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.

Non-Swimmer’s Lament

Surf, but not for some
who dive in, get wet,
who know real surf,
and thrill to the threat.

Cold water, so refreshing,
life healing, and
soul cleansing, but
it may be messy.

I want to be bold,
to get soaking wet,
yet, I may catch cold,
so I play at the edge.

Spirit says, “Come to me!
Leap into my waters!
Refresh yourself,
nothing else matters.”

So I leap, in halting faith,
swim warm—
not cold,
soaked with infinite grace.

Why did I not leap sooner,
a coward to the core?
But he is always faithful,
that I might fear no more.

Open Sez He

Okay, titling this piece after a quote from “Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor” may seem somewhat 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 though some think getting his attention is formulaic.

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 sez 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 up 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?

How To Study God’s Word

If the subject of Scripture, and especially Bible versions, bores you, turn away now. Turn away and rethink your relationship with our Lord Jesus. I won’t say you aren’t saved, but to use a common analogy, you’re trying to live your spiritual life on gospel milk. Can you imagine an adult who has lived only on milk all his life?

Now, to the meat.

I like to think of myself as immune to controversy, but the dispute between the King James Only people and everyone else keeps me engaged in the stupidity. First, I like the KJV, and the NKJV, the ESV, the HCS(Holman Christian Standard), the old RSV, and on occasion, even the NIV. When I need more in-depth study I reference more literal versions like the Amplified Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, and the Expanded Translation to obtain a broader sense of what the “experts” think about any particular passage. And if that doesn’t cut it, I resort to commentaries—just remember, though, that commentaries are nothing more than some guy’s comments(duhh!) on Scripture passages. And if I need to dig deeper still, I access the original language lexicons, but unfortunately they aren’t cheap, let alone free.

With no offense intended to the KJV-only folks, I have to say all Bible translations and versions are the products of fallible human-type beings. Even the hallowed King James Version has been corrected extensively since it was first published in 1611. In other words (don’t stop reading if you take offense at this), all Biblical source texts and translations contain errors, ranging from just a few in the better ones, to absolutely apostate errors in “translations” such as the New World Translation from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most conservative, evangelical scholars say only the original manuscripts were inerrant, and since those are long lost, we do our best with what we have. I believe God honors our intentions and keeps us in his Way, despite all that humans can do to mess it up.

So, how can a novice Bible student know she’s getting God’s perfect truth from her NIV Study Bible? By studying carefully and frequently, comparing various resources to find the renderings that most closely align with the balance of Scripture. But there’s a two-pronged catch: First, you have to know, or at least have a working knowledge of, the Bible. That takes time and commitment. Second, you—or, at least I—can’t do such diligent study on a tight schedule, so read the entire passage you need to cover, then return to any portions that need clarification. Caution: The more you know about God’s Word, the more you will know you don’t know about it. That’s because the finite number of words within the Bible become, through the Holy Spirit’s influence, an infinite resource.

While that is a relatively safe Bible study bet, Christ-followers must go an important step further to gain that Holy Spirit influence; always, before you start any Bible study, commit your every thought to its Author, the Lord Jesus Christ. And never trust your own opinions, ’cause they’re likely wrong. Instead, let God lead as you prayerfully submit every question and conclusion to him. To do that, you must pray for God to reveal your heart’s purpose, your inner motives, and willingly repent of any hidden intent to subvert Scripture and prove your preconceptions right.

Now, that covers your attitude toward, and your approach to, God’s word. There are, however, way too many individual methods and resources for Bible study to dwell on each of them, so read on for a list of links to the better ones.

Bible Study Links

  • e-Sword is the premier, FREE, downloadable Bible study tool. Author Rick Meyers’ software philosophy is, “Freely you have received, freely give,” so avail yourself of this simple, flexible, broad-ranging software package with many public domain resources, and access to many other premium resources. And when you get hooked on e-Sword, consider donating to its support; Rick has undertaken this as his full-time occupation, and believe me, it’s worth way more than the occasional twenty bucks. Now, head over to YouTube for everything you can imagine about e-Sword.
  • Bible Gateway used to be pretty good, but recently their major site overhaul has made it even better! It’s an excellent resource for most Bible study. Searchable for all but the most specialized, scholarly word studies—stuff most of us couldn’t use anyway.
  • Bible Dot Org‘s new Lumina Bible study feature offers a set of slick, convenient tools to get you started toward the hard stuff.
  • Bible Hub, with oodles of Bible translations, study tools, topical listings and more, arranged in a pleasing and common-sense GUI.
  • Blue-Letter Bible has also undergone a recent overhaul, both streamlining its GUI(graphic user interface) and expanding its available resources; I doubt you’ve ever seen a free list to match this one. Seem confusing or complicated? Check out the video tutorials.
  • OpenBible.Info, with their unique Bible Geocoding, Topical Bible, Labs(interface experiments), and Blog.
  • StudyLight.org offers ever-expanding lists of resources that you have to see to believe.
  • Bible Study, if you’re a seventh-day sabbatarian. You know, they’re like the New Testament Judaizers that Paul encountered at every turn. No offense meant.
  • Christianity Today‘s Bible Studies if you like canned studies, and there’s nothing wrong with that if you intend to progress into your own word studies.
  • InTouch Ministries’ Bible Studies for more topical studies.
  • CrossWalk.com for Bible study plans, tips and tools, Bible study notes submitted by their community, and lots of topical articles.

Want more options? Here’s the Google search I did to come up with some of the above sites. Well, what are you waiting for. This is like Christmas for anyone hungry for a deeper knowledge of God’s Word and relationship with our Heavenly Father. Go ahead! Tear it open. Have fun.

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.

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)

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.

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.