Chapter 4 of the new HarperOne book by C. S. Lewis, How to Pray, is an excerpt from Letter 4 of Letters to Malcolm. In this letter, Lewis begins to answer two philosophical questions about prayer, but in our excerpt, the question is “Isn’t It Presumptuous For Us To Bring Our Concerns Before God” (p.33)?
Concerning this question, Lewis addresses two issues:
1 – If God already knows everything, then why pray to him about something as if he does not?
2 – Are we not presuming upon him if we do not have the perfect kind of emotional concern for what we ask that we ought to have?
In answer to the first question, Lewis helps us to understand that, underlying all petitions, is our calling to fellowship with God (1 Corinthians 1:9: “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”) The main activity is the relationship itself.
Lewis recognizes that there is a difference between God knowing about you as he knows anything else categorically – planets, rocks, trees, etc. – and then his recognizing us as personalities before him. Thus, he bids us to open ourselves up willingly to be known. When we do this, we are treating ourselves as more than mere objects known about. We treat ourselves as personalities who acknowledge God’s presence in his creation, and we are assenting to his desire to know us personally, relationally. So, in prayer, we enter into fellowship with this God, and that is worthwhile doing.
We see this very kind of activity in prayer that Lewis is talking about in Psalm 139. David has come to God in prayer and he spends most of his time in this psalm recognizing that God knows him.
1 O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. 2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. 7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? 8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; 10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
David acknowledges that God knows about everything, but then he invites God to know him personally: “23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
That is just what Lewis is talking about. “Here’s my heart: know me.”
His answer to the second issue is brilliant and very biblical. Yes, we should have our affections and desires properly ordered according to what is proper for a redeemed child of God. Yet, we are not perfect in this life. And if our affections or desires are imperfect, there’s no use trying to work on that. Just confess it, and go on, and ask. After all – going back to God’s omniscience – He already knows how you feel. We thus pray our prayers, looking to God to forgive whatever is amiss. Be honest, be true, be open, and you will have fellowship with your God, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all our sin (I John 1).
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.