We can never be absolutely certain that someone needs deliverance ministry.
St Paul says 'We live by faith, not by sight' (2 Corinthians 5:7). He also teaches us that one of the gifts of the spirit is that of 'distinguishing between spirits' (1 Corinthians 12:10). In all situations, we act by faith taking account of all the evidence that we can gather. We act reverently, cautiously, but with authority.
We can be certain that people, who seek our help, need to renounce any occult involvement of themselves, their ancestors and any partners. Usually when they are prayed for everything is calm and peaceful. Most such ministry is so quiet, and undemonstrative, that it is quite hard to believe that something useful has happened. The results come later, when the person concerned feels much better and more peaceful. But sometimes they will display some, or in extreme cases, all the four diagnostic symptoms that are clearly displayed in the story of the Gadarene Demoniac (Mark 5:1-20).
This story is unique. The vivid account provided by St Mark (almost certainly based on the preaching of Peter in Rome) provides a number of symptoms in a way which no other New Testament passage does. It is a beautiful story of a powerful deliverance. If we get the diagnosis right, (and it is a big 'if') we may be privileged to see similar outcomes.
(1) An attraction and repulsion towards Jesus, holy places, holy things, holy people. People want help but something is trying to prevent them from getting it. They will often be unable to pray through the Lord's Prayer, especially the words 'deliver us from evil'. Like a moth drawn towards a light, people are inexorably drawn to Jesus but terrified of his awesome light.
(2) Speaking in a voice that is clearly not their own. This may be in demonic tongue (easily recognisable by its unpleasantness) or a language which is not known to them. To hear this is an unforgettable experience – one which has no reasonable psychological explanation.
(3) Extraordinary physical strength or other unnatural actions (a comparable physical situation occurs sometimes when people are having an epileptic episode). Sometimes this takes a form that is completely inappropriate and apparently out of control – such as slithering across the floor like a snake. There are other physical phenomena which occur such as unexpected deafness, mocking laughter (you can't help me), severe shaking, inability to speak (especially the words 'deliver us from evil'), inexplicable fear, retching, uncontrolled coughing...All of these can be pointers towards some kind of demonic interference or an indwelling spirit. The physical strength is such that I have seen four policemen trying to control a demonised man and experienced the upward force of someone attempting to levitate. As I write, I am sitting on a chair which splintered, and nearly disintegrated, when interviewing one troubled man.
(4) Threatening or undertaking self-harm. Attempts, or threats, to commit suicide are a common forms of self-harm connected with demonisation. It is important here to state that most self-harm has nothing to do with demons. Self-harm is usually caused by a terrible lack of self-worth triggered by sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
(5) Displaying strange eyes – people who are demonised often cannot look at those who are praying for them. Their eyes are sometimes clouded, sometimes strangely bright. Such people will seldom look you full in the face. (This feature is not specified in Mark 5 but in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus in Matthew 6:22-23 clearly teaches that the eye is 'the window of the soul'. It would seem almost certain that the Gadarene Man had wild eyes and afterwards was 'clothed and in his right mind'.)
When faced with some of these phenomena, if we are confident through the discernment of those who are helping that the problem is demonic, we need to take action. We (never on our own) pray, with quiet authority (if Anglicans under episcopal authority), to cut off any controlling spirits. Our prayers are decisive – not 'if it be thy will...'. We may command the spirit to reveal its name (the person we are trying to help often knows the name of the spirit). We may enlist the help of the person themselves – they may be able to call upon Jesus to set them free. We command the spirit, in the name of Jesus, to leave and go to him. The person will usually know when they are free. It is usually helpful to have a pause for reflection, perhaps a cup of tea. They will feel very peaceful and relieved; their eyes will look different and they will be able to pray naturally and without any sense of interference.
In my next articles, I will give examples of each of these five phenomena. This article is based on Frequently Asked Questions taken from 'The Devil Goes Missing?' by John Woolmer (Monarch 2017)