Believe it or not, War Song is based in part, on a true story
He was a young man who had fallen on hard times. He’d been living on the streets where he knew he did not belong. One day out of desperation, he presented himself to the pastor of a church and asked for help in exchange for work. The church was large and old, a former school building that was in need of maintenance. The pastor, Gerald Dickerson, took a liking to this man and gave him a room in the church.
The young man was very grateful and he shared his story with the pastor. He’d had a call on his life, he thought. He almost went to Bible school, but he became distracted and gave into a variety of discouragements, some of which came from members of his own family who thought the pursuit of fame and money a worthier occupation. But his quest for wealth kept driving him into poverty.
“It’s ironic that I should end up living in a church,” he said to the pastor.
Pastor Dickerson put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Thomas, you stay here as long as you need to. I trust that God will give you a new direction.”
That first night alone in the old building was a restless one for Thomas. He would sleep a little, then wake up to resume a conversation with God that the youth had broken off many years ago. “I’m sorry. I’ll try again to serve You,” he whispered in the night. “Show me what you want me to do.”
Thomas was well received by the other members of the congregation. It was soon discovered that he possessed a gift for music.The piano was his instrument, and when Carol the regular pianist became ill, Thomas was asked to take over for her.
He liked Carol and was distressed by her condition. She was afflicted with something the doctors did not understand. They could not explain why she was getting weaker. They could not pinpoint her symptoms to any disease they had knowledge of, except to say that it was a virus of some kind – and she was dying. So when Thomas played for the congregation that first Sunday, he thought of Carol, and wondered why God was allowing this affliction.
He prayed for her often, many times in those moments when he would awake at night. He always seemed to wake at the same times, anywhere between midnight and three AM. Sometimes it was hard for him to get back to sleep. Periodically his lack of rest would make him drag through the day. It bothered him because he’d always been able to sleep through the night – until he began living at the church.
Then one evening while he was lying awake in the stillness, he thought he heard voices coming from the courtyard below his window. The courtyard was completely enclosed by rows of locked classrooms and offices. Thomas got up and looked outside. There was no one there. He knew he was the only one in the building. Everyone had gone hours ago. He had an eerie feeling and he went back to his bed. A few minutes later he heard the voices again. This time he did not get up.
“This is an old building,” he thought. “’Bout a hundred years old. There’s a lot of history here. I guess some of it is still hanging around.”
He closed his eyes and prayed until the voices dissipated into the wind.
The next morning Thomas was sweeping the courtyard. He looked up to see Max, the church cat wandering languidly across the sun-dappled pavement.
“Hi, Max.” Thomas called.
Max was a stray like him; another wanderer who decided to stay for awhile. Thomas leaned on his broom and watched him. The cat sauntered along the wall that led to one of the Sunday school rooms. Thomas noticed that someone had left the door open. He figured he’d better close it.
“Hey, Max, don’t go in there, buddy.”
The cat had already disappeared inside. Thomas laid his broom down, took a few steps, then stopped. Max was backing slowly out of the room. The hair on his back was straight up like a bristle brush. Then the cat turned and sped across the courtyard as if he was running for his life.
“What’s in there?” Thomas whispered. He picked up the broom again and held it like a rifle. Then he slowly walked into Sunday school room number five.
At first he didn’t see anything unusual. It was what he felt that made him uncomfortable. It was a heaviness, a weight in the air that was pressing against him. The room was cold, even though it was a very warm day. Despite the bright colors, the children’s drawings and cheerful decorations, Thomas was suddenly overwhelmed with a deep depression.
Then he saw it. It was in a corner behind a desk. At first he thought it was just a shadow, but the shadow had a featureless head; a gray form balanced on a thick, muscular body that was draped in a black robe. It was tall and formidable, and it exuded the very essence of evil.
Thomas backed out of the room slowly, then swiftly joined Max at the opposite end of the courtyard.
That night, as usual, Thomas lay in his bed as the midnight hour was approaching. He lay there thinking about what he had seen that afternoon in Sunday school room number five. He thought about Carol, and how she became ill just after she had been appointed to take over the Sunday school class in that room. Sweet Carol, innocent lamb. Thomas trembled. If he said anything, they would think he was crazy. No one there believed in things like that. Although he always wondered - when Jesus cast demons out of people, where did they go? Did one of them end up in Sunday school room number five? He shivered in the darkness and wished for the morning.
The following Sunday, a special speaker was invited to fill in for Pastor Dickerson while he was away at a convention. Samuel Taylor was an exuberant speaker and Thomas enjoyed him.
Thomas introduced himself afterward and told him a little about his background.
“I’m learning about spiritual things,” Thomas said. “I’d like to be a pastor someday, but there is still so much I don’t understand.” Thomas looked around to see if anyone could overhear him. Then he said what was really on his heart. “Please don’t think I’m off the wall, but I’ve got to tell this to someone. I can’t tell the others here. I don’t think they would understand.”
Pastor Taylor had a warm twinkle in his eye. “It’s okay, son. I won’t tell on you either. You can confide in me.” He expected a confession of some sort of moral violation. As Thomas was speaking, Pastor Taylor listened intently.
Thomas finished, then he added, “Do you think I’m going crazy?”
“No, I don’t”
Pastor Taylor was serious. Thomas was relieved.
“I was a missionary in Africa for many years,” Pastor Taylor spoke slowly. “I have seen what you have seen, I have felt what you have felt on more than one occasion. I have awakened in the middle of the night, paralyzed with invisible hands clasped around my neck trying to strangle the life out of me. That’s how I learned that they flee atthe name of Jesus. That’s why I’m alive today.”
“I have to live here,” Thomas said. “What can I do? I think this thing is killing Carol. I’m all alone in this.”
“When your pastor returns you should tell him. The he and the elders should pray in that room and cast it out in the name of Jesus. But you have to remember something. Demons come out by the name of Jesus. Principalities and powers have to be wrestled. You may have a fight on your hands, depending on what kind of spirit is lodged here. But remember also, you have total victory in the Cross. The devil is a defeated enemy.
“One of the greatest weapons you possess is a song. I heard you play this morning. You are gifted. God will use that gift of yours to tear down strongholds if you use it properly. Praise is your war song. It is a love song and the enemy of your soul cannot operate under its banner. You will make the devil writhe under your feet.”
“Pastor Taylor, would you care to join us for lunch?” One of the ladies had approached them.“I don’t mean to interrupt your conversation, but it is getting late.”
Mrs. Grier smiled stiffly at Thomas. Pastor Taylor was a guest at the Grier’s for the weekend.
“I must be going, Thomas. It was good to meet you.” The two men shook hands, then Pastor Taylor put his hand on Thomas’ shoulder and said earnestly, “Remember to sing a new song, Thomas. It’s important.”
Then he turned and left with Mr. And Mrs. Grier.
After everyone had gone, Thomas remained in the sanctuary. He sat at the piano and fingered the keys as he was thinking. “Praise is a war song,” he said to himself as he looked out over the empty pews. “And this congregation thinks it’s all retired army and the battle is just beginning. Lord, please help me teach them how to fight.”
When Pastor Dickerson returned, it was several days before Thomas had the courage to approach him. He sat down in his office. The pastor was grinning at him.
“How’s it been going for you here, Thomas? The place looks great. You’re doing a terrific job.”
“Thank you. Pastor Dickerson." Thomas hesitated for a moment, then he spoke quickly. "I’ve seen a demon in Sunday school room number five. Please don’t think I’m crazy. I talked about it with Pastor Taylor when he was here and he’s had some experience with these things. He wants you and the elders to go in there and cast it out in the name of Jesus.”
There was a period of thick silence. Thomas could feel a heavy cloak of something enter the room. It reminded him of what he had felt in Sunday school room number five.
“We don’t believe in those things here, Thomas.” The answer was almost mechanical. “And I’d appreciate it if you don’t mention this to anyone else in the congregation, or I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave. I’m sorry, Thomas, but we do have our beliefs and I must ask you to abide by them.”
“I understand,” Thomas said. “I’m sorry. I’ll keep it to myself. How’s Carol doing?”
“She’s getting worse.”
“I’m so sorry. Well, I’ve got to get back to work.”
Then Thomas left his pastor’s office without another word.
Late at night when Thomas was awakened, he would get up and go to the piano in the sanctuary, and he would play and he’d sing his new song. Even though the words of the hymns were the same words he sang every Sunday morning, now they were different. He was singing them with his mind on the love that had been impaled for him on a Cross. He was singing with new ammunition, not mechanical religious repetition – he was singing with adoration.
God was answering his prayers in those midnight hours. The presence of the Lord came closer, drawn by the sweet music that flowed, not from a man-made instrument with keys and wires, but the Holy Spirit was responding to the instruments that God had made; a voice and a heart that was willing to be filled with holy fire.
At first no one noticed the difference in Thomas’ playing. Then slowly people began to comment on his exuberance. Some didn’t like it. They thought several of the tempos he was coming up with were out of place. He could feel he was walking on a very fine line.
Then one Sunday morning after a particularly long night of prayer at the piano, Thomas did the unexpected. He ventured to say something to the congregation. He grabbed the moment just after the offertory hymn.
“I’d like to share something with all of you before the next hymn.” He could sense Pastor Dickerson stiffen behind the pulpit. “I want you all to know how grateful I am to be here with you. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here, and one of the things I’ve learned I want to share with you.
“I was reading in the Scriptures the other day, how the devils believe in God, and they tremble. And I thought, what makes the difference between a believing devil and one of us? A devil can believe in God, but he can’t worship Him. Oh, it can move its mouth and repeat the words to a hymn, I suppose, but a devil can’t worship from the heart. It can’t love God.
“So you see, that’s what makes the difference. We are redeemed by the greatest act of love in the history of mankind. And when we sing these hymns, we’re saying, ‘Thank You, Lord, for without You loving us, we would have no hope at all.”
The congregation was silent as they watched the tears roll down the young man’s face.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is that, when we sing these songs, we’ve got to sing them with a heart that is overflowing with love. Because, if we’re not, like it or not, we’re like those demons whose lips move, but there’s nothing inside.
“I need you to sing this time, a love song. Take this hymn, number two hundred and twenty-five somebody wrote so long ago and give it new life. Sing it as if you are standing before Christ, your bridegroom. Sing it with me to Him.”
Then Thomas started to play. He sang the first stanza all by himself. No one could join in at first. They were listening to words sung with heartfelt emotion. They were watching the tears. Then God did something while no one was watching. He took a little bit of what He had cultivated in that young man, and poured it out upon the congregation as if Thomas was a flask of delicate new wine. Their souls tasted of it cautiously. Then one by one, the voices joined him in a new song.
As the music began to rise, it drifted into a heavenly realm. In response, a white, angelic being floated down and positioned itself on the roof overlooking the courtyard. Then as the song continued, another, and another glowing, holy figure assembled across from Sunday school room number five.
The chilly air in the room that had always been attributed to faulty wiring in the thermostat, trembled and attempted to flee. And before the last stanza of the hymn was over, a battle had been won, as a horde of angels descended upon the darkness in that room and carried it away while it was screaming.
copyright 1998 by H.D. Shively