Lewis: ‘Prayer is irksome’ (pt 3)

I am therefore not deeply worried by the fact that prayer is at present a duty, and even an irksome one. This is humiliating. It is frustrating. It is terribly time-wasting—the worse one is praying, the longer one’s prayers take. But we are still only at school. Or, like Donne, “I tune my instrument here at the door.” And even now—how can I weaken the words enough, how speak at all without exaggeration?—we have what seem rich moments. Most frequently, perhaps, in our momentary, only just voluntary, ejaculations; refreshments “unimplored, unsought, Happy for man so coming.”

But I don’t rest much on that; nor would I if it were ten times as much as it is. I have a notion that what seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling and contend with the greatest disinclination. For these, perhaps, being nearly all will, come from a deeper level than feeling. In feeling there is really so much that is not ours—so much that comes from weather and health and from the last book read. One thing seems certain. It is no good angling for the rich moments. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when He catches us, as it were, off our guard. Our preparations to receive Him sometimes have the opposite effect. Doesn’t Charles Williams say somewhere that “the altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else“?

– C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm (Mariner Books ed), 116-117.

Lewis: ‘Prayer is irksome’ (pt 2)

. . . The painful effort which prayer involves is no proof that we are doing something we were not created to do.

If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be delight. Some day, please God, it will be. The same is true of many other behaviors which now appear as duties. If I loved my neighbor as myself, most of the actions which are now my moral duty would flow out of me as spontaneously as song from a lark or fragrance from a flower. Why is this not so yet? Well, we know, don’t we? Aristotle has taught us that delight is the “bloom” on an unimpeded activity. But the very activities for which we were created are, while we live on earth, variously impeded: by evil in ourselves or in others. Not to practise them is to abandon our humanity. To practise them sontaneously and delightfully is not yet possible. This situation creates the category of duty, the whole specifically moral realm.

It exists to be transcended. Here is the paradox of Christianity. As practical imperatives for here and now the two great commandments have to be translated “Behave as if you loved God and man.” For no man can love because he is told to. Yet obedience on this practical level is not really obedience at all. And if a man really loved God and man, once again this would hardly be obedience; for if he did, he would be unable to help it. Thus the command really says to us, “Ye must be born again.” Till then, we have duty, morality, the Law. A schoolmaster, as St. Paul says, to bring us to Christ. We must expect no more of it than of a schoolmaster; we must allow it no less. I must say my prayers today whether I feel devout or not; but that is only as I must learn my grammar if I am ever to read the poets.

– C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm (Mariner Books ed), 114-115.

Lewis: ‘Prayer is irksome’ (pt 1)

. . . by talking at this length about prayer at all, we seem to give it a much bigger place in our lives than, I’m afraid, it has. For while we talk about it, all the rest of our experience, which in reality crowds our prayer into the margin or sometimes off the page altogether, is not mentioned. Hence, in the talk, an error of proportion which amounts to, though it was not intended for, a lie.

Well, let’s now at any rate come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to finish. While we are at prayer, but not while we are reading a novel or solving a cross-word puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us. . . .

The odd thing is that this reluctance to pray is not confined to periods of dryness. When yesterday’s prayers were full of comfort and exaltation, todays will still be felt as, in some degree, a burden.

Now the disquieting thing is not simply that we skimp and begrudge the duty of prayer. The really disquieting thing is it should have to be numbered among duties at all. For we believe that we were created “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” And if the few, the very few, minites we now spend on intercourse with God are a burden to us rather than delight, what then?

– C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm (Mariner Books ed), 113-114

Newton on disaffected & distracted praying

I sometimes think that the prayers of believers afford a stronger proof of a depraved nature, than even the profaneness of those who know not the Lord. How strange is it, that when I have the fullest convictions that prayer is not only my duty—not only necessary as the appointed means of receiving those supplies, without which I can do nothing, but likewise the greatest honor and privilege to which I can be admitted in the present life—I should still find myself so unwilling to engage in it.

However, I think it is not prayer itself that I am weary of, but such prayers as mine. How can it be accounted prayer, when the heart is so little affected,—when it is polluted with such a mixture of vile and vain imaginations—when I hardly know what I say myself—but I feel my mind collected one minute, the next, my thoughts are gone to the ends of the earth.

If what I express with my lips were written down, and the thoughts which at the same time are passing through my heart were likewise written between the lines, the whole taken together would be such an absurd and incoherent jumble—such a medley of inconsistency, that it might pass for the ravings of a lunatic. When he points out to me the wildness of this jargon, and asks, is this a prayer fit to be presented to the holy heart-searching God? I am at a loss what to answer, till it is given me to recollect that I am not under the law, but under grace—that my hope is to be placed, not in my own prayers, but in the righteousness and intercession of Jesus. The poorer and viler I am in myself, so much the more is the power and riches of His grace magnified in my behalf.

Therefore I must, and, the Lord being my helper, I will pray on, and admire his condescension and love, that He can and does take notice of such a creature—for the event shows, that those prayers which are even displeasing to myself, partial as I am in my own case, are acceptable to him, how else should they be answered? And that I am still permitted to come to a throne of grace—still supported in my walk and in my work, and that mine enemies have not yet prevailed against me, and triumphed over me, affords a full proof that the Lord has heard and has accepted my poor prayers–yea, it is possible, that those very prayers of ours of which we are most ashamed, are the most pleasing to the Lord, and for that reason, because we are ashamed of them. When we are favored with what we call enlargement, we come away tolerably satisfied with ourselves, and think we have done well.

–Jones, Robert, ed. Twenty-five Letters Hitherto Unpublished, of the Rev. John Newton (quoted by Tony Reinke in Newton on the Christian Life)

Although I am in the wilderness

Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness
it is not all briars and barrenness.

I have bread from heaven, streams from the rock,
light by day, fire by night,
thy dwelling place and thy mercy seat.

I am sometimes discouraged by the way,
but though winding and trying it is safe
and short;

Death dismays me, but my great high priest
stands in its waters,
and will open me a passage,
and beyond is a better country.

While I live let my life be exemplary,
When I die may my end be peace.

The Valley of Vision, “Shortcomings”

Don’t pray through this outline before Thanksgiving dinner

I was unprepared by the somber joy that came by simply reading over Henry’s outline–joy in the weight of blessings and sobriety in the poverty of my thanks.

Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count. {Psa 40:5, NAS}

Giving thanks may be more than an exercise of the mind but it’s certainly not less. As such, our thanksgivings (daily habit and annual observance) are enriched when biblical insight is wedded to personal reflection.

In his book Method for Prayer, Matthew Henry (1662-1714) laid out a Scripture-saturated guide to aide Christians in prayer. The fourth part of prayer he designated as a time of “thanksgivings for the mercies we have received from God and the many favors of His we are interested in and have and hope for benefit by.” Along these lines he advised Christians to be specific in our thanks which, as you’ll see below, is no easy task!

I was unprepared for the somber joy that came by simply reading over Henry’s outline — joy in the weight of blessings and sobriety in the poverty of my thanks. Do with this what you will but it couldn’t hurt to think & pray through this list over our Thanksgiving holiday:

  • (2.1) Marvel at the Goodness of His Nature
  • (2.2) Thank God for the Many Instances of His Goodness
    • (2.2.1) For His Kind Providence Demonstrated throughout the World
      • Thank God for the Many Instances of His Goodness and Kind Providence
      • Thank God for the Many Instances of His Goodness and Kind Providence (continued)
    • (2.2.2) For His Kind Providence Demonstrated in you in Being Made in His Image
    • (2.2.3) For His Kind Providence in Preserving you
    • (2.2.4) For His Kind Providence in Granting Recoveries from Danger
    • (2.2.5) For His Kind Providence in Granting the Supports and Comforts of this Life
    • (2.2.6) For His Kind Providence in Granting you Successes
    • (2.2.7) For His Kind Providence in Granting you the Peace you Experience
    • (2.2.8) For His Grace to your Soul for Designing Man’s Redemption and Salvation
    • (2.2.9) For His Grace in His Eternal Purposes Concerning Redemption
    • (2.2.10) For His Grace for Appointing the Redeemer
    • (2.2.11) For His Grace for the Early Indications of His Gracious Design
    • (2.2.12) For His Grace for the Many Glorious Instances of His Favor to the Old Testament Church
    • (2.2.13) For His Grace in the Wonderful Incarnation of the Son of God
    • (2.2.14) For His Gracious Owning of Christ in His Undertaking
    • (2.2.15) For Christ’s Holy Life, Excellent Doctrine, and Glorious Miracles
    • (2.2.16) For Christ’s Encouragement to Sinners to Come to Him
    • (2.2.17) For the Cross of Christ and All its Benefits
    • Thank God for the Cross of Christ and All its Benefits (continued)
    • (2.2.18) For Christ’s Resurrection
    • (2.2.19) For Christ’s Ascension into Heaven
    • (2.2.20) For Christ’s Intercession
    • (2.2.21) For the Dominion and Sovereignty to which the Redeemer has been Exalted
    • (2.2.22) For the Assurance you have of Christ’s Second Coming
    • (2.2.23) For the Sending of the Holy Spirit
    • (2.2.24) For the Covenant of Grace
    • (2.2.25) For the Scriptures
    • (2.2.26) For the Institution of Ordinances, Particularly that of the Ministry
    • (2.2.27) For Planting His Church in the World
    • (2.2.28) For the Preservation of Christianity in the World to this Day
    • (2.2.29) For the Martyrs and Confessors who have Gone Before you
    • (2.2.30) For the Communion of Saints
    • (2.2.31) For the Hope of Eternal Life
    • (2.2.32) For the Work of the Spirit within you
    • (2.2.33) For Every Spirit-Wrought Inward Change
    • (2.2.34) For the Remission of your Sins and Peace of Conscience
    • (2.2.35) For the Powerful Influences of Divine Grace
    • (2.2.36) For Sweet Communion with Him in Holy Ordinances
    • (2.2.37) For Gracious Answers to your Prayers
    • (2.2.38) For Support under your Afflictions
    • (2.2.39) For the Performance of His Promises

Inspiration, inerrancy, & Paris

The subjects of inspiration & inerrancy have been running through my mind lately. {“Well, at least they have plenty of space to roam.” –Shive}

Let’s say I was persuaded that the Bible is not fully inspired/inerrant because some passages, especially in the OT, run contrary to the Christian love ethic (see Psalm 109:6ff or 137:9). Consequently, some passages shouldn’t guide or inform the Christian life.

Then I see ISIS wreaking havoc in the Middle East and now in Paris. When innocents are being murdered can I pray for retributive justice on ISIS? Can I take my cue from Jesus’ teaching in Luke 18:7-8 and from John’s vision in Rev 6:10, or were they being too Old Testamenty in those passages?

How is one to know what he can & can’t pray?

The Savior of my prayers

Jesus isn’t just the Savior of my soul. He’s also the Savior of my prayers. My prayers come before the throne of God as the prayers of Jesus. “Asking in Jesus’ name” isn’t another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. It is one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect.

–Paul Miller, A Praying Life