Many years ago, a missionary friend of ours was called out in the middle of the night to a slum area outside of Cape Town, South Africa. A baby had been found in a ditch; could she help? She went immediately and took the baby to an orphanage. Over the next week, she visited the baby girl and noticed the workers were just too busy, too overwhelmed, to give her the proper attention she needed. The baby just stared and was not very responsive. After a few days of this, our friend decided to take her home, where she was loved on and nurtured. Almost immediately, she began to respond. Devoted love and attention do that. They breathe life into broken, downtrodden souls. And over a period of years, this child went from an orphan who was discarded like trash to a daughter loved and cherished.
In my work on campus, I see many students with an orphan spirit. They have families, but they still feel abandoned and often unloved. There are many factors involved in this—divorce of parents, moms and dads distracted or even consumed by careers, parental focus on their child’s achievements so as to help pay for college tuition, and emotional detachment of one or both parents. This orphan spirit is manifested in lack of trust, which leads them to hide vulnerabilities, be skeptical and cynical of those who profess love for them, while at the same time pursuing to find love. It can lead them to attempt to be self-sufficient or desperately dependent. It can also lead to pent-up anger, covered over by a lighthearted demeanor, as one former student recently admitted.
Orphans typically feel rejected even if they are loved. They wonder why their biological parents would abandon them. This can lead them to difficulties in developing intimate relationships with others. They don’t feel worthy and, thus, build emotional walls to protect themselves from being hurt.
I think all of us have some of the orphan spirit within us, even if we have never been an orphan. And that often blocks our attempts to become more mature in our relationship with God. I recently talked with a student about being baptized. She said she was struggling with feeling good enough to do that. That is a manifestation of the orphan spirit. She believes she needs to earn the Lord’s approval. That is what keeps many away from entering into a relationship with God; they believe they are not good enough for him. Once they are good enough, they will consider it.
Many of us also do not trust the Lord to have our best interests in mind; thus, we choose to take control of our own lives. We make the choices we think are best for us. Often, we have to live with the consequences of those decisions when they go badly.
At the heart of the orphan spirit is the fear of trust. Abandonment breaches trust, and when trust is broken, it is very difficult to rebuild. And our enemy exploits this fear. He whispers lies that sound true to our experience. “God cannot be trusted.” “You are not good enough to be loved.” “You are a disappointment.” “You’ll never amount to anything.” If we accept these lies as true, then we will naturally avoid God or push him away. In my experience on campus, so many do just that.
Yet, over and over in the Scriptures, we see God loving the unloved, embracing the abandoned, and healing the wounds of the traumatized. The woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, the demon-possessed man, and Zacchaeus are just a few examples. All had the spirit of an orphan, and Jesus was the One who ministered to them.
I confess I struggle with this spirit at times. I grew up with two parents, but they were not affectionate, nor were they affirming. I often felt unloved and a disappointment. I carried that into adulthood and into my relationship with Jesus. He has spent most of my adult life working to remove the vestiges of the orphan spirit. And now I am more attuned to when it rises within me, and I can use the Word to rebuke it.
It is a controlling spirit and will dominate us if we allow it. It is also difficult to remove. The orphaned baby I mentioned at the beginning continues to act out even though she is loved dearly by her adopted mother.
If we are to have any success of bringing it under control and purging it from deep within us, the first step is to recognize its manifestations. The second is to cry out to the Lord for help; none of us can control it on our own. The third is to become adept at using the spiritual weapons at our disposal (Ephesians 6:10-17), because we are engaging in spiritual warfare when we confront this orphan spirit.
The Lord came to give us life, abundant life. It is through the orphan spirit that Satan seeks to keep us from experiencing it. You may think, feel, or act as an orphan, but you
are not. You are a child of God, the loving heavenly Father who is good and perfect. Embracing him is the only way to begin to purge the orphan spirit from your life.
© Jim Musser 2019