I know a thing or two about giving Satan a foothold in my life. I know it begins quietly. Surreptitiously. With a thread of anxiety. A buried bitterness. A tiny crack of discontentment.
They say termites can enter a structure through an opening as small as 1/32nd of an inch. That’s all they need to consume a home from the inside out — a foothold the size of a single grain of sugar.
When I was fifteen, the foothold was fear. I read a book about spiritual warfare and my mind ran rampant. For three years I battled a crippling fear of demons that chased me in my dreams and quickly stole my freedom. My mom eventually led me through Neil Anderson’s Victory Over the Darkness, and slowly, one thought at a time, I broke free.
In college, the foothold was insecurity wrapped up in an identity crisis. Later, it was the idolatry of my children. Then ministry. Then discontentment over the parts of my life I didn’t like — the sacrifices of child-rearing, the scrutiny of church life, the everyday disappointments and doubts.
In the beginning, it’s easy to ignore the reality that Satan has a foothold in your life. It’s like learning to live with a limp. You just drag it along everywhere you go — resentment, envy, secret sin. The problem is, by nature, footholds evolve. They become strongholds, then one day, strangleholds.
This is why Paul urges believers in Ephesians 4:26-27, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Does this mean you have to resolve all your angry fights before crashing for the night? I don’t think so. Sometimes, in our exhaustion, we need sleep to cool off. The point is, emotions are time sensitive. Left unchecked, they can lead to sin and spiritual bondage. So Paul is saying, deal with your negative emotions promptly. Be wise. Don’t give Satan an opportunity to turn anger into hatred. Or sorrow into bitterness. Or apathy into unbelief.
A couple years ago, I decided to go to the dermatologist for the first time in my life, to ask about a little spot on my nose. “I’ve had it forever,” I told the doctor, “but recently a friend said it looked like a basal cell.”
Turns out, the spot was nothing. But there was a mole in the center of my back that was cancerous. It was so small and in such an obscure location that I never would have noticed it. My doctor, on the other hand, saw it immediately. Better yet, she removed it. She told me to come back every six months to be sure it didn’t return.
“Am I gonna die of cancer?” I asked. (I like to jump right to the point.) “No,” she said. “If you come every six months, we’ll catch it before it progresses. We just want to catch it early.”
So it goes with sin. A wise person makes time for spiritual check-ups. For silence, solitude, and self-reflection. Just as a doctor examines the body, we’re prudent to examine the soul — to get curious about the emotional and spiritual symptoms in our lives. Am I quick to anger? Am I disinterested in church? Do I long for sin?
When we catch the symptoms early and deal with them effectively, we slam the door in Satan’s face. How do we deal with disturbing spiritual symptoms? Reach out to a trusted mentor. Consider professional counseling (it’s worked wonders in my life). Practice a weekly sabbath for rest and reflection, and a yearly sabbatical if possible. Limit technology. Enlist accountability. Read your Bible. Receive Jesus’ invitation into a raw and authentic relationship with Him.
It’s never too late to take a next step toward Christ. If Jesus could exorcise demons, He can free us from the greatest spiritual entanglements of our lives. He can reignite waning faith, rebuild dying marriages, and “free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:15).