While a young pastor in the Los Angeles area, I encountered more tragedy and trauma than any one person would ever want to. I performed funerals for people killed in gang murders, serial murders, drug overdoses and mafia execution style murders. I visited people in prison more than I care to talk about. We had ex-gang members, ex-cons, ex-addicts in our church and even a few who weren’t actually x’s yet.
In any one Sunday service we could have between five and ten people who had been in prison and twice that many who had been in gangs. Some of those were now actually serving in different ministries in our church. I encountered witches, rapists, pimps, prostitutes, cross-dressers, addicts, murderers and the like. And I encountered demons.
A family in our church had three children (two males and one female) who had all been in prison for different reasons. These adult children popped into church periodically and it was our prayer, along with their parents, that they would one day surrender their lives to the Lord.
One of these children, who we will call Andrew, had recently been released from prison and was trying to turn his life around. Andrew had done drugs, sold drugs, had committed armed robbery to buy drugs and was recently released from prison for convictions related to these offences. But he was being coaxed by his mother to try turning his life over to Christ and he was attending our church semi-regularly as he pondered what he was going to do with the spiritual matters of his life.
One day I received a call from Andrew’s mother. She said that He was at her house in a bad way and he asked her if she would call me. So she did.
I went over to their house and there sat Andrew on a couch in the family room with his head buried in his chest and grumbling angrily.
Andrew was a good sized young man. He was large and tall enough to be a linebacker on a professional football team; and it was a little intimidating for me as a young, small statured pastor to approach him in the agitated state he was in. But I sat down beside him and put my arm around his shoulder and talked to him for a several minutes about what was troubling him.
At a certain point I felt Andrew had calmed down somewhat, and sensed it was time to ask him the question about becoming a Christian. To my delight he said “yes”. I then asked him if he would like to repeat a prayer after me to receive the Lord, and again he said “yes”.
Now, I had been in the ministry by then for about ten years and I had read all of the accounts of demon possession and control in the Bible. I had also been exposed to all the theories that different denominational groups had about demon activity talked about in the Bible and whether or not something like that could happen today. And as much as I had a settled persuasion about what I believed concerning demon activity in humans in our world today, I was not prepared for what I was about to experience. My mind wasn’t thinking “demons”, nor had I ever experienced anything I might construe as such. And I never thought exorcism would ever be a tool in my spiritual tool belt.
The word for word prayer I prayed, and that Andrew repeated that day, I honestly don’t remember. But, any time I voice a prayer for a potential new convert to repeat, it always includes most of the same elements. And as I pray, I pause between phrases for the person I’m leading to repeat what I have just said.
I told Andrew to just repeat after me. This is what happened. I began praying something like, “Dear Jesus.” Andrew repeated, “Dear Jesus.” I continued, “Please come into my heart.” Andrew repeated, “Please come into my heart”…but then squealed in an angry contorted voice, “But I don’t want you to…I don’t want you to.”
I was immediately in freak-out mode. I thought, “What was that? Where did that come from?”
I continued a little more carefully, “Please forgive me for my sins.” And Andrew repeated, “Please forgive me for my sins” but then said with the same eerie voice, “But I don’t sin…I don’t sin.” I started to think…What else could this be but a demon?
So I continued much more cautiously, “Please help me to live for you.” And Andrew repeated, “Please help me to live for you,”…but then screeched in a devilish voice, “But I can’t…I can’t.”
By this time I was significantly alarmed so I concluded the prayer as quickly as I could and said, “Amen.”
Then I did all I could think of to do. I said, “Andrew, I’m going to pray for you now,” And he said, “Ok.”
So I put my arm around his shoulder preparing to pray a much more deliberate and aggressive prayer. His whole body was tense like a rock and I threw up a “prayer-thought” to God, “Please Lord Jesus be with me.” I don’t remember my exact prayer but I used a lot of phrases about deliverance and casting out evil influences, and doing so “in Jesus Name”. At a certain moment with my arm still around his shoulder, the hard granite-like tense condition of Andrew’s body went from hard to soft like putty dough…and it happened in an instant. I believe I exorcised a demon out of a young man that day.
I’ve never encountered anything like that since that day. Whether or not you or I believe what I came up against that day was a demon doesn’t matter. What matters is that we need to understand that there are indeed evil forces out there bent on keeping people from surrendering their lives to Christ, or on keeping Christians from becoming difference-making people for Him. These forces exist in our cities, in our work places, in our churches, in our families and in individual hearts. You may be able to identify some of these people by name. These people don’t need for us to ignore or fear the forces that control them. They need for us to pray against those forces diligently.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:11,12,18).