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From the Summer 2006 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Prayer Life of C.S. Lewis

by James M. Houston
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute

 
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  Thus Lewis remained modest, extremely so, about his prayer life. Perhaps nothing keeps us humbler than a healthy realism about the inadequacy of our personal relationship with God. Lewis knew times of dryness in his prayer life, what the medieval monks used to call accidie. He warns us wisely against viewing our prayer life in relation to our emotions. “Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself,” wrote Screwtape to his assistant Wormwood, “we are defeated.” The Devil’s advice to his evil apprentice is to distract their attention from God himself, to their feelings about God. “So when they ask for charity, let them also be deflected by having charitable feelings. When they pray for courage, let them feel brave. When they seek forgiveness, divert them with feelings about forgiveness. Teach them to eliminate the value of each prayer by the success in producing the desired feeling.”44 At all costs avoid the real nakedness of the soul before God in prayer. It is that, argued Screwtape, that is so deadly, of being in the living Presence of God himself.
  These then, are some of the things Lewis teaches us by his life and honest reflections. They are home-spun, for the truth is always simple, if it is lived rather than being mere theory. As the primary language of the soul, prayer is like saying the alphabet. It may not appear very profound to describe, yet it is essential, the basis of all communication with God, that leads us forward into mysteries yet unknown and still to be experienced. In the mercy of God, he takes our childhood wounds and memories, to show us how deeply we need to ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Then in the lessons he gives us through the lives of others, as well as our own, he unfolds the most wonderful journey for the soul we could ever conceive. Little did Lewis realize as a child where that journey would take him. Nor can we. But prayer remains its pulse-beat. We give the last word to Lewis about his own experiences of prayer. “Prayer,” he says, “in the sense of asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That he answers prayer is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from the revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.”45 



Notes
1. C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Collins, Fount Paperbacks, 1984), p. 9.
2. C.S. Lewis, B.B.C. Talks (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1941).
3. Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908).
4. C.S. Lewis, Poems, edited by Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1964), p.1.
5. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1952), p. 155.
6. C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, edited by Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1964), p. 13.
7. Op. cit., p.11.
8. Ibid.
9. Op. cit., p. 28.
10. C.S. Lewis, Letters, edited by W.H. Lewis, (New York: Harvest Books, 1966), p. 265.
11. George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1975), p. 111.
12. William Griffin, Clive Staples Lewis, a Dramatic Life (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), p. 76.
13. Op. cit., p. 79.
14. Op. cit., p. 84.
15. C.S. Lewis, Christian Behaviour (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1943) p. 64.
16. C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, p. 114.
17. C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, edited by Clyde Kilby (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967) p. 21.
18. William Griffin, Clive Staples Lewis, pp. 149-150.
19. C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, pp. 67-68.
20. C.S. Lewis, Poems, pp. 122-123.
21. William Griffin, Clive Staples Lewis, p. 162
22. Ibid., p. 357.
23. Ibid., p. 428.
24. Ibid., p. 162.
25. Ibid., p. 181.
26. Ibid., pp. 181-182 .
27. Ibid., p. 241.
28. Ibid., p. 316
29. Ibid., p. 324.
30. Ibid., p. 349.
31. Ibid., p. 356.
32. Ibid.
33. C.S. Lewis, Poems, p. 118.
34. William Griffin, Clive Staples Lewis, p. 429.
35. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (London: Faber & Faber, 1964), pp. 9-10.
36. Ibid.
37. C.S. Lewis, Poems, p. 126.
38. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1955), p. 11.
39. Ibid., pp. 15-18.
40. Ibid., p. 21.
41. Ibid., p. 34.
42. C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 104-107.
43. See the essay “Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without an Answer”, in C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, edited by Walter Hooper (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1967), pp. 142-151.
44. C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1967), p. 28.
45. C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays: The Efficacy Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1949), p.

Dr. James M. Houston is retired Board of Governors’ Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1968 he worked with others to found Regent, an international graduate school with over 1,000 students annually and a world-class faculty which has included J.I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, and others. In 1976, Dr. Houston co-founded the C.S. Lewis Institute and serves as Senior Fellow.
  He received his MA from the University of Edinburgh and M.A., B.Sc., and D.Phil. degrees from Oxford University.
  Dr. Houston is the author of numerous books including
The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship With God, In Pursuit of Happiness: Finding Genuine Fulfillment in Life, and The Mentored Life: From Individualism to Personhood. Jim and his wife Rita make their home in Vancouver.

 
COPYRIGHT NOTICE:  Knowing & Doing is published by C.S. Lewis Institute; 8001 Braddock Road, Suite 301; Springfield, VA 22151. Portions of the publication may be reproduced for noncommercial, local church or ministry use without prior permission. Electronic copies of the PDF files may be duplicated and transmitted via e-mail for personal and church use. Articles may not be modified without prior written permission of the Institute. For questions, contact the Institute: 703.914.5602 or email us.
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