How To Pray, ch 8: Danger of Drifting

A view of Oxfordshire, from St. Mary’s Church, Garsington

Chapter 8 of How To Pray, pp. 74-79, is the second of four excerpts from The Screwtape Letters.  This one is from Letter 12.  The chapter follows up well from the last, which was about our wish to live truly in the presence of God, as he knows himself to be – not what we imagine him to be.  Here, Lewis honestly recognizes that Christians can get to where they want to avoid this Reality.  The reason is that they have gotten themselves into a state wherein they perceive “things are not right” and want to avoid the discomfort of dealing with it in a forthright fashion.  Perhaps, imperceptibly, they have drifted from their walk with God.

Lewis explains that, as we walk with our Lord, we can be in one of two extremes regarding our feelings: a) we can be in a state of painful guilt that drives to confession of our sin, or b) we can be filled with thankful joy that leads us to praise.  But in between these two extremes, there is the normal, everyday fluctuation of feeling that doesn’t really matter.  Yet, if we begin to drift from this walk, there can be also, as Screwtape describes, a vague feeling that leads to further drifting, resulting in an empty maintenance of religious duty.  And with the uneasiness of soul that follows, the avoidance of dealing with the condition begins to set in.

We can never sit still in our condition.  Therefore, this drifting condition results in a beginning of small sins and small habits.  These “small sins”  don’t alarm people about their condition.  They just make them want to goof off spiritually, to dilly dally with their lives.  Lewis reminds us that this is a dangerous condition, because these “small sins” can just as easily spoil our character or even send someone to hell as well as anything else.

When I was reading the chapter, I noted things that Screwtape said that could be worked into a list of Indicators of drifting:

* Do you indulge in habits that, if you are truthful, are growing less and less pleasant, but harder and harder to forgo? (p.77)
* Do you find yourself wasting your time in activity that satisfies no real strong desire or goal, even doing things you don’t really like to do? (77-78)
* Are you not doing what you should, nor doing what you like? Is there no healthy, out-going (out of yourself) activity in your life?

If so, you need to wake up and engage your will in the right direction and act. Where there is reluctance to walk with God, go to him with it, whatever you feel about it.

On page 76, there is a good sidebar: a quote from Screwtape (Chapter 8, next to last paragraph). God recognizes when we will to do what is right, whether we feel like it or not. That is so important.  If feelings are not present or negative about yourself, don’t wallow in “I’ve been bad.”  Instead, remember I John 1:9 and stay sharp, at least in your will. Decide to be right with God, admitting you feel out of sorts. He knows.

This leads to another solution to drifting that Lewis does not mention – a subject utterly abhorent to Screwtape which he wouldn’t want to go near: make much of the blood of Christ. If you feel things aren’t right, then you need not fear approaching God and praying the prayer of David, Psalm 139: 23,24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  There is no condition that Jesus’ blood cannot cleanse.  Plus, God already accepts you as a beloved, adopted child. He is only going to do you good.

Stay sharp. Watch your habits. Ignore your feelings. Watch and pray. Rest in the Lord’s cleansing and keeping.

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.