If there is one word to describe the current state of our world it is “restless.” We are restless souls in restless relationships in a land of restless circumstances. We are told by the statisticians that social unrest is up 244% globally all the while 20% of us suffer from some form of anxiety disorder and expend over $240 billion a year in mental health services. Is it any wonder that the Bible constantly characterizes Humanity as a frothing sea of chaos and sin from whence beasts immerge?
We crave sanity and serenity for our world gone mad. We long for peace. We sing about it, dream about it, write about it, march for it, and craft legislation to achieve it. We cry “peace, peace” for our planet, nations, communities, families, and souls, and yet, just as in the time of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, “there is no peace.” In fact, the march away from peace only seems to be increasing. Why do we fail to achieve what we long for? This is a perennial question.
Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.) long ago asked the same question and concluded that answering such a question involves us considering the very nature of our hearts. He said,
“[There are two] movements of the heart [which] are two loves. [The first one] is the uncleanness of our own spirit, which like a flood-tide sweeps us down, in love with restless cares... [The second] is the holiness of [God’s] Spirit, which bears us upwards in a love for peace beyond all care.””
In other words, Augustine recognized that any discussion on the restlessness of Man (or solutions to it) is going to necessarily involve a discussion on the heart of Man. He argued that Man has two essential movements of the heart. These movements are the gravitas of our affections – our love. What we live for is what we love and what we love fundamentally grounds and guides our lives.
THE QUEST FOR PEACE THROUGH EARTHY CARES
The first type of movement of the heart, Augustine argued, was earthy in nature; it is the “uncleanness of our own spirit” that “sweeps down” our affections. Such a movement is a gravitational pull to seek and fill our lives with “restless cares;” those things that inherently have no capacity to sustain our inner longings. If you want a biblical equivalency of what he is saying, it is that we seek after and craft “broken cisterns that can’t hold water” to fulfill our lives (Jeremiah 2:13).
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) blisteringly asserted that such an earthy quest is really rooted in our failure to face our true selves,
“What people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us. That is why we prefer the hunt to the capture.”
In frank terms, Pascal was saying we as humans really don’t want peace even when we say we do. We just want the artificial version of it. Deep down, he argued, we like complexity, we like hurriedness, we like noise, we like busyness, we like hassle, and we like drama. We love those things that “pull us down” to earth because there is something deeply wrong in the nature of our heart that wars against the “capture” of the Real Thing.
This is a truth we know is right.
We are told and even tell ourselves that the answer for our restless hearts is to be found through distraction and self-gratification – both of which are fool’s gold solutions. We think if we can just stop thinking about our lives or better yet, flood them with excesses, then we will achieve the harmony we desire. So, we chase for peace through a bottle or a drug; or we seek it through passing sexual encounters; or we pursue it through gorging our appetites; or we forge it out of a new self-made identity. Or perhaps, instead, we seek it through more subtle means: like through marriage, having kids, or making a family; or through procuring certain possessions or positions; or by consuming copious amounts of fun and entertainment; or through attaining the approval of friends and family. The list can go on, but the point is served. There are endless frothy “restless cares” that we think are the means to attaining peace; but all of them, at rock bottom, are incapable of being the lasting city in which our pilgrimaging hearts can find true rest.
These earthy cares can’t give us what we deeply want because that is not their purpose. They are not all bad things, but they are not and cannot be Ultimate things. Their purpose is part of a larger, grander, more beautiful tapestry of meaning and destiny. They are merely embers of a grander Flame we seek to find warmth and certainty from.
But we want to deny this and even, many times, rebel against it. Why? Because we know True Peace means letting go of self. It means surrender. It means acknowledging we are not in control. It means laying down our weapons of war upon the altars of forgiveness and humility. It means laying waste the fortresses we have built, and others have built, around our emotions and wills and yielding to a Power beyond and above us. As theologian D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) once said,
“To be a peacemaker means that one must have an entirely new view of self…. Before one can be a peacemaker one really must be entirely delivered from self.”
PEACE IS A PERSON
Remember Augustine had said that the first movement of the heart was “the uncleanness of our own spirit” that sweeps us downward to the Earth, seeking in the Earth restless cares to satiate our restless hearts. So, in a very real sense, the issue we have in pursuing peace is the gravity of our heart. Consequently, there is another movement of the heart we must have that realigns our gaze from earth to something more. Augustine went on to say,
“[There are two] movements of the heart [which] are two loves…. [The second movement] is the holiness of [God’s] Spirit, which bears us upwards in a love for peace beyond all care.”
To Augustine, the answer to the heart’s restlessness is “upwards.” It resides not upon the earth but in the heavens; not in the terrestrial but the celestial; not in Man but in God. And notice that that upwards view is a “love for peace.” One cannot love an abstract concept. Love only exists in the relation of mutual persons.
Our love is seeking the Ultimate Love which is itself Peace.
In other words, what we are seeking is not a concept, a theory, or an emotion, but a Person and that Person is the One in Whom we find true rest. It is no wonder therefore that Augustine begins his Confessions saying,
“Thou [oh God] hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.”
The longings of his life resided in the Giver and Sustainer of his life. He understood, and we must understand now, that the quest for Peace is only completed by the One Who is Peace. This is why it is a fool’s errand to try and acquire peace in the absence of God. In cannot be done and won’t be done. The Apostle Paul put it like this,
[Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
Peace is a Person, and that person is the author of our existence, which means He is our purpose giver, and He has destroyed the powers of hostility, which means He is our savior and destiny giver. This all means that if there is no quest to seek this Author, Sustainer, and Finisher of our purpose and destiny then we are hopelessly beating our fists in the air to attain True Peace. We cannot have it any other way because that just is the kind of World we live in. This World is not our own and we are not our own and until we realize this, we will never have rest. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) beautifully said it like this,
God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
THE SUPERIOR PEACE OF CHRISTMAS
The Christian understanding of peace is so far superior to the nutrition-less solutions touted about by our ever-disintegrating world. This superior Peace is what we celebrate at Christmas. It is at the heart of Christmas; it is what broke forth into Reality at Christmas. It is not just a song or a longing or a wish or a campaign, it is a living Reality we dwell in. Jesus said to His disciples before His arrest and execution,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
His peace surpasses the worlds peace because it is not of this world for it made the world. It is a peace that is not capsized by the torrents of life’s circumstances nor ambushed and destroyed by restless anxieties; it is not a peace bound up in fuzzy sentimentalism, steamy hedonism, mystical estheticism, or mindless consumerism. The peace Jesus gives is a mighty fortress in which our souls can find habitation, knowing that the Creator and Commander of that fortress is for us, surrounding us, and sustaining us in all things.
In the Bible there are two main words used for peace: the Hebrew word shalom and the Greek word eirene. These words get across the idea of “completeness” or “wholeness” or “harmony.” They encapsulate the kind of peace Christ says He gives us. It is not merely a sense or feeling of subjective serenity but an objective state of flourishing, wholeness, and delight in our identity, meaning, and destiny. His shalom is us coming to understand what we were meant to be in Him and for Him. His shalom is a redefining of our definitions, a refining of our desires, a reforming of our relationships, a reordering of our passions – all working in their natural fruitful employment for the betterment of His Creation and for His glory.
This kind of Peace is what Isaiah longed for and prophesied would break into the world one day (Isaiah 9), it is what the angels exclaimed had come to the bewildered shepherds in the field in Bethlehem (Luke 2:14), and it is what John foresaw would cover all the realms of Creation at the dawn of the Second Advent (Revelation 19 and 20). This Peace is not something merely longed for but something that has come, is now among, and will be even more greatly manifest hereafter. It isn’t a wish; it is an abounding assurance that changes us. This is why the Apostle Paul, in the face of imprisonment, persecution, and death could write to the Church in Colossae,
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…
That word “rule” is the idea of an arbiter, umpire, judge, or decision maker. Paul is saying, those in Christ should be a people in whom Peace is the central driving force for their entire lives. All their thoughts and actions and opinions should be shaped by and evaluated by the peace of Christ. Making decisions and forming relationships based upon hate, anxiety, doubt, and insecurity, is only allowing earthen vessels of miry clay to guide our lives. We are called to more. We are called to see life from the vantagepoint of Heaven.
When we know who made us, who saved us, who sustains us, and who gives us a name, we can have an assurance of completeness unmatched by anything this world can hope to give. The One Who does all these things is the Luminous Nazarene, who invaded our world 2,000 years ago through a crib, waging War on Death, Hell, and the Grave, that He might give us Peace.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1863)
 Antidepressant prescriptions up 6% https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/news/antidepressant-prescribing-up-6-since-2019#:~:text=Antidepressants%20%E2%80%9Chave%20been%20steadily%20increasing,months%20in%20the%20previous%20year; Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder Among Adults: United States, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db378.htm; Total U.S. expenditure for mental health services from 1986 to 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/252393/total-us-expenditure-for-mental-health-services/; Global Peace Index 2021: Measuring Peace In A Complex World, https://www.visionofhumanity.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/GPI-2021-web-1.pdf
 The “sea” is that place from which chaotic and demonic beasts reside and emerge (Psalm 74:14; Job 40:25; Daniel 7; Revelation 13) and it also is the place from which human national and social sinfulness arises (Isaiah 57:20-21). Consider some of these sources on the biblical symbolism of the sea as restlessness, chaos, and a force that pushes against God’s will and creative designs: “Sea” entry in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010), pg. 765; John J. Collins, The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), pg. 373-375
 Jeremiah 6:14, Jeremiah 8:11, Ezekiel 13:10 and 16
 Saint Augustine, The Confessions, Book XIII, translated by Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1997), pg. 347
 Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993), pg. 173
 Saint Augustine, The Confessions, Book XIII, translated by Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1997), pg. 347
 Saint Augustine, The Confessions, Book I, Infancy and Childhood
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), pg. 53-54
 Sources that go into biblical and theological depth on this topic of “peace” are: T.S. Hadjiev. “Peace.” Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, ed. Mark J. Boda and J. Gordon McConville (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2012), pg. 574-577; T.J. Geddert. “Peace.” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), pg. 604-605
 Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), pg. 9-10
 R. Kent Hughes, Preach the Word Commentary: Philippians, Colossians, & Philemon (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), pg. 318
 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (1863)
It is Christmas time once again. There seems to be a deep sacred magic to this time of year we simply cannot shake. At this time, more than any other, our souls are moved steadily upward towards the transcendent. We are inundated with the values of eternity: we sing songs and watch movies on faith and hope, we give gifts with love and receive with joy, and we reminisce on the peace and simplicity of times bygone and longed for. For but a few brief weeks we seem to inhabit a world as it ought to be, and we live lives as they should be. We act and think in ways we were made to be and don’t even recognize it, both saint and sinner. GK Chesterton (1874-1936) put it like this,
“The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why.”
We need to be a people who awaken to why this season ignites joy, celebration, and transformation, however brief or enduring. We need to come to realize that the hope, joy, peace, and love in this season is but an echo of the Sacred breaking into our world. Liturgically speaking this time of year is known as Advent. That beautifully strange word comes from the Latin adventus which means “arrival” or “an appearing or coming into place” and it powerfully encapsulates the meaning of this time of year. It speaks to the anticipation and realization of the Sacred breaking forth into our world for us. It heralds the recovery of this world from darkness back to light, from brokenness back to wholeness, from doubt back to certainty.
Advent is a commemorative delight. It is “our long and steady gaze forward, backlit by history.” In other words, it is us memorializing the fact that God Himself pierced the veil of this stained soaked world to upturn and remake it for His glory and our joy. Through the selfless condescension of His Son in a manger, we can ascend from our present and future guilt, pain, and fear.
Over the next few weeks, I would like to go on a journey reflecting on the beauty and blessedness of this reality. Each week, up to Christmas, there will be a post devoted to one of the four fundamental sacred truths that stand at the core of Advent: Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love. Each one of these coalesced in a manger 2,000 years ago, and as a result, are powerful transforming realities for our lives now and forever.
HOPE IS NOT A WISH
We are living at a time when there seems to be little hope. Global pandemics, political polarization and corruption, democratized depravity, worldwide unrest, and economic unpredictability have awakened us to the realization that the world we inhabit is far more fragile and far more uncertain than we think. We have been forced to recognize, however reluctantly, that the world of our childhoods is gone. This is sobering and this can be unsettling. For so long we had been accustomed to lives of liberty, security, and immediacy that, if honest, we took for granted. We realize now or are starting to realize, that freedom can be lost, security can be shaken, and immediacy can become scarce. Anything that can be shaken, is being shaken it seems (Hebrews 12:27). As a result, we yearn for “normalcy,” we hope things are going to sift back into place or get better.
Unfortunately, the mode of hope we have doesn’t seem to be robust enough to see us through. Today suicides are up 25% and depression among adults and adolescents has skyrocketed while anxiety, on average consumes about 20% of the population. While we as a society have more freedoms and stuff (even in the face of the growing scarcity) than any other place or any other time, we seem to be growing less hopeful. One reason for this is we have a neutered view of Hope.
For many of us hope is something marketed to us through Hallmark or Disney with inspirational quotes and music. “Just wish upon a star” and it will all get better we are told. If we “just stay positive” everything is “going to work out.” And so, we “hope for a good diagnosis,” or “hope we get the job,” or “hope better days are ahead.” But all of this is just optimism firmly planted in the shifting currents of circumstances. It is looking into the future on the borrowed capital of the present in order to yearn for what could be or may be. This kind of hope is just a mushy sentimentality, a would-be escapism, a naïve optimism. It really isn’t hope. It is just the World’s version of hope masquerading as the real thing. Christian hope is far more robust. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) put it like this,
Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.
So Christian hope is deeply and centrally transcendent centered. It is rooted in the Eternal and therefore not enslaved to the monetary ups and downs of everyday occurrences. Lewis only builds off the foundation of the Word itself. God spoke through the Prophet Hosea, who lived amid immense suffering in the history of Israel, saying,
“I will give [Israel] her vineyards and make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope.”
The Apostle Peter wrote to the dispersed and persecuted Christians in Asia Minor saying,
God, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope…
1 Peter 1:3
And the Apostle Paul declared that “the God of hope” can fill us “with all joy and peace as [we] trust in him, so that [we] may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). Such hope has weight, richness, and purpose to it precisely because it has God smack dab at the center of its orbit. It is an expectant assurance not grounded in circumstances but in a Person.
Christian hope is active, not passive. It is expectant not reactant. It is resilient, not restless. Christian hope is not built on syrupy illusions of perpetual comfort and success in circumstances, but a settled certitude found in restive resolve and power. It is such a hope that can pierce the veil of circumstances and find an abiding peace, joy, and love at their expense. As Timothy Keller has put it,
“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.”
This is why modern hope is bankrupt and Christian hope is solvent. Modern hope looks forward to escape the past and present while Christian hope looks back so that it might transcend the present and glory in the future. As one author has put it, “Christian hope…doesn’t ignore fear, anxiety, and doubt; it confronts them. It holds steady, clinging to peace in the midst of chaos…[it] is buoyed by something greater that has happened and something greater that is going to happen again.” This is what Advent is all about and it is why it has such transformative sacred power to it. We can have hope in our future not because we elected the right politicians, not because we saved up enough money in the bank or back yard, not because some scientists or psychiatrists have the next greatest cure for our maladies, but because of the advent of what happened in a manger 2,000 years ago and the anticipated advent of the glory and splendor of the King who was in that manger – that which has happened and is going to happen again utterly transforms what is happening now!
PRESENT HOPE ROOTED IN A NATIVITY & RETURNING KING
Think of this for but a moment: Hope has an expectancy to it and expectancy is built on promises and promises are rooted in the identity and character of the promise maker. That “promise maker” could be ourselves, others, a thing, or a circumstance in which we place our trust to execute what they pledge to do. And so, we may say, “I hope I can lose weight,” which is fundamentally tied to our own personal future resolve; or we say, “I hope they follow through,” which is contingent upon the other person keeping their end of the bargain; or we say, “I hope this thing stays together,” which is conditional to the resilience of the object in question. In a very real sense then the intensity and surety of hopefulness are grounded within the nature and character of the promise maker. If the promise maker is fickle then the expectancy in the promise holder will be fickle. If the promise maker is indifferent, then the anticipation in the promise holder will be indifferent. If the promise maker is unreliable, then the assurance of the promise holder will be unreliable.
By way of example consider a father who keeps making promises to his little girl that he will come to her dance recitals. When he makes these promises there is an expectancy and joy that fills the heart of his daughter. The intensity of her hope is grounded in the nature and character of her father. Unfortunately, he doesn’t show up for the first recital or the second or the third, and so on. He keeps making promises, “Next time I will be there,” and each time fails to fulfill, thus slowly eroding the intensity of his little girls' hope. Eventually, her hope is not built on any assurance but upon chance. It no longer has a certainty to it but a wishful optimism. “I hope dad will come…but who knows,” or “I will believe it when I see it.” But this is not a problem sons and daughters of God should have because of the Promise Maker we have. As theologian Thomas Oden (1931-2016) has said,
“Hope is that excellent habituation by which one securely trusts that God will be faithful to his promise and will provide the faithful with fit means to receive it. The ground of hope is the almighty power of God, and confidence that God will provide means to save.”
Do you understand this? “The ground of hope is the almighty power of God, AND confidence (not wishfulness) that God WILL provide means to save.” Oden is merely mimicking the beauty of Scripture. Remember again the words of the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:3-5) to the exiled and persecuted Christians of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey),
God, according to his great mercy, has caused us to be born again to a living hope…
By what means?
…through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
To what present and future end?
…to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
What beauty and power and joy reside in these words! Advent represents the breaking into Reality of the “living hope” the passage is speaking of! Such hope is not wishful thinking nor expectant could-be-ism. It is an active present abiding assurance grounded in the reality of who God is and what God has done and will do! This is why it is a “living hope.” It is not something merely wished for based on uncertain circumstances but is a sign sealed delivered fact grounded in the power of the living and active God. It is “living” because it is rooted in the living God Who is not like the fickle father who fails to deliver his end of the bargain but is the eternal, unbounded, self-existent, giver, definer, sustainer, covenant-making Creator King of the Cosmos that accomplishes all His promises, executes all His decrees, and fulfills all His blessings! That God is the same God who promises and decrees that there is (not maybe) an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance for His children. That God is the same God who condescended into our baby crib of a cosmos and cocooned Himself in the mind, bone, and blood of a Man, that He might remake the World as it was intended to be.
Because of this, the Nativity becomes the canvas upon which our present and future hope can be painted. We have a future precisely because we have a past. That past is the glorious work of God’s Son igniting onto the world stage, coming to dispel and break the powers of our present insecurities, anxieties, and failings. But it doesn’t stop there. That same God Who was veiled in flesh is the same God who will be veiled in glory at His Second Coming. It is this kind of Advent hope that allows us to transcend above our present world gone mad and declare there is life and peace and joy and love and they will victoriously triumph by the power of the everlastingly GOD Who was and is and is to come.
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
 G.K. Chesterton, “On Christmas” in Generally Speaking (1929) http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/Generally_Speaking_scan.pdf
 Jay Y. Kim, Hope Is an Expectant Leap (Christianity Today, 2020), https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/november/advent-hope-is-expectant-leap.html
 https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1555415521003615; https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity in The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2017), pg. 112-114
 Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2013), pg. 31
 Jay Y. Kim, Hope Is an Expectant Leap (Christianity Today, 2020), https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/november/advent-hope-is-expectant-leap.html
 Thomas Oden, Life in the Spirit (New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), pg. 146
Also, Over the past several months we have been working through a series of posts entitled “The Gentle Slopes.” The central content we have been using in these posts is C.S. Lewis’ (1898-1963) The Screwtape Letters, which is a profound satirical work from the perspective of a demon named Screwtape who writes letters to his impish nephew Wormwood in the hopes of training him in the best tactics to destroy the Christian “patient” he is assigned to. Throughout the book we witness Screwtape advising his minion to utilize a variety of temptations to unravel the soul of the Christian man – such as unsavory friendships, bouts of doubt and skepticism, struggles with lust, self-centeredness, and even boredom and distraction. These sobering insights are a powerful reminder to us as believers of the infernal tactics we face in the everyday ordinariness of spiritual life.
If you have not gotten it from this series of posts, let’s make it explicit: all of life is spiritual and all of ordinary existence is saturated with eternity. This is one of the central themes that permeates Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and stands at the heart of the Gentle Slopes series. We need to be awakened to the reality of how everyday ordinariness can become a battleground of spiritual warfare.
PROSPERITY AS ENEMY OF SPIRITUAL LIFE
Towards the end of The Screwtape Letters, the senior demon begins to worry that his minion Wormwood may be failing at his task of insnaring his patient. Even worse, Screwtape fears that his diabolic toady may allow his patient to die prematurely amid war, which would ensure his immediate assent to Heaven (C.S. Lewis wrote this when the Germans were bombing England in World War II). The senior devil, therefore, takes the initiative to write his naïve underling and remind him of the necessity to keep his patient safe from harm so more time may be given to defeating him. One of the goals of Hell, Screwtape reminds, is to make sure the Christian has a long, healthy, and prosperous life of mediocrity. He puts it like this,
[Humans] tend to regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so. Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda. I know it seems strange that your chief aim at the moment should be the very same thing for which the patient's lover and his mother are praying - namely his bodily safety. But so it is; you should be guarding him like the apple of your eye. If he dies now, you lose him. If he survives the war, there is always hope. The Enemy [God] has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally. The long, dull monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it - all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition . If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is "finding his place in it", while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.
The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unravelling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth…. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or "science" or psychology, or what not. Real worldliness is a work of time - assisted, of course, by pride, for we teach them to describe the creeping death as good sense or Maturity or Experience….
How valuable time is to us may be gauged by the fact that the Enemy allows us so little of it. The majority of the human race dies in infancy; of the survivors, a good many die in youth. It is obvious that to Him human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death, and death solely as the gate to that other kind of life. We are allowed to work only on a selected minority of the race, for what humans call a "normal life" is the exception. Apparently He wants some - but only a very few - of the human animals with which He is peopling Heaven to have had the experience of resisting us through an earthly life of sixty or seventy years. Well, there is our opportunity. The smaller it is, the better we must use it. Whatever you do, keep your patient as safe as you possibly can.
I do not presume in one post to exhaust the wisdom within this passage, but I wish to focus upon one major truth that permeates it: One of the greatest threats to our spiritual lives is prosperity. Arguably there are few things more capable of producing in us a indifference and lethargy to spiritual things than affluence and safety. The famed German poet and novelist Goethe (1749-1832) said,
“Everything in the world may be endured, except continual prosperity.”
How profound when you dwell on it. People can endure tremendous amounts of suffering and evil, and yet many times come out the other end reforged into a new creature full of charity, temperance, strength, and calm. But how many people have you ever read about in history, how many nations can you think of, how many individuals have you known, that have been destroyed by prosperity? My mind immediately thinks of Solomon, Rome, America, and modern lottery winners. I am reminded of one author who wrote,
“Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.”
This sentiment is true not only with nations but individuals, and not only with the material but even more so with the spiritual. Peace and success most often are the central tools by which the Adversary births within us an anemic and apathetic soul. We hate to admit it, I hate to admit it, but if we are honest, it is the truth. When things are good, when all is well in body and soul, God is more often than not put on the back burner of priorities. He becomes an event or individual penciled into our busy schedules, or perhaps not even that. This is all very subtle of course. Very few of us would acknowledge nor bring to the frontal realms of our consciousness the idea that we think less of God when things are good versus when things are bad. Few if any of us consciously say, “You are unimportant to me God.” But again, that isn’t how spiritual warfare works most of the time. It isn’t usually blatant blasphemous rebellion; it is slow-growing seemingly “benign” indifference. Remember that spiritual decay is a slow leakage – a methodical regression of caring. It is a settledness of spirit content with in its mediocrity. Prosperity is chief in this process all too often. The English bishop and writer George Horne (1730-1792) said it this way,
“Prosperity too often has the same effect on its possessor that a calm at sea has on the Dutch mariner, who frequently, it is said, in these circumstances, ties up the rudder, gets drunk, and goes to sleep.”
What is so sad about all this is how often our western churches help inculcate in us a desire for and even expectation of prosperity. In many of our modern churches, we are preached at incessantly, unto death even, on how much God desires to give us what we want. His goal, we are told, is to bless us with unbounded health, wealth, and peace. We are told “God wants you never sick but always healed,” (even though this never happened to the Apostle Paul) and “God doesn’t want you to ever beg bread” (even though many a prophet did), and “God has promised to give you the desires of your heart (even though said desires are to be aligned to Kingdom desires). God wants all of this for us, we are taught, even though the long and marred History of the Church reveals that untold suffering and even martyrdom are at the core of the Faith. The Early Church Father Tertullian (155-220 A.D.) long ago said,
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Could you imagine such sentiment being stated in our modern western church settings? Now, let me just detour but for a moment at this point. Do not misunderstand. Can and does God often heal and feed and clothe his people? You bet! To think otherwise is to deny scripture and history. Can and does God answer our prayers regarding earthly desires and needs? Absolutely, as testified through the ages and the Word. But there is more to the story than this. There is an objective difference between requesting the blessings found in Christ versus demanding and expecting them. Furthermore, we tend to forget that God can and does often use struggle, suffering, and even lack for the reason to reform, refine, and realign our souls back to Him (the Book of Job, Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Peter 5:10, Hebrews 12:11).
Even more so, we tend to forget that there are far deeper and far grandeur levels to what qualifies "blessings" than physical safety and success. They are richer, higher, and more transcendent than just our earthy ends. That should, therefore, be our central focus when we consider "blessings." Jesus Himself taught it like this,
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
And the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy saying,
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19
Again, God can and does bless us with prosperity (and I mean this not in the sense of Bill Gates but contentment, peace, security, health, and normalcy of life) but we should stop expecting this as a guarantee. The fact is God doesn’t owe us a thing. He doesn’t have to do anything for us, and what He does is a sheer act of His grace and love. We need to get this truth and chew on it lest we be consumed with a sense of unwarranted disappointment because God is “not doing what we ask.” We should have a fortitude of faith that can declare, as Job did,
Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him
Can I declare such a thing? Can you? We better. Even more so, when you think upon it, if it is the case that God knows in His foreknowledge that prosperity would, in fact, make us indifferent and indolent spiritually, then why would He grant such requests to begin with? He would be unjust and unloving to do so. So in a very real sense, denying us prosperity can in fact be an exercise of His love and mercy for us at times. Read Job if you have any doubt, and then try out Ecclesiastes and Lamentations. But I digress.
COMFORTABLE IN A FALLEN WORLD
A major danger of prosperity is that it tends to make us desire and expect more of it, which in turn tends to become the central focus of our field of vision in life. Subtly it morphs our spiritual relationship with God into one of expectation rather than gratitude, of haughtiness rather than humility, and fickleness rather than perseverance. What can creep in is a hellish Health-n-Wealth type religion that believes that our “hard work” for God is somehow deserving of “hard work” from Him for us. Again, we won’t say this publicly or even perhaps consciously, but it can be there in the depths of our soul. God HAS TO bless me, cause I’m His! Right!? It’s this idea that if we put in a lot of mileage “doing for God” (going to church, praying, seeking Him) that He is going to “do for us” because, after all, we are His children. Right? Aren't we His little cosmic pets living on a spherical terrarium we call Earth, being fed directly by His hands and never having to be concerned with lack or want? Isn't He required to clean our litter boxes and resupply our food bowls?
Such an attitude is bred into the minds of a people who are obsessed with the idea that prosperity is defined in the narrow frame of earthly material accommodations (both body, property, and money). It is almost inconceivable to us in the West that prosperity from God can occur through suffering and even lack. It is almost inconceivable to us that prosperity can exist outside the realm of complete health and wealth. Sadly, such a view is as unbiblical as it is asinine - and it doesn't hold muster in the vast life of the Church beyond American shores, where continued suffering and slaughter is a regular recurring reality. Again, I digress.
Is it any wonder that the Scriptures are replete with cautioning us about worldly success and prosperity for fear it will distract us spiritually? In fact it is quite sobering just how much the Bible tells us about this. We are told that when we have eaten and been satisfied we tend to become proud and forget God (Deuteronomy 8:10), that confidence in riches tends to lead to gloating (Job 31), that trust in abundance versus God is evil (Psalm 52:7), that when we trust in riches we will fall (Proverbs 11:28), that abundance can lead to rebellion and blasphemy (Nehemiah 9:25), that wealth brings spiritual satisfaction and forgetfulness (Hosea 13:6), that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), that one cannot serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13), that wealth has a deceitfulness that chokes the Word and spiritual fruitfulness (Matthew 13), and that the desire for riches tends to plunge us into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:8). There are so many more examples, but the point is made that we are creatures that all too often simply cannot handle prosperity. John Newton (1725-1807), the great 18th Century hymnist and abolitionist, spoke poignantly on such a point when he said,
“Experience testifies, that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secrete worship…. When things go on much to our wish, our hearts are too prone to say, ‘It is good to be here.’”
What Newton is getting at is a profound truth: Prosperity has this seemingly inevitable effect of making living in a fallen world more comfortable for us. Lewis echoes this by saying that prosperity tends to “knit us to the world” and produce in us “a sense of being really at home in earth.” This is so true, even in thinking in my own life! Even worse, we get to a place where we centralize our earthly abundances and begin to, as Lewis says, “believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date.” In short, it has the effect of reprioritizing our values and desires towards the secular as opposed to the sacred, to see the eternal through temporality rather than the temporal through the eternal.
PUTTING PROSPERITY IN ITS PLACE
I cannot get around the need for us to have an eternal perspective in combating our struggles with prosperity. I have come to this theme on multiple occasions concerning battling other struggles, but it applies here as well. The “deceit of riches” (prosperity) happens when we slowly lose sight of eternity and focus more on the finite fulfillment with no clear focus of how they only echo the deeper Reality found in Christ we are longing for through them. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) said it like this,
In this life there is no true and solid satisfaction, that all our pleasures are mere vanity, that our afflictions are infinite, and finally that death which threatens us at every moment must in a few years infallibly face us…. The only good thing in this life is the hope of another life, that we become happy only as we come nearer to it, and that, just as no more unhappiness awaits those who have been quite certain of eternity, so there is no happiness for those who have no inkling of it.
Pascal is not saying anything here that is not in line with Scripture. I have said this before, but it bears repeating, over and over again the Scriptures remind us to think of life through the lens of the eternal, and even death itself, for by this our souls are grounded to the Greater Beauty that truly fulfills. When we do this we realign our values and desires, we transform our views of the spiritual disciplines, and we begin to even see prosperity in a new light. The Apostle Paul declared,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…
The central means by which we curb our obsessive slips into the deceits of riches is to “seek the things above.” When we think eternally, “where Christ is seated,” what we desire and pray for, how we view health and safety, what we fear and long for, transforms because it is revalued through the work and person and nature of Christ.
Before closing, I cannot help but be reminded of the wisdom of Agur in the Book of Proverbs. In chapter 30 of the book, we are given the only prayer that exists in the entire set of proverbial writings in the Bible. It just so happens that such a prayer has a major focus on prosperity. Agur declares,
7 Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
9 lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Think of the gravity of this prayer. How many times have you heard preachers pray, “God, I pray that these people do not have too little…and do not have too much”? How many of us have ever prayed that we would not have riches as much as we pray about not having poverty? But why such a prayer? Agur affirms, for “lest I be full and deny you” oh God. Fullness comes from abundance, which in turn breeds satisfaction which in turn makes us forget the LORD – it is the loss of the eternal perspective. I wonder if it could be possible that our Health-n-Wealth obsession in America is one of the reasons our churches are so ineffective in bringing lasting spiritual change. We are so focused upon God “giving us” abundance as a sign of blessing that we forget that “giving us” lack can also be a blessing to us. If that is the case, and it is, then perhaps we need to pray that God staves His hand of riches in our lives to drive us towards Him rather than be content and full of earthly things. God help us in this.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 267-268
 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as quoted in Tyron Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (United States: F. B. Dickerson Company, 1908), pg. 450
 G. Michael Hopf, Those Who Remain: A Postapocalyptic Novel (Michael Hopf, 2016)
 George Horne as quoted in Tyron Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (United States: F. B. Dickerson Company, 1908), pg. 451
 Tertullian, Apologeticus, L.13, (c. 197 A.D.) https://www.tertullian.org/works/apologeticum.htm
 John Newton, Letter V, Cardiphonia or, The Utterance of the Heart, vol. 2 (United Kingdom: Murray & Cochrane, 1807), pg. 22-23
 Pascal, ibid, pg. 191-192
 Consider these scriptures that deal with the evanescence of our lives and seeing life through eternity and death: 2 Samuel 14:14, 1 Chronicles 29:15, Psalm 90:12, Psalm 144:4, Job 14:1, Ecclesiastes 1:4, Isaiah 40:6, James 4:13-14. All of them call us to have a healthy understanding of death so that we may have a proper understanding of life.
Have you ever noticed that “Mine” is often one of the first words a child learns to say? It does not take much coaxing for a kid to gain a sense of ownership over anything their eyes see or hands touch. With grunts, screams, and tears they try and conquer claims to anything around them – from sippy cups to teddy bears to Cheerios to mommies and grandads. Such behavior may seem “cute” but often it follows us into adulthood. The same inherent toddleresch attitude of self-centeredness tends to tint our view of the world. We inherently and subconsciously tend to see ourselves as masters of the universe, the arbiters of our own choices, and the proprietors of our fate. But the fact is we are not any of these and the sad thing is we do not get that truth very often.
But one must ask if such a way of seeing the world is all that surprising. Consider but for a moment our culture which is obsessed with self-help hyper-individualism and relativistic moral autonomy. From cradle to grave we postmodern Americans are inundated with waves of commercials, slogans, movies, music, and technologies that melt our minds and hearts into seeing the Cosmos as our personal sandbox. We have an embarrassment of food, clothing, and home goods chains that allow us to personalize everything from calories to underwear to coffee tables. We are told via boob tubes and billboards that we can “Have it your way,” and to “Just Do It,” and to do it “Because You’re Worth It.” We tend to grow up coddled with endearments such as “princess” and “little CEO” while being told we need to “do what makes us happy.” We go to schools that teach us to “take hold of our destinies” and “be what we want to be.” We even go to churches where most often the focus of the sermons and songs are upon what God is going to do for us and how we are going to overcome this or that personal problem with self-help tips from Jesus. Atop of all this lies countless trinkets and technologies that titillate our vanity, from iPhones to iPads to iPods to iTunes to iClouds, upon which we can customize avatars, wallpapers, and ring tones and ingest avalanches of personalized entertaining videos and games.
If you do not see a trend let me point it out to you: Our whole westernized life is deluged with the omnipotence and omnipresence of “self.” Everything in our existence, from career to family to church, is constantly instilling in us a view of life with “I” at the center.
Now, let me pause lest I be misunderstood. I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with calling your child “princess” any more than it's wrong to have an iPhone or prefer the veggie option. I’m also not saying there isn’t something deeper working its magic through these things. That said, I think it can be said clearly that we as a species are not very vigilant to reflect upon the sea in which we swim. It is amidst tsunamis of self-focused nicknames, gadgets, food, and entertainment that our soul’s habitation is formed.
This may sound ridiculous, but the fact is there is but a hop, skip, and jump to go from “My Cheerios” and “My MiMi” to “My Body” and “My Sex Life.” We need to realize this.
We need to look around our world and ask hard questions. Why am I not where I should be spiritually? Why is my faith life – the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, meditation, worship, silence, and charity – so difficult to live? Behind these questions lie deeper questions still. Hard questions. Could it be I am not growing spiritually because there is too much “I” in the process of growing? Could it be I am not as spiritually mature because I am set up for spiritual failure by a culture that is inherently antithetical to spiritual discipline? Could it be I have been swaddled by my schools and churches and families into a state of cosmic egotism by which I inherently find it even more difficult to crucify myself for Christ?
If we ever hope to break through the veil that fogs our minds from deeper intimacy with God, if we ever hope to mature spiritually in any meaningful way, then we need to consider our own chains. We need to take seriously the shrewd methods by which the Adversary of our soul crafts the elements of life to destroy our love and worship for God and Christs' community.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) once again brings forth poignantly such truth through the mouth of the senior devil Screwtape when he writes to Wormwood about inculcating in his patient a sense of self-possession about life. This is how the devil writes,
Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered…. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption "My time is my own". Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours….
You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The [fact is the] man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon his chattels….
The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. Much of the modern resistance to chastity comes from men's belief that they "own" their bodies - those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of Another! It is as if a royal child whom his father has placed, for love's sake, in titular command of some great province, under the real rule of wise counsellors, should come to fancy he really owns the cities, the forests, and the corn, in the same way as he owns the bricks on the nursery floor.
We produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun - the finely graded differences that run from "my boots" through "my dog", "my servant", "my wife", "my father", "my master" and "my country", to "my God". They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of "my boots", the "my" of ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by "my Teddy-bear" not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation (for that is what the Enemy will teach them to mean if we are not careful) but "the bear I can pull to pieces if I like". And at the other end of the scale, we have taught men to say "My God" in a sense not really very different from "My boots", meaning "The God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services and whom I exploit from the pulpit - the God I have done a corner in".
And all the time the joke is that the word "Mine" in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say "Mine" of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong - certainly not to them, whatever happens….
Lewis penetratingly reveals to us the fiendish ways of how possessiveness can begin to take hold in our lives. It drives us down a path to seeing everything in life within the vacuum of self. We become like the Greek mythical character Narcissus who became obsessed with looking upon his own beauty in the reflective waters to the point of death. For us, life becomes the reflecting pool and everything we see in it centers upon our reflection. As Lewis points out this is subtle. We can go from “my teddy bear” to “my time” to “my money” to “my property” to “my body” to “my talents” to “my church” to “my God” in the same vein. Lewis is not talking about mere possessive pronouns here; he is talking about the intentions and habits of our souls to inherently see life as owed to us and as our personal property. He is showing us that we love to be cosmic conquistadors who stake claims to every realm of existence without any regard of fealty to the Cosmic Liege, God Himself.
When we act this way, we are failing to recognize this deflating truth: we don’t own anything. Full stop. Let that deflate your post-modern senses. We don’t own our talents, time, or even our own lives for that matter. Everything is under the auspices of the Creator God. But we hate this idea, and our culture helps inculcate within us a seeping revulsion towards it. Peter Kreeft (1937-present) has said it like this,
“We carry around with us our own false perspective, our own human ego as the center, the absolute so that everything else, even God, must become ‘mine’…. Reality is theocentric, not anthropocentric. God announces [this] truth when he announces his own name to Moses: ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Ex 3:14). The fact that we naturally begin our sentences with the word ‘I’ shows whose place we instinctively usurp.”
Consider once again: reality is theocentric, not anthropocentric. Do you get this? Chew on it. This is a life modifying sentence. God has exclusionary rights to everything in existence. He is the only “I AM” and we are His “you.” All of Creation is a donation. As David declared,
The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord
God Himself declared to Ezekiel that,
Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine
And the Apostle Paul went on the say,
For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him.
Because of this truism, we must come to terms that we are not owners but stewards of life. We are stewards of time, money, property, talents, possessions, and even children. As stewards, this means we are to cultivate what we possess with wisdom and diligence for the central goal of offering back in worship to Him who gave these things in the first place. As the Word says,
You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
And the Apostle Peter went on to say,
Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.
1 Peter 4:10
Notice that in these passages the prerequisite to right service and worship towards God and others is a right understanding that all is a gift received. When we begin to see life through the reflection of self-giving stewardship instead of egocentric possessiveness those enslaving powers of possession are broken off us. In short, in a strange set of affairs, we become freer as we become more aware of how little we control. Consider some practical examples of this:
When you see talents as your personal possession, they tend to either overwhelm you or stagnate into ill-use. They can overcome you by demanding you drive harder and harder to succeed in them, only to be left with squelched passion and crushing insecurity or inadequacy. They can stagnate by seeing no need to work hard to enrich themselves for service towards God and others.
But when you see your talents as a gift from God, they become a beauty and joy to hone and craft and offer back to Him upon the altars of sacrifice. The demands of them are lightened while the cultivation of them is honed, both because of a focus upon worship towards the One Who gave them.
When you see children as your personal possession, they will crush you with their life choices or you will crush them with your demands. You will be torn asunder when they fail to be what you wanted them to be because in some way you laid claim to their lives. On the other end, they will run roughshod over you as you sacrifice every element of time, energy, and opinion to their personal happiness and security.
But when you see children as gifts from God, you come to hand them over to His service and not your own purposes. Your goal for their life becomes not one of perpetual happiness or good opinion of you but Truth and Love found in the lover of their souls. You begin to focus less upon you living your desires through them and allow God to cultivate in their souls the dispositions necessary for His purposes in the Kingdom.
When you see the church as your personal possession, you will become bitter and burned out while serving within it or be indifferent towards supplying it with anything but mere opinions. You will expunge your time, energy, and money to make the church your second home, only to become overwhelmed and underappreciated by those who benefit. Turned the other way you will demand the church be a vending machine of preferences which will offer you certain types of worship (contemporary vs hymns) with certain types of sermons (self-help vs. hellfire) amid certain types of people (black vs. white, young vs. old) all before you will consider giving your money or time or talents.
But when you see the church as a gift from God, you will joyfully serve with others for the purpose of loving God. The church house becomes a place not defined by personalities or preferences but by the presence of the Holy Spirit, Who is refashioning a diverse body of believers into the likeness of Christ for the work of the Gospel. As a result the focus isn’t upon style but substance and truth over preference.
When you see money as your personal possession, there will never be enough saved up nor enough to indulge in. You will weaponize money through tithes or inheritance or bills to control others or the future, only to realize when you die nothing goes with you. Or, on the other extreme, you will unthoughtfully expunge your wealth on self-focused frivolities, only to have growing stacks of unpaid expenses.
But when you see money as a gift from God, it transforms your view and usage of it. You give with unabandoned cheerfulness and sincerity of heart with no strings attached while at the same time yearning to preserve and expand your wealth for the benefits of the present and future.
When you see time as your personal possession, you will selfishly guard it against any inconvenience or recklessly waste it on various trivialities. You will snarl over any possibility of sacrificing your time to charity, the church, service, or spiritual disciplines for fear there won't be enough left over to do what you want to do. Or, on the flip side, you will thoughtlessly expunge your time with endless hours of games, movies, Tiktoks, Youtube vids, and Instagram posts without any regard to using it towards more productive ventures.
But when you see time as a gift from God, you begin to focus upon managing it with greater intentionality. Time begins to be seen through the lens of eternity; it is a precious commodity you will sacrifice for God as a reasonable act of worship. You will purposefully decide to spend time and serve with those people and in those moments that matter the most in the eternal scheme of your life and theirs.
In all of these examples, the life-altering principle at work is understanding that we don’t own anything. God is the owner of all. When we get this, when we truly understand this, we are on our way to breaking the shackles of possessive proclaiming that so easily finds its nest in our hearts and minds.
For everything was created by Him, in heaven, and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 245-247
 Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascals Pensées (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1993), pg. 163
While the radio, the television, the computer, and the iPhone stand as some of the grandest scientific advancements in the history of humanity they also are some of the most effective breakthrough tools ever made for advancing the powers of Hell. Because of these devices our world is now incessantly and irreversibly filled with noise. Silence has gone the way of the dodo bird and western civilization courses. There is almost no square inch of our daily lives that is not now consumed with a buzz or a hum or a ding of an email, phone call, or entertainment device.
These things are changing our souls and bodies. The famous French mathematician, philosopher, and apologist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) once remarked,
“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
This is a solid truism. Our inability to sit and think or meditate for any significant amount of time reveals our fear of dealing with ourselves in any significantly intimate way. Study after study proves that we are less capable of being at peace or in solitude than previous generations. To date it has been shown that we have shorter attention spans than goldfish do, we have higher levels of attention disabilities than ever before, and we have a woeful capacity to retain basic content information. For example, in a series of 11 studies conducted by the University of Virginia, it was found that the vast majority of people between the ages of 18 to 77 could not spend a minimum of 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think – even if they were receiving a mild electric shock. In another study, it was found that while 95% of us can find time to do leisure activities over 83% could spend zero time just sitting and thinking. These statistics reveal a sickness within our post-modern souls.
We have gotten to the place that silence terrifies us. The late great Dallas Willard (1935-2013) said of silence,
“[S]ilence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God.”
Because of this fear we fill the silence with the distractions of incessant activities and entertainment. The problem is there is never enough of these, and we must therefore invent and consume more and more.
We can do this and not even realize we are doing it!
Consider a regular day you have and how much noise you consume. It may go something like this: You wake up and grab your cellphone to check the news or watch a few trending videos sent to you the night before. You get out of bed, get dressed, and make breakfast all the while watching the television or listening to the radio. You leave for work or school, get in your car, and turn on the radio or plug in your earbuds. You get to work and sit down to a screen for 7 to 9 hours with intermittent moments of music and/or videos playing in the background all day. You go to lunch, get a quick meal, surf your phone, and watch more videos or listen to music. You then go back to work, finish out the day, and drive home while listening to music from your iPod or radio. You get home, make dinner, and sit down to unwind all the while watching the television or listening to the radio or both while at the same time messaging on Facebook or surfing Instagram. After dinner you get ready for bed, surf on the apps on your phone a few more hours, or fall asleep to the television. You wake up and repeat the process. Sound familiar?
In time this kind of living slowly, unknowingly, drowns out the capacity to hear what God is saying in His still small voice (Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13) much less to understand one’s self or neighbors in any meaningful way. This slow death of solitude on the Altars of Clatter inevitability leads us to have less emotional stability (because we always have to have others cheering us up), far more shallow relationships (because of our inability to talk with spouses or loved ones intimately), and far more mediocre spiritual growth (because we have less and less consistency in Bible reading or prayer).
HELL DELIGHTS IN NOISE & FEARS SILENCE
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) The Screwtape Letters makes the point well through the mouth of the hellish Screwtape when he schools his nephew demon Wormwood on the power and goal of noise in the works of Hell. Screwtape’s correspondence to the minor demoniac is as such,
“Music and silence—how I detest them both [Wormwood]! How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father [Satan] entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light-years, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.”
Satan and his minions love our souls stunted. One effective way to do this is to ensure we never take time to stand with our soul naked in solitude and stillness before our mind's eye or before the presence of God. Instead, he likes us bunkered down in our souls, perpetually bombarded in our senses with an incessant clatter so we never find true peace.
Noise is an opiate of the masses. It dulls us and makes it impossible for us to come to terms with ourselves and to listen for God in any sustained intimate attentiveness.
Amid the incessant clamor of social media personalities, political pundits, TikToks, and memes is it any wonder that sitting to pray, meditate, or even read the Scripture for a sustained period is excruciatingly difficult for us? From cradle to grave we live in a cacophony of distractions muddling our attention spans and mental dexterity and aggravating our cravings for the ever-shinier and catchier. Hell rejoices in this.
SEEKING & FINDING SOLITUDE
One problem we have regarding silence is how we view it. We tend to think of it as the absence of anything; it is the absence of doing. It is not. Silence is an activity and discipline which is an endeavor of profound nurturing and rejuvenation of the soul.
The discipline of silence helps limit distractions in our prayer, meditation, and scripture reading; it brings a deeper focus in worship; it revivifies the body and the mind; it realigns our spiritual perspective; it helps us domesticate our mouth and thoughts; it helps us understand more clearly the will of God. But how do we achieve such silence in this busy world? This is difficult to do (or seemingly difficult to do) in the hustle and bustle of our lives filled with work and extra-curricular activities. I will not give a long list but consider some of these ways:
First and foremost, you must get to a place that you say “No” to other things. This is the hardest battle. You must get to a place that you say no to additional responsibilities and disturbances. Say “No” to the television, to the radio, to the iPad, to the iPhone, and the computer. You must say “No” to taking on more and more obligations that suck away more and more time from you and God. Is your job sucking away additional time? Then say no to more hours. Are your kids’ extra-curricular activities sucking more and more opportunities for you to have peace in the presence of the King? Then consider cutting back on how many activities your kids will be part of.
You will find time and make time for those things you deem the most valuable in your life! An overscheduled, overworked, individual will never find the time nor make the time to spend with God.
Second, realign some of the opportunities of alone time you already have towards solitude with God. Many of us have periods throughout our day or week when we have “downtime.” This could be a day off, a period of cleaning the house, an extended lunch break, arriving early or leaving early from work, or a commute to and from work in the car. In each of these, there is time we have that we do not realize. We tend to fill these “downtimes” with incessant quantities of noise – Tiktoks, Youtube videos, and radio music. Instead, allow periods like this to be an intimate meeting house of meditation and prayer and listening to God. Allow this time to be a period of refreshing and peace, a period of conviction of sins known and unknown, and a time of clarity of purpose in mind and heart.
Third, and finally, try and go somewhere physically to be alone for a time. This can be going on a walk-in nature, sitting in a park, taking a drive, going to the empty church, retreating into a room in the house, or even getting up earlier before everyone else. I realize this can be difficult if one has small children. Perhaps in such instances, the husband or wife can rotate such a schedule to allow the other to go off alone at periods to be with God while the other cares for the kids. Is this impossible? Well, be reminded of Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), the mother of the famous evangelist's John and Charles Wesley, who had at least nine children living in her home at one time! She took care of all of them upon her own accord and yet she still found time for solitude. Her sons remembered her practice of solitude in which she would throw her apron over her head like a tent of meeting before the presence of God. When this happened all the children in the house grew silent and did not disturb her, knowing she was meeting God in prayer and silence. Would we be able to get our kids today to respect our time with the Lord like this? If not, then what does that tell us?
We make time for babysitters to watch our kids when we go on a date, or we have our spouses cover when we have a boy's or girl's night out? We rearrange schedules all day long to ensure we will have time for the family cookout or a run to Dairy Queen on a Sunday evening, but what about scheduled time with the Almighty? Why not the same effort and desire when it comes to being with God alone and in silence? I believe the answer is we do not see this as important.
Dear friends, let us strive to recover the ancient Christian discipline of silence. It is such a discipline by which our souls are nurtured and we come to hear our God speak His words of wisdom that quiet our restless souls.
Jesus Himself demonstrated the beauty of silence repeatedly in His earthly ministry. He would go into the wilderness alone (Matthew 4), He would leave large crowds of people and flee into the mountains (Matthew 14), He would rise early in the morning and go out into the wilderness (Mark 1), and He would depart from the masses constantly seeking Him out (Luke 4). He did all of this that He could grow in His intimacy with God. He understood that through solitude and silence His Father would give Him the power and wisdom to live abundantly the spiritual life.
Let us follow the Way of our Master.
1For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
 I cannot find the exact source for this but I believe it is in his Pensées
 Data on these points: https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2018/09/the-human-attention-span-infographic.html; https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/apr/16/got-a-minute-global-attention-span-is-narrowing-study-reveals; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190415081959.htm
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1991), pg. 163
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 249-250
 An excellent discussion on the importance of silence and solitude came be read in Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, revised edition (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014) pg. 226-238; also consider C.W. McPherson, Keeping Silence: Christian Practices for Entering Stillness (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 2002)
 I would also recommend reading in some more detail about various ways of silence and solitude in: Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, revised edition (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014) pg. 238-248
Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.), the great ancient philosopher and theologian of the Christian Church, wrote nakedly in his Confessions about a period of his life in which he faced spiritual apathy. He said,
“I was astonished that although I now loved you…I did not persist in enjoyment of my God. Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world…as though I had sensed the fragrance of the fare but was not yet able to eat it.”
Can you relate to this? I know I can. At one time the Christian walk is a state of perpetual wonder and fire, God is front and center, and everything else gives but a bitter aftertaste. But steadily, regressively, a waxing and a waning seep into the soul. Spiritual things, God-centered things, lose their glistening luster. You catch yourself, rebuke the slow fade, and earnestly try to reignite the fading passion, only to have such intentions peter-out as fast as they came to the mind. The heavens seem to re-calcify and you are once again drawn into a state of mind-wandering indifference. Sound familiar?
If this is you, or you fear it could be but aren’t sure, here is advice: keep going. Press through. Lean into Christ. Journey across the trough.
The problem is not the trough itself but the view you have of it.
You should expect times in which spiritual drought tries to creep into your soul. It is a given. It is a biblical truism. This is contrary to many a person that is obsessively seeking after some “experience” – running hither and thither to this or that conference or church service – with the hopes of having a perpetual catharsis of gyrating emotional fervor.
The fact is the Christian life is not going to be one perpetually ecstatic revival service. It does not work that way.
We are told over and over and over again to expect troughs and struggles as Christians, not unending emotional highs. We are told that our spiritual walk will be marked by perseverance (Romans 5:3-5), that we will war against strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), that hardships and calamities and weakness are a given (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), that we will have tests of endurance (James 1:1-3), that we will wrestle against spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12), that we will experience suffering (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5), and that our fleshly cravings will war against us (Galatians 5:17).
The point is: struggle and hardship are a given reality of spiritual life. Get used to it.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) gets all of this across powerfully in The Screwtape Letters through the senior demon Screwtape advising the junior devil Wormwood on how to exploit his Christian patient’s spiritual trough. Screwtape writes,
So you ‘have great hopes that the patient’s [the Christians] religious phase is dying away’, have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?
[The law of] undulation [is that] repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life— his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.…
Now it may surprise you to learn that in His [God’s] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks….
[The Enemy (God) is] prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning [of their spiritual walks]. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs— to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it [the patient] is growing into the sort of creature He [God] wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.…
I hope [all of this has not] convinced you that the trough of dullness or ‘dryness’ through which your patient is going at present will…of itself, give you his soul, but needs to be properly exploited. What forms the exploitation should take I will now consider….
[One chief way of] exploiting the trough [is] through the patient’s own thoughts about it. As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. Do not let him suspect the law of undulation. Let him assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition. Having once got this misconception well fixed in his head, you may then proceed in various ways. It all depends on whether your man is of the desponding type who can be tempted to despair or of the wishful-thinking type who can be assured that all is well. The former type is getting rare among the humans. If your patient should happen to belong to it, everything is easy. You have only got to keep him out of the way of experienced Christians (an easy task now-adays), to direct his attention to the appropriate passages in scripture, and then to set him to work on the desperate design of recovering his old feelings by sheer will-power, and the game is ours. If he is of the more hopeful type your job is to make him acquiesce in the present low temperature of his spirit and gradually become content with it, persuading himself that it is not so low after all. In a week or two you will be making him doubt whether the first days of his Christianity were not, perhaps, a little excessive. Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things’. If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point’, you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.
Notice in the passage the “Law of Undulation” is to be expected, and in fact, is not the sole work of devils. This law, Lewis writes, is an expected “natural” feature of up-and-down happenings in one’s Christian life. God can and often is using this “law” to refine His servants. He is wanting us to “stand on our own two feet” in the sense that we come to a point that we stop leaving our faith on our sleeve and ground it in the reality of everyday struggles and experiences. He is calling us to a mature faith (1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13-15) that takes serious struggle, pain, and suffering.
What does this mean then? It means that the danger is not really going through troughs, the danger lies in allowing the trough to become a valley that one takes up residency in. This is where indifference lies. It is much more about how we see the trough than the troughs themselves. Remember Lewis’ (Screwtapes) words,
“The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going [Wormwood] are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.”
If you are wanting a Biblical equivalent of this then consider the words of the Apostle Peter when he said to the persecuted underground 1st Century Church,
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7
Not your usual health-and-wealth constant victory over your lesser self type of sermon is it? But I digress.
THE DEVILS LOVE A DOMESTICATED FAITH
The devils work their dark magic to massage our souls amid the troughs we go through. They want to make us yawnish with hands folded and spiritual eyes glazed over – to the point that we no longer resists and don’t care that we don’t care about resisting.
How do they do this? One way is to bring us to a state where we domesticate our faith. We come to see ourselves as “grown-up” and beyond the wiles of excessive forms of devotion and prudishness. We come to believe “moderation in all things” and that “religion is all very well up to a point.”
We laugh at our past selves and how naïve and militantly pious we were: Remember the days when we cared about saying certain ‘bad’ words? Ha! How virginal. Or remember when we thought this or that behavior was unbecoming or disrespectful? Jeeze. The “good-old-days” of our Puritanical youth am I right? Or remember that time we preached modesty? Or recall that time we took seriously discerning what we watched on television!? Ho! Those were the days! Am I right? Those were the quaint, naïve, priggish, traditionalist, Pharisaical days of excessive religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism… the only “F” word worth keeping ourselves and our children from.
Such a conversation is all too true for many of us.
It is at this point that the classical arguments of excessive Puritanism rise in the mind. “You are being far too judgmental!” or “Stop being such a prude!” is what comes to our numbed post-modern minds. We need to come to terms that we may have, to some degree, allowed ourselves to be nursed to a spiritual slumber in our contentment with things we once found abhorrent. The Law of Undulation (that up-and-down battle of troughs and peaks) may have flatlined in our souls and we are not even aware of it.
Take inventory dear saint.
THE DEVILS LOVE A HAUGHTY PROGRESSING FAITH
How else do the devils slowly seep spiritual complacency into our hearts? Well before closing I want to argue that another way they do this is through the seemingly most unlikely path: through our spiritual progress.
Yes. Spiritual progress can possess within itself a germ of hand-folded indifference. We can get to the place that as we grow in the Lord we start to “become aware” that we are growing and slowly become complacent in that growth. Lewis gets this across powerfully through the mouth of Screwtape when the devil reminds Wormwood to keep his patient on track to start thinking about how humble he is becoming. The high-ranking hellion puts it this way,
“[Do not forget Wormwood that] all virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them…. [In fact the virtues] may even do us good if they keep the man concerned with himself, and, above all, if self-contempt can be made the starting-point for contempt of other selves…. You must therefore conceal from the patient the truth end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.”
In short what Lewis is getting at is the fact that we are most in danger of spiritual failure when we are becoming aware of our spiritual growth. When we start becoming aware of our progress we can begin to suffer from spiritual comparability. We can begin to measure our spiritual progress to where we were in our past or where others around us are presently. At such a stage we are in danger of arousing the sleeping dragon of the Idol of Self in our souls. We can start checking off a list of how modesty we are, how charitable we have become, how humble we now are, how much more often we go to church, and how much more Bible we have memorized compared to others. We can start seeing others through a tinted lens of spiritual contempt – the whole “I thank God I am not like other men” Syndrome (Luke 18:19).
Be careful saint.
Even here, amid spiritual progress, one can get snagged among the bushes of indifference. As time goes on the tune of our souls' rhythm can start relaxing and we can become like the caricature of the rabbit in the Tortoise And The Hare. We are seemingly ahead of everyone else, so much more knowledgeable, so much more discerning, so much more mature, that we can calcify in our passions and sense of wonder.
In closing, I just urge you to awaken yourself to the whiles of the enemy in crafting in you a spirit of settled faith. You and I need to diligently check our spiritual barometers in the daily and pray as the Psalmist did,
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
 Augustine, Confessions, trans, R.S. Pine-Coffin (New York, NY: MacMillian, 1961) pg. 152
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 206-210
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters in The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2017), pg. 224-225
For many of us prayer is something we talk a lot about but do far too little of. It is very often a mundane chore as opposed to a desire or a mere preference opposite a passion. This is to our own detriment. Yawnish, distracted, stunted prayers are an essential ingredient in producing the anemic spirituality that characterizes much of modern western Christendom. It is just such prayer the Lord of Hell gleefully glories in and desires for us. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) speaks with piercing accuracy on this reality in The Screwtape Letters. In the excerpt below Lewis has the senior tempter Screwtape give advice to his demonic nephew Wormwood on how best to meticulously undermine the prayer life of a young Christian. Read with openness and conviction,
The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the [Christian] patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently re-converted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and un-regularized; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part…. That is exactly the sort of prayer we want…. At the very least, they [Christians] 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. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.
If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself [God] we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills…. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.
But of course the Enemy [God] will not meantime be idle. Wherever 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. But even if He defeats your first attempt at misdirection, we have a subtler weapon. The humans do not start from that direct perception of [God]…. If you look into your patient's mind when he is praying…you will find that it is a composite object containing many quite ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from pictures…. I have known cases where what the patient called his "God" was actually located-up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it – to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him. You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keeping it steadily before his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers "Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be", our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their merely subjective nature, and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it – why, then it is that the incalculable may occur. In avoiding this situation – this real nakedness of the soul in prayer – you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There's such a thing as getting more than they bargained for! 
There are several points I would like to syphon out of this excerpt without draining its richness.
The Subtilty of What we Classify as “Prayer”
One of the most striking things in this excerpt is the most easily missed. It reveals a sadistically clever scheme all too often overlooked to our dismay. Screwtape says, “The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether,” and then he says, “this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood.” Do you notice what he is saying? The Devil does not really care about us praying, as long as the type of prayer we do is a useful fiction. If we keep our prayers dreary-eyed, timely, thoughtless, and childish, he is content and undisturbed.
In such cases the Devil is content for us to live out the hellish inversion of John 5:16: “The ineffectual fervent-less prayer of a sluggish saint avails much for the Adversary of our souls.”
Lewis is giving meat here worth chewing. He is showing us that such feeble prayer really is not prayer at all! It is prayer masquerading as prayer, which makes us content and ineffective while at the same time delighting the demons. It is not real prayer because it is comfortable, quaint, and compels no real change. It is not real prayer because it categorically has no teeth to it! It is a milk-toast spirituality.
Real prayer is active, Spirit filled, intentional, habitual, God centered, humbling, relational, and power packed. Prayer is the specific, intentional, spiritual discipline of the Christian life. John Calvin (1509-1564), the great reformer, said it was “the chief exercise of faith.” The revivalist Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) said prayer,
“is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life…[and a] prayerless life [is a life] without God in the world.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the 20th Century German pastor and martyr said,
“Prayer is the supreme instance of the hidden character of the Christian life. It is the antithesis of self-display.”
One of the things these men of old are getting at is that prayer is the chief means of distinguishing people who are of Faith versus the Faithless. It is an endeavor that displays in us an active acknowledgement of the presence of the divine in our lives on the daily! In short prayer reveals that we are aware, humbled by, and actively seeking more than matter and molecules; it reveals that we are a people who “look up” beyond our world to Someone Greater than ourselves for our ultimate answers, hope, peace, security, and future.
To fail to be a prayer is, in a very real sense, to live as a functional atheist. To live a “spiritual life” with a complete absence of ever seeking to touch the Spirit or communion is to deny the very foundations of Faith itself. It is living in the world on a regular basis as if God is not intimately and actively within and among you.
But this goes even further than mere awareness of the transcendent in our lives.
Prayer is also a fundamental means of awakening us to the reality of our present situations and to the Ultimate Fact that we stand naked before the eyes of a living God who knows us far more intimately than we could ever hope to. It reminds us that we cannot hide from God. He knows our facades. He knows our fakery. He knows our insecurities. He knows our needs. Prayer is that place where we reveal our souls to our God and He in turn reveals more intimately His heart to us. It is the meeting of wills. It is the meeting of souls. Lewis put it this way,
“It is a personal contact between…incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer is the sense of petition, 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.”
It is such rawness of prayer that the devils loath for us to experience. Thus they (along with the World and the Flesh) ensure we ingest enough busyness and distractions to keep us from ever reaching such intimacy. But really, as Lewis points out, the devils do not have to work too hard at this because most of us do not even care to experience such rawness before God. As Screwtape so candidly affirms,
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out…. [In fact to avoid] the real nakedness of the soul in prayer – you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There's such a thing as getting more than they bargained for!”
This is to our own dismay for it is in such nakedness that we can truly be ourselves and see ourselves as we more clearly come to see the One who holds us.
It is in prayer that we stand before an Audience of One.
How Our Physical State Can Many Times Affect Our Prayer State
Another profound truth worth chewing is Lewis’ insight of how easily our physical states affect our spiritual states. He points out how the postures we make in prayer can reveal and even shape the sincerity and depth of focus we have before God. Do not misunderstand this! He is not saying we should bask in pagan asceticism or external posturing. What he is driving at is us coming to terms with how our bodies shape our souls as much as our souls shape our bodies.
In the history of the Christian Church there has been a consistent trajectory of teachings and reflections upon taking serious how we posture ourselves in worship and prayer. This is not out of a sign of stiff-necked ceremonialism but a recognition that we are a unified complexity of spirit, soul, and body that intertwine and interact with one another and therefore affect one another. A slouching posture can indicate a slouching spirit. A casual stature can reveal a casualness of soul which tends to express itself casually when coming before God in worship and prayer. God becomes a familiar to us – just “another relationship” among the myriads we have. We come into His presence and prop our feet upon Him instead of prostrating ourselves before Him in worship and reverence as the Cosmic King of Justice and Mercy He is.
I know this personally.
Tiredness physically leads to fogged mental states which inevitably misdirect my thoughts in prayer. I will start a prayer in earnest and within 40 seconds I begin to drift and think of all the work I have to accomplish, or I begin to daydream or become lethargic. Or I will pray as I drive to work, only to find my eyes wondering to a sign along the road or a pedestrian crossing the street. What is happening in all these? I am forgetting before Whom I stand when I am praying. I am slouching before God. I am yawning in His presence.
One way to fix this is to fix my physical state. Train the eyes, train the mind, discipline the body. If need be, stand to pray. Walk. Look upward. Lift hands. Kneel. Be uncomfortable. By doing these things one begins to take seriously the physical discipline of directing the body in the realm of spiritual life.
Generating Synthetic Piety
We can grow up on healthy doses of certain stylized versions of prayer. There are more liturgical types, more charismatic types, more blustery types, more tranquil types, and so forth. Lewis causes us to be reflective on this. We can begin to equate ‘true prayer’ with certain emotional expressions or experiences to the point that those expressions become the only means by which we define prayer (this also applies to all of spirituality).
This is where the danger creeps in.
Prayer is not less than emotion, but it is far more than emotion. This is what Lewis is wanting us to remember. True prayer is rooted in authenticity and reverence – an emptying or unclothing of oneself before God. It is not to be grounded in “turning our gaze towards ourselves and keeping watch on our own minds” as we think about how we are “feeling” as we are doing it. It isn’t about us! It is about Him! It is “other directed,” being lifted above our present circumstances into the realm of God Himself. It is only there that true answers, freedom, clarity, and focus takes place.
God is not interested in artificial emotionalism. He is not interested in syntax, He is interested in the sincerity. He is not interested in fervor, He is interested in faithfulness. He is not interested in hooping, He is interested in humility. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) said it this way,
“The heart is the source, the seat, and the essence of supplication. Prayer with the heart is the heart of prayer: the cry of our soul is the soul of our cry.”
He went on to say, “There is as much grace in the bark of a dog or the grunt of a swine as in a form of prayer if the heart be absent.” It is not enough to go through a set of disciplines or emotions when it comes to prayer. The heart must be pruned. The heart must be nursed to desire the sweetness of communion with God.
Generating False Images
One of the easiest things we can do is to make images in our head of Who God is whenever we pray. As Lewis makes clear we can derive our images of God from pictures, we can focus on a composite object, or we can think of some distant image in our imagination. In all these there are two things happening: misdirection and distance.
When we pray to God with a preconceived vision of what we think He should be we miss the true beauty of Who He is. This misdirection skews our understanding of God’s nature, person, and work. As a result, when we worship and pray God tends to become who we are. He likes what we like, He approves of what we approve, He hates what we hate, and He will give what we ask. It is all a total misdirection of who God really is. This is not assigned to just heretics or spiritual relativists; this happens in regular Bible believing churches! But as Timothy Keller (1950-present) has said,
“If your god never disagrees with you, you might be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.”
But not only is such misdirection an outcome of this corrupted iconoclasm, there is also a distance created. Lewis makes the point that when we generate images of God in prayer, we can detach Him from our midst. He becomes an object among many within our minds eye. He becomes, as Lewis says, “located-up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside [our] own head, or in a crucifix on the wall.” What is he getting at here? He is showing that in a very real sense what happens is we tend to “see God” like an object or a person crossing before our eyes afar off. By doing this with prayer we lose the sense of inner intimacy of His presence within us and living around us.
Now, again, do not misunderstand Lewis here! He is not promoting some pagan pantheism or New Ageism mumbo-jumbo. What he is reminding us of is how easy it is to make God “away from us” as we pray. He becomes a detached deistic Being looking down far away from us as we call out to Him and look up at Him on Olympus. But such a vision doesn’t take seriously the immanence and intimacy of Who He is. God is not a detached Father. He is, as Jesus Himself taught us, our Heavenly Father (Matthew 6) – that impossible to contain, quantify, or composite Cosmic King Who is equally immanent, relational, and accessible to His children.
We need to recover this reality when we pray! This is what Lewis is getting at!
The Bible is profoundly clear that we have an intimate union with God through Christ that eliminates “distance” between us and Him (Romans 5 & 8, Galatians 2, Colossians 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 John 4). This understanding is an awareness of our “nakedness” (Lewis says that “real nakedness of soul”) before the eyes of God. This means that in prayer, we are baring ourselves before our Maker at the deepest levels. We are recognizing that God is not some celestial confession box but is the Great Knower of our souls.
Praying About Our Prayer
Prayer should be, and in fact is, the lifeblood of Faith. A prayerless faith is a dead faith. It is “the chief exercise of faith.” It trumps public worship, fellowship, and service. It is the key means through which we display dependence upon the Lord through humility. It is us actively taking time out of our mud and clay lives to acknowledge the transcendence and immanence of the God Who is in our midst and desires that we desire Him. Prayer really is “spiritual breathing” – the activity that sustains spiritual life itself. It is therefore no wonder that the Adversary of our souls works overtime in conjunction with our fleshliness to detour our efforts of such a fruitful spiritual discipline.
Sadly, I have found that many times my prayer life correlates to the level of comfort in my life. I say this with personal trepidation. When things are good, I pray less. When things are bad, I pray more. John Newton (1725-1807), the great 18th Century hymnist and abolitionist, spoke poignantly on such a point when he said,
“Experience testifies, that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secrete worship.”
I can say with shaken confidence this is true for me. I would venture to say it is true for you. There is a stinging truism here: we tend to be the most sincere and focused on spiritual things when we are faced with trouble and suffering. Good times tend to generate spiritual apathy and indifference in our lives. The more comfortable we are the more complacent we become before God’s presence.
Complacent prayer is most often born by satisfied and secure saints.
Must we then perpetually suffer in order for us to be made into the image of Christ? I would hope not. But perhaps so. Perhaps we need to experience suffering to be refined on our knees.
We need to pray about our praying.
We need to ask God to help us desire prayer all the more. We need to pray even when we are not feeling it. It is in those times of “not feeling it” that we often need it the most! It is in that time the Adversary is working his dark magic in our midst, slowly, methodically, driving a wedge between us and our Lord. It is in that time we need to push and fight for that sacred communion known as prayer.
God, help me to not just write about this but to live it in my life! Help me to demonstrate this instead of merely teaching it. Help me nourish my soul in this and not just taste it. Help me to pray.
I want to leave you with the poignant and encouraging words of Charles Spurgeon,
Now the tempter will whisper, "Do not pray just now; your heart is not in a fit condition for it." My dear brother, you will not become fit for prayer by keeping away from the mercy-seat, but to lie groaning or breathing at its foot is the best preparation for pleading before the Lord. We are not to aim at a self-wrought preparation of our hearts that we may come to God with them, but "the preparation of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, are both from God." If I feel myself disinclined to pray, then is the time when I need to pray more than ever…. Whatever thy position, if thou canst not speak, cry; if thou canst not cry, groan; if thou canst not groan, let it be "groanings that cannot be uttered;" and, if thou canst not even rise to that, let thy prayer be at least breathing—a vital, sincere desire, the outpouring of thine inner life in the simplest and weakest form, and God will accept it. In a word, when you cannot pray as you would, take care to pray as you can. 
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 194-196
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox, 2011), 3.20 (pg. 850)
 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards, Volume IV (New York, NY: Leavitt & Allen, 1852), pg. 481
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1995) pg. 163
 A good discussion on this can be found in Joe Rigney, Lewis on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), pg. 119-122
 C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” in The World’s Last Night, pg. 8
 Consider reading this short little treatise on the postures of prayer by Isaac Todd (1787-1886) https://www.covenanter.org/reformed/2015/8/19/isaac-todds-the-posture-of-prayer-or-god-to-be-worshipped-with-the-body-as-well-as-the-mind
 Avail yourself to these resources on the topic: https://calvinistinternational.com/2015/04/09/calvin-on-posture-in-worship/; http://www.prca.org/resources/publications/articles/item/4651-the-posture-of-prayer; https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-posture-matters-in-worship/;
 Charles Spurgeon, Comfort for Those Whose Prayers are Feeble, Sermon given May 1872, accessed from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/thought-reading-extraordinary/#flipbook/
 Timothy Keller, Twitter, Sep. 12, 2014, https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/510458013606739968?lang=en
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament, (United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), pg. 244-246
 Michael Horton, John Calvin on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), pg. 154-165
 Dane Ortlund, Jonathan Edwards on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), pg. 124
 John Newton, Letter V, Cardiphonia or, The Utterance of the Heart (T. Nelson and Sons: United Kingdom, 1857), pg. 285
 Charles Spurgeon, Thought-Reading Extraordinary, Sermon given October 5, 1884, accessed from https://archive.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/feeble.php
We moderns are obsessed with “causes.” We love to stand and fight for things. We fight to end racial prejudice, we fight for social justice, we fight to end hunger, we fight to end war, we fight for abortion, we fight to end drugs, we fight for life, we fight to preserve the Constitution, we fight to bear arms, we fight for the flag, we fight for faith and so forth. We really are modern-day crusaders. Our mighty banners of conquest are raised through hashtags, Facebook filters, and a sea of tweets as we exclaim death to the infidels who are our opposites.
Do not misunderstand. Such a critique is not a wholesale denouncement to standing for or against various ideas, values, policies, or platforms. We can and should stand when we see wrongs exercised at the expense of justice and goodness. We should “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” in which we find ourselves just as God exclaimed through the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:7). But as always there is a grave danger that lurks in our midst when we take up such a quest. Even in our campaigning to “make the world better” or “stand against injustice” we can lose sight of Christ; we can become blinded to the True End for which we fight. C.S. Lewis speaks with wisdom on this point. In The Screwtape Letters Lewis’ Screwtape gives the young Wormwood insight into the ways ‘causes’ can be used to slowly destroy his patient Christian’s faith. Read and weep,
All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy [God], are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them…. Whichever [your Christian patient] adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the [the cause he takes up] as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which [his] religion becomes merely part of the ‘cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of [the effort]. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours – and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.
The shift here is subtle, as all the shifts are that we have looked at in the Gentle Slopes series. Notice that at first “The Cause” we take up is secondary and just part of our Christianity. This is when we still are keeping Christ at the center of all our reasoning and intended ends. But then notice, in time our Christianity slowly becomes part of “The Cause,” it becomes peripheral, deadened by earthly concerns alone. In short, Christianity slowly loses its Eternal reality and subsequently its spirituality. And so, we enter a state of being Pharisaical in all the good causes we take up – they become ends in themselves instead of satellites orbiting the greater constellation of Christ. So, for example, Jesus is a white gun-toting red-blood libertarian at our gun conventions, or He is the brown man oppressed by systemic imperial oppression at our social justice marches, or He is the free-caring anti-judgmental “love is love” guru at our sexual liberation rallies, or He is the no nonsense stern faced hyper judgmental commander at our conferences.
The sad thing is that in all of these Christ has ceased to guide the values, ideas, and platform, of “the cause” and instead has become another piece of furniture we rearrange in the rooms of our life to accent our preferences (i.e. our social, theological, or political preferences). What is happening is we are losing sight of the eternal by making that which is temporal our eternal.
THE DISTINCTIVE CAUSE FOR WHICH WE CRUSADE
This is stingily personal. I tend to be the type that can make axes and grind them. I have been a “keyboard crusader,” a social media warrior, and even a professional political ranter. Sometimes simultaneously. I will be frank, I make no apologies for speaking Truth nor standing for Truth, but there is something to be said when the central driving focus, the bread, and butter of existence, of one’s life (thinking of how I can be at times!) becomes consumed with things doomed to ash and shadow (Psalm 102:26, Matthew 24:35, Luke 21:33, Hebrews 1:11).
Once again, do not misunderstand! I am not saying one should not be engaged in great causes or stand for one’s values or ideas or even support a platform or a policy. This is noble, this is good, and this is just. But what we should do as we engage in such causes is ask the fundamental question,
“For what end do I do this?”
It is the Adversary’s job to keep us – through busyness, exhaustion, and service – from ever asking such a question. But we must. If we honestly believe the world is not less than but more than matter and energy, if we truly believe that there is a purpose for which all of Creation was made, if we are truly convinced that humans have a cosmic identity and meaning, if we truly believe Jesus is the climactic spiritual revelation to all human questions and needs, if we truly believe Heaven is a place to be gained and Hell a place to be shunned, then we cannot but ask such a question!
Sadly, much of modern Christendom cannot be bothered to ask such a question. We help in soup kitchens, we assist at shelters, we even drill wells in Uganda, we council drug addicts, we march to end racism, we rally to save the unborn, we teach Kids Church, we coordinate VBS, we organize connect groups, we develop outreach programs, and on and on. But if all of this is devoid of an eternal perspective, if in all of this Christ and His Gospel is vacated, then all of it is shallow and ultimately pointless. In fact, in none of these examples is such work isolated to the Christian Church. Thousands of secular organizations and dozens of religious groups do the same thing!
What then is the Christian distinctive?
Some may argue at this point that the good of such things abovementioned is within themselves. “Helping people is a good in itself and is what ‘it’s all about!’” one could exclaim. There is an element of truth here but it isn’t the whole Truth. Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and even assisting widows and orphans, were done by Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Yet Jesus said of many of the Pharisees “you are whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones” who,
“outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness”
While much could be said here one point is stinging: the Pharisees were often good people doing good things, standing for good “causes,” and yet they still were full of deadness. What deadness? Hypocrisy and lawlessness. In short, they had no focus upon authentic spirituality (hypocrisy) nor the Word (the Law) within the things they did. This is vital to understand: the Pharisees' faults were not found in the execution of the goods they were doing; it was found in the reasons for which they were doing what they were doing. The things/causes/activities became ends in themselves only or they were done for self-centered reasons, which is really two sides of the same coin. In short, the “causes” became their idols – the things they lived for, would die for, got ultimate meaning from, and ultimately worshiped!
The Christian message is not less than the just earthly causes we fight for, but it is much greater! And when such greatness is absent from the earthly cause, we miss the mark. The Apostle James said it this way,
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Notice that there is a duality of the “religious life” displayed. The true pure acceptable religious life is one characterized by an authentic spiritually controlled tongue (i.e. a Christ-centered heart) plus good works towards just causes (i.e. widows and orphans) plus a deep focus on the highest need of spiritual purity without compromise. Well, what is it that keeps us pure without compromise? The Gospel – which is itself something we not only “keep for ourselves” but should be exclaiming to others! Lest the point be lost, consider the words of the Apostle Paul,
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
In other words, Paul makes clear that evangelistic zeal to reach Jews and Gentiles (people of non-Christian faith – like the ones we fight for and with for just causes) cannot be divorced of the central needful thing: THE GOSPEL. It is the gospel which is the power unto salvation, not a bowl of soup or post about racial solidarity alone.
AIMING AT HEAVEN THAT EARTH MAY BE THROWN IN
The meaning of things is inherently tied to their intended ends. When we say we stand for this or that cause because it is “right” or “just” or “good” we are exclaiming that there is a way the World should be; we are asserting, consciously or subconsciously, that Right and Just and Good are actually real and that people (who are agents of rights, justice, and goodness) are inherently valuable sacred ends in themselves. But all of this is only made possible by a transcendent all powerful Creative Moral Law Giver who gives an inherent sacredness to values and life itself. It is such a One to whom we should be ultimately pointing since all purpose’s crescendo in Him. When this Reality is forgotten amid our crusading, we castrate the greater meaning and purposes for which we fight and stand. Even further, we do disservice to those for whom we fight (against or with) because we have failed to make known to them the ultimate beauty and truth that lies behind the earthly acts we do.
In closing, I am reminded of the poignant words of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 205
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, Harper edition, 2001), pp. 134-135
The great Church Father Basil of Caesarea (330-379 A.D.), when citing Ephesians 5:4 on the nature of humor said,
“The Christian…ought not to indulge in jesting [and] he ought not to laugh nor even to suffer laugh makers. He must not talk idly, saying things which are of no service to the hearers.”
In short, for Basil, humor was no laughing matter. Now we recognize that this is excessive and somewhat priggish on the surface, but below in the meat of thought lies a truth: laughter has soul shaping power. But seldom do we ever think about this – even we Christians. We enlightened moderns are living in an age of sitcoms, stand-up comedians, and infinite memes, which wash over us with rivers of puns, wit, and knee slapping entertainment. But even here there lies both great joy and great danger. Even here, in our humor and laughter, we must become reflective and ask if we have allowed the law of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) to reign.
Humor can be a Balm and Bane to Life
Humor and laughter are sweet balms of life. They make life bearable and beautiful by breaking down barriers and helping us forget about the business and seriousness of reality. All the incongruities (the absurdities, oddities, and “out-of-placeness”) have a humbling effect upon us as creatures. Through humor we tend to make fun of ourselves and our place in the world. Therefore, humor has a humbling aspect to it at times because we realize just how absurd and weird we can be. As one author said, “[Humour] involves some confession of human weakness” and is “the chief antidote to pride; and has been, ever since the time of the Book of Proverbs, the hammer of fools.” The great English philosopher and essayist G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) said it this way,
“If you really ask yourself why we laugh at a man sitting down suddenly in the street you will discover that the reason is not only recondite, but ultimately religious. All the jokes about men sitting down on their hats are really theological jokes; they are concerned with the Dual Nature of Man. They refer to the primary paradox that man is superior to all the things around him and yet is at their mercy.”
There is much to unpack here but we will point to only one minor aspect of what Chesterton is getting at. The fact is humor is deeper than we think. Laughter reveals more than we think. They reveal something about us as a people. Why we laugh at what we laugh says something about how we think the world is and who and what humans are, and how it all should be. This is centrally because we were made to be social creatures who live a certain way in the world and seek joy in the good. What grounds all of this is the comforting and empowering knowledge that we serve a Creator King who laughs and has joy (Psalm 2:1-12, Zephaniah 3:17) and in fact has made us to be people who can laugh, and play, and express such joy through lighthearted interactions (Ecclesiastes 3:4; Job 8:21; Proverbs 15:13, 17:22; Psalm 126:2-3; Luke 6:21).
But with everything, sin and darkness become the kill-alls and makers of infinite devaluation. This is where a demon can give us insight.
C.S. Lewis in all his piercing correctness speaks straight to the quick of the power and influence of humor in The Screwtape Letters. In the section below the senior demon Screwtape informs his underling Wormwood of the most effective ways of utilizing humor and laughter to slowly destroy purity and sacredness in the life of his patient Christian believer. Before this conversation you will remember our previous post in the Gentle Slopes Series which dealt with friendships. Here the Christian patient has not only begun to hang out with two carousing skeptical unbelievers but has been introduced to another broader group of friends, all of them obsessed with revelry, novelties, and joking. Screwtape decides to advice Wormwood on his next steps with his patient,
My Dear Wormwood,
Everything is clearly going very well. I am specially glad to hear that the two new friends [of your Christian patient] have now made him acquainted with their whole set. All these, as I find from the record office, are thoroughly reliable people; steady, consistent scoffers and worldlings who without any spectacular crimes are progressing quietly and comfortable towards our Father's house. You speak of their being great laughers…. [This] point is worth some attention.
I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided…. Fun is closely related to Joy-a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct….
[But the] real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction…. Humour is for [some] the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame…. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful-unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man's damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke. And this temptation can be almost entirely hidden from your patient [the Christian]…. Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as "Puritanical" or as betraying a "lack of humour".
But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny…. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy [God] that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy [and] it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.
In this passage Lewis is soberly reminding us of how the Adversary of our souls uses humor to slowly deaden our souls to any sense of shame or sacredness.
Laughter Often Carries an Agenda
One point worth noting that Lewis shows is that behind laughter there often lies an agenda. We do not often think of this when we enjoy good banter. But this is true. That agenda can be merely to bring joy into others’ lives – which is a noble activity within itself. But often it can be pregnant with ulterior motives: such as to generate self-aggrandizement or attention-seeking or to soften people’s acceptability of particular behaviors, beliefs, or values. Here, on this last point specifically, lies the far more subtle yet sinister element of humor.
Humor can shape our souls. It can also shape culture. G.K. Chesterton poignantly said back in the twilight of Victorian England,
“If you really want to know what is going to happen to the future of our democracy, do not read the modern sociological prophecies, do not read even [utopian novels]…. Read the [comic pages] as if they were the dark tablets graven with the oracles of the gods. For…they contain some hint of the actual habits and manifest desires of the…people. If we are really to find out what the democracy will ultimately do with itself, we shall surely find it, not in the literature which studies the people, but in the literature which the people studies.”
If you want to shape people’s souls, and even guide the culture of a people, then shape what they laugh about. Shape the entertain they consume. In time what they consume will consume them. They will become what they cajole and joke about. Why? Because laughter has the inherent capacity to bypass the mind and go straight to the emotional and appetite driven parts of our nature. These areas of our souls are the most malleable and guiding aspects of our being. If you want people to be willing to start accepting a particular behavior, to normalize it, then your best methodology is to soften it as playful, innocent, and lighthearted.
I think we can say with some accuracy we can see this in our own lives and culture. Before any particular behavior or preference or lifestyle is accepted in our society it is always “normalized” on our televisions and the silver screen. Make it look “normal” or friendly or innocent within the context of story making and laughter and you have all but won over the audience. If you do not think this is the case, then take a moment for some personal inventory. Ask yourself: How much have you changed in the past 10 years in your views of religion, morality, modesty, gender identities and roles, language use, sexual preferences, politics, and justice? Have you come to accept, loosen up on, or shrug off certain ideas within these areas? Now ask yourself, how have you come to change so? Did you sit down and do a lot of arm-chair philosophizing and dialoging? Did you read a ton of philosophical, theological, political, sociological, and psychological manuals, treatises, and books? For most, the answers would be no.
While we can change our views on life based on mere experiences, education, and political shifts, these are not the central methods of how we change. Change happens gradually and centrally through the relationships we share and the entertainment we consume. It is inescapable and undeniable. This past year alone we Americas spent a whopping $30.03 billion on entertainment and spent an average over 7.5 hours a day using media. On top of this the U.S. media and entertainment industry has affirmed that its budget is going to exceed $825 billion by 2023. Interesting enough, connecting to the main point of this post and Chesterton’s words, the most popularly consumed genre by us is comedy.
It is a truism: the things we consume in turn consume us.
The movies, TV shows, video-games, and music of our age are all our modern high priests and philosophers slowly teaching us to accept the ways of the idols of our age. Laughter has always, but especially now in our age, possessed the power of democratizing or “leveling” values, behaviors, and beliefs. It has the capacity to make everything a desacralized joke or meme or caricature. As a result, slowly, unknowingly, unthoughtfully, the concepts and virtues of shame, respect, honor, dignity, faith, beauty, and charity are chipped down and become lost in a sea of chuckles and shrugs. This especially happens with religion and faith.
The Power of Laughter to Desacralize
Some of the most effective uses of laughter are those about spiritual things. Do not misunderstand nor assume that we cannot be joyous nor joking with our Faith. I believe there is a healthy, respectful form of this. But go deeper here. Think for a minute. There is truth in this worth mining. How far do we go with this?
Behind kiddish jests or irreverent puns about God and His Son in particular there can lie an inheritance of irreverence. Slowly the laughs can chip away at the sacredness and transcendence of Faith claims, bringing them low and close to the mud. It is not hard to see the logical jump that can and often happens when we move from laughing about Christ in a joke to inadvertently casualizing Christ in life. When this happens, we have entered a slippery slope of shifting from disciples worshiping at His feet to mocking bystanders who see Him as part of the regular landscape of life.
This is all subtle. There is deception here. Awaken yourself to this.
Joy and laughter are a medicine (Proverbs 17:22) but they can also become a hallucinogenic to our souls. They have within them the capacity to degenerate into flippancy and irreverence. This is Lewis’ warning from the lips of a devil.
This may sound prudish. But here again is Lewis is spot on. The simplest way to never have to question ones consumption of entertainment or what one laughs is to judge every judgement or correction as “Puritanical.” “Well that may be offensive to you, but it isn’t to me” is a common phrase at this point. Or the mantras of “spiritual maturity” or “that’s the way of the world” or “freedom in Christ” are conjured to expunge any sense of propriety or chastity in the realm of entertainment and laughter. I will not fight this game. Neither will Lewis. But be aware that you are dancing in the realm of the Adversary. He is elated that you are inundated and do not care. He is ecstatic to your gilded over indifference.
There is no lie here. It is tricky to locate what are the acceptable or unacceptable levels of laughter and humor. When does joy devolve into vulgarity? This is not easy to gage and if you are looking for a list of movies, books, and TV shows that are acceptable or not then you are missing the point of the post. We moderns love our check off lists of does and don’ts. But the authentic spiritual life doesn’t work like that. The key is not in a list but a consistent self-examination by the power of the Holy Spirit in ever facet of our lives, even the places we least expect or least want Him to check.
Are you doing this with what you consume with entertainment? Are you considering how Christ addresses that which you laugh at? If there is no reflection at all, then you may be in the realm of devils. If you are reflecting, then allow the Holy Spirit to continue to speak and guide you into His ways.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
 Saint Basil of Caesarea, “On the Perfection of the Life of Solitaries” from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 8. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3202022.htm
 If you want a more technical or philosophical understanding of the nature of “humor” then consider: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/ and https://iep.utm.edu/humor/
 G.K. Chesterton, “Humour” (1938) found at https://nonsenselit.com/g-k-chesterton-humour-1938/. Original source is Chesterton, G.K. The Spice of Life and Other Essays, Edited by Dorothy Collins (Beaconsfield: Darwen Finlayson, 1964)
 Chesterton, et.al.
 G.K. Chesterton, “Cockneys and Their Jokes” in All Things Considered (1908), accessed from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/All_Things_Considered/Cockneys_and_Their_Jokes
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters ibid, pg. 215-217
 G.K. Chesterton, “Cockneys and Their Jokes” in All Things Considered (1908), accessed from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/All_Things_Considered/Cockneys_and_Their_Jokes
 http://www.uky.edu/~jjord0/ArisIII.htm#:~:text=Appetitive%20soul%20%E2%80%93%20This%20is%20the,itself%20a%20faculty%20of%20thought, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/medieval-emotions/#:~:text=He%20regarded%20the%20emotions%20as,of%20knowledge%20and%20rational%20will,
 https://www.statista.com/statistics/254115/favorite-movie-genres-in-the-us/, https://www.marketingcharts.com/television/tv-audiences-and-consumption-110704, https://morningconsult.com/2018/11/27/reality-is-americas-least-favorite-tv-genre-yet-people-are-still-watching/, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2007/07/25/what-they-watch-online/
Let us take a moment to be reminded of what we are doing. Over the past several posts we have been in a series called The Gentle Slopes That Kill the Soul. In this series, we have looked at how the Adversary of our souls tries to dilute, disjoint, and destroy our faith. One of our chief guides, aside from Scripture, has been the masterful C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) in his The Screwtape Letters. Within these letters, we have learned from the lips of a senior devil named Screwtape how Satan can and often works through the seemingly mundane and trivial things of life to slowly eat away at our joy and peace in Christ.
Soberly we have come to see (I hope) that a “fall from faith” rarely happens in an avalanche or a tsunami. Most often it occurs through decay and a steady trickle. Rarely does Satan seek from us open rebellion, it is far more useful for him to foster in our souls shruggish indifference and yawning compromise – for these are just as hellishly potent and far more long term. It is through the “little things” of life, the gentle slopes and soft bends, that he works his best magic. Through family relations, church dealings, and personal passions and pleasures he whittles away spiritual vitality. There are however more ways he can work deceptively that are worth considering.
BECOMING WHAT WE PRETEND TO BE
Another way the Adversary can, and often does, slowly divert our souls from the Truth and Beauty of Christ is through the relationships we forge. Friendships and comraderies are powerful means through which our souls are formed in this world. Outside of marriage and family friendship is the most significant social relation in developing our personalities, identities, and socialization. It is no wonder that the Scriptures emphatically and prophetically warn us to take inventory of those we commune with. The author of Proverbs summarized it like this:
“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm”
And the Apostle Paul warned the Christians in Corinth that,
“You should not be deceived for: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
1 Corinthians 15:33
Friendship and companionship are powerful. They form our souls. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), the famous Greek philosopher, said that friendship was, “A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” In short through friendships, our souls mingle with the souls of others in the context of mutual interests and activities. Through common interests, laughs, tears, and communion we open ourselves to being transformed and to transform. We moderns need to understand the power of this. We like to pride ourselves in our enlightened highly self-centered Western culture that we are self-made islands who shape our wills and personalities. We are mistaken. We are inherently social creatures, and we are as much conformists to our surrounding environments and those we hang around like any other cultural group or time period – even more so arguably. C.S. Lewis brings out the power of this truth through the senior demon Screwtape when he advises the young Wormwood about his patients’ (the Christian) newest friends,
I was delighted to hear…that your patient has made some very desirable new acquaintances and that you seem to have used this event in a really promising manner. I gather that the middle-aged married couple who called at his office are just the sort of people we want him to know—rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly skeptical about everything in the world…. This is excellent. And you seem to have made good use of all his social, sexual, and intellectual vanity. Tell me more. Did he commit himself deeply? I don’t mean in words. There is a subtle play of looks and tones and laughs by which a Mortal can imply that he is of the same party as those to whom he is speaking. That is the kind of betrayal you should specially encourage, because the man does not fully realize it himself; and by the time he does you will have made withdrawal difficult.
No doubt [your patient] must very soon realize that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversation of his new friends is based. I don't think that matters much provided that you can persuade him to postpone any open acknowledgement of the fact, and this, with the aid of shame, pride, modesty, and vanity, will be easy to do. As long as the postponement lasts he will be in a false position. He will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and skeptical attitudes which are not really his. But of you play him well, they may become his. All mortals tend to turn into the things they are pretending to be. This is elementary.
Lewis’s analysis of slow-roasted hypocrisy in our relationships is stingingly accurate and relevant.
THE DANGERS OF LIVING THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS
Many times, we as Christians concentrate on living our lives through the eyes of others. Much of the time we work hard at building a reputation of not being different from those around us. Why? I don’t have all the answers but I believe there are at least two reasons to consider (by no means are they exhaustive). One reason is the seductive power of our Zeitgeist “Spirit of the Age.” Plainly stated, we want people to like us because the culture says we should. We can lie all we want to ourselves, but our intuitively democratic-centered personalities strive to be accepted by the crowds we inhabit. To achieve this goal, our culture tells us we need to be tolerant, non-pushy, and apathetic to concepts such as Truth and morality. Upon such edifices are friendships forged. It is best to laugh than cry with people and to agree than correct them. After all, all paths equally valid and worthy. This is what our post-modern hyper-individualistic age tells us anyways. And so, this mentality bleeds into how we go about the business of friendships. We do not want to “impose” our Jesus-freakishness upon them.
Another reason we tend to mute our faith in our friendships is that many of our churches feed us steady diets of “non-pushy” spirituality. We need “friendship evangelism” the preachers say. The entire edifice of modern “church growth” revolves around a consumer-focused, convenience-rooted evangelization model. We need to fight hard to get unbelievers to like us and to come to church. How do we do this? We need to stop being too-churchy, too-biblical, and too-spiritual. This is all too “Puritanical” you see. Curb our conversations by limiting Bible quotes and hyper-spiritual language. We need to make sure those around us, our family and friends, see us as equally superficial and non-sacrificial as they are. We need them to know that objectively there is no definable difference between our B.C. or A.D. lives. We act as they act, we say what they say, we watch what they watch, we listen to what they listen to, we laugh at what they laugh at, and we enjoy what they enjoy. No change, no sacrifice, no difference is at all required when we exchange the world for Christ.
Is it any wonder many of us Christians do not take the initiative to ever share our faith with friends and family when we are fed this bovine refuse? The data is as sad as it is disturbing that we have bought it hook line and sinker. But I digress.
These two modes of thinking, one secular and one hypocritically spiritual engrains into our minds a certain way of how we approach friends and family with spirituality (or lack of approach). We often intentionally mute our Faith in the presence of others because we are living our Faith through their eyes. We do this with family, friends, and coworkers. Our “wanting them to accept us” overrides any consideration of us “wanting them to accept Christ.” But we would not say this out loud or even think it! But we do. And so, we remain quiet. But then the quiet turns into nods. Nods turn into laughs. Laughs turn into acceptance. Acceptance turns into indifference. It is a slow fade.
Lewis reveals to us that within our perpetual postponement lies the seeds of our own soul's ruin. Satan wants us in a perpetual state of “I’ll-bring-it-up-when-its-convenient-ism.” He wants us to wear proudly the Red Badge of Irresolution with our faith sharing. Why? Because such a mentality not only deprives the befriended of the beauty of Christ truth and person, but it also slowly erodes our passion and care for Christ amid soul mingling.
“All mortals tend to turn into the things they are pretending to be”
The mortar of our souls begins to slowly crack and erode as we find ourselves ever more adapting to the conditions of those whom we desperately want to like us. There is a seduction here. Take inventory.
Does this mean we must browbeat Bible verses at every party or social event with friends or family? Does this mean we need to do a check-box list of words not to say or movies not to watch? Not necessarily on either account. But you miss the point of the message being stated. Stop caricaturing the central point to justify running away from its correction.
No, the point is that when all the joy and excitement of our friendships dwells ONLY in games, food, and laughs, and never at any time in spiritual considerations then what is happening is we reveal that in our hearts “the spiritual” is not really a category of joy or excitement at all. When it doesn’t even register as worthy of conversation within the communities we inhabit, then obviously we need to consider if we truly believe it capable of changing our personal lives and the lives of those we befriend. This brings me to the next point in this post.
RECOVERING AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE OF FRIENDSHIPS
How do we shake ourselves from the deceptiveness of spiritual deadening in our friendships? Again, as always, I do not dare presume to give the only answer here. That said, I think part of it is we need to be awakened to the brevity of our lives on earth and the eternal nature of our relations. C.S. Lewis powerfully said in The Weight of Glory,
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 
Think on this. Your friends are as eternal as they will ever be. Your family members are as eternal as they will ever be. Every laugh, every cry, every discussion, every joke, every interaction, in some way to some degree is a soul-forming moment rippled in Eternity. When we think this way, we begin to see our acquaintances as more than “opportunities” (a time to chill, a time to hang, a time to play), we see them with Christ-tinted glasses. We see them as agents worthy to be shown True Beauty and Love.
If we genuinely love our friends, then we would and should desire the good for them. We should and would want the best for them. We would want more than just a good time with them, we would desire the good for them. Aristotle said it this way,
“The complete sort of friendship is that between people who are good and are alike in virtue [that] wish for good things for one another in the same way insofar as they are good, and they are good in themselves.”
To not desire the good in another is to not really love the one to whom we say we befriend.
What pray tell, could be greater, more beautiful, more good, than the Truth of Christ Himself? If we really believed this, then what could keep us from acknowledging or communicating this to those we befriend and love?
Let me be a little more brash. If you believe that Hell is a real place to be shunned and Heaven a real realm to be gained, then why are you not deliberately seeking to proclaim this to the ones you laugh and eat with? Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) said it candidly,
“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
Do you care, I mean actually care, about the souls of those you merry with? Or are you content with laughs and games? If so, then perhaps you need to resign yourself to being a user of eternal agents for finite gains. This is hard to say but convicting and necessary to say.
DISPLAYING OUR PASSION
Many times, we affirm that we are afraid to share the gospel with friends and family for fear they may cut us off or see us as fools or Bible-thumping wingnuts. Perhaps they would, perhaps they would not. There are ways we do need to go about sharing the gospel and displaying it that brings glory to God instead of self. But that is not the point of this particular post.
While the point of this post is not to discuss skills for gospel sharing (which is a worthy discussion), I will say that insecurity and fear can be part of our lack of sharing faith, but if we are forthright with ourselves often our lack of sharing can be (and often is) rooted in our lack of spiritual growth and passion. This is not easy to say but there is truth here. I am reminded of the words of Billy Graham (1918-2018) who put it simply but profoundly,
“Our faith becomes stronger as we express it; a growing faith is a sharing faith.”
Think of what he is saying. There is a correlation between the growth of faith and sharing of faith. The implication is jarring: If we are not sharing, then more than likely it is indicative that we are not growing and as we do not grow, we do not share. There is a cyclical pattern here.
We as humans will share the things, we are most passionate about. Our passion boosts our confidence, and our passion is tied to the growth we have in that which we love. So, for example, we will endlessly debate football plays, we will unabashedly discuss video-game and movie releases, we will heedlessly share inspirational poetry and favorite authors, we will compare our favorite scrapbooking hobbies or latest fashions. We do these things because we know these things because they are part of who we are and we are thus confident in them. These are all good things too! These are the pleasures of life. But they are also bitingly ephemeral. Here today, go tomorrow, replaced by the new and improved. What about that which lasts forever? Does it even register on the radar of our lives? Do we care about it as much as we do games, cars, or sports?
If we aren’t sharing our Faith could it be, we really aren’t passionate about it, to begin with?
Is your Faith as deeply apart of who you are as a person that it is like your DNA? Is your Faith something tacked onto what you do once or twice a week or is it who you are? Is your Faith an event or an identity? Answering these questions are the first steps in recovering a robust desire to integrate and actively display the love of Christ in the every day of community and companionship.
 https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/; https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756384/obo-9780199756384-0170.xml#:~:text=The%20question%20%E2%80%9Cwho%20is%20friends,society's%20social%20cohesion%20and%20openness.
 Scriptural data on warning us about the kinds of company we keep and how it affects and can infect our moral and spiritual development: Psalm 1:1-6; Proverbs 13:20, 14:7, 16:28, 18:24, 22:24-25, 27:17; 1 Corinthians 15:33; 2 Corinthians 6:14; James 4:4
 Aristotle, quotes in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 212-213
 The data shows us that Christians are progressively (or regressively) an un-evangelistic type of people. We just don’t like sharing our faith with other people because of fear of being considered judgmental and/or pushy: https://www.barna.com/research/sharing-faith-increasingly-optional-christians/; https://www.barna.com/research/millennials-oppose-evangelism/; https://www.godreports.com/2019/04/most-churchgoers-rarely-share-their-faith/; https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/asked-1600-christians-why-they-dont-share-their-faith.html
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), pg. 46
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII, Chapter 3
 C. H. Spurgeon: “The Wailing of Risca” (Sermon No. 349; Delivered on Sabbath Morning, December 9th, 1860, at Exeter Hall, Strand) https://archive.spurgeon.org/sermons/0349.php
 Billy Graham, Hope for Each Day Signature Edition: Words of Wisdom and Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2014), pg. 18
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.