Chapter 3 of How To Pray seeks an answer to the question, “Do Our Prayers Depend on How Deeply We Feel or Mean Them?” The excerpt is from Surprised by Joy, chapter 4, “I Broaden My Mind.”
Lewis is a good source for problems with prayer, both philosophical and practical. In this chapter, we have an example of the practical. He refers to the sad narrative of his childhood misconception about prayer. He calls it “the ludicrous burden of false duties” (HTP, p. 27). Lewis thought he had to say his prayers in a particular way and feel a particular way during them as well. His intense concern for his prayers and his Luther-like scrupulously at that age is intriguing and tragic.
We certainly must not think that such a burden falls only on children. At any age, we can burden our lives with false ideas about prayer – especially ideas about our feelings. It takes work to learn what the Bible says about how our Lord has opened the way to the throne for our prayers, and then to remember these things when we pray. Naturally, we lean instead to feelings.
“I don’t feel like God loves me anymore.”
“I don’t feel like I really love God like I should.”
“I don’t think I really prayed that prayer with the sincerity I should have.”
“I don’t feel like God is listening to me.”
And we think the remedy is to work harder at this or that duty we lay on ourselves. No, The remedy is to learn what poor Lewis as a boy did not learn. Prayer is not based on any condition of soul which I think I ought to have or that I can work up. It is based on the intercessory work of Jesus. So, I look away from myself – whatever my inner condition – to him, and then simply tell him what is on my heart and mind. When we have done that, we have prayed.
We are nowhere instructed to feel any particular thing when we pray. The closest is St. James’ comment about the fervent prayer of a righteous man. But even this is an observation, not a prerequisite.
Trust the Lord with your feelings, as with everything else in our lives – you may need to just ignore them. Focus instead on the objective truth of Scripture. You will get further more comfortably that way.
Reference: C. S. Lewis, How To Pray: Reflections and Essays, (New York, HarperOne, 2018), ISBN-13: 978-0062847133.
Please note that the content and viewpoints of Rev. Beckmann are his own and are not necessarily those of the C.S. Lewis Foundation. We have not edited his writing in any substantial way and have permission from him to post his content.
The Rev. David Beckmann has for many years been involved in both the Church and education. He helped to start a Christian school in South Carolina, tutored homeschoolers, and has been adjunct faculty for both Covenant College and the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. He founded the C.S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga in 2005. He has spoken extensively on C.S Lewis, and was the Director of the C.S Lewis Study Centre at The Kilns from 2014-2015. He is currently a Regional Representative for the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Chattanooga.