THE SPIRIT OF SEPARATION
By David Cannistraci
It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I felt like I was watching a train wreck in
slow motion—and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. A great friendship was breaking up.
We had been close, but things were getting strained. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but somewhere beneath the surface of our forced smiles and tense conversations, an
ominous influence was moving closer. Words of peace became strangely warped. Confusion and suspicion whispered lies. Then suddenly, a firestorm of words, and it
was over. We had come apart, and I never saw it coming.
If you’ve ever experienced the pain of an unexpected relational meltdown, you’ve probably encountered the spirit of separation. You are not alone. Relationships in the church are under attack everywhere. The last decade has set records for divorces and separations, even among Christian leaders in the midst of headline-grabbing revivals.
Thankfully, God is uncovering the way these spirits operate and how they can be shut down. While their powers are real, spirits of separation are no match for an equipped, humble and prayer-filled Christian. If you’ll read on, you won’t fall prey to its ploys.
THE TWISTING SERPENT
To deal with this enemy, we must look to the Word. Scripture describes the defeat of a
spirit called Leviathan: “On that day the LORD with His harsh, great, and strong sword, will bring judgment on Leviathan, the fleeing serpent—Leviathan, the twisting serpent. He will slay the monster that is in the sea.” (Isa. 27:1, HCSB. See also Ps. 74:13-14 and 104:24-26). While there are a number of theories about what these verses describe, most scholars have linked Leviathan with the Nile crocodile.
But Leviathan is clearly more than a crocodile. Isaiah sees him as a spiritual enemy; a supernatural serpent that must be defeated. Serpents and dragons embody the work of Satan throughout Scripture. Leviathan’s crooked path can be traced from the serpent in Eden to the dragon of Revelation. Thank God, we’ve been given authority “to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy…” (Luke 10:19). In the end, Leviathan is slain.
Leviathan’s clear mission is to destroy the lives of God’s people by dividing them in subtle ways. The name Leviathan comes from a root word that means “to twist”—one of his primary tactics. Like the crocodile, Leviathan approaches its prey slyly, just under the surface. When the moment is right, it strikes explosively with one aim: taking hold of its victims and twisting them apart.
Ray and Susan came to NewLifeChurch with high hopes. Their first service was refreshing. They were warmly welcomed, and saw such love and humility in Pastor Peterson. Before long, Ray and Susan were heart-deep in their new church home. Ray was delighted: “I’m so glad we found this church. It’s perfect!”
It was subtle at first, but something began to shift one Sunday. Pastor Peterson was giving a report about a recent outreach. But it bothered Ray; he couldn’t put his finger on it, but he kept thinking, “He’s taking credit for what God is doing. He wants us to think he is responsible for these souls being saved.”
This repeated itself in different ways until Ray was persuaded that Pastor Peterson had a spiritual problem. Susan disagreed, but Ray kept noticing problems until everything about the church that he had once loved irritated him.
Ray set up a meeting with Pastor Peterson. He was intimidating, judgmental and harsh. The stunned pastor couldn’t reason with Ray no matter how he tried. Ray’s views were so twisted and disconnected. Susan just looked down in shame.
Ray refused to pray with his pastor. “I think it is best for us to part ways,” He said. “I don’t know what we ever saw in this church.”
Within a year of leaving, the same dynamics emerged in their marriage. Words were warped, communication was strained, and hearts grew hard. Ray and Susan separated, and eight months later were divorced.
Why does the enemy target relationships? Our connections with each other are critical, delivering the love and power we need to fulfill our destinies. Paul describes the joints in the Body of Christ as keys to our supply (Ephesians 4:16). Dislocated spiritual joints are painful and disabling to our unity and growth as the church—a real coup for the enemy.
Word-twisting is central to Leviathan’s operation. David complained of his enemies,
“They are always twisting what I say…” (Ps. 56:5, NLT). The serpent defeated Eve by twisting God’s words. “Did God really mean that? You won’t die if you eat of the tree…” (See Genesis 3:4-5). Adam and Eve were quickly divided from God and each other, and
the fallout was devastating.
Separation attacks relationships subtly. A wife wonders, “What did my husband mean by that?” With the right amount of demonic spin, confusion and suspicion are sown between the best of friends. The enemy twists things just a little bit more each time, and if we don’t discern it, things can snap. Even apostles can fall into to a spirit of division and part over unimportant matters (See Acts 15:36-40). The rhythm is always the same: Twisting and separation, twisting and separation—and you never see it coming.
THE PRIDE THAT DIVIDES
The book of Job teaches us more about Leviathan. In the early chapters, Satan sought God’s permission to take Job’s wealth, health and family, bringing him into desperate pain. Job was so devastated by his losses that he wished for “those who arouse Leviathan” to curse the day he was born (Job 3:8). He’s referring to enchanters who worshipped the crocodile spirit named Leviathan, summoning curses and chaos. Thousands of years later, Leviathan is still a presence in the literature and practices of the occult and Satanism.
Around the time Job spoke this unwise lament, his friends showed up to comfort him. They found him sitting on a pile of ashes, covered with boils. Stunned by the sight, Job’s friends wept and couldn’t speak for days.
When Job’s friends found the courage to speak, their pious words backfired and created a rift. The problem was not just with Job’s comforters alone. In his pain, Job had become self-righteous and irreconcilable. Defending himself and overplaying his own righteousness, Job denied any sin in his life at all. Then he brazenly demanded a hearing with God! He had lost his spiritual perspective as well as his connection with those who came to show him love.
Near the end of the story, Job got his hearing with the Almighty, but He didn’t coddle or justify him. In fact, the Lord rebuked Job: “Where were you when I laid out the foundations of the earth?” (38:4) “Would you condemn me so that you can be justified?” (40:8)
God wisely unmasked a trait that keeps people from being healed and restored after loss. In our pain, we can become self-righteous. “I didn’t do anything to deserve this, God! It’s you and your people that are wrong!” This pride creates a wedge in our relationship with God and His people, just as it did with Job.
Job 41 is God’s closing argument. He outlines Leviathan’s frightening arrogance and destructive nature. Leviathan’s “scales are his pride” (v. 15). His heart is “as hard as stone” (v. 24). He is “the king over all the children of pride” (v. 34). God is saying, “Job, look at your self. Pride and pain are ruling you and twisting your perception. Like Leviathan, you’ve become twisted, hardened and irreconcilable.”
That was all it took. Job saw it, and it broke him. In the next chapter, Job repents of his pride and is restored based on his willingness to reconcile with his friends: “And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10)
STARVING IT OUT
When pain and loss pierce us, wounds can settle in our souls. The enemy plays off of these wounds and creates separations in our families, churches and networks. He twists words, distorts intentions, and prompts us to react out of pain instead of love. The result is always train wreck.
Pride is the problem. When we justify ourselves, pride hardens our heart and deceives us (1 John 1:8). If we buy the lie that we have no sin, the twisting has already begun, division has taken hold, and we never saw it coming.
Leviathan can only be defeated if we walk in humility. When we let the Lord reveal our pride, we can turn and be free. Humility creates an atmosphere around our lives that is toxic to separation. Leviathan can’t breathe the oxygen of grace. If we refuse pride, even when we hurt, the spirit of separation will be starved out of our lives.
To Gary it seemed to come from nowhere. He had made what he thought was an innocent remark to Jennifer at their family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Jennifer exploded and ran from the table angry and crying.
Pressures had been building in their marriage and Gary was becoming uneasy. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but somehow everything he said lately was misunderstood. When he tried to reason with her, Jennifer was defiant.
All of this goaded Gary to react in anger and self-defense. Instead, he asked his friends and family at the table to pray with him. After a few minutes, they all felt a release.
When Gary came to Jennifer she was crying, but the hardness was gone. They held each other tightly. “I’m sorry, Gary. I’ve been having such angry thoughts. I’ve been so offended and it has made me miserable. But something lifted off of me just now. I feel peaceful.”Gary let out a sigh—part praise, part relief—as he realized he had his wife back.
If you are in a relational conflict, God may speak to you about pride, as He did with Job. Repent and pray for those with whom you struggle. Don’t feed separation with anger and self-righteousness; starve it out. Let the Lord restore your losses and give you a double portion reward.
Since that relational train-wreck I suffered through some years ago, I’ve learned a lot about separation. I have seen that pride born of hurt is fertile soil for Leviathan’s seeds. I have also come to understand that we can protect ourselves from division with the clothing of humility (1 Peter 5:5). Best of all, I’ve learned that God will restore when we get our hearts in order.
If losing a friendship was one of the worst experiences of my life, one of the greatest was seeing it restored. It feels good to be reconciled and to enjoy the laughter again. And while it’s not exactly the way it used to be, God has healed our hearts, and we are free from the grip of the spirit of separation.
David Cannistraci is the Senior Pastor of GateWay City Church in San Jose, California. He travels internationally as a speaker and has written Apostles and the Emerging Apostolic Movement (Regal, 1996) and God’s Vision for Your Church (Regal, 2000). For more information, go to davidcannistraci.org