Painful Prayer & The Screwtape Letters

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As C.S. Lewis said, gaining this euphoric feeling during prayer is fickly dependent on our circumstances.

This past week has been one of the most hectic weeks of my entire summer. After finishing up my internship and spending a week and a half at home in the wilderness of New Hampshire, I began the 12-hour lonely drive down to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

To remain sane during the 12 hours of solitude, I had to have something more mentally stimulating than music. I happened to have Focus on the Family’s The Screwtape Letters audio drama saved for just an occasion as this. I have never read the book, so it was a brand new experience for me.

For those who have no idea what The Screwtape Letters is all about, it is a collection of fictional letters that C.S. Lewis wrote. These letters are from a senior demon to a young apprentice demon who is learning how to tempt his first human, or patient. Lewis’ goal was to show his readers the psychology of temptation from the tempter’s point of view. The result is a masterpiece that has impacted Christians for quite some time.

Here is a section of the radio drama that jumped out to me:

Whenever they are attending to the enemy [God] himself, we are defeated. But there are ways of preventing him from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask him for charity, let them instead start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. And when they meant to pray for courage, let them try to feel brave. And when they say that they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by the success in producing the desired feeling and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired at the moment.

As I heard this, my conscience definitely gave me a prick in the heart. This is exactly what I do so very often. Being someone who naturally follows feelings over logic, I cannot count the number of times I have taken a walk around my campus in prayer with the desire to feel close to God. I will pace back and forth in passionate prayer with God, thinking that I am praying for His glory to be done when I am actually attempting to fabricate this feeling of peace and faith.

As I was driving, I kept thinking how this striving for feeling impacts other areas of my life. My thoughts were directed to worship and singing in church. I asked myself where my heart is during those times. Sometimes I am genuinely praising the Lord. But more often there seems to be a rush of emotions that, if I were honest with myself, attempt to selfishly feel close to God.

Who is my God? Is it a certain feeling for the Most High or is it the Most High himself?

As C.S. Lewis said, gaining this euphoric feeling during prayer is fickly dependent on our circumstances. We have good days and bad days. Some days we will feel happiness and contentment, and some days we will not. God has created us to live in what Lewis calls “life’s undulation.” There are ups and downs to life. God uses each moment to continue the good work He started in us (Philippians 1:6). Our feelings will follow the ups and downs; therefore, the angels of darkness strive to turn our attention to ourselves and our feelings rather than our Creator.

Feelings do not last. Feeling close to God is a blessing and a gift, but it will not stay. Just as God leads me by streams of living water, He will lead me through deserts of dry emptiness. If euphoric feelings are what hold my affection, then I will be destined for a roller coaster ride of euphoria and despair. But if God is my rock, then I can rejoice. I must live according to the truth that joy in the Lord can be found despite the darkest of feelings.

Copyright 2012 James Eldridge. All rights reserved.

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