Steve's Story: The Occult Legacy
Excerpt from Rescued from Hell, Chapter 7: Journey to Healing
There is an operational side of the kingdom of darkness which we can identity as the occult realm. Not to be able to identity or recognize it can be as dangerous for healthy living as walking through a minefield blindfolded, something I learned the hard way. The Bible was there for me to read and take warning, but I never did. Had I been wise, I would have learned from scripture that some of God’s most stringent warnings have to do with avoiding the occult at all costs, even at the pain of death. There are four areas of the occult identified by scripture: worship of false gods (idolatry, false religions), forbidden knowledge of the future (astrology, prognostication), forbidden contact with the dead (séances, mediums), and forbidden access to spiritual power (witchcraft, sorcery). Mercifully, under the New Covenant there is far more grace given to us than there was under the Old Covenant. Unlike ancient Israel we can repent and be forgiven for any sin, even sins of the occult. Additionally we are only called to put the sin to death in ourselves, not the occult practitioner! Grace, however, does not change the reality of how deadly and dangerous the occult realm remains for unsuspecting souls who trespass upon its boundaries.
I chronicled for you in Part One how I trespassed step-by-step into the occult, never realizing that it was evil and that it meant me evil, until I was completely snared by it. Even then I was bound by such deception that I continued to believe that the god I had encountered was the true God, and it was only me that was evil. From my limited point of view that’s a major-league deception, but even what may seem like slight transgressions into this realm can leave a person bound up with confusion, fear and guilt—opening doors for the enemy to bring the curse of the Law, the consequence of our disobedience. Freedom and healing come first through recognition and repentance, putting every point of contact with occult practices and beliefs under the Blood of Christ for cleansing, and resolutely turning away from any future involvement, even to the point of burning articles or books you may possess. At Ephesus, when the new believers repented of practicing sorcery, they burned books valued at several million dollars, but the value of being set free from the occult was undoubtedly far greater (Acts 19:18-19). Both June and I went over our past with a fine tooth comb looking for (and finding) points of occult contact to repent of and things in our house that needed to be destroyed, like the Smerf figurines.
I definitely wanted my freedom, but there were things that couldn’t easily go under repentance or into the fire. I was stalked by a spooky, shadowy side of what seemed like my former pre-Christian self. It was ghostlike and very scary, but I also felt sorry for it because it seemed so pathetic, so ruined. I prayed about it and repented for my past in every way I knew how, but it wasn’t until seven or eight years into the walk that I finally saw the last of that ethereal stalker. As I recall I spoke directly to it, told it I was sorry for all it had gone through, but that it had to go to Jesus and leave me in peace in the Name of Jesus. I have no idea how that fits into my theology or yours, but whatever lay behind those apparitions, they ended right then and there. I mention this because for those of you who may be seeking freedom from the occult, you need to know that the path has general outlines provided by scripture, which any good disciple can help you learn, but there are specific steps only the Holy Spirit can show you.
Far more difficult to shake off were two nightmarish legacies from my Night of Terror: the glimpse of the real hell that I had seen; and the message of eternal damnation that I had heard. In my mind I knew that these were things of the past and that they had been exposed as lies from the very first night of my rescue. I was not going to the real Hell, nor would the true God ever condemn me—thanks to what Jesus had done and the faith in Him I had been fortunate enough to receive. That should have settled it, but it didn’t.
Ideas are held in the mind, but images are held in the heart. The things I had experienced were now images rooted in me. Images carry far more spiritual power, which is why the image of God and the image we have of ourselves in our heart of hearts determines the whole course of our lives (Proverbs 4:23; 23:7). We must understand this principle: the Lord has chosen to dwell in our hearts, not our brains. He wants to be where the action is, especially when it comes to cleaning house.
Due to movements of my heart in prayer, I could tell that the Holy Spirit was working with me on these two legacies from the past. A horse that wants to run free often requires a lot of restraint in the stalls. My heart was bucking and kicking against what was riding me—it definitely didn’t like those two images from my Night of Terror. Sometimes there’s nothing more to do than cry out loud to God, weep, repent, renounce lies, confess truth—and learn to wait in hope upon the Lord. Waiting means hoping; hoping means waiting (Romans 8:24-25). I gave up on waiting. I had so much pain from that protracted occult experience that I became very angry with God for allowing it to happen in the first place and for not removing the pain quick enough to suit me. The only thing I will say in my defense is that this anger didn’t arise until I was eleven or twelve years into my walk with God. That’s a fair bit of waiting. I was trying to be Job-like in patience; unfortunately I also became Job-like in anger.
Calling it anger isn’t quite fair. It was rage. Three signs of occult damage are very high levels of guilt, fear and anger. I had all three signs and all three were intricately bound up with the events of my Night of Terror. I understood that it was my own freewill decisions that had gotten me into that mess and that God had to preserve my freedom of will, but wasn’t there something He could have done? Couldn’t He have intervened? Did I really have to be dragged down that far? There’s no point to these why questions, or rather, no point in being stymied by such “cross” interrogations of God for two reasons: God never, ever makes a mistake; and God doesn’t usually explain His reasons, especially when we are in a demanding mood. He waits when He sees we are unteachable. Ask Pilate. Or Herod. My granddaughter threw a tantrum on me once when she was three. I just smiled inwardly and waited; time was on my side. It took too much effort for her to maintain her “strategy” for long, and once it passed we set about doing the very thing she had first refused. Because I love her, I hurt for her, but I wasn’t about to let her anger rule over her or me. I believe that the Lord is like that with us.
By my calculations, my tantrum lasted at least two years, maybe three. That I didn’t get mad at God sooner was really a testimony to how afraid I was of Him. Even so, I didn’t want to be angry at all and was trying every way I knew how to get free of my bitterness. Have you noticed that when you are carrying an angry grudge against someone, it seems like everything they do just sets you off? I would go to Him almost every night when I was in the thick of this season of anger and say things like, “Father, I’m so upset about what You allowed to happen today, but I don’t want to be angry with You about it.” It’s too late, son. You already are. Come, let me have it. AndI would. I would really let Him have it!
One time I shouted so much before releasing the pain to Him in prayer and resubmitting to His leadership over me that I ended up hoarse the next day. All the women on staff at Christ Church made such a fuss over me that I started feeling guilty. They thought I had laryngitis and was bravely “suffering for Jesus.” I looked up to the Lord—we were patched up by then—and shared a good laugh. If they only knew; I didn’t tell them though! They would have tried to help me and I sensed that this was something that could only be worked out between God and me directly. The simple truth is that if I had gone to a prayer partner or a counselor every time I had an emotional problem from the past, I would have worn out every Christian in Georgia. I was willing to take the hardest things to anyone who was halfway equipped and willing, but I knew that I had to do most of the mountain moving myself.
I may be making light of this season in my life, but it really was a time of very intense anguish. I carried such a knot of emotional pain in my right side just below the ribs that I would gladly have cut it out with a knife, if only it were a true physical pain. After everyone was in bed I would get in my car and seek out secluded spots where I could cry and rage, then release whatever had come up to God on the strength of believing Roman 8:28 over it all: ”for the sake of Your redemptive purposes I accept even this...” I had a very real sense that the Holy Spirit was bringing up one broken piece of the past after another and helping me give it to God by this means. Like a fisherman of the soul, He was using events in the present to hook into things of my past that I had pushed down below conscious level. I tried in every way to cooperate with that process, but it was very taxing and tedious.
Eventually, even more healing from the occult damage came through three major moments of ministry. First, I finally identified “death and the grave” as the spirit that came upon me when the real hell almost swallowed me in actual death. Naming it brought the necessary conviction, and I commanded it to leave. This was something I had tried to do a few years earlier while still in seminary, but with no success. This time that deep-seated fear was gone. Second, during this same time in the mid-90s, I was prayed over for at least two hours of intense ministry in the Spirit at a local church—this went a long way towards mending that place in me which still held a terror of being cast into hell again. While that was taking place the Lord showed me that I myself could never make those same mistakes again, now that I knew Him. It is a new day reverberated in my mind. A few years later a pastor broke the curse of what I had “heard” as my sentence of final judgment and eternal damnation. That put the icing on the cake.
The thing that ended my anger with God came to me from an unexpected direction. I had been looking to repentance, to prayer, to ministries and deliverance. All of this had been moving a mountain of brokenness out of me one anger session at a time, mainly by believing the promise of Romans 8:28 over everything that came up. I reached the point where my heart just wasn’t into being angry with God. I could finally see that He truly was innocent, that the occult truly is so evil that I was fortunate to have survived at all and that God was now truly working everything for good as a love-gift to me. Even so, I couldn’t stop being angry; it puzzled and shamed me. He certainly deserved to be better treated—especially by me, the one He had rescued from hell. I remember repeatedly asking Him: how could this pattern be broken? That’s when the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus to me in a totally unexpected way.
Over a period of two nights I went into our garage and held a crucifix, staring at it and meditating on it until I could gain entrance into His sufferings. Paul had prayed in Philippians that he might know Him in the fellowship of His sufferings. Now that prayer had become my prayer too. Slowly, I began to see that my sufferings—as great as they seemed to me—were still small compared to what He suffered just for me. He suffered the pain of my brokenness and sin, having them be placed on Him. He suffered the foulness of being made one with my sins. He suffered the punishment I will never know for every one of those sins. He suffers with the Father who grieves over how my sins have caused me so much grief. He suffers with the Holy Spirit who groans and travails within me as He helps me bring my sins to God for cleansing. Here was the shocking revelation—Jesus has suffered far more for my life than I ever had or ever could! And He has suffered like that for everyone!
If only my words could convey the majesty of that blazing revelation, or the magnitude of the suffering that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have gone through for each one of us and with each one of us! By the second night all of my suffering was swallowed up by the grace of letting it give me entry into His suffering. Who can possibly say enough or praise Him as He deserves? The hot flame of indignation over the portion of suffering I had been allowed to experience at long last flickered out. Now I was actually grateful for what I had been through for the sake of what it was revealing to me about my God! This was far more than just being healed of anger; this was a whole new level of love and esteem for the Lord. Paul says that it is only by much suffering that we enter the Kingdom of God. We should listen to Paul. This is the same man who told us that he was willing to cast everything into the fire for the sake of knowing Jesus “in the fellowship of His sufferings”(Philippians 3:10). I am so glad Paul wrote that! It brought unspeakable consolation to me at that time and has pointed the way for using all kinds of negative events and setbacks as a window into seeing what Jesus is willing to go through for us. With this surrendering of my complaint against God, with this final acceptance of my life as it had been, the sense of lost wholeness was finally restored. I had arrived home on the inside, and at long last I felt like a “normal” human being!
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