Quit praying to Satan!

by K.W. Leslie, 23 April

There’s an traditional African folk song called “What a Mighty God We Serve.” If you grew up Christian, maybe you heard it in Sunday school. Sometimes adults sing it too. Goes like so.

What a mighty God we serve
What a mighty God we serve
Angels bow before him
Heaven and earth adore him
What a mighty God we serve

Years later I found out it had some more lyrics—words my children’s and youth pastors never bothered to have us sing. Maybe you can guess why.

I command you Satan in the name of the Lord
To take up your weapons and flee
For the Lord has given me authority
To walk all over thee

There are variations. There’s “put down your weapons” in the second line (which makes way more sense); there’s “stomp all over thee” in the fourth, along with stomping movements.

Anyway. Lots of churches tend to give these lines a miss, so lots of Christians aren’t aware of ’em. I particularly remember one summer youth camp: The pastor got all the kids to sing along with the first part, but when she broke into the second part, the kids sat there confused—why’s she singing to the devil? Anyway, because they didn’t sing along, she concluded, “I guess you don’t know that part,” and went right back to the “What a mighty God we serve” bit they did know.

As to why churches don’t teach it: Well you are singing to the devil. And shouldn’t. Don’t do that.

Likewise there are a number of Christians who pray to the devil. You may have seen it happen. Someone gets up to pray, and in the middle of all their other praises and petitions to God, they put him on pause, and get Satan in on this conference call.

“And Satan, we rebuke you. We bind you. We cast you out. You have no authority here. You have no business in this place. You get out of here, Satan. You’re under our feet.”

And so on. You get the idea.

Again: Don’t do that.

I know. Your pastors do it. Your prayer leaders do it. Christians you greatly respect do it. Loads of people do it. And they shouldn’t do it either.

As if the devil merits this level of attention.

The good folks at Radio Free Babylon posted this particular “Coffee with Jesus” strip on the subject. The fellow with the mustache is meant to be Satan; the ambidextrous suited guy is meant to be Jesus. (Jesus in a suit? Why not; it’s no more historically accurate than the toga people usually put him in.)

“Talk to ME.” Twitter, 8/6

That bit coffee-drinking Jesus said about the archangel Michael? Comes from Jesus’s brother Jude.

Jude 1.9-10 KWL
9 When the head angel Michael was debating with the devil over Moses’s body,
it didn’t dare bring a charge of slander, but said, “Lord rebuke you.”
10 These people don’t understand such things, and slander them.
By nature they reason like thoughtless animals, and are undone by these things.

I explained elsewhere what this whole debate over Moses’s body consisted of. Regardless, Michael had a great deal more sense than your average Christian, who figures we alone have the power to tackle the devil, and forget defeating the devil is a miracle. One which requires the Holy Spirit’s power, done in Jesus’s name.

And yeah, when Christians pray to the devil, we usually remember to invoke Jesus’s name. “What a Mighty God We Serve” does command Satan in the name of the Lord. But Christians aren’t always so careful.

Why’s this? Well, whenever we get riled up enough to start shouting at Satan in mid-prayer, there’s the very problem: We’re riled up. We’re angry. Outraged at what the devil’s tricked people into doing. Irritated that the devil’s tempting us again. Fearful of encroaching wickedness. Irrationally fearful that God’s gonna have just about enough of the United States’ sins, and lower the boom on us. (As if slavery and Indian genocide wasn’t way worse than any sins we’re currently committing. Not defending our present-day misdeeds; just reminding you we’ve done much worse.)

Wild emotion means we’ve lost control. We’ve let go of the Spirit’s fruit of gentleness, and are lashing out in fruitless, unhealthy ways. Dangerous ways, ’cause we’re letting the devil push our buttons instead of receiving God’s peace. See, when we give in to that fear, in order to be rid of it, we justify to ourselves all sorts of evil behavior. It’s why we have to resist fear and anger as much as the devil. They serve the devil’s purposes quite handily.

So when someone starts praying to Satan, that’s our cue they’ve ditched gentleness in favor of works of the flesh. That’s why I tell you: Don’t.

Well, it’s not always fear. Sometimes it’s hypocrisy.

No, I’m not saying we Christians shouldn’t resist the devil. When we’re getting tempted, or when we see evil spirits plaguing other people, the Holy Spirit has obviously empowered us to take command of the situation. 1Pe 5.8-9 Jesus granted his apostles the power to throw out unclean spirits, Mt 10.1 and we have that power too, for the very same reason. Sometimes we need to intercede.

But when your average prayer leader interrupts their prayers to God, and starts shouting at the devil: Are they, at that moment, seeing obvious devilish activity which needs to be exorcised? Has the Holy Spirit given them a glimpse into the spiritual atmosphere, and shown them the spiritual battles going on around us?

Nah. They just whipped themselves into a lather, and now they’re frothing at Satan to show how devout they are.

It’s not really done to drive the devil away. It’s done for cheers and applause and approval. “Yeah, the devil is under our feet! You tell ’im, preacher!” It’s like a political rally, when you talk smack about your opponent. It’s done for show. Or as Jesus called such behavior, hypocrisy.

Of course, when a politician’s opponent is on the stage with them, like in a debate, the atmosphere’s quite a bit different. It’s no longer cheerful, vengeful fun. The battle is on. Same as when there’s a legitimate evil spirit which needs throwing out. At this point, the prayer leader (unless they’re a fool) doesn’t give this devil any attitude: There’s a real live critter in the room, and it sure doesn’t act like it knows it’s defeated. The would-be exorcist has lost all their braggadocio, and is now calling upon God for a whole lot of help.

’Cause I’ve seen what happens when real evil spirits are in the room. This isn’t a game. It’s war. Take war seriously.

Either way, it’s bad theology. And bad fruit.

You do realize Satan isn’t omnipresent, right? God’s the infinite being. Satan’s a mere evil spirit, limited to one place and time. Not all-powerful. Certainly better at lying, and manipulating people, than we are: Look at all the stuff it’s got people to believe about it! But not infinite.

So when Christians start praying to it, it likely has no clue about any of those prayers. Because it isn’t necessarily the devil which is currently tempting you. Your tempter is some other devil. Satan itself is likely somewhere else, tempting someone else. We tend to generically call our tempters “Satan,” and it’s a lot like calling every angel “Michael.” I can’t claim to know who Satan’s specifically working on. (I tend to have a certain president in mind, but he has so little impulse control, Satan can easily leave him on autopilot and go tempt other powerful people. But I digress.)

Sometimes I joke Satan was probably off in Minneapolis, tempting John Piper to tell people God’s behind every disaster… and then you just had to name-drop Satan in mid-prayer, and its pointy ears pricked up—“What’s this now?” And maybe the prospect of tempting you sounded like a nice change of pace from getting congressmen to cut veterans’ benefits. Thanks to you calling upon Satan, it’s now gonna bring you a deluge of temptation. All because you wanted to sound like a badass prayer warrior, and talk smack to the Desolate One in front of your homeboys.

Well, let’s hope not.

Christians have no business talking smack to anyone. Including the devil. Yes, including the devil. When Jesus ordered us to love our enemies, Mt 5.44 he didn’t make an exception for Satan. We invented this exception. It’s why there’s many a Christian who (reluctantly) treat their enemies with patience and gentleness… but when it comes to the devil, the gloves come off and we say the most vile things we can get away with in church.

So wait: Am I saying Jesus wants us to love the devil? Well, I’m not saying Jesus wants us to have affection for the devil—which is immediately the idea we jump to whenever the word “love” comes up, ’cause that’s how our culture defines it. Jesus certainly doesn’t want us to snuggle up to Satan and make it our bestest friend ever. But lookit the way Paul defined love in 1 Corinthians 13. Love behaves with patience, kindness, gentility, humility, truthfulness, not plotting evil, not rejoicing in wrongdoing, not self-promotion, not provocation. That is how he expects us to be towards everybody. Including Satan.

Because to be otherwise, means we’re giving in to our evil impulses, and corrupting ourselves. Spreading more evil within—and of course the evil within has a way of overflowing and corrupting other people. Mk 7.20-23 Ripping into the devil rips right back into us.

The devil knows this. It’s why Satan is perfectly fine with being the object of our fury, hostility, hatred, fear, disquiet, impatience, and other out-of-control emotions. Hey, whatever destroys us with the least amount of effort on its part. All it has to do is turn us into screaming rage-monkeys, embrace behaviors the Holy Spirit is trying to eliminate… and drive away any potential Christians with our crazed anti-Satan tantrums.

And interrupt our prayers. As we’re trying to focus our attention on God, asking him to help us calm down and gain control of our emotions, asking him to point us towards love, patience, and holy peace… the devil is pleased as punch to monkey-wrench all that progress, and replace it with Two Minutes’ Hate.

Don’t do it.