Reprinted from the Chalmers Center.
Part five of a series.
Adapted from Becoming Whole, 181-182; A Field Guide to Becoming Whole, 135-39.
Throughout this series on the five causes of poverty, the underlying connection between them all is the Fall. Because sin entered the world, our stories and practices are twisted by its effects, and both individuals and groups are broken and can do evil.
Even as we reckon with that, many of us in the contemporary Western world overlook the fact that the same evil one who lured human beings into sin is still at work in the world, seeking to devour those whom God made and destroy what He called good (I Peter 5:8, John 10:10).
The dominant false stories in our culture (Western Naturalism and Evangelical Gnosticism) have tended to act as though God, even if He exists, is irrelevant to our lives from Monday to Saturday. And the blindness of Westerners to the spiritual dimension of reality is even greater when it comes to the active presence of Satan and demonic forces, which the Bible presents as a power from whom we need to be set free by Christ and a persistent threat to be on guard against (see Genesis 3:15; II Corinthians 4:4; John 12:31; Ephesians 2:2, 6:10-13; Colossians 1:13; etc.).
Poverty alleviation is spiritual warfare because Satan and his legions absolutely love poverty. They have a vested interest in keeping people homeless, ensuring that low-income youths remain unemployed, and spreading famine across the world.
Human beings are called to be image bearers, priest-rulers extending the reign and worship of God throughout the whole earth. This calling puts people at war with Satan, who is determined to derail human beings from pursuing our God-given call. In this light, someone crushed under the weight of material poverty is not just poor in earthly terms, but is also caught up in Satan’s cosmic struggle against God Almighty.
Addressing Demonic Forces
While demonic forces are to be taken seriously, we must remember that they are no match for King Jesus. We do not have two equal powers who are battling, and there is no doubt who will be victorious. So, living into Christ’s kingdom includes calling on His power to keep Satan at bay as we seek to push back the darkness.
Spiritual warfare is fought, not using the weapons of the world, but according to the ways of God. How do we fight? By prayer. In humility. Seeking to be united as the people of God who aim to draw others into God’s redeeming and renewing grace and love.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
- All the ministry’s stakeholders need to resist demonic forces by putting on the whole armor of God.
The influence of demonic forces in the world is deep and wide, and Satan will likely attack various ministry stakeholders in different ways, using methods that seem to work best depending on different cultural settings and personalities.
Sometimes demonic activity is overt, paralyzing people who are materially poor with fear that hinders their efforts to move out of poverty (through the influence of witch doctors or superstitions). As such, a key feature of poverty alleviation in the Majority World should be reminding people that Christ has defeated demonic forces and teaching them to put on the whole armor of God.
On the other hand, demonic forces also work covertly to ensure that people either think the spiritual realm does not exist or that it is irrelevant to their material condition. When they succeed in these endeavors, Western stakeholders will tend to put their trust in human know-how and material resources alone to accomplish their goals. Even when such approaches work at getting people out of material poverty, the demons can still quietly rejoice, for people who are achieving the American Dream are still far from becoming priest-rulers who extend the reign and worship of Christ.
Ministries that are trying to alleviate poverty should explain to their stakeholders – including the people in material poverty they are trying to help – that Satan is real and that he wants to trap them in a materialistic worldview.
These messages shouldn’t be tacked-on to ministry either, but embedded within the training or programs a ministry carries out in the community they serve.
- Audit Your Awareness
Because we often have been desensitized to the presence of evil spirits in the world, it can be very helpful to us to ask ourselves some diagnostic questions.
- How often do you pray for King Jesus to protect you from demonic forces?
- Reflect on the history of your poverty alleviation ministry. Can you list any times when Satan may have been attacking your work?
- What specific actions has your ministry taken to better protect all your stakeholders from Satan’s attacks?
If you can’t think of many specific answers to these questions, ask God to give you insight into the ways you’ve ignored the spiritual realm and commit to prayer and faithfulness as the key to all your ministry efforts.