Skip to main content

Speaking Peace to Fear

May 17, 2023

“Tobi often does not understand why some things happen the way they do. For example, last year his sister was seriously burned when she fell into a fire. But no one could prove how it happened.

“She did not stumble over a rock or stone. No one pushed her. She simply fell into the fire. Her grandmother said it was the work of an evil spirit. So Tobi wonders: Do things happen because of gods? Or because of evil spirits? Or because of angels? Or do things just happen naturally?

“Sometimes Tobi feels powerless and fearful.”

This is one of the scenarios – based on real experiences – included in a new Timothy Leadership Training (TLT) manual titled Fear Not: A Christian Attitude about Spiritual Powers.

Next week, on May 24-25, Albert Strydhorst, program manager of Timothy Leadership Training (TLT) and a missionary with Resonate Global Mission, will lead an inaugural training for pastors and church leaders at Calvin Theological Seminary on this course, which was written and compiled by theologians, pastors, and church leaders from countries in North America, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

“Over the years, as people across the world have taken TLT, we have observed the need for a course on addressing spiritual powers,” said Strydhorst. “In many of these places evil spirits seem to have been active, and people have been afraid and unsure what to do.”

For the past 25 years TLT has equipped partners with facilitation skills and resources to lead interactive trainings on crucial pastoral skills. Thousands of pastors and lay leaders throughout the world who have lacked access to pastoral education have been empowered to bring kingdom changes to their communities through TLT.

Topics covered in TLT courses include overcoming violence in the family, biblical preaching, teaching the Christian faith, praising God in work and worship, God's plan for sustainable development, and now this new course on what Scripture has to say about dealing with demons and evil powers.

“Church leaders and members from various countries experience issues in the spiritual world differently,” said Strydhorst. “In Africa, for example, it is more a matter of the use of witchcraft.”

As a result, added Strydhorst, “We asked international church leaders and theologians, ‘What questions do you have in your contexts, and how can they be addressed by studying the Bible together?’”

As the training manual was compiled by the various writers, a parallel group of people gathered from around the world to pray for the authors in their work as they addressed this difficult topic.

“We had a prayer team for support as we wrote the material. We had a blanket of protection around us while we worked,” said Strydhorst.

During the course of the work, several participants reported having confronted various challenges, unexplained occurrences, and oppression.

“In our work on this project, we sought to root people in their identity of being in Christ, of being clothed and baptized members of Christ. There is really no reason to fear,” said Strydhorst.

In the new manual, each session begins with some examples of people’s experiences with dark forces and spiritual oppression or with the comfort and power that the triune God brings. While crucial fears of the global church are addressed, the lessons aim to orient believers to the greatness, power, and sufficiency of God. The Lord knows each context, each fear, and he speaks his truth to each situation: “Do not fear. I have overcome.”

TLT invites participants to study God’s Word and to contextualize these truths for their local contexts in their churches and communities.

In one story of a perceived attack or confrontation with evil spirits, a father who was not a Christian had a dream in which he came to believe that his pregnant daughter was in danger because of a demon. When the daughter died in childbirth, her brother, a pastor, asked if the demon was real, and, if so, how they could have protected against it.

In another story, Sanjay, a Christian man, went with a few other Christians to evangelize at a well-known temple. While they were there, Sanjay pointed to a statue and said to the temple worshipers, “This is nothing, just a piece of stone.”

That night, Sanjay was tormented in his room. He felt that he was being attacked by an evil spirit. He said he felt the spirit pull him by his leg and choke him. Later, Sanjay went to his pastor and told him what had happened. The pastor reminded Sanjay of the Bible’s truths about Jesus and his protection.

In yet another story, Iona said she and a group of Christians visited a remote village every Friday. In the evening, they held a small worship service in the home of a believer. Meanwhile, many people in the village drank alcohol and got into fights. Often a loud argument or a knife fight would take place right outside the home where the Christians met.

In the village, Iona said, she could feel the spiritual oppression. Yet she looked forward to visiting the village every week. The Holy Spirit was present among the few believers who met for worship. There was joy.

“We put these stories and experiences on the table, and we look at Scripture to see what God is saying to us,” said Strydhorst.

For instance, in Luke 4:31-37 we read that Jesus goes to teach in a synagogue in a town in Galilee. While he is there, Jesus meets “a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit.” The man cried out, demanding that Jesus go away.  Jesus said sternly to the demon: “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down and “came out without injuring him.”

“The real-life stories in the manual are case studies, and we look at many Scripture passages that offer reflections for our Christian responses” to supposed demonic activities, said Stydhorst.

For example, the manual suggests reading the words of Jesus in John 14:27, which provide comfort in the face of various kinds of spiritual warfare: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Like every TLT course, Fear Not focuses on reflecting about the topic as well as discussing it together and discovering what Scripture teaches about it. Then participants put what they have learned into action. Eventually the manual will likely be translated into 40 languages, as other TLT courses have been.

These words from the manual sum up its overall purpose: “The Bible is the story of how God has shown his love to us in Jesus. Jesus sets us free from sin, Satan, evil powers, and death. Jesus sets us free from fear. When we are tempted to seek other powers because of difficulties, Jesus says to us: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).”

Interested in attending the May 24-25 training? Contact Amy Friedman at [email protected] before May 23.