I met the devil in Golden Gate Park (Part 2)

In Part 1 I talked about an interaction I had with “Sherriff” during one of our “Pancake Ministry” days in Golden Gate Park. I refer you to that article for a context of the dearly beloved people we make friends with there. Here’s another account of a spiritual challenge I encountered in the park while sharing God’s love.

[BTW, I want you to know that I’m not a find-a-demon-under-every-rock kind of guy. I pay lots more attention to God and what he’s doing than to the devil and what he’s up to. C.S. Lewis wrote:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.” Screwtape Letters page 3]

Sitting on the grass, balancing our paper plates of syrup-drenched pancakes on this not so typically sunshiny summer day, Caesar (not his real name) and I were getting acquainted with small talk. Eventually I asked him about his spirituality. He told me that he was raised with a Native American viewpoint of the physical and spiritual world. As we talked, he told me stories about how the “Great Spirit” had preserved his life on several occasions, one of which had to do with falling off a second-story rooftop in a drunken revelry. I told him some stories of my own about how Jesus has been working in me in some pretty dramatic ways too.

And then the conversation graduated to another level when Caesar looked broodingly into my eyes and said, “You miss someone.” I said, “Excuse me?” He repeated it, “You miss someone.” First of all, this was our first meet, secondly I wasn’t particularly sad that day or aware that I was displaying anything but a happy soul. Thirdly, Caesar didn’t know that my son and his wife had just moved 3000 miles away to New York for grad school. I do miss them terribly, but Caesar didn’t know that, at least not by the usual means. I knew what he was trying to do, and not wanting to give him the satisfaction that he was doing some clairvoyant thing on me, off the top of my head I replied, “Well, everyone misses someone.” He said, “Yeah, but this is someone very important in your life.” Again, I decided to try to refocus our conversation back on to the Lord and stick with my story that I missed no one in particular. He said, “Hmmm – OK,” and we went on to talk about who Jesus was for a while until Caesar finished his pancakes and got up to go.

I’m pretty sure I missed an opportunity there, because afterward I could think of a bunch of better ways to have handled it; but what ensued was a worthwhile education for me. On the way out of the park I mentioned the encounter to my other pancake-making teammates, got in my car and forgot about it until I found myself out of sorts for the next few days. I wouldn’t call it depression so much, but more of a low-grade disorientation. I just wasn’t feeling quite right psychologically, and after several days of it, I was praying about how I felt when my conversation with Caesar came to mind. It dawned on me that I hadn’t adequately shaken off whatever spiritual influence I was left with from that encounter. So, I asked the Lord to guide me in wielding his authority against the “hitchhiking” spirit and said something like:  “In the name of Jesus I rid myself of the influence of this insidious spirit and clean it out of my mind and emotions. I belong to Jesus, have been justified by his blood, and am being sanctified by his Spirit. In the power of his name I reject any claim this demon has on me.” And that was it. I gradually began to feel better and the disorientation subsided.

My friends, Dan and Lynn minister at a local women’s jail a couple of times a month. I told them my story and they mentioned that as they get in their car after ministering to the women, many of whom have been ravaged by dark powers in one way or another, they take time to pray and “shake off” any residual affects of those powers that might have stayed on them. I mentioned to them that on the way to the several outreaches in which I serve, I usually pray, not only for God’s spiritual power to influence people toward the kingdom, but also for his spiritual protection for me and for those with whom I serve. But I hadn’t thought to pray similar prayers after the fact, in case of “hitchhiking” spirits. So I thank them for the tip, and this is now my habit following outreaches and other potential encounters with hellish forces.

“Spiritual hitchhikers” are more insidious than the physical kind. (I’m not opposed to ever picking up people on the highway; I’m just using a metaphor here.) It’s never advisable to stop and give a ride to a spirit that’s thumbing it on the road. It’s entirely possible that we do so when we deliberately choose our way over God’s. We’re warned to “Lay aside every weight and the sin which does so easily entangle us.” (Hebrews 12) Sometimes our sin brings with it an extra “weight” that we didn’t factor in at the beginning. In no way am I implying that every time we sin we’re going to get “demon possessed.” I’m just saying that we put ourselves at risk of spiritual attack when we step out from behind God’s protective shield. So, pulling off the road to invite your enemy into your front seat is never a good idea.

If and when you do take on a passenger through your own bad choices, you can stop, and throw him out! I often think of getting clean as a four-fold process:  Repent, resolve, rebuke, and resist.  Repent (stop and pull over!), resolve (to not do whatever it was that got me into trouble to begin with), rebuke (the enemy and kick any hitchhiker out), and resist (repel the next temptation that comes along – and it will come along!).

But the threat is not always as obvious as getting hassled by the devil because of our stupidity. Brazen waywardness is not the only circumstance in which we’re at risk of spiritual attack. The “thief” can be much more devious than that, and climb into our backseat uninvited when we stop for gas and a Big Gulp. So, lock your car when you go in for the Big Gulp! But even when you do all that you know to do, the adversary finds ways to make himself a nuisance, which should inspire us to shake off every vestige of his influence from every part of us and check the back seat after stopping for gas in a bad neighborhood!

(I have to apologize for this sort of creepy analogy, but I use it because our nemesis and his cohorts are pretty creepy themselves!)

Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.  But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.  2 Timothy 3:8

It’s widely accepted that Jannes and Jambres were Pharaoh’s magicians that duplicated some of the signs and plagues of Moses. You might want to go back and re-familiarize yourself with the story in Exodus about these two sorcerers whose powers were impressive, if not limited. When they copied Moses’ miracle of turning his staff to a snake, his snake swallowed theirs! They went on to imitate the water turned to blood and multiplying frogs on Egypt. But when they tried to do the same with the plague of gnats, they were unsuccessful and told Pharaoh that this phenomenon required “the finger of God,” after which their counterfeit miracles screeched to a stop. Until centuries later when Paul mentioned them to Timothy, the last thing said about these men was:  “The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils that were on them and all the Egyptians.” (Exodus 9:11) How embarrassing that must’ve been to them! Not only did their counterfeiting machine fail them, but they found themselves under the same hurt as everyone else! They “didn’t get very far” with their magic and “their folly became clear to everyone.”

For me, the takeaway from this is that the devil and his demons can only go so far to keep people from making a connection with the Lord. His counterfeiting scheme has a limited scope and a temporary shelf life. The original always triumphs over the knock-off!

“Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world!”

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