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.

Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem totally frivolous, but there’s a method in my obvious madness.

Popeye is perpetually involved in the war between good and evil, but the only way he can win is to keep a can of spinach handy. Of course, you can see the spiritual parallel; we’re helpless against our enemy Satan without God’s Holy Spirit, but he doesn’t come in a can.

Another Popeye parallel is his motto: “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.” That applies to us directly, as our pretenses never determine who or what we are. You can act religious all day every day, get to church first and leave last, and keep a sanctimonious frown tattooed on your face, but if you haven’t submitted to Jesus out of love and gratitude for what he did for you, it’s all a pretense.

The last parallel I have is a bit of a stretch; In the Sindbad cartoon, Popeye said, “Open says me,” when he wanted entry to Sindbad’s treasure-cave.” God’s Holy Spirit says to us, “Open your heart and mind to me.” It’s possible to sincerely profess faith in Christ without ever opening your heart to him. Are you not sure if that describes you? Ask yourself if you open your heart to your pastor, your brethren, your family and friends, and even your enemies. Do you open your mind to God’s Word? True Christ-followers practice God’s love, giving themselves to others as Jesus gave himself to us.

Clever—or not-so clever—cartoon parallels aside, Christ will hold each of us accountable for our response to his total sacrifice for us. Are you a child of God through Christ Jesus, or just a pretender?

C.S. Lewis Asks, Do You Have Rats In Your Basement?

cartoon-rat

Honestly, this has little to do with rats or basements, as you’ve probably already guessed. But it has a lot to do with … well, I’ll let Uncle Jack clarify the issue:

We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
From C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity

One concept that often confuses people is “sins” versus “sin.” Sins(plural form) are simply acts that are contrary to God’s expressed will, whether or not anybody sees you do them. Some clever preacher came up with a catchy phrase about the two kinds of sinful acts: “Sins of commission, and sins of omission,” but differentiating them isn’t always easy. Sins of omission often cause sins of commission because the sinner has neglected the necessary preparation to resist temptation. It’s the old “If I had done this, I wouldn’t have done that.”

Sin(singular form), however, isn’t just one sinful act. It’s the condition humans are born into ever since that fateful day when the first humans first tried to stick it to God. We’ve all seen “fails” videos, but that was the first, and the worst, fail of all. Can you imagine how Adam felt when he realized God wouldn’t accept his cop-out? I’d say it involved the world’s first, and worst, blush. Ever since then we’ve all tried to put one over on God, whether it’s trying to con him with our lame excuses, or simply ignoring him while alleging that he doesn’t exist.

Here’s a clue: your snubbing God doesn’t hurt his feelings. And you don’t have to be an atheist to snub God. Many who claim to be Christians routinely snub him, by refusing to take their feelings, their faults, and their failures to him in prayer.

And speaking—or writing—of prayer, there’s confusion about it, similar to the confusion about sin; prayer, and prayers, aren’t the same thing. “Saying ones prayers,” implies a deliberate, one-time or routine act of devotion to God. And that’s a great thing as far as it goes. But God said he wants us to “pray without ceasing.” Fortunately, he didn’t mean we have to constantly kneel beside our beds praying. It’s much more subtle than that. He meant we need to always see, think, and do things in a way that will allow us to go to him in prayer at any instant. It’s like walking with your loved one; you won’t always have things to say at any given moment, but just being with him or her comforts and affirms you. That’s what relationship is all about.

 

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.

Retrospective Christianity

Who would think that I, as into tech-stuff as I am, would pitch hindsight for our walk of faith?

David McCasland, of Our Daily Bread, suggests that, “God’s guidance in the past gives courage for the future.” And he supported his thesis with Jeremiah 6:13-20, where the prophet decried his people’s greed and false dealing, religious flippancy and lack of shame. He could have been addressing many in today’s church (but not me, of course).

Lest God would be forced to punish and overthrow them:

16 Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Does that mean we need to go back to the Mosaic Law and abide by all the statutes and ordinances? If you think so, you haven’t studied God’s New Covenant, delivered through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ blood freed us from the law’s tyranny so we could walk in newness of life—God’s divine life.

Does that mean we should walk in nostalgia, worshiping the “good old days?” Remember, longing for the past is the most curious sort of lust and idolatry, in that its hunger and thirst can never be quenched. Besides, it can make you unresponsive to today’s needs that God wants to address through you.

Living retrospectively means we learn from the past to prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we have so many ways of doing that: Of course, the Bible is where we start, as it tells us of God’s historical dealings with his people through his commands, and his responses to their depravity. Then we must learn from past saints, both those who lived by faith under the Old Covenant, and those who lived by faith in Christ (not only canonized saints, but all those sanctified by faith in Jesus), who devoted their lives to rightly dividing the Word of truth. And finally we must learn from the faithful saints of today, the elders who have proved their spiritual zeal for their Savior.

Living retrospectively also means we must learn from our own victories and defeats, with joy in the hope of the ultimate victory that Jesus won for us at such great cost.

If that means we have to look back with blinders, like a race horse that tends to get distracted and stumble, put on those spiritual blinders so you will neither long for past depravity, nor submit to condemnation for what is already under Jesus’ blood.

In your retrospection, never live for the past. Learn from it.

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.”

C.S. Lewis on Crushed Hopes

C.S. Lewis’ wife Joy

From a letter to Mary Van Deusen dated April 10, 1959

I know all the different ways in which [misdiagnosis of terminal illness] gets one: wild hopes, bitter nostalgia for lost happiness, mere physical terror turning one sick, agonised pity and self-pity. In fact, Gethsemane. I had one (paradoxical) support which you lack—that of being in severe pain myself. Apart from that what helped Joy and me through it was 1. That she was always told the whole truth about her own state. There was no miserable pretence. That means that both can face it side-by-side, instead of becoming something like adversaries in a battle-of-wits. 2. Take it day by day and hour by hour (as we took the front line). It is quite astonishing how many happy—even gay—moments we had together when there was no hope. 3. Don’t think of it as something sent by God. Death and disease are the work of the Devil. It is permitted by God: i.e., our General has put you in a fort exposed to enemy fire. 4. Remember other sufferers. It’s fatal to start thinking ‘Why should this happen to us when everyone else is so happy.’ You are (I was and may be again) one of a huge company. Of course we shall pray for you all we know how. God bless you both.

I desperately hope many will read those words of hope from C.S. Lewis. Of course, my little blog has far less exposure than other on-line Lewis enthusiasts and resources, but if even one hurting individual reads this for the first time, this post is worth the effort.

As I seem unable to leave well enough alone, I’ll list my thoughts on Lewis’ sage words below:

Even in this day of unprecedented diagnostic accuracy, doctors still make mistakes that are no less devastating than in Lewis’ time. We can’t help entertaining wild hopes, even in the face of grim probabilities. When those hopes get dashed, we naturally feel violated, even victimized. While that’s a natural, human reaction to misfortune, we must absolutely guard against self-pity, as it places us in judgment over God’s greater purposes for us.

Lewis’ wife Joy was one who wanted the brutally honest truth of everything. That’s how she came to believe in God and accept his gospel of redemption in Christ Jesus. Seems like most people, though, want only good news about their physical condition, and live in denial of the bad stuff. Even their outlook on national and world events suffers from such foolish optimism, leading them to support political candidates who pander to their unrealistic expectations.

Too often, we ruin the happiness we once had, and could still have, by agonizing over what might happen. Tragically, even Christians, who should actually anticipate physical death, worry about dying. Personally, I look forward to meeting my Savior face-to-face; it’s just the transition that bothers me. Lewis’ reference to Gethsemane is so true, even though Jesus’ prospects were infinitely worse than any we might face.

I love Lewis’ help #3 above, especially his analogy of a fort under siege. We must also remember that our loving God never allows misfortune lightly, but always for a redemptive purpose.

Very few of us will ever face the level of faultless heartache that C.S. Lewis faced. And even if we do, we know that Jesus suffered infinitely worse heartache, and physical torture than we ever will. At least be thankful for that.

C.S. Lewis on False Christs

The False Aslan

Far away there appeared a red light. Then it disappeared for a moment and came back again, bigger and stronger. Then he could see dark shapes going to and fro on this side of the light and carrying bundles and throwing them down. He knew now what he was looking at. It was a bonfire, newly lit, and people were throwing bundles of brushwood onto it. Presently it blazed up and Tirian could see that it was on the very top of the hill. He could see quite clearly the stable behind it, all lit up in the red glow, and a great crowd of Beasts and Men between the fire and himself. A small figure, hunched up beside the fire, must be the Ape. It was saying something to the crowd, but he could not hear what. Then it went and bowed three times to the ground in front of the door of the stable. Then he got up and opened the door. And something on four legs—something that walked rather stiffly—came out of the stable and stood facing the crowd.

A great wailing or howling went up, so loud that Tirian could hear some of the words.

“Aslan! Aslan! Aslan!” cried the Beasts. “Speak to us. Comfort us. Be angry with us no more.”

From where Tirian was he could not make out very clearly what the thing was; but he could see that it was yellow and hairy. He had never seen the Great Lion. He had never seen a common lion. He couldn’t be sure that what he saw was not the real Aslan. He had not expected Aslan to look like that stiff thing which stood and said nothing. But how could one be sure? For a moment horrible thoughts went through his mind: then he remembered the nonsense about Tash and Aslan being the same and knew that the whole thing must be a cheat.

From The Last Battle

I love those Chronicles of Narnia! Here is a beautiful, fantastical story that illustrates the power that false christs can exert over the unwary. But false christs don’t have to stand on four legs, or even two.

While the word christ means, “anointed,” lots of things can take on the significance that Christ alone should hold. Among them are material wealth or possessions, even though what we actually possess may be negligible. Then there are people and things that “give meaning” to our lives. That can include influence or power, or even family. Yes, that’s harsh, but the up-side is, putting Jesus first can ultimately bring our families closer.

I must always ask myself, “Do have any (small c) christs in my life? You know, we only have room for one Christ.