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)
Are there times you just don’t feel like praying? There are quite a few times like that for me. But C. S. Lewis has helped me a lot, freeing me to focus on God in my praying and not on what I am feeling.
Lewis was reluctant to talk about his prayer life, believing that prayer was something for him “to do” rather than to discuss. But Lewis’ letters to inquirers reveal how important a regular daily practice of prayer was to him. In Lewis’s last book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, he acknowledged his hesitancy to talk about his own prayer life. Lewis says: “for me to offer the world instruction about prayer would be impudence.” Rather, he says he writes to Malcolm as two strugglers who “want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect, but how we should pray as we are now.”
Lewis knew well dryness in prayer and warned people away from wanting to have any kind of feelings while praying. In a letter to Sister Penelope, Lewis writes: “I always tell people not to bother about ‘feelings’ in their prayers, and above all never to try to feel.” In another letter to Rhona Bodle, Lewis said, “It is the act of will…that God values, rather than the state of our emotions — the act of being what we give to Him.”
Then there is the striking scene in The Screwtape Letters that I often remember when I don’t feel like praying. In that imaginative exchange between two devils, Lewis often provides insight into prayer. Lewis writes about the senior devil, Screwtape, instructing the younger tempter, Wormwood, on the dangers of ever letting a person pray: “Whenever they are attending the Enemy Himself [God] we are defeated.” Then Screwtape advises on various devilish ways to keep people 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 mine); 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’ words help free me to keep my thoughts on God when I’m praying, and not on my feelings. It sure makes it easier for me to pray more often and to pray with greater boldness. Good feelings are nice when I have them, but not at all necessary. Every day I perform needed tasks without giving thought to what I am feeling about doing them. I pay the mortgage, take out the garbage, and brush my teeth without thought as to what I am feeling. But doing those tasks, rather than not doing them, makes a difference for me. How much more true of our praying or not praying!
In today’s scripture the apostle Paul writes of our need to be praying. He says that our prayers are “essential” for the ongoing spiritual warfare we are in. As Christ’s apostle Paul commands us to pray for each other.
He says that we need to pray in order to keep each other’s spirits up “so that no one falls behind or drops out”. Whether I feel like praying or don’t, does not matter! I remember Lewis’s words: “It is the act of will…that God values, rather than the state of our emotions – the act being what we give to Him”.
Especially in these days of worldwide pandemic I want to give myself to God in praying, whether I feel like it or not!
A Fellow Traveler,