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.


3 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis on Prayer

  1. I’ve been hearing more and more on prayer of late- so, felt led to search your blog for perspectives you may have. This line I found particularly helpful: “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.” I heard Dr. Charles Stanley say to pray “God centered, not problem centered”. Spend more time in praise and remembering who God is and how amazing and good He is. TY for this post. Anything else you might feel led to share based on your gained wisdom- I’m game. Hope you are well! 🌼

    • Dr. Stanley’s advice is solid, but I’d add one thing: Gratitude is key, even if you don’t see much to be grateful for. God is always in the background, working for your best out of your sight. That’s why the Bible says to walk by faith, and not by sight. Once you’re in the habit of thanking God for EVERYTHING, you’ll even find yourself praising him during your dark times. As that is exactly what he created us to do, you’ll find ultimate fulfillment in it, even if your brain, like mine, likes to pull dirty tricks on you. Thing is, the enemy can’t use clinical depression against you if you learn to praise God for it. I truly feel your pain, Elizabeth, but I also feel God’s supernatural joy from trusting him regardless what I see.

      Blessings, girl. I’m praying for you.

      • Thank you.i very much appreciate your response. I used to keep a “gratefuls” journal where I would write ten things I’m grateful for each day- I seem to drift in and out of discipline- so, I no longer write them, but I list things in prayer- but, I have to admit- half heartedly. I need to amp up my gratitude. I like how you put it- the idea that there are so many hidden things God’s doing behind the scenes for my benefit in the end- even the pain and trials He allows in my life- faith, not sight or a my own cognizance… I’m filing your suggestion away with my ever mounting understanding of prayer. I’m sure grateful I have God- can’t imagine how hard it is for the many who do not. Thanks again for the reply and the prayers.

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