When a friend like Tom, with 42 years in the ministry, says that he has come across something new, I stop and listen. As our meeting was breaking up, I asked him how I could pray for his church. He paused and sat back down.
"I've never encountered this before," he said. "Five of our people have come to me recently without knowledge of each other to report that for the last year there seems to be a terrible heaviness in their spirits whenever they enter the church. One described it as a dark cloud descending on her. It was even mentioned once by visitors who didn't return. Could this be an enemy attack?"
As I walked to my car later, Tom's question remained with me. I thought about times when an undefined mood had enveloped me and others around me in ministry. I realized that these moments came at spiritually critical times in the church's life.
I began to recall hearing from other churches in crisis situations: "It's like a blanket of suspicion settled down over us, and we couldn't understand why suddenly no one trusted each other." Or, "There just seems to be an atmosphere of despair. Our church has always been up for anything, but now we're starting to hear, 'Nothing will work.'"
Some common threads appeared. A vague and indefinable mood would begin to affect an individual involved in significant ministry. Sometimes it affected multiple people, who would comment on it independently. Commonly you'd hear, "I have never felt this way before" or "He just doesn't seem like himself!"
Frequently, no cause could be found for what was being felt. But it would halt ministry. Strong Christians found themselves behaving irritably or trudging dispiritedly through ministry, which normally would have energized them. It was a sudden atmospheric change. A mood swing by an entire group. I had always seen temptation as an attack against our thought lives. But why should Satan attack just our thoughts and not our moods? Moods motivate or demotivate. Our unseen enemy tries to deceive, to twist our thinking into false doctrines. It appears a malevolent spirit may also manipulate feelings to produce wrong actions.
When Jesus taught the disciples that "This kind (of demon) comes out only by prayer and fasting," he indicated that there is more than one kind of demon and more than one kind of attack, which must be repulsed in more than one kind of way.
Scriptural examples abound. When King Saul was no longer under God's favor, an evil spirit accelerated his decline. The spirit's attacks involved a dark mood that would come over Saul and cause him to lash out in murderous rage.
Jesus warned Peter that Satan desired to sift them as wheat. But no one believes that Peter denied Jesus because he had been led into false doctrine, concluding that Jesus was not the Messiah. No, Peter had fallen prey to a different sort of attack—a spasm of fear that caused him to cower before even a servant girl's questioning gaze.
Earlier, when Jesus told Peter, "Get behind me, Satan," he was not calling Peter names. He was speaking to the influence over Peter that was prompting Peter's anxieties (and attempting to divert Jesus himself from his mission).
Let's be clear: Peter wasn't demon-possessed. Instead, this was an attack on his mood. This is different from the enemy telling us lies that corrupt the truth and cause us to feel discouraged. In a mood attack, the discouragement, anger, coldness, or suspicion may have no rational basis.