The Gentle Slope of Pessimism
I have a naked confession to make. I am a pessimist by nature. I tend to be that person who bends towards the raw character of “suck-it-up-buttercup” realism while loathing sappy inattentiveness – the type that circulates on social media and says, “The world is burning, but here are pictures of puppies to make you feel better.” Inspirational sicky-sweet quotes and being told “Everything is fine” when in fact things are not fine does nothing for me. I realize that for many flowery sentimentalities are artificial anesthetics to keep oneself from being crushed by a world gone mad, but for someone who tends to be a raw “realist”, it does little. I must be raw and honest in this, admitting it at the beginning, before discussing a topic such as pessimism of which I struggle.
I believe it can be argued with great force that our World is an utter dumpster fire. The West at large and particularly the United States is entering its twilight stage of moral, political, and cultural decline. In artistic terms, we would be somewhere between “The Consummation of Empire” and “Destruction” in Thomas Cole’s (1801-1848) The Course of Empire paintings series (1830s). We citizens of a declining West have front row seats to watch the World of our childhoods burn up in the name of security, liberation, and necessity. With global pandemics, mass forced lockdowns and vaccinations, selective conformity and censorship, economic inflation, civic laziness and greed, political ineptitude and corruption, unmitigated social violence, mass child genocide, celebrated and legislated sexual perversion, and so much more, we are witnessing, in real-time, a free people’s suicide. The Empire of Liberty we once loved is bleeding by our knives and we wonder what is happening. Our mindless, depraved, and selfish decisions are going to ring through the ages of our posterity as our sins are met upon the heads of our children and their children.
That all said, there is more to the story.
Satan Wants Hell in Us
In thinking about all the insanity occurring around us, it is easy, especially for someone like me, to just acknowledge the chaos and declare doom, praying for the asteroid. However, I was slapped with a dose of corrective conviction and much-needed realignment regarding this while reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Just as a reminder, Lewis wrote this book during World War II and from the perspective of a demon named Screwtape writing advice to his underling Wormwood on how best to destroy his Christian “patient.” In one section Lewis has Screwtape gives his minion advice on how to cultivate a materialistic and pessimistic view of the world. Here is the section that struck such a chord:
The scenes [your patient] is now witnessing [of the horrors of the War] will not provide material for an intellectual attack on his faith…but there is a sort of attack on the emotions which can still be tried. It turns on making him feel, when first he sees human remains plastered on a wall, that this is “what the world is really like” and that all his religion has been a fantasy. You will notice that we have got them completely fogged about the meaning of the word “real”. They tell each other, of some great spiritual experience, “All that really happened was that you heard some music in a lighted building”; here “Real” means the bare physical facts, separated from the other elements in the experience they actually had. On the other hand, they will also say “It’s all very well discussing that high dive as you sit here in an armchair, but wait till you get up there and see what it’s really like”: here “real” is being used in the opposite sense to mean, not the physical facts (which they know already while discussing the matter in armchairs) but the emotional effect those facts will have on a human consciousness. Either application of the word could be defended; but our business is to keep the two going at once so that the emotional value of the word “real” can be placed now on one side of the account, now on the other, as it happens to suit us. The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are “Real” while the spiritual elements are “subjective”; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist. Thus in birth the blood and pain are “real”, the rejoicing a mere subjective point of view; in death, the terror and ugliness reveal what death “really means”. The hatefulness of a hated person is “real” — in hatred you see men as they are, you are disillusioned; but the loveliness of a loved person is merely a subjective haze concealing a “real” core of sexual appetite or economic association. Wars and poverty are “really” horrible; peace and plenty are mere physical facts about which men happen to have certain sentiments. The [human] creatures are always accusing one another of wanting “to eat the cake and have it”; but thanks to our labours they are more often in the predicament of paying for the cake and not eating it. Your patient, properly handled, will have no difficulty in regarding his emotion at the sight of human entrails as a revelation of Reality and his emotion at the sight of happy children or fair weather as mere sentiment.
I was reminded by Lewis’ wisdom here, which simply echoes the greater wisdom of Scripture, that the goal of the Devil is two-fold: (a) to methodically glide us into Hell, and (b) to get Hell into us by making us believe the chaos and darkness of our world are the Ultimate Reality. It is easy to believe point (a). We all know Satan wants to take us to Hell, but it is far more difficult to realize that he also is working to make us think that the worldview of Hell (in all its weeping, wailing, darkness, and fire) is somehow the natural lasting state of the World in which we live, move, and have our being. The process of (b) comes much more methodically and subtly through repeatedly bringing before our mind's eye images of darkness and chaos (i.e. “entrails splattered on the walls”) until slowly, our joy, peace, love, and sense of the divine are withered away and replaced by anger, anxiety, defeat, and doubt.
Seeing God In The Midst Of The Fire
Satan ravenously craves our soul and one way he leeches on to it is by draining it of the dual vision of the World that we are to have. His job, and the job of his minions, is to ensure that when we see the World, we are seeing it only through the tinted lenses of the physical dimension. He wants us to see the world monochromatically, as nothing more than a bland shade of greys devoid of hues or focal points. He wants us to see the world burning without seeing the God Who is in the midst of the fire.
We must resist this temptation, even when we do not feel like resisting it. We must resist it even when it is so much easier to be eaten up with naysaying and gloom. We must resist it even when we are racked with mental and emotional fatigue and desensitization from the tsunami of idiocies and indecencies we see going on around us. By pushing back this temptation we are taking the step in acknowledging that the nightly news does not undermine the sacred providential unfolding of the Holy-Loving God Whose purposes are to refine His people for His Glory. It is an acknowledgment that this dumpster-fire of a world is not and in fact, cannot be outshined by the Luminous Nazarene who redefines its values and dismantles its idols. If you want this depicted in all its beautiful theological richness, then read Romans 8. For brevity I quote parts of it here:
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This entire chapter is full of richness and power. For the sake of brevity consider but a few points. First, notice that bad-stuff is a given, even in the life of those who are in Christ Jesus. This isn’t pessimism talking at this point! This is a reality of the fallen nature of a Creation that is groaning for its final redemption made manifest by the glorified Christ. The Apostle Paul asks rhetorically, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” Then he lists examples: Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword, or death, or life? Notice that these are concrete realities experienced by Paul and the early Christians in real-time! This fact alone destroys the “live your best life now” preaching so predominate on Christian TV stations today. Earlier in the passage, Paul literally says, “We are children of God…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (v. 17). Read it again. There is no wiggle room around this truth.
That said, this is not a cause for pessimism! On the contrary, the real tangible darkness and suffering that occurs in our world are transformed in the hearts and minds of those who find identity and security in Christ (a Christ-centered transvaluation of values if you will). Our glorification in Christ is the Reality that translates everything about our World, both good, bad, and ugly. That Reality changes how we process and live amid pain, agony, darkness, and chaos. Why? Because it reminds us that while they are real things, they are not things that can ultimately define who we are, how we are, or where we are going.
The Ultimate Reality of Christ outweighs infinitely the entire collective weight of sufferings and insanities this World can throw at us precisely because they are empty of true mass. On the scales of Ultimate Reality, they are outweighed by the infinity of God’s promises and power. Their power to control us through anxiety, despair, and hate are infinitely outmatched by the Eternity of Love, Peace, and Security found in Christ. Remember Lewis said that when we see “human remains plastered on a wall” we want to say, “that this is ‘what the world is really like’ and that all…religion has been a fantasy.” But this is an objective lie! It is a fog before our eyes blinding us to what is really Real about the World. This World is not just comprised of decaying matter or evanescent moments that we see flashing about us on the nightly news – it is permeated with the brilliant, boundless, touch of the Everlasting God Who is living, active, and moving to make us His chosen people and preparing us for Eternity in the consummation of a New Heavens and a New Earth.
Second, notice that the assurance of love transcends circumstances and is not person-centered but God-centered. Paul says that the troubles of this world, from disease to famine to demons to death, will not separate us from the love of God. He doesn’t say that these things would necessarily keep our love from separating from Him but rather that they do not separate His love from us. In short, Paul is saying, among other things, that these horrendous circumstances (martyrdom, disease, or death…etc.) do not demonstrate a lack of God’s love for us but display it. This sounds insane to our modern western ears. How could suffering display God’s love? We in the West don’t understand this. Our Health-n-Wealth blab-it-n-grab-it view of spirituality necessarily creates in us the idea that if “God is love” He will then do only good for us (as we are defining “good” as any lack of suffering or trial). We argue that only peace, healing, and success are expressions of God’s love and not war, sickness, and poverty. But what if peace, healing, and success are the very things that make us complacent and indifferent to Him? They often are if we are honest. Just ask yourself when you are most “spiritual” and attuned to the things of the Kingdom? Is it when all is well or when chaos is happening? At this point, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Peter who said to the hellishly persecuted Christians of his time,
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
1 Peter 4:1-6 (ESV)
I am not exegeting all of this, but notice that in some amazingly powerful way, the Apostle Peter affirms that suffering refines us towards being a people who can cease from sin – who no longer desire sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, or lawless idolatry. Could it be that suffering, chaos, and darkness are tools through which God’s love is remaking you, me, and the Western Church as large? Could it be that He is refining us through the dumpster fire to be who He has called us to be?
The Bible teaches us that suffering is a common reality we should expect to share with Christ. The chaos and the darkness and the disease around us remind us of what is most important in life. It quickens us to the reality that this Fallen World is not our home, that we are mere sojourners in this world (1 Peter 2:11) who “have no lasting city” but rather are seeking “the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). The chaos and the darkness and the disease we see ravaging our world, and in fact can ravage us (but by God’s unmerited grace), is a refining fire for our faith (James 1:1-2 & 1 Peter 1 & 4). This understanding helps to break down pessimism in our hearts as it reminds us that God is a God who Himself suffers (John 3:16, 1 Peter 2) and is a God Who also overcomes and is overcoming in our midst the power of darkness, disease, and disappointment by His mighty power. As the German Lutheran pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) said months before his execution by the Nazis,
“It is only by living completely in the world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane.”
Third, and finally, notice that the transformative view of the present is in light of Eternity. This present age is only to be understood in light of the eternal rays of God’s everlasting love and glory. Notice that over and over Paul discusses that we are groaning, that all of Creation is groaning in fact, with a hope not yet seen of the immense glorification of our bodies and all of Creation (v. 19-25). This glory is not Sweet-By-And-By escapism but rather the permeation of an eschatological reality of glory that pierces through every aspect of life. Eternity is shining through to us, even in the darkness, whispering and reminding us with echoes in our soul that God is a God who keeps His promises – God is a God in Whom we can be assured that all injustices will be made justice, that all wrongs will be made right, that all healing will be completed, and that all joy will be made unspeakable. This age, and all its absurdities and obscenities, reminds us that everything we are going through matters and is part of the tapestry of Eternity as it molds us into the eternal agent God desires us to be. As 20th Century Swedish theologian Bishop Anders Nygren (1890-1978) said,
“Just as the present [age] is to be followed by eternity, it has already been preceded by an eternity. Only when we see our present existence set in God’s activity, which goes from eternity to eternity, do we get it in right perspective. Then man comes to see that everything that comes to the Christian in this life—and consequently the suffering of the present too—must work together for good to him.”
The craziness of this world is surrounded and penetrated by the beauty and splendor of Eternity. That should remain at the center of our minds as we watch our world unraveling around us. That, at the center of our minds, burns up indifference and pessimism and hastens us to press further and further into the heart of the Father.
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters in Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 272-274
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, pg. 369-370
 Anders Nygren as quoted in R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), pg. 161
THE GENTLE SLOPE OF FUTURISM
The humans live in time but our Enemy [God] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity…. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present — either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.
Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But… it is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays…. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead….
To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too — just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. This is not straw splitting. He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future — haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth — ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other — dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.
Such are the words of infernal “wisdom” dripping from the pen of C.S. Lewis’ master tempter Screwtape to his underling Wormwood. Lewis’ diabolical protagonist (or antagonist) brings up that there are two things God wants us as creatures to chiefly attend to eternity and the present. There is deep wisdom in this. It is a truism that one of the central ways the principalities and powers try to destroy our souls is by enslaving us to futurism and materialism. They want us to live our existence in a time that has yet to be in the hopes of aggravating our anxieties and ingratitude. By whatever means necessary their goal is to ensure we do not spend an adequate amount of time being reflective, contented, or joyous in the ordinary nowness of our lives. As Lewis says, they want us “hag-ridden by the Future.”
Unfortunately, far too often, the dark forces against us tend to succeed in making us time travelers. They get us to be people who are located in the present but not living in it – instead, we are thousands of miles away inhabiting our pasts and futures. This is why, for many of us, we are a people full of insecurities, fears, unforgiveness, and restlessness. The French mathematician and Christian thinker Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) put his finger on the pulse of this mode of existence when he wrote in his day,
“We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of time that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching.”
“Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.”
The last sentence deserves to be repeated, “Thus we never actually live but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.” In short, Pascal is bringing to light one of the malaises of our post-modern existence: we always plan for happiness and never achieve it. Our lives are spent seeking for joy in a realm of temporal existence we are not living in yet (namely the future). It is the bane of the “One-Day-ism” syndrome. This is where we consciously or subconsciously tend to think that the future is where our happiness, security, and contentment reside. True happiness, we think, lies at the weekend, or it's when we will meet that special someone, or when that new job or promotion comes, or when we can cash into that retirement plan, or when we can catch that perfect getaway we’ve been saving up for.
Don’t misunderstand. “One-days” are not wrong or bad – they are a constant feature of hope itself. We can and should prepare, store up, and even look forward to that which is not yet. The problem comes when we assign our “one-days” the unrealistic expectation that they are without question the remedy to satiate our restless hearts. Before our one-days “whisk us away” we tend to accustom ourselves to plodding around in our piecemeal lives of mediocrity, being filled with anxiety, dissatisfaction, unforgiveness, and boredom. As a result, we live less fulfilled lives and remain spiritual anemic – and we’re very good about convincing ourselves that we aren’t when in fact we are.
The problem is we are not guaranteed one-days (James 4:13). Because of this stark realization, we need to have a transvaluation of our values and a realignment of our worldviews. Part of this comes from seeing our present differently, as Lewis points out through Screwtape. We need to begin to see the world as permeated with the rays of eternity, as a realm we can occupy with joy and contentment, and peace.
FAITH IS IN THE PRESENT TENSE
In affirming that God wants us to think of the present Lewis is not meaning we must denounce remembrance, expectation, or preparedness in our lives (for these are good and biblical), rather he is bringing to our awareness the need to soak in the present with joy, patience, and appreciation by coming to a mindfulness of the eternal that saturates it. He is reminding us that the power of faith lies now in its capacity to be merely future-directed but in its abiding transformative nowness to ignite our character and perspective of our everyday experiences (both good and bad). A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) put it this way,
“Faith in Christ is not an act to be done and gotten over with as one might get inoculated against yellow fever or cholera. The repentant sinner's first act of believing in Christ for forgiveness and eternal life is the beginning of a continuous act of believing which lasts throughout life and for all eternity.”
What Tozer is getting at (as well as Pascal and Lewis) is as biblical as it is practical: faith is an active state of existence that we are to live in. Faith is not just believing for but is the very act of believing in. Faith is not a belief extended into the future alone but is rooted in present reality that acknowledges God as a God of immanent withness or presence. Remember how the writer of Hebrews put it,
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (11:1)
Faith is a present reality (things not seen) of the God Who is that grounds our confidence in what is not yet (things hoped for). In short, you cannot have faith that God will do unless you have an active faith that God is doing. This requires an intentional awareness of the transcendent and eternal in daily life. This is why Lewis links the present with eternity so closely. Understanding the true immanence of God in our midst, that He is with us (Immanuel), that His peace and strength and joy is with us now, changes fundamentally how we see the moment we are in rather than just maintaining us for a future that is yet to be.
ETERNITY IS BLEEDING THROUGH INTO THE ORDINARY
The practice of “living in the present” has deep Christian roots. The Psalmist told us to cast our burdens upon the Lord that He may sustain us (Psalm 55:22), which is a present-centered promise. The Apostle Paul affirmed that our outer self is wasting away but our inner self is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). James had said we should not worry about tomorrow because of the evanescence of life and instead should rest in God’s will (James 4:13-16). Jesus Himself said we are to be a people who pray for daily bread (Matthew 6:11) and are not to be anxious about a new day but concentrate on today (Matthew 6:34).
The Biblical vision of “presentness” is not a pietistic otherworldliness of “I’ll-Fly-Away-ism”; it is not detaching ourselves from the everyday monotony and responsibilities of life, and it’s not navel-gazing or Eastern mysticism. We are being called to live in the moment but not for the moment. There is a difference. The latter is presentistic and shallow, recklessly unabandoned in wisdom or reflection. This is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a deeper reflection upon the nature of everyday experience as seen through the lens of the eternal. It is a call for us to recover the sacredness of ordinary life. To be still and know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). As one author has put it,
“The aim when we practice the present is not to learn a bunch of techniques but to learn how to live and relate to God in the here and now. Practicing the present is about living for God by living with God in the real world. The best way to practice the present is to look for the reality of God’s presence in the full and sometimes disappointing realities of ordinary circumstances.”
Life, in all its seeming mediocrity, is emblazoned with the presence of God. Eternity is bleeding through into our ordinary lives. Are we aware of this? We serve a God who is immanent. He is present with us and in us and among us. God is in the simple and God is in the grand. God is with us and among us not just before us. Really! Stop at this moment and really think on this! As theologian Thomas Oden (1931-2016) said,
“Only when one thinks of oneself as standing on the edge of either a happy or pitiable eternity does present life become meaningful and serious.”
We need to be serious about ordinary spirituality. We need to be a people that see God as more than a Sunday experience or a future God of some revival experience. We need to stop seeing God as merely a “one-day” fulfiller of greater spiritual growth or even material blessings. We need to stop seeing God as merely “Coming in the Clouds” at the expense of seeing Him in the cloudiness of life’s experiences. While He is the God of all those things, He is also the God of now! And by this, I do not mean a God of “gimme-gimme” instant gratification, miracles, and blessings (although He can). I am talking about becoming acutely aware of our immediate surroundings and ordinary everyday spirituality – i.e. what living the Christian life is when it’s not Sunday! I am talking about realizing that God is the God in our midst when we clean dishes, prepare a meal, stock the shelves, watch the kids, take a walk, pay the bills, or drive the car. When we begin to actively and consciously try to think upon and touch God in these moments, then their monotony begins to melt, and our anxiousness is undone and our ingratitude is thrown upon the altar of worship and thanks.
In closing this post (of which I but scratched the surface of this profound topic) I leave you with an extended quote from the Christian Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) who wrote long ago about being a person who is present-minded in their faith,
The one who rows a boat turns his back to the goal toward which he is working. So it is with the next day. When, with the help of the eternal, a person lives absorbed in today, he turns his back to the next day. The more he is eternally absorbed in today, the more decisively he turns his back to the next day; then he goes not see it at all…. This is the way one is turned when one rows a boat, but so also is one position when one believes…. If a person turns to the future, and especially with earthly passion, then he is most distanced from the eternal, then the next day becomes a monstrous confused figure, like that in a fairytale….
The believer is one who is present and also…a person of power…. How rare is the person who actually is contemporary with himself; ordinarily most people are apocalyptically, in theatrical illusions, hundreds of thousands of miles ahead of themselves, or several generations ahead of themselves in feelings, in delusions, in intentions, in resolutions, in wishes, in longings. But the believer (the one present) is in the highest sense contemporary with himself. To be totally contemporary with oneself today with the help of the eternal is also formative and generative; it is the gaining of eternity. There certainly was never any contemporary event or any most honored contemporary as great as eternity….
To live in this way, to fill up the day today with the eternal and not with the next day, the Christian has learned or is learning (for the Christian is always a learner) from the prototype [Christ Himself]. How did he conduct himself in living without care about the next day – he who from the first moment he made his appearance as a teacher knew how his life would end, that the next day would be his crucifixion, knew it while the people were jubilantly hailing him as king (what bitter knowledge at that very moment!), knew it when they were shouting hosannas during his entry into Jerusalem, knew that they would be shouting ‘Crucify him!’ and that it was for this that he was entering Jerusalem – he who bore the enormous weight of this superhuman knowledge every day – how did he conduct himself in living without care about the next day?... How did he conduct himself in living without care about the next day – he who was indeed not unacquainted with suffering of this anxiety or with any other human suffering, he who groaned in an outburst of pain, ‘Would that the hour had already come’?
How did he manage?.... [That answer is] He had the eternal with him in his today – therefore the next day had no power over him, it did not exist to him. It has no power over him before it came, and when it came and was the today, it has no other power over him than what was his Father’s will, to which he, eternally free, had consented and to which he obediently submitted.”
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters in Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 227-229
 Blaise Pascal as quoted in Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993) pg. 74
 Faith is not merely future directed but is a present active style of living that resides in the nowness of God’s promises, grace, and truth. Consider some sources on this: J.I. Packer, “Faith” entry in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001) pg. 431-434; David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2010) pg. 542-543
 John Koessler, Practicing the Present: The Neglected Art of Living in the Now (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019) pg. 210
 Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity: A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), pg. 30
 Søren Kierkegaard, Christian Discourses; The Crisis and a Crisis in the Life of an Actress, ed. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997) pg. 73-76
The Gentle Slope of Prosperity
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.
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
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
Many of us often suffer from a dreadful dichotomy of Faith. Nancy Pearcey (1952-present) has put it this way,
“Our lives are often fractured and fragmented….The aura of worship dissipates after Sunday, and we unconsciously absorb secular attitudes the rest of the week. We inhabit two separate “worlds,” navigating a sharp divide between our religious life and ordinary life.”
A prime example of this division between our “religious lives” and “ordinary lives” is within our own homes. Often when the aura of worship dissipates on Sunday, we leave the church house wiping off our Sunday-go-to-meeting faces, in preparation for getting back to the “real business of living.” We often go to our homes and nestle back into the monotony of maintaining our same old attitudes and behaviors towards our families as before. But we must remember that the Gospel is not relegated to a single day nor a single sphere of our lives. Even amid our domestic lives, among the everyday routines of familial life, we must allow Christ to examine us and be exalted throughout. He is either Lord of all or Lord of none when it comes to our lives.
FAMILY LIFE AND THE CONTOURS OF OUR SOUL
In a very real sense how you treat your familiars displays more about the contours of your soul than anything else.
You can sing in the church choir and still be full of unforgiveness towards your spouse every week. You can beat the altars and wail in worship and still possess a disrespectful spirit towards your parents. You can preach with the fire of a prophet and still display an insensitivity to the needs of your family. You can even serve in a soup kitchen and still allow hate to reign in your soul towards your sibling.
The point is God is not interested in your displays of spirituality and churchliness. He is interested in how His holy-love is changing you into the image of His Son amid the little things in life.
Some of the most consistent “little things” of life are how we live with our families and loved ones. This is why in many ways our domestic lives are the truest barometers in measuring the authenticity of our Faith. It is in this environment that most of our time is spent and our personalities, passions, and behaviors fully displayed. Thus, we need to take inventory of how the Adversary uses this area of life to often slowly sap our spiritual vitality. C.S. Lewis’ devil Screwtape gets this across with convicting sharpness when he begins advising Wormwood on how to inflame domestic tensions between a Christian son and his mother,
Keep [the Christians] mind on the inner life…. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror, and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office…. When two humans [like your patient and his mother] have lived together for many years, it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unenduringly irritating to the other. Work on that…. To keep this game up you…must see to it that each of these two fools [the Christian and his mother] has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: “I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper.” Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken."
What a convicting incite Lewis has here. He is showing us, through a devil’s words, that how we treat our husbands, wives, children, and parents reveals the state of our soul and shapes it. Marriage, child-rearing, family time, communication between spouses, interactions among siblings, attitudes between parents and children, are all part of this. Through these situations, we come to interact with the first agents in our socialization not only in society at large but also our socialization within the confines of The Church writ large. While our spouses are spouses, they are also brothers and sisters of the Kingdom. While our kids are our kids, they are also agents of Christ. The Adversary does not want us to see this aspect of family life because he knows it's dangerous. This is why he works overtime to craft wedges of indifference and animosity and tartness between us.
Do you want to kill your child’s faith? Then show them habitual indifference to the things of God in the home. This is where the soil of their heart is tilled way before some secular professor plants the seeds of atheism or relativism. Do you want to kill your spouse’s faith? Then show a lack of authenticity in the power of the Gospel to transform your attitude and speech. Do you want to kill your parent’s faith? Then show duplicity of respect towards strangers and unabashed disregard towards them. These are hard things to think about, but if we are to overcome the gentle slopes of spiritual indifference we must come to terms with such things in our lives.
The hardest people to slay one’s flesh before are those we live with. Why? Because we see their warts and they see ours. They see us for who we really are. Thus, it is most often here the hardest battles in our Christian walk reside. What do we do? How do we overcome this? Well, let me first preface that I dare not presume to give complete answers in this field. Nor do I dare presume to affirm having all my proverbial ducks in a row. That said, I believe two things shine forth from Lewis’ insights that are worth considering as we wrestle with the gentle slope of domestic pinpricks (re-read his excerpt before reading below). Consider:
(1)Deliberately displaying spirituality through the ordinary – Too often we Christians like to get “ultra-churchy” with our spirituality. Christianity becomes a place we go, a mode we get in, a particular lingo we squawk. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. Christianity is to be an earthy and practical reality lived through everyday monotony. It’s more than an experience, it’s a way of life. It's more than tongues or prophecy or raising hands, it is about how you treat your husband and wife and kids and parents and friends and family and neighbors (Colossians 3:5-10, James 1:19-27, Ephesians 5-6, 1 Peter 3). This means we need to recover a practical spirituality that takes the initiative to display Christ’s goodness throughout our days in the little things. For example: How we respond when asked to do chores. How we react when corrected. How we serve through cooking and cleaning. How we go about changing diapers and washing clothes. Sound ridiculous? Does not the Scripture say, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)? If we are to glorify God even with the baser things of eating and drinking, then would any of the aforementioned be exempt from this?
Rethink your Christianity to include the baser things. Christ is Lord of the great things and the baser things.
(2)Intentional and routine self-examination – We must realize that true spiritual authenticity is found through an honest, consistent, unmasked lifestyle among our acquaintances and familiars. In other words, we need to be asking ourselves how we fall into the equation of our families' imperfections. It is always easier to find fault with our spouses, our kids, and our parents. It is always easier to blame them for why we are overworked, short-tempered, frustrated, angry, and so forth. But is this the whole story? One striking thing about scripture is its continual call to self-examination instead of casting blame on others (Psalm 139:23-24, Galatians 6:3-5, 2 Corinthians 13:5, James 1:23-25). This makes us squirm because we intuitively love to think we are right and the problems of the world are foisted upon us instead of us being part of their making. Sometimes we are. Sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we are partially and others are partially.
We need to look at our loved ones through the lens of Christ. We need to see them, in all their faults, as Christ sees them – broken yet beloved, imperfect seeking the Perfect One, beggars nourished only by the heavenly Bread. When we do this how we react and interact can and will be transformed, for the glory of God.
 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity for Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005), pg. 35
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 191-192
We have been learning that the Adversary of our soul desires to destroy us through the slow fade of indifference. A spiritual fall most often occurs methodically and imperceptibly. As C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters,
The safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
How sobering and terrifying.
But how does the Adversary do this in everyday living? This is the question we want to address in this post and the next several. We want to look at how the Adversary uses the gradual gradients of life to kill the passion of the Kingdom in our lives. If your passion seems petered out in your Christian walk, if you seem lulled into hand-folded spiritual contentment, if you seem to lack a desire for intimacy with the Lover of your soul, then you may want to keep reading. Perhaps, gradually you have slid down the path of spiritual indifference. Remember that Satan wants you fat, content, and docile spiritually, just like slaughterhouses want their cattle. Because of this you and I need to be awakened to desire more desiring for He who wants us to want Him.
Our guide in all this will be the masterful C.S. Lewis and his equally masterful work The Screwtape Letters. As I told you this is a book written as a collection of letters from a senior demon named Screwtape teaching the young devil Wormwood how to effectively tempt and destroy the life of his assigned patient, who is a Christian. Such a narrative is prophetic in revealing how Satan works “his magic” to progressively slay our hearts.
Let us look at one way the Adversary tries to kill our soul: through the Church.
One way that the Adversary works to abort our spiritual walk is by detaching us from each other. It is a truism that there is almost no more effective way of destroying a people than by inculcating in them the indifference to be “A People.” Abraham Lincoln said long ago of the United States,
As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
If this statement is true of secular nations, how much more is it of the Royal Nation (1 Peter 2) called the Church? Satan has done everything he can to undermine the work of God’s Kingdom expressed through the work of Christ’s community. While he works through all the obvious methods (church splits, sex scandals, money laundering…etc) his chief skill comes through melting our perceptions of the Church. Put more precisely: He kills our heart's desire to desire spiritual community. Consider the advice Screwtape gives to the young tempter Wormwood regarding shaping his “patients” (the Christian’s) perceptions of the church:
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread but through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately, it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside [and] he gets to his pew and looks around him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew…. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of "Christians" in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial…. Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman…. [This disappointment] occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life, it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing…. [If] the patient knows that the woman [in the church] with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”
Want to destroy Christians? Then one way you do this is by destroying their appetite for the Church. Make them cease fighting for it. Make them cease caring about it. Make them justify, through coddled hurts and self-righteousness and spiritual complacency, why they do not need to commit to it in any flesh and blood way.
SEEING THE CHURCH AS AN ABSTRACTION
You want to make Christians lose faith in The Church, then one way you do this is by making the Church an abstraction. Keep it nebulous. Make it something one is a part of but only in a conceptual sense. Why? Because it is always easier to claim to be part of “THE CHURCH” (i.e. Body of Christ) when it doesn’t require sacrifice, time, energy, money, or service; or when it doesn’t require obedience, submission, or correction. Such a mentality has crafted Christians into a disjointed confederacy of independent islands who desire no accountability or commitment in the context of sacred community. Online services in the new COVID Era have done a fantastic job of exacerbating this phenomenon by the way. But I digress.
This abstract view of the church has been helped greatly by the “Me-and-Jesus Syndrome” that plagues many modern Christians. Today we enlightened moderns look at our Faith as something just between us and God with no practical relevance to our relations in the spiritual community. Faith is JUST personal; it is not communal. Faith is just about spirituality; it is not sacramental. And we see all this as somehow more “intimate” or more “spiritual.” The problem is it is a lot more American and a lot less biblical than we think (more in a moment). The result of this is we become stunted spiritually by the self-made echo-chambers that tell us all is well, and we need no correction or prodding in our spiritual walk.
SEEING ONLY THE WARTS ON THE PEW
Want to kill the desire for community in a Christian’s life? Make the Christian see only the messiness of his fellow pew-mates. It is easy to not want to come into a spiritual community when you concentrate on “the absurd hats” and “squeaky boots” and noticeable sins of those annoying people that inhabit the church house. Why not be with a church? Simple: because it’s full of hypocrites, Pharisaical judgers, irritating parishioners, and bad music. Right? We look at the people around us in the pews and can pinpoint every cork and annoyance that grits our teeth and makes us squirm. We see these same people in Walmart and even work with some of them, so we know how they “really are.”
And just to be clear this prideful spiritual cynicism expresses itself in equal measures among the skinny-jeaned tattooed Millennials as it does with floral-dressed, blue-permed Boomers. For one there are too many hymns, walkers, and perfumes, and for the others too many lights, skinny-jeans, and piercings. Both concentrate more on the seemingly irreconcilable differences rather than fighting for love and unity. Again, I digress.
As a result of such a development the “I’m-not-feeling-it Syndrome” seeps in a spiritual of self-justifying begins. Why am I not “feeling it” in the church? Simple: it’s those people in the pews or on the stage. Right? It can’t possibly be me. It can never be me. It’s not tied at all to my lack of prayer, fasting, meditating, or Bible reading. It’s tied to the fact that those around me just aren’t “as spiritual” as I am. The problem with this attitude is that it fails to take account of one’s own warts (re-read the question Lewis asks in the quote above).
We are not called to measure ourselves or our commitment to the Body of Christ to the spiritual levels of our neighbors. To do so is to follow people. We are called to align our view of our own lives and commitments to the character and person of Christ. His life, His work, His way, His teachings are our litmus test.
FIGHTING FOR SACRED COMMUNITY
This method of leisurely killing our joy for the sacred community is one of the gentle slopes the Adversary uses to choke out our spiritual vitality. But we must fight it and we must awaken to its cunning processes. Be reminded that THE CHURCH is made up of many a cracked pot. Be reminded that the Church is not a place of moral perfection but beggars who desire the Bread of Life. Be reminded that the Church is not a museum of saints, but a living and breathing organism of failures seeking faith. The Church is the Whore who became a Bride (Hosea). It is the Prodigal given an Eternal Inheritance (Luke 15). It the Cosmic Rebel made into a Celestial Saint (Romans 1-2; 1 Corinthians 6). Is a sanctified hot-mess of interconnected gifts and personalities that unite to learn, grow, fellowship, worship, get correction, and get edification (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 10:22-25).
The Church is messy.
It is through this messy and diverse Body of broken saints that Christ's truth is to shine into all areas of human life through the diverse gifts, traditions, and passions of its members.
We are not made to worship, learn, or grow in a spiritual vacuum. While it is all the above it is even more.
The Church is a Body (Romans 12:4-5), it is a Household (1 Timothy 3:15), it is a Temple (Ephesians 2:20-21), and it’s a Nation (1 Peter 2:4-9). In all these metaphors there is the essential understanding that we are made for community. We need each other because we are made in the image of God, who Himself is a Trinitarian indwelling of inter-personal and intra-personal communion. He is unity and diversity, we as a Body are unity and diversity. He was incarnated to display in flesh and blood that Trinitarian reality, we as the Church are to incarnate that same reality through our individual and social lives. It is through sacramental communal relations found in church that we come to demonstrate how the power of the Gospel not only changes our personhood but our societies, our cultures, and our communities.
To lose this sense of communal spirituality is to lose a part of who we are meant to be. To put it another way, our completeness in Christ is only found in the context of our relations within Christ’s community.
This is why Satan hates the Church and he hates Christians who want to want it and find joy in it (even in its messiness and annoyances). This is why all the more we as believers must fight to keep that joy alive.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 220
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 188-189
 The data shows that since COVID only 1 in 3 Christians attend church and sadly the data shows they may not be coming back https://www.barna.com/research/new-sunday-morning-part-2/ and https://www.barna.com/research/watching-online-church/
 Consider these verses about us imitating Christ: Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 John 2:6, Ephesians 5:1-2,
 There are plenty of scriptures on this that I encourage you to read: Proverbs 18:1, Proverbs 27:17, Matthew 18:20, Acts 9:31-32, Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 4:11-13, Hebrews 10:24-25,
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
These profoundly sobering words were uttered by a devil. A provocative thought. To be more precise they were uttered in C.S. Lewis’ (1898-1963) masterful work The Screwtape Letters (1942) which is written as a collection of letters from a senior demon named Screwtape to a young trainee demon named Wormwood. Throughout the letters, Screwtape gives his wise analysis and advice on how the young upstart tempter can best destroy his “patient” (a Christian) and ultimately separate him from the “Enemy” (God).
If you have not read this book, you need to. It is soul food. It is one of the most thought-provoking and spiritually convicting books you will ever read if you allow it.
As I read back through it three initial insights wash over me:
INSIGHT #1: EVERYTHING IS SPIRITUAL
As you read through Lewis’ work – and I mean read and re-read and chew on it – you become acutely aware of just how spiritual everything is in life. Paraphrasing the words of Hamlet,
“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies and psychologies.”
Everything is spiritual in the sense that all we do in some form or fashion shapes our souls and the souls of those around us unwittingly so or not. Lewis is penetrating this profound point throughout the book.
How we live our lives through the mundane tasks of life shapes our souls. How we treat our husbands and wives shapes our souls and theirs. The tones we set with our children shape our souls as well as theirs. Our work ethic and interactions with coworkers shape our souls as well as theirs. How we perceive the strangers we pass in the grocery store shapes our souls. What we laugh at, what we cry about, and how we joke all shape our souls. The things that we spend our money on shape our souls. How we spend our leisure and resources shapes our souls.
What we dream about, fantasize about, and hope for all shapes our souls. All these things are little inclines or slopes that incrementally glide our souls toward everlasting splendor or wretchedness. Lewis in The Weight of Glory (1941) said it this way,
“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.” 
This all means that fundamentally there is nothing in this life that is merely trivial.
INSIGHT #2: THERE ARE DARK FORCES AT WORK IN THIS WORLD
The second thing that shines forth from Lewis’s work is a sobering vigilant awareness of spiritual powers. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but dark cosmic spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:13). Lewis says at the very beginning of The Screwtape Letters,
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them."
Similarly, the theologian and philosopher Peter Kreeft (1937-present) puts it like this:
“Satan is equally pleased by our overestimating him and our underestimating him – as the commander of an enemy army in wartime would be equally pleased if your side greatly overestimated his strength and shook with superstitious fear when there was ‘nothing to fear but fear itself,’ or if you greatly underestimated his strength, or even stopped believing in his very existence.”
It is easy in our post-modern hyper-scientistic world today to balk at the idea of a spiritual realm of darkness versus light, much less that we humans are affected by it.
It is a laughably quaint idea from a bygone age when we believed in things like fairies, objective morality, and civic virtue. But this is to our detriment. We are precisely where the Adversary and his devilish hordes want us to be – blind and proud of it. Our culture (and many a church sadly) has crafted the perfect fatted sheep for the grinders of the War-Machine of Hell.
INSIGHT #3: THE NEED TO PERCEIVE OUR CHAINS
Dovetailing off the last paragraph is the understanding that the only way to have spiritual victory is to be aware of the Enemy’s tactics. We must understand the subtlety of Satan. The Adversary’s goal is to ensure we do not perceive our own chains. Therefore, he rarely works through the grandiose. His playground resides in the realm of the gradual, the mundane, and the unremarkable.
That is where his greatest work is achieved.
It is the little foxes that spoil the vine (Solomon 2:15). It is the methodical allure of desires that entice the soul (James 1:14-15). It is the waterless springs of darkness that promise allurements but brings enslavement (2 Peter 2:17-19). For the past several weeks I have become acutely aware of such truth by re-reading Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.
Because of all this over the next several posts, I would like to focus upon some of the most provocative thoughts in Lewis’ book on how the Adversary slowly tries to destroy our souls. Each post will cover one or two inclines/slopes the Adversary puts along the paths of our lives to slowly kill the Light of Christ. As with every post, these will not be exhaustive but hopefully will provoke and impassion you in your walk of Faith.
I hope you will come with me along the journey.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 220
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), pg. 46
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 183
 Peter Kreeft, Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know about Them? (New York, NY: Ignatius, 1995), pg. 112
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.