Prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. And don’t forget to pray for me.
Ephesians 6:18-19 (The Message)
First, I want to make full disclosure: I am a Baby Boomer. I am a card-carrying member of the generation that said, “If it feels good, do it!” The subtext of our mantra was, “If it doesn’t feel good, then don’t do it!” We told each other that we would be hypocrites to do something if our heart wasn’t in it. The upshot was that I often wrestled with praying when I didn’t feel like it. Would God think I was insincere, or a hypocrite?
True to form C. S. Lewis did a lot to free me from the tyranny of worrying about my feelings when I pray. In his many writings Lewis encouraged people to simply keep their focus on God when praying, rather than on what they were feeling. While Lewis was reluctant to talk about his own prayer life, his books tell quite a lot about the importance of regular, daily prayer for him.
Lewis’ last book, published after his death, was Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. In the book Lewis admits hesitancy to write about prayer because “for me to offer the world instruction about prayer would be impudence.” He thus writes to Malcolm as “two strugglers” who “want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect, but how we should pray being as we are now”.
Lewis wrote freely about the frequent dryness he experienced in prayer, as well as the dark nights when it felt that God was absent. He wrote in a letter to Sister Penelope: “I always tell people not to bother about ‘feelings’ in their prayers, and above all never to try to feel.” (Yours Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis). In a letter to Rhona Bodle, Lewis wrote about prayer and feelings: “It is the act of will…that God values, rather than the state of our emotions – the act being what we give to Him” (Yours Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis).
But it is a snippet from The Screwtape Letters that has helped me most when I don’t feel like praying. It comes in an exchange between two devils in which the senior devil, Screwtape, cautions the younger devil on the dangers of letting a Christian pray: “Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself [God] we are defeated.” Then Screwtape advises on the best stratagem to keep a Christian from praying:
The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills…When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling (emphasis added); and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.
Lewis’ counsel on prayer and feelings does help me better focus on God rather than on my feelings when praying. And that has been very freeing! Yes, pleasant feelings are nice when praying, but totally unnecessary to God hearing and answering. In fact, Lewis says, “the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him [God] most.” (The Screwtape Letters). God is pleased that we are obeying even when we don’t feel like it!
Again, in a letter to Rhona Bodle, “It is the act of will…that God values, rather than the state of our emotions – the act being what we give to Him”. (Yours Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis).
It is pleasing to God when we pray, perhaps even more when we don’t feel like it! The apostle Paul is spot on when he says in today’s scripture: “Prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare.” Screwtape and his young devils know it and fear it!
Grace and peace,