leone. In this particular location, a demonic stronghold was established and has since created much grief and illness to missionaries who have been offered this land by malicious leaders and who were unaware of the impact the demonic had on it.[61]

Impact for Western Missionaries: With the understanding of African spiritual warfare, it becomes important for those who feel a calling to minister in Africa to understand the implications this will have on them. Here, three main lessons can be learned.

Firstly, Western missionaries must be careful not to dismiss everything that happens within the African context as being demonic for all cultures and countries have certain aspects within them which are demonic.[62] Although it is imperative for demonic strongholds to be addressed and dealt with, these should be discovered and analyzed by or with the help of native believers who are more aware of their own contexts rather than missionaries or intercessors from outside of this context.[63]

Secondly, Western missionaries need to be trained in spiritual warfare before going to the field in Africa. Many times Western missionaries lack the knowledge or skills and thus show up in the field naïve or even clueless. Several times, these missionaries have just dismissed spiritual warfare as a figment of the imagination rather than understanding that it is a truly serious and predominant aspect of the culture.[64] Having denied the validity of spirits, then, once demons are encountered in the African context these same missionaries are unaware of how to exercise the authority they have in Christ against them. Many indigenous Africans are recognizing the discrepancy of the powerlessness of the evangelicals versus what is portrayed in Scripture. As a result, due to dissatisfaction with Western Christianity, the Africans then establish their own churches which can give more focus to spiritual warfare and victorious life. These churches then experience numerous healings and exorcisms and “have grown in their own contexts” in greater measures than the African western churches have.[65]

Lastly, missionaries should not be so naïve and inexperienced as to think that demons have no place in the church and to ignore the deliverance of individuals within their own congregations. For in the African mindset, there is a daily battle taking place between the forces of good and evil, between God and the demonic.[66] In fact, in many cases Christianity is not seen as replacing the worldview of evil spirits, but rather is a way of controlling the evil influences that spirits could have on one’s life.[67] For this reason it is largely understood that a Christian’s success could be blocked by demonic forces and that as a result not only could the individual remain unsaved but the one who is ministering to them could also face misfortune, illness, or economic difficulties.[68] Furthermore, it has been discovered that churches are one of the favoured places for witches to enter into for they seek to destroy the church from within.[69] Therefore, it becomes all the more important for missionaries to not only be aware of this reality, but also to understand how to exercise their spiritual authority and how to deliver others through prayer in order to break these strongholds.[70]

Breaking the Stronghold: After acquiring awareness and knowledge of the spiritual climate, the reality of demons, and the spiritual authority they hold, missionaries are then called to break down existing strongholds on the field. There are two main ways to go about this: identificational repentance and intercessory prayer.

In the first instance, a decision for collective or personal “turning away” or discarding of the spirit must be reached. This often includes a renunciation of any vows made to the spirit, a reversal of the authority once given over to it, and a refusal to continue to venerate and exalt it.[71]  The second instance involves the prayers of both the indigenous peoples as well as the church in the West. Through prayer, strongholds are not only identified but are broken down.   Of important note would be the prayer meetings which take place in certain African countries where evil spirits are rebuked and where the true God’s faithfulness is extolled for protecting individuals from the powers of evil. [72]

It is important to note, however, that whereas intercessory prayer can identify the problem in the first place or even influence a change in heart, a personal decision must still be made on the part of the one who once venerated the spirit so that the action can be stopped. Intercessory missionaries cannot make this decision for anyone else. Without the renunciation of vows and the breaking away from the spirit’s power, individuals may likely still remain enslaved to the demon even though many intercessors are praying for them.[73]

Conclusion: The West seems largely silent and uninterested in matters of spiritual warfare choosing to confine the demonic realities to musings about structures and pluralism, however, in the African context spiritual warfare is a very real and present reality which often results in curses, wars, famines, natural disasters, illness, and even death.[74] Africans live in the mindset that everything has the potential to be caused by evil spirits and even when there may be a natural explanation that the demons can choose to use any situation to exploit and harass their victims.[75] Therefore, it is so important for missionaries who hope to minister in Africa to  be aware of these complex realities, and to prepare themselves for the challenge by learning how much spiritual authority they have and how to equip themselves to be protected from the schemes of the evil one. Only when a missionary can find their strength in Christ rather than in themselves will they truly win the cosmic battle over good and evil and only then will real change be made and conversions start to happen.

Bibliography

Adewuya, J Ayodeji. 2012. “The spiritual powers of Ephesians 6:10-18 in the light of African      Pentecostal spirituality.” Bulletin For Biblical Research 22, no. 2: 251-258. ATLA   Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 26, 2014).

Emmanuel El-Shariff Abdallah, Ali. 2001. “Contemporary issues in mission: an African     perspective.” Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.) 13, no. 1: 11-23. ATLA Religion Database  with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 26, 2014).

Engelsviken, Tormod, and A. Scott Moreau. Spiritual Conflict in Today’s Mission: A Report from the Consultation on “Deliver Us from Evil,” August 2000, Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi, Kenya: Association of Evangelicals of Africa, Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 2001.

Ferdinando, Keith, “Screwtape Revisited: Demonology Western, African, and Biblical,” in The Unseen World: Christian Reflections on Angels, Demons and the Heavenly Realm,      A.N.S. Lane, 104. Carlisle, Cumbria, [England]: Paternoster Press, 1996.

Gailey, Charles R. 1994. “Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits.”  Missiology 22, no. 2: 250. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost  (accessed July 26, 2014).

Greenlee, David. 1994. “Territorial Spirits Reconsidered.” Missiology 22, no. 4: 507-514. ATLA  Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 26, 2014).

Hasu, Päivi. “Rescuing zombies from the hands of witches: Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity and spiritual warfare in the plural religious setting of coastal Tanzania.” Svensk  Missionstidskrift 97, no. 3 (January 1, 2009): 417-440. ATLA Religion Database with  ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 26, 2014).

Hiebert, Paul G. 2000. “Spiritual warfare and worldviews.” Direction 29, no. 2: 114-124. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 26, 2014).

Kasambala, Amon Eddie. 2005. “The Impact of an African Spirituality and Cosmology on God-  Images in Africa: A Challenge to Practical Theology and Pastoral Ministry”.   International Journal of Practical Theology. 9, no. 2: 300-323.

Kraft, Charles H. 2012. I give you authority: practicing the authority Jesus gave us.  Minneapolis, Minn: Chosen.

Park, Nam Shin. 2011. “Hermeneutics and spiritual warfare.” Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.) 22,   85-103. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 26,       2014).

Van der Meer, Erwin. 2010. “Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare and Mission in Africa.”      Evangelical Review Of Theology 34, no. 2: 155-166. Academic Search Premier,      EBSCOhost (accessed July 17, 2014).

Wagner, C. Peter, and Fredrick Douglas Pennoyer. Wrestling with Dark Angels: Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Supernatural Forces in Spiritual Warfare. Ventura, Calif.,     U.S.A.: Regal Books, 1990.

[1] Amon Eddie Kasambala, “The Impact of an African Spirituality and Cosmology on God- Images in Africa: A Challenge to Practical Theology and Pastoral Ministry,” International Journal of Practical Theology, no. 2 (2005): 302.

[2] Ibid, 303.

[3] Tormod Engelsviken and A. Scott Moreau, Spiritual Conflict in Today’s Mission: A Report from the Consultation on “Deliver Us from Evil (Nairobi: Association of Evangelicals of Africa. Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 2001), 38.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Engelsviken, Spiritual Conflict, 38.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Keith Ferdinando, “Screwtape Revisited: Demonology Western, African, and Biblical” in The Unseen World: Christian Reflections on Angels, Demons and the Heavenly Realm, A.N.S. Lane (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1996), 104.

[8] Kasambala, African Spirituality, 303.

[9] Paul Hiebert, “Spiritual Warfare and Worldviews,” Direction 29, no. 2 (2000): 116, accessed July 26, 2014, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, 116.

[10] Ferdinando, Screwtape Revisited, 115.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ferdinando, 112.

[14] Kasambala, 315.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ferdinando, 116.

[17] Kasambala, 312.

[18] Ferdinando, 112.

[19] Ibid,116.

[20] Kasambala, 312.

[21] Ferdinando, 117.

[22] Ibid, 118.

[23] Hiebert, 116.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Hiebert, Spiritual Warfare and Worldviews, 115.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Charles R. Gailey, “Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits.” Missiology 22, no. 2 (1994): 250, accessed July 27, 2014, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, 250.

[31] Ferdinando, 113.

[32] Erwin Van der Meer, “Strategic Level Spiritual Warfare and Mission in Africa.” Evangelical Review Of Theology 34, no. 2 (2010): 155-166. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, 161.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ferdinando, 119.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ayodeji J. Adewuya, “The spiritual powers of Ephesians 6:10-18 in the light of African Pentecostal spirituality.” Bulletin For Biblical Research 22, no. 2 (2012): 251-258. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, 288.

[37] Ibid, 257.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Van der Meer, Strategic Level, 161.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Päivi Hasu, “Rescuing zombies from the hands of witches: Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity and spiritual warfare in the plural religious setting of coastal Tanzania.” Svensk Missionstidskrift 97, no. 3 (January 1, 2009): 417-440. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, 417.

[43] Hasu, Rescuing Zombies, 418.

[44] Hasu, 427.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid, 426.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid, 418.

[52] Ibid, 429.

[53] Ibid, 430.

[54]Engelsviken, 36.

[55] Charles H. Kraft, I Give You Authority (Minneapolis: Chosen, 1997), 180.

[56] Ibid.

[57] David Greenlee, “Territorial Spirits Reconsidered.” Missiology 22, no. 4 (1994): 507-514. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, 510.

[58] Gailey, Engaging the Enemy, 250.

[59] Engelsviken, 36.

[60] C. Peter Wagner, Wrestling with Dark Angels: Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Supernatural Forces in Spiritual Warfare (Ventura, Calif.,   U.S.A.: Regal Books, 1990), 76.

[61] Wagner, 77.

[62] Van Der Meer, 164.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Adewuya, The spiritual powers of Ephesians 6:10-18, 253.

[65] Nam Shin Park, “Hermeneutics and spiritual warfare.” Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.) 22 (2011):85-103. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, 99.

[66] Hasu, 424.

[67] Kasambala, 312.

[68] Hasu, 424.

[69] Ibid, 425.

[70] Ibid, 424.

[71] Greenlee, Territorial Spirits, 512.

[72] Engelsviken, 36.

[73] Greenlee, 512.

[74] Ali Emmanuel El-Shariff Abdallah “Contemporary issues in mission: an African perspective.” Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.) 13 no.1 (2001); 11-23.   ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, 19.

[75] Adewuya, 253.

KEEPING PACE WITH CHRIST IN THE WATCHES OF THE NIGHT (MENNOCOSTAL: IHOPKC ONETHING2013 SERIES)

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“At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgements.” (Psalm 119:62)[1]

“My eyes anticipate the night watches, that I may meditate on Your Word.” (Psalm 119:148)[2]

ALL Christians are called to pray without ceasing.[3]  All Christians are called to approach the Throne Room of Grace with thanksgiving and intercession, and all are called to pray for the leaders of the Nations.[4]  As a Christian our first and primary responsibility to Christ is in the form of prayerful adoration.  Every great ministry begins, ends, and is completely encompassed in prayer.

To the unsaved onlooker, prayer may seem so minimal.  Activists may wonder, “why don’t they go out and feed the poor? Clothe the naked? Shelter the destitute?”  All of these things are very good and social justice is one of the most important ways that a Christian can minister and proclaim their faith.  HOWEVER, prayer is the ONLY way a Christian can develop the necessary heart that they need to not only begin this ministry but to follow it through until completion.  Prayer is the only way they can be sustained in their calling to serve the poor when they start to feel weak or when they become discouraged because of their lack of progress.  Prayer is the only place they can come to recharge their batteries and find rest and solitude in Christ to be refreshed to keep going.

Therefore, what I want to say is simply this: prayer is the greatest of all ministries!  Is your best friend struggling? Do you want to give them the greatest gift you possibly can? Pray for their healing and comfort!  Is someone in grief, surround them with verses of comfort and prayers for deliverance![5]

Being a prayer warrior is NOT an easy call in the least.  There are some people who are more naturally pray-ers than others, just as there are some who can more naturally sing and more naturally preach.  HOWEVER everyone has the opportunity to build their gift of prayer according to the grace given by God and be strengthened in their capacity to pray for families, nations, and the church!

To the world, prayer may look like it’s not accomplishing much.  Just saying a bunch of words to a Being we can’t even see, but to the committed Christian, prayer is the greatest weapon against all forms of oppression and Spiritual warfare.  It is the greatest declaration of victory and the greatest hedge of protection.

What is Night Watch?

Although all Christians are called to pray, God has selected a core group of individuals who are committed to praying during the hours of 12am-6am.  The purpose of this group is as follows:

Believers who will combine prayer, intercession, and worship to encourage Christians around the world in different time zones and to pray against the present areas of darkness in this world.  Proclaiming Christ’s return until He comes again.  Declaring freedom from oppression and bondage.  Until the Holy Spirit completely outpours Himself on the earth.

Those who feel called by God to intercede at both the physically and spiritually darkest times of the day are on a unique mission to allow God to change the hearts of the nation and of individuals during the very hours when sin abounds.  For where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more![6]

Individuals who are called to the Night Watch have a unique mission which God will use to magnify His Kingdom, however, being part of the Night Watch is far from easy!  People who truly are dedicated must be willing to completely alter their priories, even giving up other social activities in order to serve God in this way.  Given its intense nature, many believers see the Night Watch as a type of “Social Fast.”

Although people who pray during the Night Watch add blessings to the Kingdom work of God, believers who are called to pray during the day are no less precious to God.  For God has called some to pray during the day, some during the night, and others to encourage these faithful intercessors.  Each one is called according to their abilities and unique ministries.

Scriptural Understandings: There are many verses in the Bible which speak to this attitude of 24/7 prayer and place special emphasis on the need for a few believers to pray during the night, although before IHOP I didn’t even know that such a ministry existed! 

One really great example of someone who was committed to living a life of 24/7 prayer was the prophetess Anna.  As we read in Luke 2:36-38, after Anna had become a widow she continued to live in the house of the Lord, daily serving Him and praying night and day.[7]  As Mike Bickle stated in one of his sermons at the conference, “Anna is a prophetess, and intercessor, an evangelist.”  She fasted and prayed which was not a call to disengagement, but rather a call to be deeply involved in the ministry of God (Mike Bickle).

We also know from the Gospel of Matthew, that Jesus may come like a thief in the night.[8]  When Jesus was tempted in the garden on the last day of his earthly reality he longed for a companion to keep watch with him during the night, however, he could find no one.[9]  When Christ comes again, let’s not be like the virgins who weren’t ready for His coming and had to wake up.  Rather, let’s be alert and waiting in expectation for His arrival.[10]

Please allow me to highlight a few of the verses that have given me comfort since I began my ministry and helped confirmed to me that the Lord was leading me in this direction:

Malachi 1:11[11]

“Behold, bless the Lord, all servants of the Lord, who serve by night in the House of the Lord.  Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless the Lord.  May the Lord bless you from Zion, He who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 134:1-3; this is a whole chapter dedicated to the Night Watch!)

“The Light shines in the DARKNESS and the DARKNESS has not overcome it.” – John 1:5[12]

“O God of my Salvation, I cry out DAY and NIGHT before You!” – Psalm 88:1[13]

1 Peter 2:9[14]

Lamentations 2:19

The following Scripture Verses all talk about long hours of prayer:

Isaiah 62:7-8

Mark 1:35

Mark 6:46

Luke 5:16

Luke 6:12

Luke 9:18

Luke 9:28

Other Reasons for Being Involved: From research on Spiritual warfare as well as talking about warfare with other believers who have been involved in the battle, I have discovered that often warfare can feel the strongest in the night or early morning hours.  This is especially so in geographical pockets where there are cults, sorcery, and demonic worshipful activity.  Make no mistake, beloved, often North American Christians feel like this does not apply to them.  They feel like demonic activity only happens in third world nations, far away from where they are in their comfortable houses.  However, this is not so.  In many areas around North America there is still much evil and wickedness.  People have chosen the dark rather than the light.  They worship false gods and idols of greed, lust, and addictions at any cost.  Even at the cost of their own souls.  There is violence on the streets at night that many of us are not even aware of.  Perhaps this may not be so in your own town, however, I guarantee you that regardless of where you live within a few hour’s drive there is darkness in the town over.  Yet even though the night threatens to conceal the deeds of darkness, Christ has promised to bring them to light, to expose them, and we CAN be agents to usher in that change![15]

So, this evil and depravity are happening, and the saints who are called to shine like stars, through no fault of their own have fallen asleep.[16]  Their eyelids are heavy and after a long hard day of work they are ready to call it a night.  However, while they sleep, the battle of the cosmos has only just begun!

As faithful servants slumber, the college student who has been staying up all night to write a paper that was due yesterday begins to be plagued by their insecurities and failures.  They begin to feel vulnerable.  Diabetic patients at the local hospital begin to have their blood levels dip to increasingly dangerous levels while bored nurses scuffle around checking only one patient at a time.  Many experiencing PTSD and depression are plagued by nightmares and young children cry because they experience night terrors.  Many believers who are struggling because of loss of employment, a death in the immediate family, or a personal crisis can suddenly awake in the middle of the night filled with anxiety, feeling completely lost and alone, and not sure who to call because none of their closest friends are awake and if they call their family they will immediately feel like an emergency has just happened.

Yet, how incredibly beautiful to know that during the night – whether you are that college student, that diabetic patient, or that person struggling with depression, that when you suddenly awake in the middle of the night and break out into a cold sweat, when the tempter guilts you, when your fears and failures completely cloud your vision – that there IS someone praying for you.   When you can’t even pray yourself, there is someone interceding on your behalf.  We were never called to silently go through our pain and struggles alone.  That’s not the Christian way.  We were always called to do this Jesus thing in community!

My Calling to the Night Watch: At the very beginning of the IHOPKC One Thing conference I learned about the calling to be part of the night watch.  The minute that I heard about it I knew in my heart that if God made a way for me to be able to pray from 12-6am and if finances and careers weren’t in the question I would do it in a heartbeat.  As the conference progressed and I continued to learn more and more about this unique mission my heart continued to grow with a stronger and stronger desire.  Finally, on the night that Stuart Greaves, an IHOPKC leader who currently staffs and overseas the Night Watch program spoke he invited anyone who felt a calling from God to be part of this ministry to come to the front as people already involved in the night watch prayed over us.  From that time forward I’ve continued to be passionate about this knowing that it is God’s will for me to minister to the nations in this way.

As I was worshipping one day and praying about whether God wanted me to be involved in the night watch I wrote the following in my journal all in block letters, “God is calling me to be an intercessory missionary.  To pray for my community, my city, my country, the world, the global church, and my ministry.  To cry out to God, to intercede with tears and weeping until the Kingdom of God is brought about on earth and until He comes.  He is calling others to join this ministry.  To search His will with prayer and fasting, to use social media for His glory.  To use our gifts fully for His righteousness.  To not care if we are mocked or scorned.  To care more about God and His Kingdom than we care about other people’s opinions or even our own plans and dreams.  He’s calling young men and women to build, to plant, to have vision.[17]  He’s calling the elderly to mentor, to instil disciplines into the next generation, to teach their children and grandchildren to worship the one true God.[18]  We are never too old or too young if we open our entire heart to Him and surrender everything to His mission.  Cry out to Him and join Him in His reconciling work!”

I’m not going to lie, the first time that I tried to do the Night Watch away from IHOP it was very difficult.  As it turns out, worshipping with a group of believers gives me extra energy. Perhaps because I am so extroverted, but more likely than not because you can get encouragement from them when you start to slack.  Being in my room listening to IHOP CDs (as great as they were) didn’t seem to have the same effect.  Even livestreaming the online prayer room (as great as it was) didn’t bring the same vibrancy to my worship.[19]  So, my very first night of praying the night watch ended up being left early.  I had planned to pray from 9pm-2am and instead it ended up being 10pm-12:15am.  At first I felt disappointed with myself.  But then I remembered the words of Christ to his disciples “Could you not even stay awake with Me for ONE hour?”[20]

It’s super easy to get burnt out in a ministry before you’ve even started.  It’s easy to become entrapped in your fears of failure thinking that you’ll never make it.  In reality, prayer is like exercise – it takes time to develop.  Even in non-Christian settings if you ask a Buddhist or Eastern Spiritualist about meditation they will tell you that you work up to it. You start with even 5 minutes of emptying your mind and eventually you meditate for 4 hours.  I’m not advocating for Eastern Spirituality, but the same concept hold here.

I had not had such a deep prayer life as I experienced at IHOP for the past several years and now I was expecting to run a marathon.  You don’t do stuff like that!  You’re going to sprain something and give up running completely!  I used to run cross country – 6ks.  You don’t start with running the full 6k!  You begin with running 2, then 4, and eventually 6.  So, I realized I needed to start small.  Even if I only spend an hour with Christ at the beginning, I’m building up to the fact that eventually I want to be able to spend all night in prayer with Him!  Even if at the very beginning the flesh is weak, the Spirit remains willing![21]

By the way, in case you’re wondering, I still had a lovely time with Christ and meaningful prayerful experience even though by 12:15am I was so tired and had a hard time keeping up.  The truth is, though, that even after praying for 2 hours there was still more that I had on my heart to pray about.  It was an incredible time.  Rather than push myself over the brink and begin to resent it, I left that night more in love with the Night Watch and knowing that I want to come back again in a few days to the quiet place.

My Commitment: The book of Ephesians, perhaps one of the best writings on Spiritual warfare, teaches us that, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”[22]

It is with this understanding and encouragement that I commit to praying in the watches of the night twice a week recognizing that all great ministries begin and end with prayer.  Recognizing that changes happen when prayers continually go up.  Recognizing that God chooses to reveal Himself in incredible ways during the night. 

I know that to the world this will not seem to accomplish much, but if it were not for the prayers of faithful grandmothers, college students, and unlikely Christians our culture would not be pushed towards the Holy Spirit – it is a powerful and incredibly important work!

I also commit to being a prayer line for my family, friends, and church during the Night Watch whereby they can call me during the hours I am praying to receive prayer without fear that they will be waking me up and when they do not know who else to call.  They can also text, email, or Facebook me anytime day or night with prayer requests.  I will continue the cries of the faithful once they are asleep; after they have cried out to God all day I will continue those prayers.

At the moment, my job does not permit the lifestyle of praying 12am-6am so I have had to modify it to 9pm-2am.  However, I continue to trust that if it is the Lord’s Will one day He will allow me the privilege of praying the full night watch.

Hoping On-Board – A Plan of Action for Those Who are New:

If you’ve been reading along and feel a call from God to be part of this ministry, I’d like to encourage you in that area and invite you to begin to pray a shift (probably about 2 hours at the very beginning).  Pray a shift with the intention that once a week you will be interceding intentionally during the night hours and praying against the darkness.  It is a very intentional calling and process.  Additionally, know that your calling could be for a time or for life.  If you are called for a time it does not at all imply inferiority.  Perhaps God will just have different priorities for you in the future.

Know that not everyone is called to intentionally pray at night and that is completely OK.  As mentioned earlier, some are called to the day watches, and others are called to offer encouragement and prayer support for those praying at night.  Regardless of your calling, God will use you to do abundantly magnificent things for His Kingdom work.

The following is a general idea of how I want to do my Night Watch loosely based off of the Anabaptist Prayer Book and the way that we worshipped and prayed while I was at IHOPKC:

12am – We pray for ourselves and those dearest to us

~For God to raise up Godly marriages and Godly families in our Nation

~ For those in Grief

~ For those who need healing

~ For those experiences nightmares, that just like the Prophet Joel declared that God will transform the terrors into prophetic dreams[23]

~ For new mothers who join us at this hour as they take care of new life

~ For the prayer requests offered up at church which we so often forget to acknowledge

1am – We pray for our geographical location (city)

~ Those ensnared by the darkness of this flesh (that You would break bonds of addiction, poverty, and habitual sin and fill them with good things instead)

~ Those who have been defiled because of the sins of others – to fill them with a knowledge that they are loved and that they are made fully complete in You

~ For the homeless in our neighbourhood/area

~ For those involved with gangs and street violence

~ For those afflicted and those who have lost jobs or are in economic hardship

~ For those who face spiritual poverty

2am – We pray for our nation

~ For our political leaders

~ For our spiritual leaders

~ That God would bring change and revival to our nation

~ For the incarcerated

~ For recent immigrants

~ For those who face prejudice and discrimination because of racial violence, sexism, hatred, misunderstandings, or homophobic insults

3am – We pray for our world

~ For Bible poverty to end so that all nations can know the Truth in their heart language

~ For areas where Christians are persecuted and imprisoned – that they will be strengthened and encouraged

 ~ That God will raise up mighty men and women of the Spirit who have gifts of leadership and prophetic insight in every continent and every country

~ For those affected by natural disasters

~ For our environment which is often pillaged and plundered and for areas of the globe which lack access to clean drinking water and other natural resources

~ For children around the globe who are orphans and unable to receive education

~ For areas which are still deeply affected by sexism and places where people worship the spirit of darkness and are held bondage to false gods

~ For racial reconciliation

~ For all missionaries, but especially for those in remote areas and secure countries where their names cannot even be published and where their threat of persecution and even death is a reality

~ For those just now sensing a call to ministry and missions, but not entirely sure what to do with it

~ For Bible and discipleship schools and seminary students everywhere

4am – We offer You other concerns we carry in our hearts

~ For our city as it wakes up and for safety of workers as they travel to their workplaces

~ For all saints to impact their co-workers, employers, and those they serve

~ For our unsaved co-workers and clients

~ For families who have recently experienced abortion to know that Christ truly forgives

~ For families expecting a child and those who face bareness

~ For those without families; for the fatherless to discover God as their true Father

** The point of the schedule is to be a guide for those brand-new to the Night Watch. There is a great deal of flexibility in following the Spirit during the physically and spiritually darkest time of the day.  It’s incredible when we combine prayer, Scripture, meditation, worship, and intercession because they really aren’t separate categories, but intertwined with each other.  Inseperable.  The same things.

However, there is a warning to those who are called to engage in Night Watch which IHOPKC Night Watch Leader, Stuart Greaves states.   “Often during the night activity ceases which may take away from distractions, but can also lead to idleness (which is the greatest enemy of the prayer life)!” 

Nevertheless great blessings also await the child of God who is called to Night Watch and faithfully heeds that call.  Some of these blessings are as follows:
“Glorious communion awaits when you stand with God in the watches of the night.” – Stephen, former IHOPKC Night Watch Intern

“The opportunity to affect the dream lives of believers.” – Stuart Greaves

“A rapid increase of worship.” – Stuart Greaves

 

Yes, there are will be difficult days ahead if you commit to the Night Watch.  There will be days when you will be physically exhausted and want to put it off.  There will be nights when your temptations come out and you are discouraged because you thought you had conquered them long ago through the blood of the Lamb and now they are staring you right in the face.  There will be times when your phone rings and you want to accept a social call.  BUT if you are willing, God will strengthen you in those times and your sacrifice will totally be worth it.  So the question remains, “HOW MUCH IS JESUS WORTH?  WHAT IF I AM CALLED TO THIS FOR THE REST OF MY DAYS (AND NOT JUST FOR A SEASON)?” – Stephen, IHOPKC


[19] You can access IHOPKC’s online prayer room here: http://www.ihopkc.org/prayerroom/