When the disciples were helpless against the enemy, Jesus told them that power over Satan came only by praying and fasting. Why is this so? I believe it's because the Lord wants time to work on our inner man. He wants our heart completely attuned to Him. We simply cannot obtain any authority without having habitual communion with Him.
How can we expect to chase Satan out of our churches, our homes, our troubled children, if we don't pray? How can parents expect God to impart spiritual power to them when they argue, fight and gossip in front of their kids? How can they expect to possess authority when they go out drinking, and then fly into a rage when they learn their kids smoke pot?
Jesus could boldly say, "The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me" (John 14:30). If you can't say this too, you'll remain powerless. And Satan will run rampant through your household.
Peter gives us a key to spiritual authority when he writes, "Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives" (1 Peter 3:1). The word for conversation here signifies lifestyles or behavior. I believe Peter is talking about the Bride of Christ. And the image here is of a wife who possesses true spiritual authority.
This woman submits to her husband because the Bible commands it. And because she allows herself to be governed by God's Word, her “hidden man” is being conformed to His divine image. Peter says that such a woman doesn't need to chide, harangue or preach at her husband. She'll be able to win him to Christ without saying a single word. How? Her witness is in the silent eloquence and power of her godly walk.
This woman's husband may be obnoxious and overbearing. She may have to bite her tongue time after time. But because she is in submission—to God's Word and, in turn, to her husband—she is gaining spiritual authority day by day. A mighty power is being released in her that increases her authority over the enemy's hold on her husband.
The apostle Peter was made of flesh and blood, just like the rest of us. Yet he wielded spiritual authority over the devil. He said to the lame man at the temple gate, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk" (Acts 3:6), and the man was healed. The religious leaders of the day recognized this power in Peter and asked him, "By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?" (4:7).
Nowhere does the Bible suggest that this same power isn't meant for us today. When did the Lord ever say to His Church, "I've helped you so far. Now you're on your own"? What kind of God would empower His people in the wilderness when they needed it—would empower Israel's kings, prophets like Elijah, the crowds at Pentecost—and then withhold it from his last-days Church, when we need it more than any generation?
According to Scripture, Satan's power has increased in our day: "The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time" (Revelation 12:12). Why would God permit Satan to attack a weak, powerless church that has no defense? His people have never lost access to His divine power.
Unfortunately, a number of Christians have a skewed idea of spiritual authority. This is especially true in charismatic circles. I know of a series of "power" conventions, where preachers lay hands on people to endow them with an anointing of spiritual authority. Yet, when the recipients return home, their efforts against the devil still fail miserably. They end up asking the same question the disciples asked Jesus: "Why couldn't we cast out these spirits?"
You can't obtain supernatural power simply by having someone lay hands on you. It isn't a gift, it's a way of life, of walking with Jesus. And not everyone who asks for such authority will suddenly be changed into a spiritual powerhouse. The fact is, God entrusts His divine authority only to what Peter calls the "hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible" (1 Peter 3:4).
I believe the Church today is in a full-blown crisis over its lack of spiritual authority. I regularly receive calls from pastors and parents who are panicked about their children. They plead, "I just discovered my child is a drug addict and I don't know what to do."
My heart goes out to these parents. They're brokenhearted, desperate to find true spiritual authority that will lead to real help. Yet, I have to wonder: Where is the spiritual authority in their home? In my opinion, many such parents think they're helpless when they're not. Somebody in the family has to have power to chase the devil out—out of their child and out of their house. I say to every suffering parent: You must lay hold of spiritual authority yourself. Even if your child shuts you out, you still can attain power in your secret closet of prayer.
You may protest, "But I'm not Jesus. He came to earth with divine authority." The fact is, Jesus, though God in flesh, faced the devil as a man, a Spirit-empowered man. He didn't fight Satan on any other grounds. Likewise, Satan always approached Christ as a man, even though he knew He was God's Son. The demon acknowledged as much, saying, "Let us alone . . . thou Jesus of Nazareth" (Mark 1:24). They addressed Jesus as a human being, born in a particular town in Israel. Yet, even though Christ was a flesh-and-blood man, He wielded full spiritual authority over every demonic power.
You may also think, "If only I had that kind of power over the enemy. But I don't possess the type of authority to make Satan flee." That just isn't true. Jesus' disciples had this very power: "When he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease" (Matthew 10:1). "I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19).
Early in his ministry, Jesus’ reputation for healings and wonders attracted huge crowds. “Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. . . . Lifting up his eyes . . . a large crowd was coming toward him” (John 6:3, 5, ESV).
Bible scholars estimate this crowd as being between 10,000 and 15,000 people. The sight of the vast throng must have encouraged the disciples. It confirmed that they were following the right Man and that more great things were going to happen. And it must have delighted Jesus to see their joy because they were learning to anticipate great things from Him.
Yet, as the crowd gathered, the disciples faced an impossible dilemma: “Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’” (6:5). No sooner had a dream been realized than hard reality set in.
Is this scenario familiar to you? Think back to the first great job you had. You were excited because it seemed like the first step in fulfilling your calling. But after a few days you learned your boss wasn’t who he appeared to be and you had to work with a colleague who seemed to resent you. The demands on your time were far greater than you were told, causing you to miss precious time with your family. You realized, “I had no idea it would be this difficult.”
That’s how I imagine Philip felt at that moment. Bewildered, he answered Jesus, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (6:7). That was a huge amount of money. In short, even if they had the means and ability to provide food, it still wouldn’t be enough to feed the crowd.
As I read Philip’s response, a phrase leaps out at me: “Would not be enough.” How often does this thought arise in our minds when we face obstacles? How often do we wonder, “I’m not sure I have what it takes. I don’t have the resources, and I doubt I have the ability. Am I strong enough in Christ? Do I have enough of the Holy Spirit? Lord, am I about to derail?”
We can know this for sure: Jesus had called Philip to a great victory that day but Philip just couldn’t see it yet. The same is true for us: God has called us to expect great things in our walk with Him. So, what happens when our situation requires faith? Do we believe Him for the miracle needed? Or are we derailed by our limitations? Jesus’ challenge here had a purpose: “He said this to test [Philip], for he himself knew what he would do” (6:6).
When it comes to spiritual matters, you and I will never know our potential under God until we step out and take risks on the front line of battle. We will never see what power and anointing are possible until we bond with our King and go out in His name to establish His kingdom. Sitting safely in the shelter of Bible discussions among ourselves, or complaining to one another about the horrible state of today’s society, does nothing to unleash the power of God. He meets us in the moment of battle. He energizes us when there is an enemy to be pushed back.
In 1 Chronicles 11:12-14 (NIV) we meet Eleazar, who accompanied David into a major battle with the Philistines. We get an idea of how formidable the enemy was when the Bible says, “At a place where there was a field full of barley, the troops fled from the Philistines.” This was no minor skirmish; this was all-out combat against a superior opponent. Many frightened Israelite soldiers saw the coming horde and ran for their lives.
But not Eleazar. He and David “took their stand in the middle of the field. They defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory” (verse 14). Once again we see the combination of human and divine efforts. God did not act alone. He didn’t unleash a lightning strike from heaven to fry the Philistines. Instead, he was looking all across the horizon that day to see who would stay in the barley field and thus receive His supernatural aid. While others left in fear, these two—David and Eleazar—stood firm.
The account in 2 Samuel 23:10 adds even more detail about Eleazar. He “stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword.” He swung his weapon with such grit, such adrenaline, that his muscles locked up on him; he couldn’t let go. Talk about a mighty warrior for God!
What the world’s situation cries out for today is this kind of determined and desperate faith that grips the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and won’t let go until victory comes.
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson and a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.