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

We were over an abyss

You probably all know the legend of the rider who crossed the frozen Lake of Constance by night without knowing it. When he reached the opposite shore and was told whence he came, he broke down horrified. This is the human situation when the sky opens and the earth is bright, when we may hear: By grace you have been saved! In such a moment we are like that terrified rider. When we hear this word we involuntarily look back, do we not, asking ourselves: Where have I been? Over an abyss, in mortal danger! What did I do? The most foolish thing I ever attempted! What happened? I was doomed and miraculously escaped and now I am safe! You ask, Do we really live in such danger? Yes, we live on the brink of death. But we have been saved. Look at our Savior, and at our salvation! Look at Jesus Christ on the cross. . . . Do you know for whose sake he is hanging there? For our sake – because of our sin – sharing our captivity – burdened with our suffering! He nails our life to the cross. This is how God had to deal with us. From this darkness he has saved us. He who is not shattered after hearing this news may not yet have grasped the word of God: “By grace you have been saved!”

– Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives (quoted by Fleming Rutledge in The Crucifixion)

On conceiving God’s infinity

Whatever God is, he is infinitely so. . . . Conceive of him as excellent, without any imperfection; a Spirit without parts; great without quantity; perfect without quality; everywhere without place; powerful without members; understanding without ignorance; wise without reasoning; light without darkness; infinitely more excelling the beauty of all creatures. . . . And when you have risen to the highest, conceive him yet infinitely above all you can conceive of spirit, and acknowledge the infirmity of your own minds. And whatsoever conception comes into your minds, say, “This is not God; God is more than this.”  [emphasis added]

–Stephen Charnock, quoted by Mark Jones in God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God

What might Luther think about our glut of Christian books?

. . . [Luther] sees the Christian life as one fueled by the reading and hearing of this Word, primarily in a corporate context. This is a great antidote to a number of perennial problems for Christians. First, there is the “need” for something more than the Bible. The success of books that offer something spectacular–whether accounts of dying and coming back to the land of the living or low-key claims to special, extra words from God–shows that the Christian world loves something out of the ordinary.

Luther would respond that such things are absolutely unnecessary, for what we need is the Word of God in the humble, mundane form that he has given it to us. Why read a book on a child who claims to have died and come back when one can read the Gospels and find there God, clothed in frail human flesh, dying and rising again? Why desire further, special words from God when the great Word of God, Christ himself, is offered to every individual as the Bible is read, preached, and sometimes applied individually through the confessional? Luther would see the market for such books as a function of our striving to be theologians of glory, unsatisfied with how God has chosen to reveal himself to be toward us, and always craving to make God conform to our expectations of what we need.

– Carl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life, 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)

Marriage as a discipleship-free zone

Married for GodIt is too easy for Christians to think of marriage as a discipleship-free zone. So that outside of marriage we talk about sacrifice, taking up our cross, and so on. But inside marriage we just talk about how to communicate better, how to be more intimate, how to have better sex, how to be happy. . . . Instead we should want marriages that serve God. If they are sexually and personally fulfilled, well and good. But if they do not serve God, no amount of personal fulfillment will make them right. After all, so far as we can see, Ananias and Sapphira had a marriage with excellent communication and shared values; each understood the other perfectly; and yet they died terrible deaths under the judgment of God (Acts 5:1-11).

–Christopher Ash, Married for God, 40.

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”

Grace changes the person

…grace does not simply jump to move us to action without first moving us as persons. Sanctifying grace changes the person, not merely the aggregation of their actions. Grace transforms the very character of the person, leading not only to increasing action in a holy direction but to growth in the very self.

— Michael Allen, Sanctification