Six Signs of a Spiritual Attack

“Well, how did it go?” Robin wanted to know.

“I just want to be teachable,” I said in a hollow, measured voice.

“What did he say?” she asked – getting ready to rise up in my defense.

What did he say, indeed?  The scene happened during my first pastorate.  Our church had grown quickly and had experienced changes, which is never an easy thing.  Now we were trying to establish our annual budget and define our biggest priorities.  And a man I’ll call Joe wanted to know if he could meet with me.

When we got together, the first words out of Joe’s mouth were, “It is obvious that you aren’t here to help our church grow, but to make a name for yourself.”


I listened mostly (although I did tell him I didn’t appreciate him judging my motives).  I listened as he talked about church’s former days.  I listened as he talked about troublesome people.  I listened as he offered his version of a solution to our problems.  I listened (and stared, frankly) as he “led” us in prayer – weeping all the while.

And I went home, still listening.

I Hate Criticism.

For years I hollered to whoever would listen that “there’s no such thing as constructive criticism.”

I was wrong.

That said, nobody gets up in the morning hoping somebody will catch them red-handed being human.  But if hearing what you don’t want to hear is the only way to help you get where you truly want to go, then it’s worth it in the long run.

Being attacked is another story, however.

“Attacked” is a word you’ll often hear to describe what’s taking place behind the scenes in somebody’s Christian experience.

“I’ve been under some real attacks lately.”

“Sounds like you’re being attacked by the enemy.”

In describing a recent experience that produced a lot of pain and anxiety, three different people said that to me.  “This is warfare. You’re under attack.”

Was I?  How could I know for sure?  How could I know that this wasn’t “iron sharpening iron” or somebody “speaking the truth in love?”  What if what one person called Satan was really God?

Same goes for my encounter with Joe back in the day.  Was it a call from the Lord to be teachable, or an underhanded attack by the devil, using a church member as his tool?

The World of Wordfare

Like knives in a drawer, words can be used as a constructive tool or a destructive weapon.  For example, Christian maturity and kingdom growth are the result of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).  One word from an empowered believer can “sustain the weary” (Isaiah 50:4).  Words, though painful at times, are like prods that cause others to spring to action (Ecclesiastes 12:11).

On the other hand, followers of Jesus are engaged in an epic battle with the evil forces.  Paul says that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NLT).

Their weapon of choice?  Words.

In the hands of the enemy, words are arrows aimed at your heart (Psalm 64:3).  Words of a gossip, while enticing, go deeply into your soul (Proverbs 18:8).  Job said that the words of his fake friends were “like a mighty wind” (Job 8:2).

No wonder Proverbs 18:21 says that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  But it isn’t always easy to tell which – death or life – are contained in the words you hear.  In the World of Wordfare, sometimes your friend appears to be your enemy and your enemy appears to be your friend.

Discerning the Source

How do you know the difference?  How can you tell if the words of others are an arrow aimed at the soul or just an uncomfortable prod to get you moving?  Here are some ways you can recognize an attack for what it is.

1.  Look for the lie.

Good words aren’t always easy to hear; sometimes they hurt because the truth hurts!

Attacks are different.  Attacks are either outright lies, or they feed into lies.  Remember, Satan is the father of lies and a false accuser.  He kicks the guilty when they’re down, accuses the innocent, and treats the forgiven as if they’re still under judgment.

2.  Trace the target.

When someone needs to coach or correct, their words are often aimed at weaknesses – often weaknesses you are already aware of.  The aim, of course, is to encourage improvement in those areas of weakness.

The enemy, on the other hand attacks at your point of confidence because that’s where your greatest reward comes from (Hebrews 10:35).  Example:  If you believe yourself to be a person of integrity, Satan will attack your integrity in a way that will cause you or others to question it.  Remember, you don’t have to lose your integrity to lose confidence in it.

3.  Inspect the fruit.

Gracious words, even when dealing with sensitive subjects, are intended to build up. When someone encourages you to grow or change, it can be uncomfortable or even distressing.  But the end result is sure to be something you are grateful for.

Attacks, on the other hand, are meant to tear down.  Do you know people who can only seem to feel good about themselves when they’re putting others down?  Whatever else they may be, they are tools of Satan.   Respond accordingly.

4.  Identify the focus.

Healthy conviction is aimed at behavior.  If someone criticizes something you did or should have done, you should take a hard look at it.  Even if their communication is clumsy, you could be on the receiving end of some truly constructive criticism.

Attacks are aimed at you. At the kind of person you are.  They question or presume upon your motives.  They use words like “always” and “never” to define you.   Attacks are greased by labels aimed at cheapening your value.  Pick one – fool, idiot, lazy, slob, whore, thief, incompetent, any word containing “ass” – all these and more are weapons formed against you.

5.  Sniff out jealousy.

Love fuels corrective words; attacks are fueled by jealousy.  Of course, nobody ever admits they’re jealous.  But remember,   Satan’s fall grew out of jealous ambition to have what God alone had – the authority and glory of heaven.  And now he’s jealous of what you have – the unmerited favor and unconditional love of God.  He can’t steal that from you.  But he can and will use people’s words to cause you to question it.

6.  Take the torment test.

Godly rebuke, however painful at first, produces growth, reconciliation, and peace.  Attacks produce fear and anxiety.  That’s why John says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18, NIV).

Though sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, there is a difference between honest conflict and spiritual attacks – between tension and terror.  Tension may produce frustration and pain, but it almost always has some form of possible resolution.  But when you find yourself worried over imagined outcomes, or paralyzed by fear from moving forward with your life, this is not a people problem.  Recognize who the real enemy – the ultimate terrorist – is.

Responding to Attacks

The reason it’s so important to discern between criticism and spiritual attacks is that the responses are completely different.  The godly response to criticism is to humble yourself, apologize if needed, get teachable, and often change course.

The response to attacks is to stay the course, and let God do your fighting for you. Whipping the devil is not in your job description.  Standing against him, however, and resisting him, is.

And what of those people who are his tools?  Love them.  Forgive them.  Pray for them.  Speak well of them.  And remember who the real enemy is.


Remember Joe?  I went to the Lord and asked, “What do I do with this?”  And He led me to this scripture:

Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals

And brings out a weapon for its work;

And I have created the destroyer to ruin.

No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;

And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,

And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 54:16-17).

“Andy,” He said.  “It was of me that he came.  But what he had to say was not.”

Through that experience, the Lord taught me two things.  First, HE sovereignly creates the fire that forms the weapons aimed against me.  That builds character.

Second, HE makes sure that the weapons formed against me (specifically the “tongue that accuses me in judgment”) wont prosper.  That, He said, is your heritage.  And your vindication is from Me.

That was true back then.  It’s still true today.  For me.  And for you.

Pam April 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Enlightening, as always, Andy! So true to my life these words speak, as if they were from God 🙂 Keep writing my friend, you are so gifted.

Laura Coplin August 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I need some serious prayer for great positive changes in my life….also concerning all of my children’s lives too…..I do pray for those who do not know what they do…..I can only continue to grow in the Lord and love all those that need it….

Andy Wood August 3, 2012 at 9:04 am

Praying for you now, Laura!

helena January 19, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Thank You. for your info. Please pray the unsaved people at work are horrible towards. I pray for them and treat them nice but lies are being said behind my back.Helena

sharita mayo April 1, 2013 at 7:44 am

Am i suppose to allow negative individual to stay in my life? Or can I just forgive them and disassociate myself from them? What does it mean to forgive?

Phil January 7, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Very much needed information. How do you know when you should leave ministry?

Andy Wood January 7, 2014 at 12:56 pm

That’s a loaded question Phil. Technically, none of us ever do, whether we “get paid” for it or not. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable, and even if you leave vocational ministry, you never leave the battle.

That said, there are reasons to step back, redirect, or reevaluate your place(s) of kingdom service. I believe it should always be as a step of obedience, not in fear, anger, or discouragement. But that obedience may present itself in terms of protecting your health or that of a family member, or perhaps “maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as Paul talks about. In context of this article, it’s important to discern the source of the “leading” – is it the enemy trying to discourage you, or the Lord being faithful to redirect you?

Happy to visit more – feel free to email me.

Ross Scrivener March 8, 2014 at 6:30 am

Hi Andy, I think it is important to read what is before you, before you make any comment. I have spiritual discernment, but my discernment maybe a little different. I was searching on spiritual attack’s when I found your article on people who would use words to attack someone. I was on a bit different thought pattern. My spiritual attacks have been some what different, encountering evil spiritual beings attacking my family and myself. When these attacks first occurred they some what bothered me. But, now that I am further on in my belief and relationship with the beloved Jesus Christ, it tends not to bother me. According to the bible, these were normal occurrences in Christian life and walk. I actually came to God through a dream I had 24 years ago. I know that God desires us to bear godly fruit in our lives, and this pleases Him.
If we are Christian, this refers that we are Christ like? John 15 Jesus the vine, we are the branches. The grape vine produces fruit, the grapes, which hang from its branches, which is us. So God desires for us to produce, and to produce good fruit. So what happens when we do not produce good fruit?
Walking in darkness, while declaring I know Him. If one declares I know Him, then one ought to walk just as He walked.I just thought to say, our enemy can be within the Church.In Australia, we are having a royal commission into men who profess Christ, yet have been sexual predators of Children and young people, and vunerable women and men. I have been concerned about this as this occurred in the fellowship I was formerly involved with. I would like to hear your thoughts on this important matter, yours in Christ Jesus, Ross Scrivener

Andy Wood March 8, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Hi Ross, and thanks for the comment. I totally agree with you that spiritual attacks can take many forms; I think that’s because we are multi-varied beings – we are body, soul (mind/will/emotions), and spirit. We have a self image, family relations, finances, and a host of other points of entry.

I completely understand that evil can manifest in a myriad of ways, and totally agree with that.

I also agree with what you intimated, which is straight from 1 John, that if a person says he is in the light and walks in darkness, he is a liar. And nowhere is this more hideously demonstrated than in predators of children in what should be the safest place on the planet. This crime is so egregious, I believe it should take the full force of both church and civil government to deal with it.

That said, I still believe in the power of the gospel to transform even the darkest of hearts (albeit from a prison cell). I also believe that justice should run its course – here in the USA this is one crime where the public can presume guilt before all the facts are in, and I think that’s dangerous.

On a more personal note, I am sorry that you, my brother in Christ, have had to deal with this up-close and personal, and I pray the Holy Spirit will lead you to a safe, life-giving fellowship.

Christianbreud April 27, 2014 at 10:30 am

Im only 17 and this has happened to me , 2 months ago my brother left to go to the military and the night he left i had these voices and images and thoughts and i was scared bc i knew it was all fake i just didnt know where it came from so i turned my life over to god and jesus and i think my day is comeing when its goes away does anyone related?

Andy Wood April 27, 2014 at 3:35 pm

I can related to having unusually violent images, particularly in dreams. It helped when I remembered that in Jesus I have authority over that sort of thing, and I specifically prayed over the situation before I went to sleep and informed the enemy that he had no power or authority – to take a hike.

Know what? He did.

terry November 11, 2014 at 2:41 pm

i am surrounded by this reality of spiritual attacks that are so close knit that it is weighting me down and it has been going on for so long that i feel like somtimes that i am trapped with no end in near.i dont want to be here anymore and that means everywhere… where is god? why is he allowing this i cant take it anymore.this is just wrong……….one could only understand if they would be in my shoes im tired……………………i want an out but there isnt one

Rebecca September 25, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Hi Andy, this article is very good, I have been under attack from the enemy over the past few days, thankfully I didn’t retaliate I just prayed, your article has been very helpful, I prayed to God about helping me to be more discerning and I found your site! I will definitely look at the other articles here, I like the fact that you are Christ cantered without being way too fanatical, I find what you said very accessible to me and it should also help others as well once again Thank you!!!!
God Bless

Connie November 21, 2015 at 1:48 am

Oh man this has been so helpful to me. I have had people pray for me for months and months. Every since march of this year. I was under attack by a sexual preditor. Sorry to say he is a police Detective. And maybe him being in law endorsements so many years he is like the criminals he locks up everyday. I was let to beleive he was wanting to help me with my apartment building. Sure a charmer a narssasist. With no empathy but at first he acted like he cared. I like this man and he wanted me to like him to but after about a month of knowing him I believe the Discernment the Holly spirit gave me. I turned things around took back control and ge did not like that. So he really needs prayer. Salvation.

Andy Cruickshank June 27, 2016 at 1:52 am

Very much grateful to meet you on this journey of my Christian walk.I just started studying about spiritual attacks and launched into your network.that night I had my first share but believe strongly now that the my engagement with you would help me gain grounds to stand fast in battle.thank you very much Andy and god bless you mightily.

Beth July 19, 2020 at 10:55 am

I was myself a victim of a spiritual attack last year, and I just want to reiterate that Satan is actively working against those who love God. He used my love of God to trick me; when I was in prayer, he spoke my name in a voice that sounded like thunder. He made me think that God had spoken my name. He can imitate voices–even the voice you would expect from God. He imitated the voice of Jesus as well, claiming that he was Jesus. This led down a road of absolute terror, where he would make me feel all kinds of things in my body. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer and simply stated, “Jesus will you help me?” This enabled Jesus to begin the process of extricating the devil from my life. When I prayed these words, I stopped feeling the terror. I believe he needs our invitation and permission to begin his process, and it is a process. Satan does not give up quickly–he disappears for awhile, and comes back when you least expect it. Just remember to ask Jesus for help. Also, go to a psychiatrist; they won’t believe that you are hearing real voices, but the medicine they can prescribe will help. It won’t erase the presence of bad spirits, but at least it will be a little easier to ignore them.

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