Let’s take a break from the current political fracas and consider a subject which will be with us until long after the next election: Spiritual Warfare and the Family.

First, let me stipulate that I know there are some troubled families that are seriously dysfunctional with abuse or addiction, and/or where no father is present. Those situations are important to address, but they require skills and interventions which are beyond the scope of this post. My focus here is calling attention to the spiritual battles in which every family is engaged.

Second, let me make a confession about my understanding of Spiritual Warfare in general. My epiphany may seem perfectly obvious to you, but it took me a while, even though my first novel, On The Edge, addressed this subject over 25 years ago.  In many ways I’m a slow learner.

I imagined Spiritual Warfare to be angels and demons fighting in the heavenly realms with fists, swords, or something, over us.

Now I realize that the battle between God’s loyal angels and those driven by pride to rebel—now called demons—has already been fought, long ago.  Satan lost. That’s why he and his forces are here. They fell to earth in Luke 10:18. Jesus does not correct Satan’s ownership claim in Luke 4:6. Satan and his forces own and inhabit the earth.

God sends angels (literally, “messengers”) to tell us something or to perform a specific task, and then they return to Heaven. But the demons live here and add their lying voices to the World and the Flesh to bring us down, their goal being to take us with them to the eternal Abyss.

So Spiritual Warfare is not some duel in the skies, but instead is the daily battle between the demons and us, God’s believers, here on Earth, if we choose to engage the enemy. We are not passive viewers of someone else’s combat. We are the actual combatants. Us. For our families, friends and colleagues. To save them from an eternity without God.

Our weapons are prayers, words, and actions.

Returning to the role of the family, it is God’s most basic building block for every society and civilization. Before there were tribes, governments or churches, there were families.

John MacArthur says that the family is important because “families provide a small, sovereign unit that acts as a barrier to the corruption that seeks to dominate us.”

If we are at war with Satan and wearing the uniform of God’s army, the most basic building block of any army is the squad. One can have air forces, depots, armor, navies and supply corps, but at the end of it all, if each squad engaging the enemy on the ground in close combat doesn’t know how to fight and to win, the army will be defeated.

Put the two building block concepts together, and the family is God’s most fundamental, important institution in the fight against Evil. Anything that strengthens the role of families in society pushes back against Satan’s influences. Anything that weakens and brings families down is pushing for a Satanic victory, encouraging behavior and relationships which leave family members bound, hurt, defeated and unsaved.  Satan uses every force he can to destroy families: government policies, media, education, peer pressure, entertainment. Our own weapons in this battle remain prayers, words and actions.

A squad doesn’t function well without a leader. Neither does a family. For some reason, God has ordained that husbands and fathers are the spiritual heads of our families. I half-jokingly say that God put men in charge of a few key areas because He knew that many of us, if not put in charge, will simply become passive and do nothing. And He knows that husbands and fathers have to fight for our wives and children.

But He put us in charge not as macho dictators who ride roughshod over everyone else. Rather, as Servant Leaders who are submitted to the leadership of Jesus Christ in our own lives. Men who listen well to everyone, particularly to our life partner and Co-Squad Leader, and then exercise wisdom to seek what is best for each individual squad member, and for the family as a whole.

We have no greater responsibility. We’re rightly told as fathers that we’re responsible for feeding, clothing and educating those whom we have brought into this world. But how do those responsibilities compare to one more: influencing where those same souls will spend eternity?

I imagine standing before Jesus in Heaven and having him say, “I see that you served on several church committees, funded overseas missions, and built houses for the homeless. That’s all good. But what happened to your squad, the ones I put you in charge of, your first responsibility?”

If I am the leader, then the state and the health of my marriage are my responsibility. If action is needed, then I must take it. Not anyone else.

The most important human relationship in my squad, as we face the enemy every day, is my wife. Let’s focus on her now, and we’ll look at children in a subsequent post. And remember John Rosemond’s admonition that the relationship which leads to the most secure and capable children does not directly involve them, but is actually the relationship between husband and wife. Nothing gives a child more real security and self-esteem than knowing from experience that Dad and Mom love each other and will never split up.

My wife is the Co-Leader as we battle for our family. Paul tells me in Ephesians 5 and in 1 Corinthians 13 that I am to love my wife. That seems pretty straight forward, but before it comes across as easy, recall what Paul means by that:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

Oh. Sacrificial. Her welfare above mine. No record of wrongs (Really?). Do those grace-filled passages, written by a formerly legalistic Pharisee totally transformed by God, describe how I love my wife? With some effort on my part, and with a lot of God’s help, God promises that it could be our relationship.

What are some real-world, practical steps that I can take to build the strongest possible bond with my wife, both for our mutual joy and for taking on what the World, the Flesh and the Devil will throw at our family?  Here are a few to consider:

1. Time. You simply cannot get to know your wife, much less protect, trust, hope and persevere with her, without spending a lot of time with her. Time together is the most important reagent that fixes the bond of marriage permanently. Not every minute to the point of suffocation. But probably more time than you are now spending, given all the demands—many very good ones, like work, recreation, work, volunteering, and work—that demand our time today.

Moses thought time together to build a solid marriage was so important that in Deuteronomy 24:5 he ordered that every young man when first married must put aside his army uniform for the first year, stay at home, and focus on making his wife happy. You may be beyond that first year. But what if you said to her, “For the next year I’m going to get off that Board and stop doing ___, and instead I’m going to focus on our marriage by spending time together with you.”

If you need a jump start in this important area, Regi Campbell has a radical idea you can try. Regi was a true saint and incredible mentor who recently went home (See Radical Mentoring and his daily devotional, Radical Wisdom). Regi called it “10-10-10”: for the next ten days, for the first ten minutes after you arrive home, stay within ten feet of your wife, and ask her about her day, what’s on her mind, how you might help her, etc. Like I said, a radical but effective jump start!

2. Prayer. Our time on our knees praying for our families is the most important weapon we have as the squad leader. It insures that we’re always connected to and following our Commander’s larger plan. But here I want to emphasize the importance of praying together with our wives. On our knees. Out loud, so that she hears the heart of her husband as he submits himself to their mutual Father.

If you have not prayed together like this, it’s your role as the spiritual leader to initiate it with your wife. It may feel odd for about five seconds, but then it will be amazingly natural.

Several wives have told me that the whole submission-to-the-husband issue evaporates when the wife clearly understands from her husband’s prayers and actions that he is genuinely submitted to God, and only wants the very best for her and for their children. Servant leadership.

3. No Record of Wrongs. This is a big one for me. What if God remembered everything I have ever done wrong and trotted those issues out whenever He wanted to remind me how bad/dumb/despicable I am? What would my life be like?

As a believer, I know that His grace and Jesus’ sacrifice have covered all those mistakes. So who am I to remind others, particularly the person closest to me, the one who has my back in the battle for the souls closest to us? What kind of servant leader is a random accuser?

So when I hear that voice begin to say, “How could she…?” or “Why is she…?” or “When will she…?” I know that’s actually Satan’s voice trying to drive a wedge between us, to discourage us and derail us. And so I know to shut it down, to stop listening, and to pray.

4. Celebrate the Differences. We’re not the same, men and women, wives and husbands. On purpose. To complete each other. Instead of diminishing or belittling the differences, use them. Build on them. She has insights and wisdom that will never occur to you. Seek her advice. Encourage her. Listen. If you want to watch a humorous but truth-filled video on the differences between us, check out Mark Gungor’s “Men’s Brains and Women’s Brains”.

5. Nurture Common Interests. Not in everything. You each need your own space and interests. But those may come very naturally, while cultivating common interests may take some leadership, and maybe some trial and error. But it’s very important, particularly once your emphasis moves beyond raising young children.

Earlier in our marriage on road trips the passenger would read a book to the driver. Now we choose together and listen to recorded books. Historic novels seem to appeal to us. And walking several times a week, puppy training, home improvement. We genuinely enjoy these activities together and look forward to them.

6. Sowing and Reaping. “You reap what you sow” is a biblical truth, but it seems to be particularly true in marriage. Whatever you want out of your marriage, sow those seeds into it, lovingly, not for a payback, but because it’s important to you. Spending time together. Physical intimacy. Conversation-Listening. Advocacy with others. Travel. Whatever you want to harvest, sow those seeds with your wife. The harvest will come.

On the negative side, if you are sowing bad seeds—weeds that will kill your marriage—stop today. Addictions, from drugs to pornography to gossip to work to golf, that keep you apart. Stop. In serious cases, get serious, Christ-based help. 

7. In general, don’t listen to the voices that Satan’s forces plant in you and want you to act on. You know them. They’re the opposite of love’s qualities described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s interesting that the opposite of Evil in Paul’s list is not Good, but Truth. Only listen to the Truth about your wife and your marriage—when you hear anything else, turn it off immediately. Focus on the Truth, and the Good.

As husbands and fathers we are the leaders of our families. Their eternal destination to some extent (not totally) depends on us. We have a huge responsibility, but like all tasks, when God is invited into the equation, He also provides direction and makes the burden light. So, as you lead, submit to Him and ask daily for his wisdom and help. He will guide you.

In a later post we’ll look more at the relationship between fathers and children as one of God’s key bulwarks against Satan’s attacks. For now, I offer an exercise and some homework.

The exercise: independent of any other internal voices you may hear related to your marriage, take the initiative every day until it becomes a habit to say great things to yourself about your wife. Speak Truth to yourself to drown out any lies. “She looks really good today, and every day.” “The advice she gave our daughter was perfect.” “Imagine putting up with me for all these years.” “How does she find time to do that so well, day after day? It’s amazing.” “I’m so glad we’re married.” And then try saying those same things to her, out loud. It may be game changing.

The homework: Where in the Bible does it explicitly state why God hates divorce?