Discerning Opposition from Correction


Razor wireIf you’ve been a reader of this blog long enough, you’re familiar with one of the issues I believe we Christians today need to strengthen: discernment. As the world around us decays and the Western churches look increasingly like the world, never before has discernment been so needed—and yet so lacking.

Knowing how to pray is important. When people come to us for prayer, the Holy Spirit is there to pray for us, especially when we don’t know what to pray. However, the influence of the churches we grew up in and our lack of the scriptural knowledge may overpower our faith in praying. We may very well not be praying what we ought.

Discernment carries over into prayer when we discern how to pray correctly for people who are undergoing trials.

Everyone reading this, I’m sure, believes that God is sovereign. On that we rest assured. However, knowing whether the trials of someone’s life are due to opposition from Satan or the loving correction of God is difficult. For our purposes here, let’s understand that correction is the refining of a path that a believer is on, even if it means a 180 degree turn. Opposition is the figurative “hitting the wall,” when nothing at all can get through and everything appears fruitless. At issue is that, from our limited perspective, the two might seem interchangeable.

I think most people believe one of the following ideas about correction in a person’s life:

    1. God corrects by utilizing His own direct agency.
    2. God uses his ultimate sovereignty over Satan to permit the Enemy to serve as a tool of correction.
    3. Time and chance happen to all; this includes “correction.”
    4. We are not being corrected by anything or anyone outside of ourselves.

Most people would also tend to believe that opposition occurs in one of these ways:

    A. God opposes those who are out of His will by utilizing His own direct agency.
    B. God uses His sovereignty over Satan to permit the Enemy to oppose the wayward.
    C. The thief comes to steal and destroy; Satan is the opposer, not God.
    D. Because of the Fall, everything is tainted. What some view as “opposition” is only the practical result of a fallen world.
    E. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Nothing outside of ourselves is opposing us.

Some will argue that people may operate out of more than one of those concepts listed, but should they happen to have multiple views operating, one will usually be primary.

Let’s see how this applies in reality…

A godly man named George, who ran a grocery store for years, believes that God is guiding Him to sell his very profitable grocery in order to start a ministry. Having seen the difficulty that some ministries endure in getting emergency food, water, and medical supplies to stricken areas, he starts a logistics company to streamline this process. George sells off the grocery and puts his life’s savings into his new company, the ministry he feels called to serve through.

At first the new company does very well, but a large secular multinational notes the success of George’s smaller company and moves into its marketspace. George’s company immediately begins to suffer. He prays every day that his ministry will stay afloat. However, his ministry/company is losing money rapidly, only being kept afloat by George’s dwindling personal savings.

One Sunday, George winds up in your church asking you for prayer about his problem. Which of the principles of correction or opposition listed above guides the way that you pray for George? Is he being corrected or opposed? And in what way?

Or consider your next-door neighbor Nancy, whose nineteen-year-old stepdaughter Meredith has been mistreating her own child. Nancy, a strong Christian, has been attempting to intercede on behalf of her grandchild, knowing that the state is close to removing custody of the child from Meredith. Ultimately, the state places the child in a foster home and Nancy is still locked in an increasingly futile fight for custody.

When Nancy is sharing her story with you and asks for prayer, along what lines of reasoning above does your prayer follow?

So how do you view and pray for George’s and Nancy’s situations? Did George hear God’s guidance, or is God correcting George’s waywardness. Or is this simply a case of Satan’s opposition to godly initiatives? And what about Nancy’s fight? How do you see her battle? How would you pray?

Your answers and comments are very much appreciated!

22 thoughts on “Discerning Opposition from Correction

  1. As christians our opposition comes from 3 sources. Our sinful nature, the world, and Satan. To try to blame either God or Satan is a false dichotomy. There is an equally viable third option, that is, George’s problems are simply a result of the sinful world we live in. Satan doesn’t have to be directly involved in every situation that takes a turn for the worse. Bad things happen, that’s a fact of life.

    Given that, I think it’s more likely that what George is experiencing is simply a result of our sinful world. How would I pray? I’d be honest with God, I’d pray that he would continue to guide George and lead him where He wants him to go. Also, I’d pray that God would provide for George financially, emotionally and spiritually during this difficult time.

  2. Broken Messenger

    As the world around us decays and the Western churches look increasingly like the world, never before has discernment been so needed—and yet so lacking.

    Amen. Nice article, Dan.


  3. Broken Messenger

    So how do you view and pray for George’s and Nancy’s situations? Did George hear God’s guidance, or is God correcting George’s waywardness. Or is this simply a case of Satan’s opposition to godly initiatives? And what about Nancy’s fight? How do you see her battle? How would you pray?

    Simply that God would act in George’s life and ministry according to His will – whether that be the survival or dissolution of George’s ministry. That God would reveal to George either a new direction for serivce unto the Lord in his life, or to enable him to continue on the same path. Why would I pray (and do pray) such a seemingly generic type of prayer? Because God’s “ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts”, and “who can know the mind of the Lord that we should instruct Him?” In the end, it is God’s will and design, and we are just part of it.


  4. Brad,

    Not trying to pick on you here, only using your comment to further the discussion…

    Your answer that we simply pray that “God’s will be done” isn’t the typical response in the New Testament. For instance:

    As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
    —Acts 16:16-18 ESV

    Paul did not say,”Thy will be done,” but he openly confronted an opposing demonic force. In the case of George above, why would it be wrong to consider if the failure of George’s business is due to demonic opposition? Isn’t our battle (and the prayers that accompany that battle) not against flesh and blood, but against demonic forces and powers? If Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, isn’t that the work of the Church, too—to take back what Satan has stolen?

    What do you think?

  5. Ben,

    I didn’t create the dichotomy you said I did. The three sources of opposition you cited are listed in the five I include.

    What you might be disagreeing with is the fact that I’m theorizing that people tend to make one of those primary. I’m not saying that you can’t hold to the three sources you noted, but I am saying that we tend to make one of those our “Go To” reasoning when we confront issues like the ones I gave as examples.

    It seems to me from what how you commented that you tend to make the truth that we live in a fallen world your primary means of understanding opposition, with God opposing and Satan opposing to be behind that one.

    I’m not picking on you, either. My experience is that when people pray for others who are undergoing trials, they tend to default to a set belief system that they express through their subsequent prayers. Have prayed with thousands of people over the years, I rarely see anyone who prays against opposition who expresses a balance of how they perceive the cause of the opposition an individual faces.

    Of course, your mileage may vary….

  6. I would choose #C.

    I believe both cases to need spiritual warfare .

    Of course…I guess that shows my Petnecostal leanings…LOL.

    But Dan, you make an excellent point about the absolute necessity of hearing God BEFORE we pray. 99% of the Christians IMO just pray any ole’ thing that comes to their mind. If we truly love one another, and this goes for church prayer groups also, then we will take the time, even if it is months—to correctly listen to how God guides us to pray for each situation BUT also always asking HIM to show us the Scripture HE WANTS us to stand upon in that situation.

  7. Gayla

    What a great post!

    I think ultimately, we have to pray God’s will. Jesus did when He prayed:

    “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

    He also told us to pray, “Thy will be done” in the model prayer.

    I believe (and think Scripture shows) that God is completely sovereign – over this fallen world, over Satan, over our free will.

    So whether an ‘opposition’ or situation is a result of any one of these, it’s ultimately a result of God’s hand. I don’t know that we have the capability of determining what the ‘source’ is for either of the situations.

    I agree that we need supernatural discernment, but again, discernment comes for God. Since we are mixed-bags of spiritual and human, we’re going to get things wrong at times. George may or may not have it wrong. I would pray for God’s grace to cover him, and for godly wisdom and discernment and total dependence on the Lord.

    Same with Nancy, actually.

    He causes ALL things to work together for good..

  8. Diane, et al.,

    What if you knew Nancy well enough to know that despite being a very devout believer that she is also very controlling and is always angling to get her way, even if she is not aware that she’s doing it? Could this situation now be looked upon as a way that God is correcting this tendency in her life to always want to have what she wants? Perhaps the stepdaughter was driven away and into some of the things that have led to this situation because Nancy was constantly needling her about things Nancy felt she needed to control in her stepdaughter’s life. The stepdaughter might have fled home simply to get away.


    This verse always hits me between the eyes:
    And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
    —Isaiah 30:21 ESV

    This has implications for the leading of the Lord in all areas of life, not just in prayer, but we must apply it to prayer and those situations where people are seeking guidance or help in understanding why guidance did not work the way it first appeared. Remember Daniel 10 where the angel tells Daniel he was opposed by demonic forces for twenty-one days, and this is why Daniel’s prayer had not been answered immediately. We’re less than effective if we do not incorporate that kind of understanding into how we handle praying for others (and ourselves.)

  9. Michele Hastings

    I always have trouble with stuff like this. Here’s MY situation. See if someone can pray about it for me or give me insight. I’ve homeschooled my 2 boys all their lives until this year. They’ve both decided to go to school for grade 8 and 9 and are doing well. Now I want to look for a different job so I can work while they’re at school and be home evenings and weekends. I’ve applied to be a teaching assistant working with behavior problem kids which is what my husband does too. I’ve been doing hair for 20 years part time and I want a change. I have a background working with young offenders and my experience homeschooling so I feel I’m qualified for the job and I know some jobs are open right now. I even talked to a consultant who works with “structured learning classrooms” who thought I was a “great find” and he wanted the person in human resources to give me top priority for an interview. It’s been a week and a half since I know he talked to her and she still hasn’t called me. Do I push or leave it be? I can’t think of anything else I want to do during this season of life and I want the job. (Don’t know if it’s the right thing for me but I want it.) What’s happening here? Is the enemy opposing me or is God shutting a door? HELP! I want peace about it while I wait, do hair and look for another job but I’m still hoping…I’m trying to have the attitude that if God wants me there He will open the door. I keep praying that His will be done. I don’t want to be in a job that’s not where He wants me. But I want the job! So??????

  10. Broken Messenger

    Dan, nit pick away, sir. It is your blog! That said, I don’t think you were being picky and I have always enjoyed our the back and forth

    Paul did not say, “Thy will be done,” but he openly confronted an opposing demonic force. In the case of George above, why would it be wrong to consider if the failure of George’s business is due to demonic opposition? Isn’t our battle (and the prayers that accompany that battle) not against flesh and blood, but against demonic forces and powers? If Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, isn’t that the work of the Church, too—to take back what Satan has stolen?

    Dan, yes I agree. But in your example here, I think it to be no small thing that the Scriptures state that Paul was troubled by this same girl who followed them around for many days (Acts 16:18). I don’t think it to be a great leap that Paul was in prayer for the girl during this time, and that God revealed His will to Paul for her to be healed—after all he was the apostle who commanded us to pray without ceasing, so it is hard to imagine that he was not praying for her. In other words, I think you are condensing the timeframe between Paul’s first encounter with her and God’s healing of her and making it seem like there was no prayer involved. I think (despite the silence of the Scripture in both directions) that there was prayer.

    Now as to your question, why must George’s situation be due to demonic influences? Could it be that George is needed elsewhere and that God was allowing his ministry to decrease in order to steer him according to His will? Remember the Spirit did prohibit Paul from preaching in Phrygia, Galatia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7) so God does inhibit at times according to His will, regardless of His intent. Again, his ways and thoughts are higher than ours. This is to say, it is his plan, not ours.

    But I think part of the problem here may be our shallow view of ministry in general (ironically, I just posted an article on this subject). George could lose everything financially, yet still have the ability to minister. Paul working as a tentmaker, was jailed, persecuted and lived in poverty yet was, to say the least, very effective without an annual budget. Furthermore, he gave everything and risked everything for the Gospel. Could it be he asking some of us (including George) to live such lives now? I don’t deny this and would be surprised if any believer actually would. The real question here is how much funding is necessary and how effective do we think a cause must be before we call it “ministry” particularly if we are called to be living sacrifices who are to daily deny ourselves to follow the Lord Jesus.

  11. In regards to the possible demonic influence on George’s ministry, it is certainly possible.

    I think situations like this that indicate such a need for a discernment. Most people don’t bother to ask if it is demonic, or if its a result of sin in George’s personal life, if God is leading to the dissolution of the business. All those are realistic possibilities. Praying for George would then be asking for spiritual understanding into the situation. I think simply praying God’s will to be done would be presumptuous.

    We see in the gospels that sickness was either a) demonic b) a result of sin, or c) a result of a fallen world that we live in. The question of course is, what are we dealing with?

    In regards to Nancy, its definitely possible that this is God bringing correction. Though I think if you’re a good enough a friend, before you can really pray for any particular direction…as a brother/sister in the faith, you ought to speak truth into the situation about some possible adjustments she needs to make. Often times prayer tends to more dealing with the effects and outgrowth of a deeper root issue.

    The problem of course is that many Christians are looking things at merely face value. They take in the available information and never both to ask God what is REALLY going on in a situation. I suspect the demonic is often more involved than we realize…or unconfessed personal sin. Leaving things up to “God’s will” is abdicting our responsibility to apply the reality that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.

  12. If George had told you when he asked for prayer that he’d asked the elders of his former church to pray beforehand about this new venture and all five had come back saying they thought the Lord was definitely leading, would it change the way George’s situation is viewed?

    As for demonic activity in these situations, I’m of the C.S. Lewis school: too much attention to the demonic or too little are BOTH mistakes. The Bible clearly states that the thief comes to steal and destroy. Look what Satan did to Adam and Eve. Now it is true that they were enticed into sin and that led to their downfall, they weren’t innocent of the Fall, but aren’t godly people opposed? God told Satan he could do just about everything to Job except kill him, and that’s just what Satan did. What I still struggle with is whether after coming through an assault like that a person gets the kind of reward that Job did—he got it all back and then some.

    If we make the assumption that George is being purposefully opposed by demonic forces seeking to destroy his ministry, should we entertain the idea that he will by default suffer economic ruin with the idea that while he may not get the restoration Job did, he’ll at least get a valuable lesson?

    I’m not always sure I buy that. I know a lot of Christians that default to “Well, God must be teaching you something.” I don’t understand why some Christians default to this as if the battle’s already lost and the only thing that come out of it is a nebulous “lesson.” That seems like a cop-out compared with the harder spiritual exercise of deep prayer and discernment as to the cause of George’s problem. Yet this “God must be teaching you a lesson” thing is so common.

    Was God teaching Daniel a lesson when the angel sent to him was delayed by 21 days or was the reality that behind the scenes other forces were at work? Was it God’s intention to merely teach Daniel a lesson by allowing Satan to oppose the very messenger God Himself had sent? Try to analyze the theology behind that one! Isn’t it enough to say that the Thief was trying to destroy the message Daniel was supposed to receive?

    Just some more to think about.

  13. Brad,

    I’m of the opinion that we should not rule out any specific approach to this issue, nor should we necessarily rule everything in. Because we believe that God is sovereign, we have to believe that some intentionality exists in all things that happen. I’m not convinced that things happen randomly and for no ultimate reason. However, I’ll be the first to say that there might be some cases when things ARE just random—wrong place, wrong time—but God still is over that and He grieves, too. It’s the old Sovereignty vs. Free Will tension.

    Still, all of this plays into how we pray for people and how we explain catastrophes in people’s lives. Christian intercessory prayer and advice in the face of terrible circumstances too often comes off uninformed and surface-y because we are too quick to speak and too slow to ask God for discernment into people’s troubles.

  14. Brian Colmery

    Dan, thanks so much for your prayer.

    As for my 2 cents, I think I’m short a penny. My first reaction is to do a complete review of the scriptures regarding this whole concept, which is easily sliding into the “how do we discern the will of God” question.

    But my current in-the-moment reaction, if faced with George or Nancy, is to pray with them for the discernment as to whether their situation is correction or opposition. Take advantage of the opportunity, whether opposition or correction, to ask that any hidden sin might be revealed in their life so they might repent and be cleansed. Also, I’d pray in the midst of the situation that they’d be further conformed to Christ’s character.

    And, come to think of it, before I’d pray I’d sit down and ask them why they think it’s happening. What a great opportunity God provided me to bring up Nancy’s controlling manner. Or, who knows, maybe God brought them to me so that I can ask them that hard question, whether this is correction or opposition, and see what comes of it.

    Just more fodder for discussion.

  15. Broken Messenger


    I certianly don’t disagree with that position (though I don’t know about things at random as I think everything moves ultimately according to God’s will, inspite of his allowance of other wills to influence the details). In fact, I hold to just this very position on the basis of my ignorance over the details. In other words, I know that everything moves according to the Creator’s will and overall plan and pray to this end, but as to whether or not God is restraining or Satan is allowed to oppose us, I must admit that I do not have this level of discernment in all situations. But I do know that all things ultimately work for God’s good and this is something we do not seem to be all that mindful of during trials. I hope this makes sense.


  16. Brad,
    Enjoyed your input and your continuing to come back for more input!

    I like your response. I would offer that too often when we pray for people during our meetings it’s a slam-bang-out-the-door kind of experience and we simply don’t take the time to follow-up. I wish more people would do that when they intercede for others in a face-to-face manner, especially people who may just be wandering through. Would it kill us to get their phone number so we could check on them later? It also blesses the ones who pray to actually see the outcome of prayer.

  17. Dan,

    Not really new :). I’ve been reading your blog for at least a good 6 months. I formally was known as “fo0tprintz.”

    This was just the first time I felt like I could say something other than, “I agree.” And even in that sense, it wasn’t directed towards you, but responding to other posters.

    I’m definitely blessed by the things that you write here. I can only hope people that this blog will encounter more people who don’t necessarily agree with what’s said so we can continue to have some “working out” of our theology in thought and in practice. Just having a bunch of “Yes” and “Amen” can’t be good for our egos… 😉

  18. Ben

    Dan said: “I’m not picking on you, either. My experience is that when people pray for others who are undergoing trials, they tend to default to a set belief system that they express through their subsequent prayers.”

    I didn’t feel like you were picking on me, not at all. I see what you’re saying, and I agree. I suppose you’re right in that when I pray I do lean toward one source of opposition. I have had negative experiences with people blaming Satan for everything or blaming God for everything and I tend to recoil to the other side of the spectrum. Your post has made me think.

  19. Anonymous

    Good post, Dan.

    I think the first thing I would do with each is pray for each, and I would ask God to do several things:

    * lead each the way God wants him/her to go
    * reveal to each the causes of the problems, breaking through stubbornness if needed
    * give each the courage and the will to see the issue through to the end, whichever way it turns out
    * bring each closer to him through the trials and tribulations
    * lead those Christians around them to help them

    After that, I think I would take the matter up with God privately, and I would tell each one that I was planning to do that. I would encourage them to pray, and to act, and to seek counsel from perhaps wiser heads than mine.

    And when I pray privately about each issue, I would expect God to answer. I cannot demand of God that he answer – he is sovereign. But I would expect him to answer; he has before in similar situations.

    And if I received an answer, I would bring it to the one for whom it is intended. I’ve found, in the past, that God’s answers are accompanied by explanation from the Holy Spirit so there is no confusion about what is intended.

    But perhaps that’s too “charismatic” an answer for most.

  20. Tracy B

    Hi, Dan —

    I’m a little late reading your post on correction v. opposition. Blogging is relatively new to me, being introduced to it by my A/G pastor here in Lansing, Michigan. He had a link to this article on his site (curtdalaba@blogspot.com).

    This question is a thing that has been uppermost in my thoughts for about 3 years. Being involved in women’s ministry as a lay person, the Lord has brought across my path several women with life-controlling issues. One in particular is a lady I’ve been visiting with MS (a believer), who is now almost completely incapacitated with the illness. I am overwhelmed by the fact that I can’t believe God’s will for a person would be for her to languish in a sick bed for years, with no outlet to interact with any people and with relatively little input from other believers in the way of fellowship or prayer on her behalf. The story is long, so I won’t elaborate too much.

    My nurse practitioner friend (also a believer) who helps care for this lady has requested that friends come for visits. Many have said they would, but nearly all have shied away when it comes to actually doing it. So I seem to be the only person who goes there. I have sensed the Lord instructing me to bring them praise and worship music CDs and faith-building books. They have little of these items in their possession. So I continue to do that and to pray.

    Of course, my major question is the one you have presented here. The first time I prayed over this lady in her home with her husband, I felt the most intense oppression and was hardly able to form words to speak. As an adult Sunday school teacher and having been involved in many Bible studies with women and men, praying out loud is like breathing for me. It almost always comes up out of my spirit, and I often have to cut myself short, or I would pray for hours, if you know what I mean. But on this day it was more difficult for me to pray than it was the first time I ever prayed out loud in a group as a teen, and it was a different, smothering kind of feeling — I believe demonic. This lady and her husband are not Spirit-filled in the pentecostal sense, and are doctrinally opposed to that understanding. Upon leaving their home that night, I asked the Lord what was going on. It could be so many things: Co-dependent, controlling personality issues, sin, demonic attachment, etc.

    So I continue to pray in the Spirit for discernment. I want to be able to approach this situation, and all difficult situations like it, the way Dr. Cho describes in his book, “The Fourth Dimension,” wherein he testifies how the Holy Spirit gives him words of knowledge, words of wisdom, and keen discernment into each particular case. So my current issue in my walk with God seems to be that struggling to come to the place where I can hear the voice of the Lord and receive His leading, by His Spirit, for exactly how to pray in each situation, with my mind and with my spirit, according to Romans 8:26. It is my intense desire to be a yielded, purified vessel for the Holy Spirit to flow through to minister to these difficult kinds of situations. I DON’T believe that it’s just too bad — we live in a fallen world and some things we just have to take. That would say to me that there are some things that God is not able to do anything about. We know that with Him, all things are possible. In comparison with our Lord, Satan is NOTHING, though we must be aware of him and alert to his schemes that are rooted in lies and deception. The Lord Almighty is the only one we are to fear. Developing that fear, feeding our spirits with the true knowledge of the One who has called us, is how we can become more than conquerors in all of these situations, according to His purposes.

    Thanks for posting this question. I have printed out the entire thing, with all the comments, and am using it in my quest to get God’s mind on how He is calling and leading me as an intercessor and any other ways He wishes to use me to build His church and advance His Kingdom in the earth.

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