The Phenomena of a Passive Mind

The Spiritual Man, CFP, Vol. 3, Part 8 THE ANALYSIS OF THE SOUL-THE MIND, Ch. 2, by Watchman Nee

IT IS TO BE SORELY LAMENTED that so many Christians, unaware of the basic difference between the activity of evil spirits and that of the Holy Spirit, have unconsciously permitted the enemy to enter and occupy their minds. Let us touch briefly on the phenomena of a mind under the attack of evil spirits.

Flashing Thoughts

After one’s mind has sunk into passivity he will receive many thoughts injected from without, notions which are unclean, blasphemous or confused. These pass through his mind in succession. Although he decides to reject them, he is powerless to stop them or alter the trend of his thinking. His mind is like a perpetual motion machine: once begun, it cannot be halted. Regardless if he opposes with his will, he cannot thrust those thoughts from his head. Notions which are counter to the believer’s will are given by evil spirits.

Sometimes these ideas flash into the person’s brain like lightning. They enable him to understand or to discover special matters. They may arrive in the form of a suggestion, urging him to do this or that. Often they appear to have arisen from the person himself, but upon close examination he knows he has not initiated them; they are but the deeds of evil spirits in a passive mind. The child of God ought to resist flashing thoughts which demand action of him because these do not originate with the Holy Spirit. And should he follow them he will realize how worthless they are.

We know that in these latter times evil spirits especially engage in much teaching (1 Tim. 4.1). The Lord’s people should guard against such teachings imparted to passive minds. Not a few think they have obtained new light when they search the Scriptures and that they understand matters which their predecessors did not. These individuals should be very cautious, for it is frequently in the time of meditation that wicked powers flash their ideas into a person or stealthily mix some of their thought with his. Not aware of the possibility of accepting the teaching of evil spirits in their minds, Christians assume that anything which has suddenly burst upon them while in meditation is their own new discovery of faith. They write and preach these ideas as the fruits of their research. Upon hearing or reading these teachings, people marvel at the cleverness of these Christians. But do they perceive that many of these doctrines in reality emanate from the bottomless pit? Diverse heresies, numerous so-called “spiritual teachings,” sundry interpretations of the Word which tear the church of Christ into pieces originate with these lightning thoughts during Scripture study. We should not be impressed with how excellent such sudden enlightenment may be; rather should we ask whence this light came. Was it revealed by the Holy Spirit in our intuition? Did it arise out of our own thinking? Or were these ideas fomented by evil spirits?

Should one’s mind be passive, it will be easy for the enemy to inject nonsensical notions into him, for instance telling him: “You are God’s special vessel” or “Your work will shake the whole world” or “You are much more spiritual than the rest” or “You should take another course” or “God will soon open a wide door for your preaching” or “You should step out to live by faith” or “Your spiritual usefulness is unlimited.” Heady thoughts like these disarm all the vigilance of the saint. He thrives day and night on these ideas—dreaming how great and marvelous he is. Not employing the rationalism of his mind, he fails to realize how harmful and how laughable these notions can be in his spiritual walk. He indulges in them by continuously imagining how glorious his future is going to be.

Some who deliver messages for the Lord are often governed by these bursting thoughts. They preach what has been revealed to them suddenly. They construe their sudden thoughts to be from God and so accept them passively. They do not understand that God neither gives sudden revelation nor imparts it to the mind. Despite the fact such words are sometimes seemingly full of meaning, they nevertheless come from the powers of darkness. Furthermore, occasionally as a believer is preaching, many Scripture verses abruptly swarm into his brain and his thinking; the audience appears to be touched; yet following the meeting no practical help in life is experienced by those who have heard. It is like a dream. This too can be the action of the powers of darkness.

Having yielded territory in his mind to evil spirits, the child of God will realize that they are able to provoke any thought in him. Among fellow-workers, evil spirits often sow a groundless doubt or divisive thought in the mind of one worker so as to separate him from the others. Upon their wicked instigation the worker concludes without foundation that so-and-so thinks such-and-such of him, and so comes the separation. Actually there is no basis for such a thought. If the child of God only knew how to examine the source of such imaginings and how to resist them, there would be no separation. How sad that he regards it as his own thought, not recognizing that the evil spirits have planted it in him.


The adversary also can project pictures onto the screen of a believer’s mind. Some are clear and good and are welcomed by him; others are impure and sinful, much detested by his conscience. Whether good or bad, liked or disliked, the sad fact is that he has no strength to prohibit these pictures from entering his head. Against the opposition of his will, there lingers before his eyes past experiences, predictions of future events, and many other matters. This is because his power of imagination has slumped into passivity. He cannot control his imaginative powers but has allowed the evil spirits to manipulate them. The child of God should be aware that whatever does not emerge from his own mind proceeds from supernatural enemy forces.


Dreams can be natural or supernatural. Some are inspired by God while others are generated by the devil. Beyond those which are produced by man’s physiological and psychological conditions, the rest are supernatural in origin. If one’s mind has been open to evil spirits his night dreams become for the most part just another form of the “pictures” he encounters during the day. The wicked unseen powers create pictures in the day and dreams in the night. To determine whether or not his dreams derive from the devil the believer simply should inquire of himself: is my mind usually passive? If so, these dreams are untrustworthy. Moreover, dreams and visions which God inspires enable man to be normal, peaceful, steady, full of reasoning and consciousness; but what the evil spirits precipitate are bizarre, rash, fantastic, foolish, and render a person arrogant, dazed, confused, and irrational.

The reason why satanic powers can impart innumerable strange dreams to the Christian is because his mental life is passive. To that one whose mental faculty is already passive none of his dreams proceed from God or from natural causes but are from wicked spirits. At night time the brain is not as active as in the day, hence more passive and more liable to being manipulated by the devil. Such night dreams cause him to wake up the next morning with a heavy head and a despondent spirit. His sleep does not replenish his strength because through his passive mind the evil spirits have affected adversely the well-being of the whole man. Anyone who suffers from such night dreams is subject to the nefarious activity of the evil spirits in his mind. If he resists their deeds day and night he shall regain his freedom.


Insomnia is one of the common ills of the saints; it is likewise a particularly distinctive work of the enemy in the mind of man. Many find that as they lie in their beds endless thoughts pour into their head. They continue to think about their day’s work or to recall past experiences or just to fill their minds with a hodgepodge of unrelated matters. They appear to be considering a thousand different ideas such as what they should do, how they should do it, and what should be the best plan. They think ahead to the affairs on the morrow: how to plan, what might happen, or how to handle a variety of situations. Considerations like these inundate them in waves. Though these people know that bed is the place for sleep and not one for thinking as is a desk, nonetheless their brain revolves incessantly. They appreciate the importance of sleep for the next day’s task; they really want to sleep and not think; and yet, due to cause unknown, they cannot. Their mind works relentlessly on and sleep escapes them. Some saints may have suffered the anguish of countless nights of insomnia: as usual when night has fallen they have laid down all concerns and have prepared to rest their minds; nonetheless, no matter how weary they may have been their mind has not been able to rest. For like a machine which cannot be turned off, it continues to operate. Their will has no control over their brain. They are helpless to stop their thinking and can only wait till somehow their mind ceases to work so that they can secure some sleep. In the natural course of events sleep revives one’s spirit; but when one has experienced untold nights of insomnia such a believer will come to dread sleep, bed and the night. He has to rest, yet each morning he feels as though he is emerging from a terrible world: his head is heavy, his will is numbed, and he seems to have no energy.

In a situation like this, the child of God is inclined to believe it is due to his physical condition or to the stimulation or overexertion of his nerves. Frequently these reasons are merely suppositional. If they were real, then following rest or some other natural remedy he would experience restoration. But he does not because the evil spirits employ those natural reasons to obscure their unseen activities. Thus when a believer senses thoughts galloping through his head during the night, let him inquire of himself on this wise: where do these thoughts originate? Are they mine or are they foreign? Am I thinking? Do I think this way? Could it be from myself when I do not even want to think? Who gives me such multiplied, confused, unclean, oppressive thoughts? Who, indeed, except evil spirits!


Due to the devil’s attack quite a few saints are deprived of their power of memory and suffer from forgetfulness. They forget even what they have just said or done. They cannot locate the article they have just put aside that same day. They forget the promises made not so long ago. They behave as though they are without brain, for nothing seems to remain in their mind. These saints may conclude that their memory is worse than anybody else’s, without realizing that their mind is actually under the disturbance of evil spirits. Consequently they must rely on notes. They become slaves to notebooks and memoranda as a means of reminder. Now we are not suggesting that a person should be able to remember everything. We grant that matters can be forgotten after many years or forgotten immediately when they leave no deep impression. Even so, many events which have happened not too long ago and which have arrested one’s attention ought to be recalled within a certain time limit and under certain appropriate circumstances. Why are they forgotten, lost without leaving any shadow, and beyond recall? The explanation cannot be natural; it must be due to the invasion of malevolent forces. Some matters are quite naturally forgotten, others do not so naturally vanish. All unnatural loss of memory suggests the subtle attack of Satan’s hosts. Many Christians undergo this kind of assault. How many endeavors are destroyed by this. And how many jokes are inspired by this forgetfulness. Confidence and usefulness are damaged.

Another phenomenon can be noticed: a believer usually may possess a fine memory, but at various critical moments it unexpectedly fails. His mind seems to have faltered abruptly and he cannot remember anything, plunging him into great difficulties. Such sudden cessation of this function of the mind may appear to be mystifying to him but he may interpret it to be the result of a temporary deficiency in physical strength, something which can happen once in a while. What he does not comprehend is that this is a symptom of his mind undergoing an attack of evil spirits.

Lack of Concentration

Satan’s minions often interfere with the Christian’s power of mental concentration. We acknowledge that different individuals possess varying degrees of this power. Yet from our observations of the experiences of Christians we note that this power in most of them has suffered a greater or lesser degree of loss through the dissipating work of evil spirits. Some appear to be totally powerless to concentrate when trying to think; others are better but their thoughts take flight everywhere after but a few moments of concentration on a particular matter. Especially during times of prayer, Bible reading, or listening to messages do Christians discover their thoughts wandering. Although they will to concentrate, they fail to do so. They may succeed for a short while in arresting their galloping thoughts by their will, but such an effect does not last long. Sometimes they lose all control. It is obviously the enemy who is at work. The reason for the devil’s exertions lies in the fact that the believer has made provision in his mind for the evil spirits. What a pity to see a person wasting the power of his mind, accomplishing nothing from dawn to dusk. As the wasting of physical strength is harmful, so the wasting of mental power is damaging too. Today a large number of Christians expend a great deal of time without producing much result. Their minds are assailed by evil spirits and so they cannot concentrate.

Because of the onslaught of these dark forces God’s people experience a peculiar kind of inattentiveness. The mind should be focusing on a particular matter, yet abruptly it turns blank and subsequently drifts elsewhere. They are unconscious of what they are doing or what they are reading. They may hold to the opinion that they must have been thinking about other affairs, but can such thoughts be originated by their own will? The Christians who all of a sudden cannot hear anything during meetings are numberless. Enemy spirits try to prevent them from hearing what would be profitable, yet not by stopping the operation of their minds but by forcing them to think of other things.

Once the mind has been attacked by the devil believers find it troublesome to listen to others. Oftentimes they miss several sentences or words. To listen attentively they must wrinkle their foreheads, trying to understand what others mean. They frequently fail to comprehend the simplest words; they often misapprehend the teachings given them. All this is due to the disturbances in their minds. With many prejudices have they been stuffed already by evil spirits, and everything has been interpreted already to them. For this reason many a Christian is averse to hearing what others have to say. Before people can finish he is interrupting impatiently, for the evil spirits already have inspired him with countless thoughts and desire him to listen to theirs and then spread them around to others. Such individuals actually are listening both within and without: listening within to the suggestions of the enemy and listening without to people speaking with them. The voice within their minds speaks louder than the one in their ears so that they can barely hear the outside voice. Such symptoms as inattentiveness or heedlessness signify in reality that their hearts are occupied by satanic elements. Believers occasionally experience a sudden state of heedlessness; the fact is, their hearts have been snatched away by the wicked ones. Until they are liberated from the activity of evil spirits they will be powerless to concentrate.

Because of these disturbances in their minds Christians often will shake their heads, trying to rid themselves of these unsettling thoughts. They have to speak aloud to themselves in order to leave an impression on their mind. They must likewise think aloud, else their darkened mind will not understand. They additionally need to read aloud to acquaint themselves with what they have read. All these are consequences of the lack of concentration.


Upon being fiercely attacked, the mind of the believer loses its ability to think. It falls almost entirely into the hands of evil spirits so that he himself can no longer use it. He cannot think even should he want to, for he is incapable of initiating any thought of his own. Actually myriads of thoughts over which he has no control pass through his mind; he has no power to halt these and initiate his own. The foreign ideas are too overpowering for him to entertain his own. Occasionally he may locate an opening in his mind through which to insert his thought, but he discovers it is very toilsome to continue thinking. So many voices and so many subjects are there already that these simply squeeze his out. If any person desires to think, he must possess memory, imagination and reasoning power; but the Christian has presently lost these powers, hence is unable to think. He cannot create, deduce or recollect, nor can he compare, judge and apprehend. Therefore he cannot think. And should he attempt to do so he experiences a kind of dazed sensation which stifles any productive thought.  

Since his mental process is now under bondage, the believer naturally will develop an inordinately off-balanced viewpoint. A mound looms up before him as a mountain. Everything appears to be as arduous as ascending a stairway to heaven. He is especially fearful of anything which requires thought. He does not like to converse with people because this is too demanding of him. To proceed steadily and diligently at his daily job seems to require his life. He is gripped by an intangible chain which others fail to recognize. He feels as uncomfortable as a slave who wants to revolt but never succeeds.

Thus the Christian lives as in a dream. His time is dissipated, spent without thought, imagination, reasoning, or consciousness. As the mind is assailed the will becomes affected automatically, for the former is the light of the latter. He passively allows himself to be tossed to and fro by his environment and makes no choice for himself. When he is filled with unsettling notions and has no peace, he cannot break through his bondage to emancipation. He seems to be restrained by an unseen impediment. Numerous things he wants to do; yet in the midst of trying to do them he is overwhelmed by an impulsive feeling to stop because all tasks have become impossible in his eyes: to him his life has become nothing but a succession of insurmountable obstacles. How can he ever be satisfied?

Inactivity like this is sharply at variance with the ordinary type. Should one’s mind be quiescent he can activate it whenever he wants. But should the inactivity of the brain be due to the oppression of evil spirits, then no matter how much he desires to be active he cannot stir it one iota. He simply cannot think! His head seems to be loaded down by some heavy weight. Such is the phenomenon of a mentality deeply affected by evil spirits.

Many a saint who is continuously worrying contracts this illness of mental inactivity. Yet were we to delve into his environment and position we would inescapably conclude that here is one who certainly ought to be satisfied and happy; but the fact is that he is full of worries and unhappy thoughts. Ask him to give the reason for this and to him nothing whatever can be a sufficient one. Suggest to him to get rid of such thoughts and he finds himself utterly unable. He himself does not understand his plight. He appears to have sunk into a quagmire from which he cannot extricate himself. Hs is so used to worrying that he has no strength to rise above it. This of course is the heavy hand of the enemy. If it were a matter of natural worry there would have to be a cause of sufficient reason. All worries without natural cause or sufficient justification are precipitated by evil spirits. The believer has slumped so low because at the beginning he accepted the notions of the wicked ones and now is powerless to free himself. His mind has settled thoroughly into passivity so that it can no longer be active. Such a person is aware of this bondage because he is loaded with burdens. He cannot glimpse the blue sky nor can he comprehend the true picture of anything. He cannot exercise his reasoning power. He is as a prisoner cast into the dungeon, eking out his days in darkness. Evil spirits enjoy seeing men suffer. Everyone who falls into their hands will be so treated by them.


While the mind of a believer is dominated by enemy powers his thoughts are totally unreliable, since most of them come from the wicked spirits. Few of them are his own. These spirits may generate in him one kind of thought but very shortly afterwards beget an opposite kind. In following such shifting notions the Christian naturally turns into a vacillating person. Those who are with him or work with him consider him unstable in character because he is everlastingly changing positions. Fundamentally though, it is the wicked spirits who change his thoughts and alter his opinions. How frequently we find Christians who say at one moment “I can” but at the next “I can’t.” They declare in the morning “I want” and shift in the afternoon to “I don’t want.” The reason is that at first the evil spirits plant in the mind the thought of “I can” and induce him to believe he genuinely can; nonetheless, they next inject into him another and contrary thought of “I can’t” and cause him to think he really is unable. So it is not he himself who has altered what he initially declared.

In these numerous shifting attitudes we can detect the adversary at work in the mind of man. Saints may abhor living such a vacillating life, but they have no way to stabilize themselves because they are not their own. If they refuse to follow the alien suggestions the wicked powers shall falsify the voice of conscience and accuse them of not following God. Now to avoid being accused, these saints have no choice but to shift their positions before men. These alternating and unsteady traits all proceed from the same source. In listening in their heads to the suggestions of the evil spirits Christians commence abruptly to undertake many tasks, but as the enemy powers change their proposals the Christians correspondingly shift their labor.

Beyond these occurrences, evil spirits additionally often provoke people to think at inappropriate occasions. They will awaken them at midnight, for example, instructing them to perform such-and-such a matter. If one refuses to obey they will begin to accuse him. Or else in the deep of night they may suggest to him a shift in course, so that an exceedingly important decision is made during a time when the mind is most susceptible to confusion. By tracing the origin of many of these sudden turns of events we will discover evil spirits at work in the mind of men.


Those of God’s people whose minds are assaulted by Satan frequently shy away from conversing with people because they have not the strength to listen; for while they are trying to listen to others, thoughts over which they have no control drift through their brains like wind-blown clouds. They are usually most talkative, however.

Since their heads are bursting with thoughts, how can their mouths not be abounding with words too? A mind which cannot listen to others but demands that others listen to it is a sick mind. While it is true that some Christians are talkative by nature, nevertheless, unknowingly they may in fact be instruments in the hands of evil spirits. Many Christians are like talking machines which are run by outside powers.

How many there are who cannot restrain their tongues from gossiping, jesting and backbiting. Their heart is clear but they are unable to end or restrict these unprofitable words. It seems that as soon as ideas have moved into their mind and before there has been any opportunity to think them through, they have already become words. Thoughts rush in waves, compelling the person to speak. The tongue is out of control of the mind and the will. A torrent of words is uttered without thinking or choosing. Sometimes they are spoken against the intent and will of the speakers. Later reminded by others, they wonder why they thus spoke. These are all due to the passivity of the mind. Satanic elements can engage man’s tongue through man’s immobilized mind. They begin by mixing their thoughts with man’s thought, and then they proceed to mix their words with man’s words.

The Christian must unmistakably understand that all his utterances have to be the result of his own thinking. Any word which bypasses the process of thinking is formulated by the wicked spirits.


After a person’s mental faculty has declined into passivity and is occupied by the powers of darkness, he categorically refuses to listen to any reason or evidence once he has made a decision. He views any attempt by anyone to make him understand better as an encroachment on his liberty. He deems them most foolish, for they can never know what he know! His concepts may be totally wrong, yet he thinks he has inexplicable reasons. Since his mind is entirely immobile, he knows not how to examine, distinguish and judge with reason. He uncritically swallows anything which the evil spirits propagate in his mind, esteeming it to be most excellent. When such an individual hears a supernatural voice he automatically accepts it as God’s will; to him the voice already has become his law; it therefore transcends the investigation of reason. Whatever be the thought or voice or teaching he deems it infallible and positively safe. He refuses to test, examine, or consider; he tenaciously holds on to it and is unwilling to heed anything else. No amount of reasoning and conscience of his own or the explanation and evidence of others can move him one bit. Once he believes it to be God’s leading, his mind is sealed against any change. And since he does not employ his reasoning power he can be deceived readily by evil spirits. Those who have a little understanding see the danger but he devours it all as candy. To restore such a person as this is certainly not easy.

The Symptom of the Eyes

A mind which is passive and assailed by evil spirits can be identified readily through the eyes. Man’s eyes reveal his mind more than any other part of his body. If the mind is passive a person reading may look at a book and yet no idea will enter his brain nor make any impression in his memory, While he converses with people his eyes tend to wander around, up and down, flitting in all directions. It is surely a most impolite manner, but he cannot look straight into another’s face. On another occasion he may act in the opposite extreme by gazing at another’s face without so much as blinking, as though transfixed by some unknown power.

Such gazing can be most serious because the devil uses this means to induct the believer into the attitude of a necromancer. Frequently, upon gazing long at the speaker’s countenance the believer begins to listen no longer to what he is saying but is instead intent upon listening to the many thoughts which the malevolent powers at that moment are begetting in him.


We need to observe whether the movement of our eyes follows the consciousness of our minds or acts independently of the intent of our heart. When a mind is passive the person’s eyes become dazed. He is apt to behold many unsought and peculiar sights while unable to concentrate on seeing what he wishes to see.


To recapitulate. The phenomena of a Christian’s mind under the attack of evil spirits are manifold and various. One principle, however, underlies them all: the person has lost his control. According to the ordering of God, each of man’s natural abilities (among which is the thought process of the mind) should be subject completely to man’s own rule. But should a Christian unknowingly give ground to evil spirits they may occupy his mental life and take direct action therein, unhampered by the victim’s will. Consequently, if ever the Chrisitian discovers any independent action in his mind he should realize he is under the assault of the powers of darkness.

Inactivity in place of activity, disquietude instead of calm, restlessness due to overflowing thoughts, inability to concentrate or distinguish or remember, confusion beyond control, labors without fruit, worklessness during the day and dreams and visions in the night, insomnia, doubts, unwatchfulness, fear without reason, disturbance to the point of agony—one and all are nefariously inspired by the evil spirits.