2016-06-30
Dr. Charles Stanley is pastor of the 14,000-member First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia and one of America's most popular televangelists. His sermons are broadcast on 850 channels in the U.S. and in 59 languages abroad. He spoke with Beliefnet recently about his new book, "When the Enemy Strikes."

You've written dozens of books, but few have focused on the devil or Satan specifically. Why is this subject important to you now?

Because we're living in a fearful time. Since 9/11 people have become more afraid than before, because of terrorism. There's a lot of confusion about evil, where it's all coming from. What is it? Is this something I'm just feeling inside or is there a devil, is there evil? What the book does is clarify that there is evil. There is someone behind the evil, and his motives and objectives are very clear to destroy us in many ways. Nations fight against nations, in marriages people fight against each other, children fight against each other. We are in warfare, in a national warfare, and in warfare with each other and with ourselves. If they're confused or anxious about something, how can people know if it's the devil?

Well, there's naturally some attitudes that we would say are not from the devil. But think about this: If I'm discouraged about something, God would not get me discouraged. Disappointment is inevitable. But to become discouraged, there's a choice I make. God would never discourage me. He would always point me to himself to trust him. Therefore, my discouragement is from Satan. As you go through the emotions that we have, hostility is not from God, bitterness, unforgiveness, all of these are attacks from Satan. Satan takes a deliberate willful moment in our life to do anything and everything he can to destroy us. It's an assault upon our emotions and an assault upon our mind. He always attacks the mind. That's his battlefield. You say that the devil can set up a series of good things in our life to lead us down the wrong path. But in the book you also say God wants us to live abundantly. How can we know what is a devil-orchestrated series of good things?

What we have to ask is, if I keep heading in this direction, where is he going to carry me? Is it going to carry me closer to God? One of Satan's most deceptive and powerful ways of defeating us is to get us to believe a lie. And the biggest lie is that there are no consequences to our own doing. Satan will give you whatever you ask for if it will lead you where he ultimately wants you. You say that even when other humans mistreat us, it's always the devil working through them-our ultimate enemy is the devil. Does this give those people a pass on personal responsibility?

No. If I am angry at you about something, I can't excuse myself. Satan will maneuver us to wrong each other. If he can divide our relationship and separate us in some fashion-get me to feel like you did me wrong or I did you wrong, now we're at odds with each other. I can't be right with God and wrong with you. If I have an unforgiving spirit towards you, I can't be right with God. So anything [Satan] can stir up between us is to his benefit and destroys us. It steals our joy, because you can't be bitter towards someone or unforgiving and then have inner peace. It separates us from God as well as the other person. In the book you talk about your surgery and temporarily losing part of your sight. You talk about the understandable discouragement you felt then, and how some of that discouragement was probably the work of the devil. Have there been other low points in your life when you felt that the devil was attacking you in some way?

Oh, I've been attacked many, many times. And that attack, which has been the most recent one, I remember because I wanted to read the Bible but I couldn't. I knew it was all satanic as it could be, trying to get me discouraged, trying to get me to feel this hopeless, helpless feeling. After about three nights of that, I said, "OK, I can't do anything about this. But now I can pray." So I would start praying for my friends and people that I knew were on my prayer list. Prayer is the most powerful means of overcoming any kind of discouragement. It connects you with an omnipotent, omniscient Father who loves you unconditionally, who sees where you are and is going to help you in it. You talked about this hopeless or helpless feeling. A lot of people in America are feeling that way about a variety of things, both personal and national. Do you see the devil bringing about this hopeless feeling?

There's no question he's behind that. Because when you feel helpless, there's fearfulness, uncertainty. The terrorism here and all the violence and the needs, that's enough to give anybody a nervous breakdown in about 30 seconds. But if our focus is on God, then I see everything from this perspective-He's my heavenly Father, I'm eternally secure in Him. I'm His child, He loves me unconditionally and whatever He allows in my life, He's going to turn it to my good every time. I've lived long enough to watch that in my own life. You talk about creating a hedge of protection against the devil. How does this work?

Number one is that I surrender my life to Him, to the Lord Jesus, to walk in obedience to Him day by day. Secondly, I'm in His Word, talking to Him and asking Him for direction each day-that's part of that hedge. I'm filling my mind with the truth of God's Word, I'm thinking the way He thinks-that's part of that hedge. Recognizing that I can cry out to God to protect me in any given situation. That hedge of protection ultimately is my relationship to Him, and the most powerful part of that relationship is my intimate, personal, private time with Him. Spending time alone with the Lord Jesus in prayer and being quiet and talking to Him. For me, that time is primarily somewhere around 3:30 in the morning or 4 o'clock or 4:30, usually that's about the time I wake up. Everything is quiet, and that's when I sort of see how God sets the rudder for me for the day. When I think about all the things that put a hedge around me, it's all of that. Now somebody says does it mean that Satan can't get you? No. Any moment I allow his negative thinking or sinful thinking to come into my mind, then I open a door. God has a hedge around all of His children and so the only way anything can get to me is if God must open a door and let it in. If He lets it in, He's going to turn it to my good. [But] if I'm over here letting it in, then I bear the consequences. Satan always plays with the mind, so when one of his flaming missiles-as Paul says in sixth chapter of Ephesians-when he fires some temptation at me, he can hit my mind and I can say I'll just let that go, I don't have to accept that. But if I take that and listen to Satan's thoughts and various subtle lies, I set myself up. He's going to fire that one again and again until finally it becomes a stronghold, an area of weakness. I just got off of an interview and the first three men that called were all talking about the same problem. What problem was that?

Sexual problems. And one was about alcoholism. These are strongholds that each person has allowed in their life. It all began with a thought and now they have repeated that thought. That thought becomes compulsive in their life and now they're saying, how did I do this? I'm helpless. Well, you're not helpless. We all have a mind and a will. I may have to depend upon God in ways that I've never depended upon Him before, but God will deliver anyone who truly wants to be delivered from any stronghold, any sin. In addition to things like prayer, the support of a Christian community, and Bible study, would you approve of more secular psychotherapy for such men?

No. If it's not based on the word of God, all you have is just somebody's opinion, you have some ways or some steps, but apart from God, they're still depending upon themselves. If you leave God out of it, it's "what can I do?"

When a person gets into a habit, it takes more than just self-will to get it done. We can rely upon Him. Now I know some people who say, "So-and-so's helped me." But long-term, is there peace and contentment and security? I don't know if you're going to find that.

What do you think about Alcoholics Anonymous?


I think they do a lot of good. But you know what? They talk about God. He's right in the center of it. They've noticed the fact that they need Him.

Moving on to faith-based organizations, what do you think of Bush's faith-based plans?

We have responsibility to help people who are in need. What I think we have to ask is, are those people helping themselves? Oftentimes, we contribute to their slothfulness by doing to them what they could do for themselves. We have to be discerning to know, does this person just want to live off of this? Or is it true that they genuinely, desperately need help and it's our responsibility to help them? We have to be careful we don't just hand it out freely in the name of Jesus, to contribute to someone else's lack of discipline and slothful living when the Bible is very strong about slothfulness, that God hates that kind of thing. I believe in helping anybody and being generous toward people. But if I see somebody who doesn't care, who is not going to try, I think the people who have the resources in these faith-based initiatives, they're responsible for making wise choices.

I'm sure that you've heard that President Bush reads your work. Do you know which of your books he reads? Have you spoken to him about it?


Somebody called me and told me about it. I didn't even know it. I was at the NRB [National Religious Broadcasters' meeting] on one occasion and he had spoken. I happened to be sitting in the front row, and after he walked off the platform he shook hands with a whole bunch of folks and he got to me and looked at me and just hugged me. I thought that security is going to think I grabbed him! Anyway, he never said a word, he just hugged me tight and looked at me good and walked on. And I prayed for one of the rallies they had in Atlanta, a Republican rally. So afterwards I walked up and [Bush] started talking about the fact that he'd been reading a devotional book [of mine]. He said, "I can't quite remember the day," but there's one particular day that impressed him most of all. He says, "I'm going to let you know what that is." And about a week later I got a handwritten note telling me what day it was. And it was one of my devotional books, "Seeking His Face."

Can you tell us which devotional means the most to him?


No. Let me just say it was one of the messages in October.

Did you pray with him?


No. I talked to him and then we spoke again. I was in a group and as he walked straight across the platform, straight to me, and thanked me for coming. And when the whole issue of the war was going on and I preached the message, "A Nation at War," we got 865,000 phone calls. The whole theme of it was why it's biblical for a nation to go to war.

Everybody was up saying, you shouldn't do this for this reason, God hates this.so I thought, what does the word of God say? Anyway, I got mail and letters and calls from people from the military, you name it.

Were the majority positive? Did they agree with you?


Oh, absolutely. All these people who called and wrote emails, we sent them a little brochure that had a section in it, how to pray each day for the president and the serviceman and so forth. Then there was a part you can tear off and fill out-a note to the president. I'm sure that somewhere along the way, [Bush] must have found out about that, because he got thousands and thousands of them, which I'm sure was an encouragement to him.

What's an example of one of the prayers in it?

One of them was praying for [the president] and his family, that God would protect him and give him wisdom and surround him with the kind of people that would give him wise counsel. That was one of them.

If John Kerry is elected president, what kind of prayers would you come up with for him?


I would pray for God to bring him into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, number one. I would pray for God to surround him with wise counsel. And I would certainly pray for God to change his attitude about some things.

Which things?


About same-sex marriage, about abortion for two to start with. I personally believe that when the time comes to vote, people are going to stop and ask, what is the most important thing right now? Our safety. Who has demonstrated unquestionably-unwavering in his conviction and his commitment to protect this country? President Bush is that man.

I've heard people abroad saying they feel less safe. So you think that God wants us to watch out for our safety, primarily?

God has blessed America as no other nation on earth. He's given us an awesome sense of responsibility and when people say that the world hates us, some people do, naturally, but you know what? We're the most generous nation in the world, many of our men have lost their lives protecting other people.

So even though people hate us, the issue is why? It would be hard for someone to come up with genuine reasons why they hate Americans. On what basis? So they wouldn't consider the war perhaps unilateral-saying it was unwarranted aggression?

Well, there are lots of folks who think we shouldn't have gone to war in Iraq and that's their conviction. No matter what we do in that part of the world, it's going to be difficult. I've been around since Roosevelt, and no president has been so hated and despised as President Bush. And neither has any president been so open about his faith. What about Jimmy Carter?

Well, I'll include him for the simple reason that no president has been so open about his faith, and lived it out, in the big basic issues, as President Bush. He's not ashamed of that. He talks about Jesus Christ and his faith, and it's interesting that people are so totally opposed to him and talk about him wearing his religion on his sleeve. President Reagan was a Christian, and President Carter certainly claimed to be a Christian. And you never heard all that kind of just horrible statements and accusations about either one of them, though Reagan had his time. But President Bush, it's a whole different story. I think God put him there, that's my conviction. God placed him there.

God put him in the White House?

I believe he did. In spite of every opposition, God placed him there and he certainly brought a position of dignity, morality, and godliness to the White House.


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