On the plane home from San Francisco this past Wednesday, I started rereading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The last time I read it was 8 or 9 years ago, and I thought it was time to see if there was something more I could learn from this classic work that I missed the first time through.
For those unfamiliar with this book, let me give you a brief synopsis. The entire books consists of a series of letters from Screwtape, a high-level department head in Hell, and his nephew Wormwood, a low-level tempter in England during the war. Wormwood is assigned to “the patient” and his task, as is the task of all demons, is to keep his patient from becoming a Christian. Wormwood fails in this initial task, and it them becomes his responsibility to deter the patient from becoming a useful and strong Christian, or to perhaps give up his faith altogether.
Throughout the letters, Screwtape refers to God as the Enemy, because, of course, God is the enemy of Satan and his followers. It seems odd that one could learn anything useful from this series of letters, but there is much wisdom regarding what to guard against when it comes to the temptations of the devil.
In the preface, C.S. Lewis makes a statement about demons that I think continues to be true today:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. Screwtape, pg. IX.
As I am reading through these letters, I am noting some advice that I find particularly useful and relevant to remember. Each one could be developed into its own blog post. So for this blog post I am going to focus on just one of the letters and its advice. Then I will discuss others in future blog posts.
Screwtape’s fourth letter to Wormwood is on the subject of prayer. He first of all suggests that the patient should be persuaded to avoid the practice altogether, if at all possible. However, in the event that the patient does actually pray, Screwtape offers some advice as to how Wormwood can try to make that prayer less than useful to the patient.
One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray ‘with moving lips and bended knees’ but merely ‘composed his spirit to love’ and indulged ‘a sense of supplication’. That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time. At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. Screwtape, pg. 16.
This passage reminded me of the many years I thought kneeling to pray was unimportant, so long as I was praying to God. Since I have started praying on my knees each morning, I have come to realize how important this position of supplication is in bringing honor and glory to God, and in drawing me closer to Him because of the humility it requires.
Another thing about kneeling to pray is that it is easier to remain focused on God. When we pray standing or while we are driving or sitting in a chair where we frequently read or watch TV, it is much easier to become distracted or to be only half focused on the fact that we are trying to pray. Praying in any one of these positions sends the message to our own soul that communication with God is not a priority but a side thought. When we kneel, however, we are saying to God and to our own soul that we desire to give communication with God the priority it deserves.
I’m not saying that we never get distracted when we pray on our knees. I know that I certainly do, but it is easier to get back on track and return our focus to listening to our Lord. As the decision to kneel to pray is repeated regularly, it becomes a habit and then communication with God becomes a habit as well. As we put a priority on communicating with God, He is faithful to respond. Even Screwtape knew this and warns Wormwood of this fact.
But of course the Enemy will not meantime be idle. Whenever there is prayer, there is danger of His own immediate action. He is cynically indifferent to the dignity of His position, and ours, as pure spirits, and to human animals on their knees He pours out self-knowledge in a quite shameless fashion. Screwtape, pg. 17.
As Screwtape reveals, one of the most wonderful things about praying on our knees is the truth about our own condition and need for God that He reveals to us. For some, this revelation of their own sinfulness is too much and will result in less direct communication with God. But for those who truly love and appreciate our Lord, His revelation of wherein we need to rely on Him to overcome our selfish nature is a wonderful result of humble prayer.
Do you desire more direct and close communication with God? Have you nonetheless been avoiding literally getting on your knees to pray because you think you (and God) are happy with your current prayer habits? I challenge you to stop listening to the tempter’s suggestions that you do not need to humble yourself and bend your knee before God. Open your eyes and your heart to see the lie that how you pray is not relevant to the quality of your prayer life. If you consciously decide to kneel to pray each day, you will develop a wonderful habit that will draw you closer to your Creator and will cause Him to draw closer to you.