C.S. Lewis on Prayer

TO DR. F. MORGAN ROBERTS: On Lewis’s own rules about prayer.
31 July 1954

I am certainly unfit to advise anyone else on the devotional life. My own rules are (1) To make sure that, wherever else they may be placed, the main prayers should not be put ‘last thing at night’. (2) To avoid introspection in prayer—I mean not to watch one’s own mind to see if it is in the right frame, but always to turn the attention outwards to God. (3) Never, never to try to generate an emotion by will power. (4) To pray without words when I am able, but to fall back on words when tired or otherwise below par. With renewed thanks. Perhaps you will sometimes pray for me?
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

Like Uncle Jack, who claimed to be unfit to give advice on prayer, I am possibly the least qualified to lecture anyone on how to pray, so this isn’t a how-to piece, or at least that isn’t my intention. I just want to share a couple of things that draw me closer to my Father.

Lewis offered sound advice in his letter to Dr. Roberts, as far as it went. Step one requires some trimming and sorting of your chores. Like giving, prayer is easy to procrastinate until either it doesn’t happen, or it becomes relegated to left-overs. And no, God won’t punish you for giving him your left-overs, but he won’t bless you, either.

Step two requires some discipline, and lots of practice. In one way it’s similar to falling asleep; it won’t happen as long as you’re thinking about it. Lewis’ steps two and four are so closely related that they could be two, and two-a. To avoid monitoring your prayer style you must meditate on the pray-ee, not on the pray-er. You must not gage in any way your “success” in prayer. It’s not performance-based. Which takes us to the next step.

Step three is true of both emotions and methods. Though will-power in the context in which Lewis used it—the teeth-gritting, grunting effort of a weight lifter—is inappropriate, clearing the way for genuine emotional intercourse with your Father begins with the will to do it. And again, meditation on him figuratively ushers you into his presence. Once your mind is staid on him, you’d have to be a robot not to receive a groundswell of emotion.

As to his step four: Praying without words suggests to me Romans 8:26-27. My experience tells me that I must meditate on God—who he is and what he has done, both for the world and for me personally—before I begin unrolling my shopping list. God’s attributes alone are enough to blow your mind, and when you keep envisioning his nature more and more deeply, somehow your shopping list becomes trivial by comparison. Scripture is an integral part of this meditation, so keep a list of passages that you have found meaningful, especially those dealing with his (literally) awesome qualities and works.

Please forgive me; for not being a how-to piece, that’s a lot of how-tos. I never realized I had so much to say on the subject of prayer. Now I need to take my own advice, and Uncle Jack’s, as well.

Peace Like a River

Horatio G. Spafford had ample reason to feel anything but peace that day in 1873 as his ship carried him over the spot where his four daughters perished in a shipwreck a few weeks earlier. Rather than sink into the slough of despond, however, he penned the following words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27) The world freely gives no peace at all, but occasionally it reluctantly grants temporary lapses in violence. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, had something entirely different in mind, something those invested in this world system cannot grasp.

This morning I awoke feeling awash in a river of peace. God has taught me—and continues teaching me—that feelings aren’t facts; a hard lesson for any natural human being to learn. But God’s peace is entirely unnatural, so when that is what we feel, it must be from him.

During that unnatural moment, I pictured the river of peace as like the Columbia River, carrying millions of gallons of water swiftly from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. If all that water just lay there with no circulation it would become brackish, a breeding place for mosquitoes and disease. But it moves, slowly enough to be safe for navigation, but swiftly enough to keep it fresh, washing all its organic matter out to meet the purifying sea water. Like the mighty Columbia, God’s peace washes all the potentially putrefying matter from our lives, refreshing us moment by moment as only his Prince of Peace can do.

Please, don’t fall for the world’s counterfeit peace, but hold out for the unconditional, sanctified peace that only Christ can give.

C.S. Lewis Answers the Question, “Is God Despotic?”

“Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. He demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration. Do we suppose that they can do Him any good, or fear, like the chorus in Milton, that human irreverence can bring about ‘His glory’s diminution’? A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell. But God wills our good, and our good is to love Him (with that responsive love proper to creatures) and to love Him we must know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces. If we do not, that only shows that what we are trying to love is not yet God— though it may be the nearest approximation to God which our thought and fantasy can attain. Yet the call is not only to prostration and awe; it is to a reflection of the Divine life, a creaturely participation in the Divine attributes which is far beyond our present desires. We are bidden to ‘put on Christ’, to become like God. That is, whether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.”

If that excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain seems a bit long, read it anyway. And maybe read it again, till it all soaks in. Uncle Jack expressed complex thoughts in the simplest possible language, without compromising their depth. The problem most of us have with his writing is we’re lazy, or somehow the significance of his words sail far over our heads.

The first sentence in the above excerpt introduces and defines it. The central clause of the next sentence, “our obedience,” summarizes God’s requirement of us. Then Lewis goes on to point out our rebellion’s trivial nature—trivial in the grand scheme, but fatal to us.

Finally, Lewis points out the benefits we reap by loving God according to his definition of the word. He didn’t include a Bible reference for the last bit, but I’m happy to correct that deficit:

Romans 13:12-14 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

Galatians 3:26-29 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

1 Peter 1:2-4 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Talk about precious promises; they don’t get much better than that, for anyone who has committed to following Christ.

Words of Christ in Red

Opinion-time, everyone. The bug bit me while I was studying Proverbs chapter eighteen—rather odd, as it contains no “words of Christ.” But that’s where it gets interesting; Jesus Christ is God’s eternal Word in the flesh, and he authored the verbal (both the ancient, oral tradition, and the written) Word of God from start to finish (John 1:1-18, 2 Timothy 3:16). In view of these facts, can any part of God’s verbal Word not be Jesus’ words? Highlighting Jesus’ words in the gospels implies that they are somehow more reliable or have more authority than the balance of Scripture, which is theologically unsound.

That said, I understand how novices in Bible-study might prefer “Red-Word” Bible editions, but I would also caution them against assigning those red words undue significance. There is a heresy that says Jesus’ words carry divine authority, but the rest were written by (sexist) men, most especially that male-chauvinist-pig, Paul.

To deny any part of God’s Word is to deny its Author, and we wouldn’t want to do that, would we?

Brain Dead

Well, not brain dead in the literal sense, but I feel that way. Unlike Homer Simpson, though, I fully realize my current depth of stupidity. A couple of circumstances are conspiring against my creative thought processes: First, a case (not a half-case or a six-pack) of asthmatic bronchitis is keeping me planted in my chair; even though I’m on the mend I am anything but peppy. Second, my “stay-awake” medicine is awaiting my doctor’s prior approval, leaving me firing on half my mental cylinders. How can one lousy ream of red-tape take so long to be completed?

I have so much to be thankful for, however, that even mentioning these trivial trials seems ungrateful. That leaves me wondering how I would handle real hardship. But I know my loving heavenly Father will give me the grace to accept, and spiritually prosper under, whatever he allows to come my way. I love his promise through Apostle Paul’s words: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)

C.S. Lewis on the Impermanence of Feelings

If “falling in love” happens, so will “falling out of love.” As C.S. Lewis said, “The great thing is to continue to believe when the feeling is absent: and these periods do quite as much for one as those when the feeling is present.”

It’s all about trusting in God, and not in feelings. Christ-followers are just as apt to “fall in love” as flesh-followers. The difference is the foundation upon which said love is built.

We fallible, human-type beings are going to feel emotions, but we must remember that said emotions are just as fallible as anything else in our lives—probably more so. If we think of emotions as nothing more than a temporary effect that endorphins have on our brains, we may be able to assign a more appropriate priority to them.

Does that sound cold and heartless? Actually, it’s anything but. Think about the “good” feelings you experience after exercise; you feel pumped, ready to take on the world. But what about the next day? You go back to the gym and repeat the process.

The emotions associated with love and hope are similarly transient, even though they effect your life far more profoundly than the generic, “good” feeling from exercise.

What I’m saying is, we must take the sensations of love and hope, and of any other emotional responses to spiritual facts, with a grain of salt. They are the icing on the cake of Biblical spirituality.

We must expect, and guard against, the natural discouragement of failing to see in ourselves all that we want from God. I can think of two Bible passages that bear directly on that: “Hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24) and, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8).

Remember, dissatisfaction with your spiritual growth is great, but discouragement is from the flesh, and condemnation is Satan’s specialty.

In-Dependence Day

Yes, I realize this post’s title appears to be a typo, but it’s purposeful. I try to live in dependence on God. That’s “in,” not “with.” By living in dependence on God I reside in that state of dependence. As usual, Apostle John said it best when he quoted Jesus as sayig: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

This blog’s theme is based on John 15:1-11, so you shouldn’t be surprised at my pouncing on this opportunity. God’s Word, the creative, eternal, second Person of God, the Word he spoke to the Bible’s writers as a love-letter to us, and especially the Word incarnate in God’s only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, are all precious to me.

I pray you have found God’s three-fold Word precious to yourself as well. May you celebrate this In-Dependence Day with full commitment to dependence upon God, and devotion to the Biblical principles that made America, not perfect, but the “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

God’s Ten Outcomes

10SuggestionsWe have all seen the sign that says, “They’re not the ten suggestions,” or something like that. Christ-followers like to deface their car’s pristine paint jobs or bumpers with that, and many other messages, hoping it will soak through people’s sin-hardened skulls. Obviously, they intend the slogan as a humorous reminder, or even a revelation, and hope God will use it to make folks think deeper than their appetites.

While God phrased them as “Thou Shalts” and “Thou Shalt Nots,” I have it on good authority that God intended them as neither commandments nor suggestions:

Galatians 3:21-25 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. (22) But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (23) But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. (24) Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (25) But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Theyer’s Greek Definitions  adds some insight to the Greek word translated as “tutor”:

paidagōgos
Thayer Definition:
1) a tutor, i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.

That opens a bunch of Biblically relevant thoughts, and here’s just a sample; Apostle Paul wrote a lot about the Mosaic Law’s role in God’s plan of salvation, which, oddly enough, could not save sinners. He referred to it as a judge, a curse, a witness of Christ, a ruler, an arouser of passions, an informer of sin, the strength of sin, and enmity with God.

Yet, with all that, Paul tells us that the law is not in itself evil, but is simply God’s tool for making us aware of our depravity. Of course Jesus, God’s own Son, provided the solution for that depravity, the way by which we might enter into a loving relationship with God Himself. That’s called reconciliation, because through sin we alienated ourselves to God for all time.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) He didn’t intend that statement as a plea for us to obey him, like some star crossed lover begging favors of the object of his affection. Jesus simply stated the outcome for those who love him like he loves us. You could switch the two clauses to better demonstrate their cause/effect relationship: “You will keep my commandments if you love me.”

We English-speakers do tend to get things backward.

“Da Law is Da Law”

"Da law, son, is da law."

“Da law, son, is da law.”

That title seems quite obvious, if a bit folksie. I mean, what would the law be if not the law? What messes people up is the existence of two sets of laws: Physical law, and spiritual law. God created both, and both are quite real and binding.

Folks tend to get a little testy when we fundamentalist, evangelical Christians quote spiritual law to them. For instance, the one that says Jesus is the only way to Father God. I’m no mind-reader, but I suspect a stubborn refusal to change their lifestyle motivates their pique. Or maybe they’re thoughtful objectors, refusing the idea because demanding conformity to one religion, i.e., Christianity, seems too narrow a requirement for a loving God to make.

Jesus was good at spinning parables to illustrate a point, so I’ll try my hand: A man aboard a skydiver drop-plane gazed through the open door at the landscape far below. With the powerful engine droning in his ears and no anxiety to cloud his thinking, he mentally calculated  his precise drop position for a perfect, on-target touchdown.

He knew he still had time to don his sport parachute rig, with all its instrumentation and emergency ‘chute, but he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to go to that much trouble. “After all,” he told himself, “the physical laws aren’t all that binding. Besides, that stupid ‘chute messes up my targeting.”

His pilot tried to tell him there was only one way he could jump out of that airplane and survive the fall, and that was to use his parachute.

“That’s a narrow-minded position to take,” said the expert skydiver, “I’m an expert skydiver, and I can shape my body into a lifting-body to land spot on without a scratch.”

The pilot tried to argue with him, but the man would have none of that nonsense. Just as the pilot thought to bank the plane steeply to the left and prevent the expert skydiver from exiting, the man dove right out the open door, without his parachute. Turned out he was right; he hit the target spot on.

His funeral will be held …

The Bible’s New Testament is God’s spiritual law, also called the law of Christ and the Royal Law, because the King of kings died, was burried, and resurrected to establish it. It’s also called The Perfect Law of Liberty because through Christ we have freedom from sin’s compulsion. Whatever you call it, it’s all love; God’s love brought it about, and our response is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8). It’s as simple as that. All the do’s and don’ts that religion throws at us are just attempts at codifying what should come naturally to believers, as we love because he first loved us.

I have to say, “Feel the love: God’s love.” And the only way to do that is through the Lord Jesus Christ.

C.S. Lewis on “Excessive Selfness”

Once again I can’t hope to improve on, or even approach, Uncle Jack’s ingenious writing, but I must at least attempt to comment on this excerpt from his correspondence with Edward Lofstrom. The following is from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3:

10 June 1962

You are of course perfectly right in defining your problem (which is also mine and everyone’s) as ‘excessive selfness’. But perhaps you don’t fully realise how far you have got by so defining it. All have this disease; fortunate are the minority who know they have it. To know that one is dreaming is to be already nearly awake, even if, for the present, one can’t wake up fully. And you have actually got further than that. You have got beyond the illusion (very common) that to recognise a chasm is the same thing as building a bridge over it.

The frustrating thing about sharing the same problem as everyone else is, that fact doesn’t make it seem any less acute. The last thing I want to hear from a counselor is, “That’s a common problem; don’t let it bother you.”

I don’t care how many others struggle with it! Fact is, it bothers me! Okay?

Any “selfness” is excessive, as it causes all the world’s problems. It was Adam’s sin, and all of us carry it with pride. Just look at little children; their first words are “mine,” and “no,” except for my elder daughter Bethany, whose first word was, “button.”

From then on throughout life, all sins come from that one foundational sin. Is there any wonder why it so concerned Mister Lofstrom and me, and, I hope, you?

Your danger now is that of being hypnotised by the mere sight of the charm, of constantly looking at this excessive selfness.

Boy! Can I relate to that constant self-examination, which, curiously enough, my acquaintance with my Savior severely aggravates. One who has always suffered chronic sickness doesn’t know what it is to be well. But give him just one day of wellness and he’ll never again be happy in sickness.

The important thing now is to go steadily on acting, so far as you can—and you certainly can to some extent, however small—as if it wasn’t there. You can, and I expect you daily do—behave with some degree of unselfishness. You can and do make some attempt at prayer. The continual voice which tells you that your best actions are secretly filled with subtle self-regards, and your best prayers still wholly egocentric—must for the most part be simply disregarded—as one disregards the impulse to keep on looking under the bandage to see whether the cut is healing. If you are always fidgeting with the bandage, it never will.

The enemy of our souls relishes such constant introspection, knowing, as he does, that we will never find anything good there. Instead, we must keep looking up to our Lord, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

What Lewis calls, “acting,” is not hypocrisy, but simply the practice of trying to live up to the standard revealed to us in Christ. We must develop the holiness-habit to overcome the sin-habits acquired over our years as sinners.

Imagine yourself behind the wheel of a car, driving down the highway at speed. Do you stay straight with the road by watching the white line whizzing by next to your front fender? Of course not! If you do that, you will be all over the road, and it will prevent your seeing situations up ahead that will soon be in your lap. Do you study the gauges on the dashboard, read a book, or text a friend? At highway speeds the briefest distraction from the traffic is enough to kill you. Walk through life as if you’re driving on the highway. Your life depends on it.

Enough with the safe driving lecture, and my commentary. I’ll close with the balance of Lewis’ excerpt, as he said it best.

A text you should keep much is mind is I John iii, 20: ‘If our heart condemns us God is greater than our heart.’ I sometimes pray ‘Lord give me no more and no less self-knowledge than I can at this moment make a good use of.’ Remember He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see it. So quietly submit to be painted—i.e., keep on fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station (you really know quite well enough what they are!), asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone. You are in the right way. Walk—don’t keep on looking at it.