Have you ever noticed that “Mine” is often one of the first words a child learns to say? It does not take much coaxing for a kid to gain a sense of ownership over anything their eyes see or hands touch. With grunts, screams, and tears they try and conquer claims to anything around them – from sippy cups to teddy bears to Cheerios to mommies and grandads. Such behavior may seem “cute” but often it follows us into adulthood. The same inherent toddleresch attitude of self-centeredness tends to tint our view of the world. We inherently and subconsciously tend to see ourselves as masters of the universe, the arbiters of our own choices, and the proprietors of our fate. But the fact is we are not any of these and the sad thing is we do not get that truth very often.
But one must ask if such a way of seeing the world is all that surprising. Consider but for a moment our culture which is obsessed with self-help hyper-individualism and relativistic moral autonomy. From cradle to grave we postmodern Americans are inundated with waves of commercials, slogans, movies, music, and technologies that melt our minds and hearts into seeing the Cosmos as our personal sandbox. We have an embarrassment of food, clothing, and home goods chains that allow us to personalize everything from calories to underwear to coffee tables. We are told via boob tubes and billboards that we can “Have it your way,” and to “Just Do It,” and to do it “Because You’re Worth It.” We tend to grow up coddled with endearments such as “princess” and “little CEO” while being told we need to “do what makes us happy.” We go to schools that teach us to “take hold of our destinies” and “be what we want to be.” We even go to churches where most often the focus of the sermons and songs are upon what God is going to do for us and how we are going to overcome this or that personal problem with self-help tips from Jesus. Atop of all this lies countless trinkets and technologies that titillate our vanity, from iPhones to iPads to iPods to iTunes to iClouds, upon which we can customize avatars, wallpapers, and ring tones and ingest avalanches of personalized entertaining videos and games.
If you do not see a trend let me point it out to you: Our whole westernized life is deluged with the omnipotence and omnipresence of “self.” Everything in our existence, from career to family to church, is constantly instilling in us a view of life with “I” at the center.
Now, let me pause lest I be misunderstood. I am not saying there is anything inherently wrong with calling your child “princess” any more than it's wrong to have an iPhone or prefer the veggie option. I’m also not saying there isn’t something deeper working its magic through these things. That said, I think it can be said clearly that we as a species are not very vigilant to reflect upon the sea in which we swim. It is amidst tsunamis of self-focused nicknames, gadgets, food, and entertainment that our soul’s habitation is formed.
This may sound ridiculous, but the fact is there is but a hop, skip, and jump to go from “My Cheerios” and “My MiMi” to “My Body” and “My Sex Life.” We need to realize this.
We need to look around our world and ask hard questions. Why am I not where I should be spiritually? Why is my faith life – the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, meditation, worship, silence, and charity – so difficult to live? Behind these questions lie deeper questions still. Hard questions. Could it be I am not growing spiritually because there is too much “I” in the process of growing? Could it be I am not as spiritually mature because I am set up for spiritual failure by a culture that is inherently antithetical to spiritual discipline? Could it be I have been swaddled by my schools and churches and families into a state of cosmic egotism by which I inherently find it even more difficult to crucify myself for Christ?
If we ever hope to break through the veil that fogs our minds from deeper intimacy with God, if we ever hope to mature spiritually in any meaningful way, then we need to consider our own chains. We need to take seriously the shrewd methods by which the Adversary of our soul crafts the elements of life to destroy our love and worship for God and Christs' community.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) once again brings forth poignantly such truth through the mouth of the senior devil Screwtape when he writes to Wormwood about inculcating in his patient a sense of self-possession about life. This is how the devil writes,
Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered…. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption "My time is my own". Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours….
You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The [fact is the] man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon his chattels….
The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. Much of the modern resistance to chastity comes from men's belief that they "own" their bodies - those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of Another! It is as if a royal child whom his father has placed, for love's sake, in titular command of some great province, under the real rule of wise counsellors, should come to fancy he really owns the cities, the forests, and the corn, in the same way as he owns the bricks on the nursery floor.
We produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun - the finely graded differences that run from "my boots" through "my dog", "my servant", "my wife", "my father", "my master" and "my country", to "my God". They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of "my boots", the "my" of ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by "my Teddy-bear" not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation (for that is what the Enemy will teach them to mean if we are not careful) but "the bear I can pull to pieces if I like". And at the other end of the scale, we have taught men to say "My God" in a sense not really very different from "My boots", meaning "The God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services and whom I exploit from the pulpit - the God I have done a corner in".
And all the time the joke is that the word "Mine" in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say "Mine" of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong - certainly not to them, whatever happens….
Lewis penetratingly reveals to us the fiendish ways of how possessiveness can begin to take hold in our lives. It drives us down a path to seeing everything in life within the vacuum of self. We become like the Greek mythical character Narcissus who became obsessed with looking upon his own beauty in the reflective waters to the point of death. For us, life becomes the reflecting pool and everything we see in it centers upon our reflection. As Lewis points out this is subtle. We can go from “my teddy bear” to “my time” to “my money” to “my property” to “my body” to “my talents” to “my church” to “my God” in the same vein. Lewis is not talking about mere possessive pronouns here; he is talking about the intentions and habits of our souls to inherently see life as owed to us and as our personal property. He is showing us that we love to be cosmic conquistadors who stake claims to every realm of existence without any regard of fealty to the Cosmic Liege, God Himself.
When we act this way, we are failing to recognize this deflating truth: we don’t own anything. Full stop. Let that deflate your post-modern senses. We don’t own our talents, time, or even our own lives for that matter. Everything is under the auspices of the Creator God. But we hate this idea, and our culture helps inculcate within us a seeping revulsion towards it. Peter Kreeft (1937-present) has said it like this,
“We carry around with us our own false perspective, our own human ego as the center, the absolute so that everything else, even God, must become ‘mine’…. Reality is theocentric, not anthropocentric. God announces [this] truth when he announces his own name to Moses: ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Ex 3:14). The fact that we naturally begin our sentences with the word ‘I’ shows whose place we instinctively usurp.”
Consider once again: reality is theocentric, not anthropocentric. Do you get this? Chew on it. This is a life modifying sentence. God has exclusionary rights to everything in existence. He is the only “I AM” and we are His “you.” All of Creation is a donation. As David declared,
The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord
God Himself declared to Ezekiel that,
Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine
And the Apostle Paul went on the say,
For everything was created by Him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him.
Because of this truism, we must come to terms that we are not owners but stewards of life. We are stewards of time, money, property, talents, possessions, and even children. As stewards, this means we are to cultivate what we possess with wisdom and diligence for the central goal of offering back in worship to Him who gave these things in the first place. As the Word says,
You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
And the Apostle Peter went on to say,
Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.
1 Peter 4:10
Notice that in these passages the prerequisite to right service and worship towards God and others is a right understanding that all is a gift received. When we begin to see life through the reflection of self-giving stewardship instead of egocentric possessiveness those enslaving powers of possession are broken off us. In short, in a strange set of affairs, we become freer as we become more aware of how little we control. Consider some practical examples of this:
When you see talents as your personal possession, they tend to either overwhelm you or stagnate into ill-use. They can overcome you by demanding you drive harder and harder to succeed in them, only to be left with squelched passion and crushing insecurity or inadequacy. They can stagnate by seeing no need to work hard to enrich themselves for service towards God and others.
But when you see your talents as a gift from God, they become a beauty and joy to hone and craft and offer back to Him upon the altars of sacrifice. The demands of them are lightened while the cultivation of them is honed, both because of a focus upon worship towards the One Who gave them.
When you see children as your personal possession, they will crush you with their life choices or you will crush them with your demands. You will be torn asunder when they fail to be what you wanted them to be because in some way you laid claim to their lives. On the other end, they will run roughshod over you as you sacrifice every element of time, energy, and opinion to their personal happiness and security.
But when you see children as gifts from God, you come to hand them over to His service and not your own purposes. Your goal for their life becomes not one of perpetual happiness or good opinion of you but Truth and Love found in the lover of their souls. You begin to focus less upon you living your desires through them and allow God to cultivate in their souls the dispositions necessary for His purposes in the Kingdom.
When you see the church as your personal possession, you will become bitter and burned out while serving within it or be indifferent towards supplying it with anything but mere opinions. You will expunge your time, energy, and money to make the church your second home, only to become overwhelmed and underappreciated by those who benefit. Turned the other way you will demand the church be a vending machine of preferences which will offer you certain types of worship (contemporary vs hymns) with certain types of sermons (self-help vs. hellfire) amid certain types of people (black vs. white, young vs. old) all before you will consider giving your money or time or talents.
But when you see the church as a gift from God, you will joyfully serve with others for the purpose of loving God. The church house becomes a place not defined by personalities or preferences but by the presence of the Holy Spirit, Who is refashioning a diverse body of believers into the likeness of Christ for the work of the Gospel. As a result the focus isn’t upon style but substance and truth over preference.
When you see money as your personal possession, there will never be enough saved up nor enough to indulge in. You will weaponize money through tithes or inheritance or bills to control others or the future, only to realize when you die nothing goes with you. Or, on the other extreme, you will unthoughtfully expunge your wealth on self-focused frivolities, only to have growing stacks of unpaid expenses.
But when you see money as a gift from God, it transforms your view and usage of it. You give with unabandoned cheerfulness and sincerity of heart with no strings attached while at the same time yearning to preserve and expand your wealth for the benefits of the present and future.
When you see time as your personal possession, you will selfishly guard it against any inconvenience or recklessly waste it on various trivialities. You will snarl over any possibility of sacrificing your time to charity, the church, service, or spiritual disciplines for fear there won't be enough left over to do what you want to do. Or, on the flip side, you will thoughtlessly expunge your time with endless hours of games, movies, Tiktoks, Youtube vids, and Instagram posts without any regard to using it towards more productive ventures.
But when you see time as a gift from God, you begin to focus upon managing it with greater intentionality. Time begins to be seen through the lens of eternity; it is a precious commodity you will sacrifice for God as a reasonable act of worship. You will purposefully decide to spend time and serve with those people and in those moments that matter the most in the eternal scheme of your life and theirs.
In all of these examples, the life-altering principle at work is understanding that we don’t own anything. God is the owner of all. When we get this, when we truly understand this, we are on our way to breaking the shackles of possessive proclaiming that so easily finds its nest in our hearts and minds.
For everything was created by Him, in heaven, and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 245-247
 Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascals Pensées (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius, 1993), pg. 163
While the radio, the television, the computer, and the iPhone stand as some of the grandest scientific advancements in the history of humanity they also are some of the most effective breakthrough tools ever made for advancing the powers of Hell. Because of these devices our world is now incessantly and irreversibly filled with noise. Silence has gone the way of the dodo bird and western civilization courses. There is almost no square inch of our daily lives that is not now consumed with a buzz or a hum or a ding of an email, phone call, or entertainment device.
These things are changing our souls and bodies. The famous French mathematician, philosopher, and apologist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) once remarked,
“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
This is a solid truism. Our inability to sit and think or meditate for any significant amount of time reveals our fear of dealing with ourselves in any significantly intimate way. Study after study proves that we are less capable of being at peace or in solitude than previous generations. To date it has been shown that we have shorter attention spans than goldfish do, we have higher levels of attention disabilities than ever before, and we have a woeful capacity to retain basic content information. For example, in a series of 11 studies conducted by the University of Virginia, it was found that the vast majority of people between the ages of 18 to 77 could not spend a minimum of 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think – even if they were receiving a mild electric shock. In another study, it was found that while 95% of us can find time to do leisure activities over 83% could spend zero time just sitting and thinking. These statistics reveal a sickness within our post-modern souls.
We have gotten to the place that silence terrifies us. The late great Dallas Willard (1935-2013) said of silence,
“[S]ilence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God.”
Because of this fear we fill the silence with the distractions of incessant activities and entertainment. The problem is there is never enough of these, and we must therefore invent and consume more and more.
We can do this and not even realize we are doing it!
Consider a regular day you have and how much noise you consume. It may go something like this: You wake up and grab your cellphone to check the news or watch a few trending videos sent to you the night before. You get out of bed, get dressed, and make breakfast all the while watching the television or listening to the radio. You leave for work or school, get in your car, and turn on the radio or plug in your earbuds. You get to work and sit down to a screen for 7 to 9 hours with intermittent moments of music and/or videos playing in the background all day. You go to lunch, get a quick meal, surf your phone, and watch more videos or listen to music. You then go back to work, finish out the day, and drive home while listening to music from your iPod or radio. You get home, make dinner, and sit down to unwind all the while watching the television or listening to the radio or both while at the same time messaging on Facebook or surfing Instagram. After dinner you get ready for bed, surf on the apps on your phone a few more hours, or fall asleep to the television. You wake up and repeat the process. Sound familiar?
In time this kind of living slowly, unknowingly, drowns out the capacity to hear what God is saying in His still small voice (Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13) much less to understand one’s self or neighbors in any meaningful way. This slow death of solitude on the Altars of Clatter inevitability leads us to have less emotional stability (because we always have to have others cheering us up), far more shallow relationships (because of our inability to talk with spouses or loved ones intimately), and far more mediocre spiritual growth (because we have less and less consistency in Bible reading or prayer).
HELL DELIGHTS IN NOISE & FEARS SILENCE
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) The Screwtape Letters makes the point well through the mouth of the hellish Screwtape when he schools his nephew demon Wormwood on the power and goal of noise in the works of Hell. Screwtape’s correspondence to the minor demoniac is as such,
“Music and silence—how I detest them both [Wormwood]! How thankful we should be that ever since Our Father [Satan] entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light-years, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.”
Satan and his minions love our souls stunted. One effective way to do this is to ensure we never take time to stand with our soul naked in solitude and stillness before our mind's eye or before the presence of God. Instead, he likes us bunkered down in our souls, perpetually bombarded in our senses with an incessant clatter so we never find true peace.
Noise is an opiate of the masses. It dulls us and makes it impossible for us to come to terms with ourselves and to listen for God in any sustained intimate attentiveness.
Amid the incessant clamor of social media personalities, political pundits, TikToks, and memes is it any wonder that sitting to pray, meditate, or even read the Scripture for a sustained period is excruciatingly difficult for us? From cradle to grave we live in a cacophony of distractions muddling our attention spans and mental dexterity and aggravating our cravings for the ever-shinier and catchier. Hell rejoices in this.
SEEKING & FINDING SOLITUDE
One problem we have regarding silence is how we view it. We tend to think of it as the absence of anything; it is the absence of doing. It is not. Silence is an activity and discipline which is an endeavor of profound nurturing and rejuvenation of the soul.
The discipline of silence helps limit distractions in our prayer, meditation, and scripture reading; it brings a deeper focus in worship; it revivifies the body and the mind; it realigns our spiritual perspective; it helps us domesticate our mouth and thoughts; it helps us understand more clearly the will of God. But how do we achieve such silence in this busy world? This is difficult to do (or seemingly difficult to do) in the hustle and bustle of our lives filled with work and extra-curricular activities. I will not give a long list but consider some of these ways:
First and foremost, you must get to a place that you say “No” to other things. This is the hardest battle. You must get to a place that you say no to additional responsibilities and disturbances. Say “No” to the television, to the radio, to the iPad, to the iPhone, and the computer. You must say “No” to taking on more and more obligations that suck away more and more time from you and God. Is your job sucking away additional time? Then say no to more hours. Are your kids’ extra-curricular activities sucking more and more opportunities for you to have peace in the presence of the King? Then consider cutting back on how many activities your kids will be part of.
You will find time and make time for those things you deem the most valuable in your life! An overscheduled, overworked, individual will never find the time nor make the time to spend with God.
Second, realign some of the opportunities of alone time you already have towards solitude with God. Many of us have periods throughout our day or week when we have “downtime.” This could be a day off, a period of cleaning the house, an extended lunch break, arriving early or leaving early from work, or a commute to and from work in the car. In each of these, there is time we have that we do not realize. We tend to fill these “downtimes” with incessant quantities of noise – Tiktoks, Youtube videos, and radio music. Instead, allow periods like this to be an intimate meeting house of meditation and prayer and listening to God. Allow this time to be a period of refreshing and peace, a period of conviction of sins known and unknown, and a time of clarity of purpose in mind and heart.
Third, and finally, try and go somewhere physically to be alone for a time. This can be going on a walk-in nature, sitting in a park, taking a drive, going to the empty church, retreating into a room in the house, or even getting up earlier before everyone else. I realize this can be difficult if one has small children. Perhaps in such instances, the husband or wife can rotate such a schedule to allow the other to go off alone at periods to be with God while the other cares for the kids. Is this impossible? Well, be reminded of Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), the mother of the famous evangelist's John and Charles Wesley, who had at least nine children living in her home at one time! She took care of all of them upon her own accord and yet she still found time for solitude. Her sons remembered her practice of solitude in which she would throw her apron over her head like a tent of meeting before the presence of God. When this happened all the children in the house grew silent and did not disturb her, knowing she was meeting God in prayer and silence. Would we be able to get our kids today to respect our time with the Lord like this? If not, then what does that tell us?
We make time for babysitters to watch our kids when we go on a date, or we have our spouses cover when we have a boy's or girl's night out? We rearrange schedules all day long to ensure we will have time for the family cookout or a run to Dairy Queen on a Sunday evening, but what about scheduled time with the Almighty? Why not the same effort and desire when it comes to being with God alone and in silence? I believe the answer is we do not see this as important.
Dear friends, let us strive to recover the ancient Christian discipline of silence. It is such a discipline by which our souls are nurtured and we come to hear our God speak His words of wisdom that quiet our restless souls.
Jesus Himself demonstrated the beauty of silence repeatedly in His earthly ministry. He would go into the wilderness alone (Matthew 4), He would leave large crowds of people and flee into the mountains (Matthew 14), He would rise early in the morning and go out into the wilderness (Mark 1), and He would depart from the masses constantly seeking Him out (Luke 4). He did all of this that He could grow in His intimacy with God. He understood that through solitude and silence His Father would give Him the power and wisdom to live abundantly the spiritual life.
Let us follow the Way of our Master.
1For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
 I cannot find the exact source for this but I believe it is in his Pensées
 Data on these points: https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2018/09/the-human-attention-span-infographic.html; https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/apr/16/got-a-minute-global-attention-span-is-narrowing-study-reveals; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190415081959.htm
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1991), pg. 163
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 249-250
 An excellent discussion on the importance of silence and solitude came be read in Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, revised edition (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014) pg. 226-238; also consider C.W. McPherson, Keeping Silence: Christian Practices for Entering Stillness (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 2002)
 I would also recommend reading in some more detail about various ways of silence and solitude in: Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, revised edition (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014) pg. 238-248
Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.), the great ancient philosopher and theologian of the Christian Church, wrote nakedly in his Confessions about a period of his life in which he faced spiritual apathy. He said,
“I was astonished that although I now loved you…I did not persist in enjoyment of my God. Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world…as though I had sensed the fragrance of the fare but was not yet able to eat it.”
Can you relate to this? I know I can. At one time the Christian walk is a state of perpetual wonder and fire, God is front and center, and everything else gives but a bitter aftertaste. But steadily, regressively, a waxing and a waning seep into the soul. Spiritual things, God-centered things, lose their glistening luster. You catch yourself, rebuke the slow fade, and earnestly try to reignite the fading passion, only to have such intentions peter-out as fast as they came to the mind. The heavens seem to re-calcify and you are once again drawn into a state of mind-wandering indifference. Sound familiar?
If this is you, or you fear it could be but aren’t sure, here is advice: keep going. Press through. Lean into Christ. Journey across the trough.
The problem is not the trough itself but the view you have of it.
You should expect times in which spiritual drought tries to creep into your soul. It is a given. It is a biblical truism. This is contrary to many a person that is obsessively seeking after some “experience” – running hither and thither to this or that conference or church service – with the hopes of having a perpetual catharsis of gyrating emotional fervor.
The fact is the Christian life is not going to be one perpetually ecstatic revival service. It does not work that way.
We are told over and over and over again to expect troughs and struggles as Christians, not unending emotional highs. We are told that our spiritual walk will be marked by perseverance (Romans 5:3-5), that we will war against strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), that hardships and calamities and weakness are a given (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), that we will have tests of endurance (James 1:1-3), that we will wrestle against spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12), that we will experience suffering (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5), and that our fleshly cravings will war against us (Galatians 5:17).
The point is: struggle and hardship are a given reality of spiritual life. Get used to it.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) gets all of this across powerfully in The Screwtape Letters through the senior demon Screwtape advising the junior devil Wormwood on how to exploit his Christian patient’s spiritual trough. Screwtape writes,
So you ‘have great hopes that the patient’s [the Christians] religious phase is dying away’, have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?
[The law of] undulation [is that] repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life— his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.…
Now it may surprise you to learn that in His [God’s] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks….
[The Enemy (God) is] prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning [of their spiritual walks]. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs— to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it [the patient] is growing into the sort of creature He [God] wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.…
I hope [all of this has not] convinced you that the trough of dullness or ‘dryness’ through which your patient is going at present will…of itself, give you his soul, but needs to be properly exploited. What forms the exploitation should take I will now consider….
[One chief way of] exploiting the trough [is] through the patient’s own thoughts about it. As always, the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. Do not let him suspect the law of undulation. Let him assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition. Having once got this misconception well fixed in his head, you may then proceed in various ways. It all depends on whether your man is of the desponding type who can be tempted to despair or of the wishful-thinking type who can be assured that all is well. The former type is getting rare among the humans. If your patient should happen to belong to it, everything is easy. You have only got to keep him out of the way of experienced Christians (an easy task now-adays), to direct his attention to the appropriate passages in scripture, and then to set him to work on the desperate design of recovering his old feelings by sheer will-power, and the game is ours. If he is of the more hopeful type your job is to make him acquiesce in the present low temperature of his spirit and gradually become content with it, persuading himself that it is not so low after all. In a week or two you will be making him doubt whether the first days of his Christianity were not, perhaps, a little excessive. Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things’. If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point’, you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.
Notice in the passage the “Law of Undulation” is to be expected, and in fact, is not the sole work of devils. This law, Lewis writes, is an expected “natural” feature of up-and-down happenings in one’s Christian life. God can and often is using this “law” to refine His servants. He is wanting us to “stand on our own two feet” in the sense that we come to a point that we stop leaving our faith on our sleeve and ground it in the reality of everyday struggles and experiences. He is calling us to a mature faith (1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13-15) that takes serious struggle, pain, and suffering.
What does this mean then? It means that the danger is not really going through troughs, the danger lies in allowing the trough to become a valley that one takes up residency in. This is where indifference lies. It is much more about how we see the trough than the troughs themselves. Remember Lewis’ (Screwtapes) words,
“The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going [Wormwood] are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.”
If you are wanting a Biblical equivalent of this then consider the words of the Apostle Peter when he said to the persecuted underground 1st Century Church,
6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7
Not your usual health-and-wealth constant victory over your lesser self type of sermon is it? But I digress.
THE DEVILS LOVE A DOMESTICATED FAITH
The devils work their dark magic to massage our souls amid the troughs we go through. They want to make us yawnish with hands folded and spiritual eyes glazed over – to the point that we no longer resists and don’t care that we don’t care about resisting.
How do they do this? One way is to bring us to a state where we domesticate our faith. We come to see ourselves as “grown-up” and beyond the wiles of excessive forms of devotion and prudishness. We come to believe “moderation in all things” and that “religion is all very well up to a point.”
We laugh at our past selves and how naïve and militantly pious we were: Remember the days when we cared about saying certain ‘bad’ words? Ha! How virginal. Or remember when we thought this or that behavior was unbecoming or disrespectful? Jeeze. The “good-old-days” of our Puritanical youth am I right? Or remember that time we preached modesty? Or recall that time we took seriously discerning what we watched on television!? Ho! Those were the days! Am I right? Those were the quaint, naïve, priggish, traditionalist, Pharisaical days of excessive religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism… the only “F” word worth keeping ourselves and our children from.
Such a conversation is all too true for many of us.
It is at this point that the classical arguments of excessive Puritanism rise in the mind. “You are being far too judgmental!” or “Stop being such a prude!” is what comes to our numbed post-modern minds. We need to come to terms that we may have, to some degree, allowed ourselves to be nursed to a spiritual slumber in our contentment with things we once found abhorrent. The Law of Undulation (that up-and-down battle of troughs and peaks) may have flatlined in our souls and we are not even aware of it.
Take inventory dear saint.
THE DEVILS LOVE A HAUGHTY PROGRESSING FAITH
How else do the devils slowly seep spiritual complacency into our hearts? Well before closing I want to argue that another way they do this is through the seemingly most unlikely path: through our spiritual progress.
Yes. Spiritual progress can possess within itself a germ of hand-folded indifference. We can get to the place that as we grow in the Lord we start to “become aware” that we are growing and slowly become complacent in that growth. Lewis gets this across powerfully through the mouth of Screwtape when the devil reminds Wormwood to keep his patient on track to start thinking about how humble he is becoming. The high-ranking hellion puts it this way,
“[Do not forget Wormwood that] all virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them…. [In fact the virtues] may even do us good if they keep the man concerned with himself, and, above all, if self-contempt can be made the starting-point for contempt of other selves…. You must therefore conceal from the patient the truth end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.”
In short what Lewis is getting at is the fact that we are most in danger of spiritual failure when we are becoming aware of our spiritual growth. When we start becoming aware of our progress we can begin to suffer from spiritual comparability. We can begin to measure our spiritual progress to where we were in our past or where others around us are presently. At such a stage we are in danger of arousing the sleeping dragon of the Idol of Self in our souls. We can start checking off a list of how modesty we are, how charitable we have become, how humble we now are, how much more often we go to church, and how much more Bible we have memorized compared to others. We can start seeing others through a tinted lens of spiritual contempt – the whole “I thank God I am not like other men” Syndrome (Luke 18:19).
Be careful saint.
Even here, amid spiritual progress, one can get snagged among the bushes of indifference. As time goes on the tune of our souls' rhythm can start relaxing and we can become like the caricature of the rabbit in the Tortoise And The Hare. We are seemingly ahead of everyone else, so much more knowledgeable, so much more discerning, so much more mature, that we can calcify in our passions and sense of wonder.
In closing, I just urge you to awaken yourself to the whiles of the enemy in crafting in you a spirit of settled faith. You and I need to diligently check our spiritual barometers in the daily and pray as the Psalmist did,
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
 Augustine, Confessions, trans, R.S. Pine-Coffin (New York, NY: MacMillian, 1961) pg. 152
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 206-210
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters in The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2017), pg. 224-225
For many of us prayer is something we talk a lot about but do far too little of. It is very often a mundane chore as opposed to a desire or a mere preference opposite a passion. This is to our own detriment. Yawnish, distracted, stunted prayers are an essential ingredient in producing the anemic spirituality that characterizes much of modern western Christendom. It is just such prayer the Lord of Hell gleefully glories in and desires for us. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) speaks with piercing accuracy on this reality in The Screwtape Letters. In the excerpt below Lewis has the senior tempter Screwtape give advice to his demonic nephew Wormwood on how best to meticulously undermine the prayer life of a young Christian. Read with openness and conviction,
The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the [Christian] patient from the serious intention of praying altogether. When the patient is an adult recently re-converted to the Enemy’s party, like your man, this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and un-regularized; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part…. That is exactly the sort of prayer we want…. At the very least, they [Christians] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.
If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself [God] we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills…. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.
But of course the Enemy [God] will not meantime be idle. Wherever there is prayer, there is danger of His own immediate action. He is cynically indifferent to the dignity of His position, and ours, as pure spirits, and to human animals on their knees He pours out self-knowledge in a quite shameless fashion. But even if He defeats your first attempt at misdirection, we have a subtler weapon. The humans do not start from that direct perception of [God]…. If you look into your patient's mind when he is praying…you will find that it is a composite object containing many quite ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from pictures…. I have known cases where what the patient called his "God" was actually located-up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it – to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him. You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keeping it steadily before his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers "Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be", our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their merely subjective nature, and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it – why, then it is that the incalculable may occur. In avoiding this situation – this real nakedness of the soul in prayer – you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There's such a thing as getting more than they bargained for! 
There are several points I would like to syphon out of this excerpt without draining its richness.
The Subtilty of What we Classify as “Prayer”
One of the most striking things in this excerpt is the most easily missed. It reveals a sadistically clever scheme all too often overlooked to our dismay. Screwtape says, “The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether,” and then he says, “this is best done by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood.” Do you notice what he is saying? The Devil does not really care about us praying, as long as the type of prayer we do is a useful fiction. If we keep our prayers dreary-eyed, timely, thoughtless, and childish, he is content and undisturbed.
In such cases the Devil is content for us to live out the hellish inversion of John 5:16: “The ineffectual fervent-less prayer of a sluggish saint avails much for the Adversary of our souls.”
Lewis is giving meat here worth chewing. He is showing us that such feeble prayer really is not prayer at all! It is prayer masquerading as prayer, which makes us content and ineffective while at the same time delighting the demons. It is not real prayer because it is comfortable, quaint, and compels no real change. It is not real prayer because it categorically has no teeth to it! It is a milk-toast spirituality.
Real prayer is active, Spirit filled, intentional, habitual, God centered, humbling, relational, and power packed. Prayer is the specific, intentional, spiritual discipline of the Christian life. John Calvin (1509-1564), the great reformer, said it was “the chief exercise of faith.” The revivalist Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) said prayer,
“is as natural an expression of faith as breathing is of life…[and a] prayerless life [is a life] without God in the world.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the 20th Century German pastor and martyr said,
“Prayer is the supreme instance of the hidden character of the Christian life. It is the antithesis of self-display.”
One of the things these men of old are getting at is that prayer is the chief means of distinguishing people who are of Faith versus the Faithless. It is an endeavor that displays in us an active acknowledgement of the presence of the divine in our lives on the daily! In short prayer reveals that we are aware, humbled by, and actively seeking more than matter and molecules; it reveals that we are a people who “look up” beyond our world to Someone Greater than ourselves for our ultimate answers, hope, peace, security, and future.
To fail to be a prayer is, in a very real sense, to live as a functional atheist. To live a “spiritual life” with a complete absence of ever seeking to touch the Spirit or communion is to deny the very foundations of Faith itself. It is living in the world on a regular basis as if God is not intimately and actively within and among you.
But this goes even further than mere awareness of the transcendent in our lives.
Prayer is also a fundamental means of awakening us to the reality of our present situations and to the Ultimate Fact that we stand naked before the eyes of a living God who knows us far more intimately than we could ever hope to. It reminds us that we cannot hide from God. He knows our facades. He knows our fakery. He knows our insecurities. He knows our needs. Prayer is that place where we reveal our souls to our God and He in turn reveals more intimately His heart to us. It is the meeting of wills. It is the meeting of souls. Lewis put it this way,
“It is a personal contact between…incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer is the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine.”
It is such rawness of prayer that the devils loath for us to experience. Thus they (along with the World and the Flesh) ensure we ingest enough busyness and distractions to keep us from ever reaching such intimacy. But really, as Lewis points out, the devils do not have to work too hard at this because most of us do not even care to experience such rawness before God. As Screwtape so candidly affirms,
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out…. [In fact to avoid] the real nakedness of the soul in prayer – you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There's such a thing as getting more than they bargained for!”
This is to our own dismay for it is in such nakedness that we can truly be ourselves and see ourselves as we more clearly come to see the One who holds us.
It is in prayer that we stand before an Audience of One.
How Our Physical State Can Many Times Affect Our Prayer State
Another profound truth worth chewing is Lewis’ insight of how easily our physical states affect our spiritual states. He points out how the postures we make in prayer can reveal and even shape the sincerity and depth of focus we have before God. Do not misunderstand this! He is not saying we should bask in pagan asceticism or external posturing. What he is driving at is us coming to terms with how our bodies shape our souls as much as our souls shape our bodies.
In the history of the Christian Church there has been a consistent trajectory of teachings and reflections upon taking serious how we posture ourselves in worship and prayer. This is not out of a sign of stiff-necked ceremonialism but a recognition that we are a unified complexity of spirit, soul, and body that intertwine and interact with one another and therefore affect one another. A slouching posture can indicate a slouching spirit. A casual stature can reveal a casualness of soul which tends to express itself casually when coming before God in worship and prayer. God becomes a familiar to us – just “another relationship” among the myriads we have. We come into His presence and prop our feet upon Him instead of prostrating ourselves before Him in worship and reverence as the Cosmic King of Justice and Mercy He is.
I know this personally.
Tiredness physically leads to fogged mental states which inevitably misdirect my thoughts in prayer. I will start a prayer in earnest and within 40 seconds I begin to drift and think of all the work I have to accomplish, or I begin to daydream or become lethargic. Or I will pray as I drive to work, only to find my eyes wondering to a sign along the road or a pedestrian crossing the street. What is happening in all these? I am forgetting before Whom I stand when I am praying. I am slouching before God. I am yawning in His presence.
One way to fix this is to fix my physical state. Train the eyes, train the mind, discipline the body. If need be, stand to pray. Walk. Look upward. Lift hands. Kneel. Be uncomfortable. By doing these things one begins to take seriously the physical discipline of directing the body in the realm of spiritual life.
Generating Synthetic Piety
We can grow up on healthy doses of certain stylized versions of prayer. There are more liturgical types, more charismatic types, more blustery types, more tranquil types, and so forth. Lewis causes us to be reflective on this. We can begin to equate ‘true prayer’ with certain emotional expressions or experiences to the point that those expressions become the only means by which we define prayer (this also applies to all of spirituality).
This is where the danger creeps in.
Prayer is not less than emotion, but it is far more than emotion. This is what Lewis is wanting us to remember. True prayer is rooted in authenticity and reverence – an emptying or unclothing of oneself before God. It is not to be grounded in “turning our gaze towards ourselves and keeping watch on our own minds” as we think about how we are “feeling” as we are doing it. It isn’t about us! It is about Him! It is “other directed,” being lifted above our present circumstances into the realm of God Himself. It is only there that true answers, freedom, clarity, and focus takes place.
God is not interested in artificial emotionalism. He is not interested in syntax, He is interested in the sincerity. He is not interested in fervor, He is interested in faithfulness. He is not interested in hooping, He is interested in humility. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) said it this way,
“The heart is the source, the seat, and the essence of supplication. Prayer with the heart is the heart of prayer: the cry of our soul is the soul of our cry.”
He went on to say, “There is as much grace in the bark of a dog or the grunt of a swine as in a form of prayer if the heart be absent.” It is not enough to go through a set of disciplines or emotions when it comes to prayer. The heart must be pruned. The heart must be nursed to desire the sweetness of communion with God.
Generating False Images
One of the easiest things we can do is to make images in our head of Who God is whenever we pray. As Lewis makes clear we can derive our images of God from pictures, we can focus on a composite object, or we can think of some distant image in our imagination. In all these there are two things happening: misdirection and distance.
When we pray to God with a preconceived vision of what we think He should be we miss the true beauty of Who He is. This misdirection skews our understanding of God’s nature, person, and work. As a result, when we worship and pray God tends to become who we are. He likes what we like, He approves of what we approve, He hates what we hate, and He will give what we ask. It is all a total misdirection of who God really is. This is not assigned to just heretics or spiritual relativists; this happens in regular Bible believing churches! But as Timothy Keller (1950-present) has said,
“If your god never disagrees with you, you might be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.”
But not only is such misdirection an outcome of this corrupted iconoclasm, there is also a distance created. Lewis makes the point that when we generate images of God in prayer, we can detach Him from our midst. He becomes an object among many within our minds eye. He becomes, as Lewis says, “located-up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside [our] own head, or in a crucifix on the wall.” What is he getting at here? He is showing that in a very real sense what happens is we tend to “see God” like an object or a person crossing before our eyes afar off. By doing this with prayer we lose the sense of inner intimacy of His presence within us and living around us.
Now, again, do not misunderstand Lewis here! He is not promoting some pagan pantheism or New Ageism mumbo-jumbo. What he is reminding us of is how easy it is to make God “away from us” as we pray. He becomes a detached deistic Being looking down far away from us as we call out to Him and look up at Him on Olympus. But such a vision doesn’t take seriously the immanence and intimacy of Who He is. God is not a detached Father. He is, as Jesus Himself taught us, our Heavenly Father (Matthew 6) – that impossible to contain, quantify, or composite Cosmic King Who is equally immanent, relational, and accessible to His children.
We need to recover this reality when we pray! This is what Lewis is getting at!
The Bible is profoundly clear that we have an intimate union with God through Christ that eliminates “distance” between us and Him (Romans 5 & 8, Galatians 2, Colossians 1, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 John 4). This understanding is an awareness of our “nakedness” (Lewis says that “real nakedness of soul”) before the eyes of God. This means that in prayer, we are baring ourselves before our Maker at the deepest levels. We are recognizing that God is not some celestial confession box but is the Great Knower of our souls.
Praying About Our Prayer
Prayer should be, and in fact is, the lifeblood of Faith. A prayerless faith is a dead faith. It is “the chief exercise of faith.” It trumps public worship, fellowship, and service. It is the key means through which we display dependence upon the Lord through humility. It is us actively taking time out of our mud and clay lives to acknowledge the transcendence and immanence of the God Who is in our midst and desires that we desire Him. Prayer really is “spiritual breathing” – the activity that sustains spiritual life itself. It is therefore no wonder that the Adversary of our souls works overtime in conjunction with our fleshliness to detour our efforts of such a fruitful spiritual discipline.
Sadly, I have found that many times my prayer life correlates to the level of comfort in my life. I say this with personal trepidation. When things are good, I pray less. When things are bad, I pray more. John Newton (1725-1807), the great 18th Century hymnist and abolitionist, spoke poignantly on such a point when he said,
“Experience testifies, that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secrete worship.”
I can say with shaken confidence this is true for me. I would venture to say it is true for you. There is a stinging truism here: we tend to be the most sincere and focused on spiritual things when we are faced with trouble and suffering. Good times tend to generate spiritual apathy and indifference in our lives. The more comfortable we are the more complacent we become before God’s presence.
Complacent prayer is most often born by satisfied and secure saints.
Must we then perpetually suffer in order for us to be made into the image of Christ? I would hope not. But perhaps so. Perhaps we need to experience suffering to be refined on our knees.
We need to pray about our praying.
We need to ask God to help us desire prayer all the more. We need to pray even when we are not feeling it. It is in those times of “not feeling it” that we often need it the most! It is in that time the Adversary is working his dark magic in our midst, slowly, methodically, driving a wedge between us and our Lord. It is in that time we need to push and fight for that sacred communion known as prayer.
God, help me to not just write about this but to live it in my life! Help me to demonstrate this instead of merely teaching it. Help me nourish my soul in this and not just taste it. Help me to pray.
I want to leave you with the poignant and encouraging words of Charles Spurgeon,
Now the tempter will whisper, "Do not pray just now; your heart is not in a fit condition for it." My dear brother, you will not become fit for prayer by keeping away from the mercy-seat, but to lie groaning or breathing at its foot is the best preparation for pleading before the Lord. We are not to aim at a self-wrought preparation of our hearts that we may come to God with them, but "the preparation of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, are both from God." If I feel myself disinclined to pray, then is the time when I need to pray more than ever…. Whatever thy position, if thou canst not speak, cry; if thou canst not cry, groan; if thou canst not groan, let it be "groanings that cannot be uttered;" and, if thou canst not even rise to that, let thy prayer be at least breathing—a vital, sincere desire, the outpouring of thine inner life in the simplest and weakest form, and God will accept it. In a word, when you cannot pray as you would, take care to pray as you can. 
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 194-196
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox, 2011), 3.20 (pg. 850)
 Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards, Volume IV (New York, NY: Leavitt & Allen, 1852), pg. 481
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1995) pg. 163
 A good discussion on this can be found in Joe Rigney, Lewis on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), pg. 119-122
 C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” in The World’s Last Night, pg. 8
 Consider reading this short little treatise on the postures of prayer by Isaac Todd (1787-1886) https://www.covenanter.org/reformed/2015/8/19/isaac-todds-the-posture-of-prayer-or-god-to-be-worshipped-with-the-body-as-well-as-the-mind
 Avail yourself to these resources on the topic: https://calvinistinternational.com/2015/04/09/calvin-on-posture-in-worship/; http://www.prca.org/resources/publications/articles/item/4651-the-posture-of-prayer; https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/why-posture-matters-in-worship/;
 Charles Spurgeon, Comfort for Those Whose Prayers are Feeble, Sermon given May 1872, accessed from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/thought-reading-extraordinary/#flipbook/
 Timothy Keller, Twitter, Sep. 12, 2014, https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/510458013606739968?lang=en
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament, (United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), pg. 244-246
 Michael Horton, John Calvin on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), pg. 154-165
 Dane Ortlund, Jonathan Edwards on the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), pg. 124
 John Newton, Letter V, Cardiphonia or, The Utterance of the Heart (T. Nelson and Sons: United Kingdom, 1857), pg. 285
 Charles Spurgeon, Thought-Reading Extraordinary, Sermon given October 5, 1884, accessed from https://archive.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/feeble.php
We moderns are obsessed with “causes.” We love to stand and fight for things. We fight to end racial prejudice, we fight for social justice, we fight to end hunger, we fight to end war, we fight for abortion, we fight to end drugs, we fight for life, we fight to preserve the Constitution, we fight to bear arms, we fight for the flag, we fight for faith and so forth. We really are modern-day crusaders. Our mighty banners of conquest are raised through hashtags, Facebook filters, and a sea of tweets as we exclaim death to the infidels who are our opposites.
Do not misunderstand. Such a critique is not a wholesale denouncement to standing for or against various ideas, values, policies, or platforms. We can and should stand when we see wrongs exercised at the expense of justice and goodness. We should “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” in which we find ourselves just as God exclaimed through the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:7). But as always there is a grave danger that lurks in our midst when we take up such a quest. Even in our campaigning to “make the world better” or “stand against injustice” we can lose sight of Christ; we can become blinded to the True End for which we fight. C.S. Lewis speaks with wisdom on this point. In The Screwtape Letters Lewis’ Screwtape gives the young Wormwood insight into the ways ‘causes’ can be used to slowly destroy his patient Christian’s faith. Read and weep,
All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy [God], are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them…. Whichever [your Christian patient] adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the [the cause he takes up] as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which [his] religion becomes merely part of the ‘cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of [the effort]. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours – and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.
The shift here is subtle, as all the shifts are that we have looked at in the Gentle Slopes series. Notice that at first “The Cause” we take up is secondary and just part of our Christianity. This is when we still are keeping Christ at the center of all our reasoning and intended ends. But then notice, in time our Christianity slowly becomes part of “The Cause,” it becomes peripheral, deadened by earthly concerns alone. In short, Christianity slowly loses its Eternal reality and subsequently its spirituality. And so, we enter a state of being Pharisaical in all the good causes we take up – they become ends in themselves instead of satellites orbiting the greater constellation of Christ. So, for example, Jesus is a white gun-toting red-blood libertarian at our gun conventions, or He is the brown man oppressed by systemic imperial oppression at our social justice marches, or He is the free-caring anti-judgmental “love is love” guru at our sexual liberation rallies, or He is the no nonsense stern faced hyper judgmental commander at our conferences.
The sad thing is that in all of these Christ has ceased to guide the values, ideas, and platform, of “the cause” and instead has become another piece of furniture we rearrange in the rooms of our life to accent our preferences (i.e. our social, theological, or political preferences). What is happening is we are losing sight of the eternal by making that which is temporal our eternal.
THE DISTINCTIVE CAUSE FOR WHICH WE CRUSADE
This is stingily personal. I tend to be the type that can make axes and grind them. I have been a “keyboard crusader,” a social media warrior, and even a professional political ranter. Sometimes simultaneously. I will be frank, I make no apologies for speaking Truth nor standing for Truth, but there is something to be said when the central driving focus, the bread, and butter of existence, of one’s life (thinking of how I can be at times!) becomes consumed with things doomed to ash and shadow (Psalm 102:26, Matthew 24:35, Luke 21:33, Hebrews 1:11).
Once again, do not misunderstand! I am not saying one should not be engaged in great causes or stand for one’s values or ideas or even support a platform or a policy. This is noble, this is good, and this is just. But what we should do as we engage in such causes is ask the fundamental question,
“For what end do I do this?”
It is the Adversary’s job to keep us – through busyness, exhaustion, and service – from ever asking such a question. But we must. If we honestly believe the world is not less than but more than matter and energy, if we truly believe that there is a purpose for which all of Creation was made, if we are truly convinced that humans have a cosmic identity and meaning, if we truly believe Jesus is the climactic spiritual revelation to all human questions and needs, if we truly believe Heaven is a place to be gained and Hell a place to be shunned, then we cannot but ask such a question!
Sadly, much of modern Christendom cannot be bothered to ask such a question. We help in soup kitchens, we assist at shelters, we even drill wells in Uganda, we council drug addicts, we march to end racism, we rally to save the unborn, we teach Kids Church, we coordinate VBS, we organize connect groups, we develop outreach programs, and on and on. But if all of this is devoid of an eternal perspective, if in all of this Christ and His Gospel is vacated, then all of it is shallow and ultimately pointless. In fact, in none of these examples is such work isolated to the Christian Church. Thousands of secular organizations and dozens of religious groups do the same thing!
What then is the Christian distinctive?
Some may argue at this point that the good of such things abovementioned is within themselves. “Helping people is a good in itself and is what ‘it’s all about!’” one could exclaim. There is an element of truth here but it isn’t the whole Truth. Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and even assisting widows and orphans, were done by Pharisees in Jesus’ day. Yet Jesus said of many of the Pharisees “you are whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones” who,
“outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness”
While much could be said here one point is stinging: the Pharisees were often good people doing good things, standing for good “causes,” and yet they still were full of deadness. What deadness? Hypocrisy and lawlessness. In short, they had no focus upon authentic spirituality (hypocrisy) nor the Word (the Law) within the things they did. This is vital to understand: the Pharisees' faults were not found in the execution of the goods they were doing; it was found in the reasons for which they were doing what they were doing. The things/causes/activities became ends in themselves only or they were done for self-centered reasons, which is really two sides of the same coin. In short, the “causes” became their idols – the things they lived for, would die for, got ultimate meaning from, and ultimately worshiped!
The Christian message is not less than the just earthly causes we fight for, but it is much greater! And when such greatness is absent from the earthly cause, we miss the mark. The Apostle James said it this way,
26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Notice that there is a duality of the “religious life” displayed. The true pure acceptable religious life is one characterized by an authentic spiritually controlled tongue (i.e. a Christ-centered heart) plus good works towards just causes (i.e. widows and orphans) plus a deep focus on the highest need of spiritual purity without compromise. Well, what is it that keeps us pure without compromise? The Gospel – which is itself something we not only “keep for ourselves” but should be exclaiming to others! Lest the point be lost, consider the words of the Apostle Paul,
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
In other words, Paul makes clear that evangelistic zeal to reach Jews and Gentiles (people of non-Christian faith – like the ones we fight for and with for just causes) cannot be divorced of the central needful thing: THE GOSPEL. It is the gospel which is the power unto salvation, not a bowl of soup or post about racial solidarity alone.
AIMING AT HEAVEN THAT EARTH MAY BE THROWN IN
The meaning of things is inherently tied to their intended ends. When we say we stand for this or that cause because it is “right” or “just” or “good” we are exclaiming that there is a way the World should be; we are asserting, consciously or subconsciously, that Right and Just and Good are actually real and that people (who are agents of rights, justice, and goodness) are inherently valuable sacred ends in themselves. But all of this is only made possible by a transcendent all powerful Creative Moral Law Giver who gives an inherent sacredness to values and life itself. It is such a One to whom we should be ultimately pointing since all purpose’s crescendo in Him. When this Reality is forgotten amid our crusading, we castrate the greater meaning and purposes for which we fight and stand. Even further, we do disservice to those for whom we fight (against or with) because we have failed to make known to them the ultimate beauty and truth that lies behind the earthly acts we do.
In closing, I am reminded of the poignant words of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 205
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, Harper edition, 2001), pp. 134-135
The Gentle Slope of Heedless Humor
The great Church Father Basil of Caesarea (330-379 A.D.), when citing Ephesians 5:4 on the nature of humor said,
“The Christian…ought not to indulge in jesting [and] he ought not to laugh nor even to suffer laugh makers. He must not talk idly, saying things which are of no service to the hearers.”
In short, for Basil, humor was no laughing matter. Now we recognize that this is excessive and somewhat priggish on the surface, but below in the meat of thought lies a truth: laughter has soul shaping power. But seldom do we ever think about this – even we Christians. We enlightened moderns are living in an age of sitcoms, stand-up comedians, and infinite memes, which wash over us with rivers of puns, wit, and knee slapping entertainment. But even here there lies both great joy and great danger. Even here, in our humor and laughter, we must become reflective and ask if we have allowed the law of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) to reign.
Humor can be a Balm and Bane to Life
Humor and laughter are sweet balms of life. They make life bearable and beautiful by breaking down barriers and helping us forget about the business and seriousness of reality. All the incongruities (the absurdities, oddities, and “out-of-placeness”) have a humbling effect upon us as creatures. Through humor we tend to make fun of ourselves and our place in the world. Therefore, humor has a humbling aspect to it at times because we realize just how absurd and weird we can be. As one author said, “[Humour] involves some confession of human weakness” and is “the chief antidote to pride; and has been, ever since the time of the Book of Proverbs, the hammer of fools.” The great English philosopher and essayist G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) said it this way,
“If you really ask yourself why we laugh at a man sitting down suddenly in the street you will discover that the reason is not only recondite, but ultimately religious. All the jokes about men sitting down on their hats are really theological jokes; they are concerned with the Dual Nature of Man. They refer to the primary paradox that man is superior to all the things around him and yet is at their mercy.”
There is much to unpack here but we will point to only one minor aspect of what Chesterton is getting at. The fact is humor is deeper than we think. Laughter reveals more than we think. They reveal something about us as a people. Why we laugh at what we laugh says something about how we think the world is and who and what humans are, and how it all should be. This is centrally because we were made to be social creatures who live a certain way in the world and seek joy in the good. What grounds all of this is the comforting and empowering knowledge that we serve a Creator King who laughs and has joy (Psalm 2:1-12, Zephaniah 3:17) and in fact has made us to be people who can laugh, and play, and express such joy through lighthearted interactions (Ecclesiastes 3:4; Job 8:21; Proverbs 15:13, 17:22; Psalm 126:2-3; Luke 6:21).
But with everything, sin and darkness become the kill-alls and makers of infinite devaluation. This is where a demon can give us insight.
C.S. Lewis in all his piercing correctness speaks straight to the quick of the power and influence of humor in The Screwtape Letters. In the section below the senior demon Screwtape informs his underling Wormwood of the most effective ways of utilizing humor and laughter to slowly destroy purity and sacredness in the life of his patient Christian believer. Before this conversation you will remember our previous post in the Gentle Slopes Series which dealt with friendships. Here the Christian patient has not only begun to hang out with two carousing skeptical unbelievers but has been introduced to another broader group of friends, all of them obsessed with revelry, novelties, and joking. Screwtape decides to advice Wormwood on his next steps with his patient,
My Dear Wormwood,
Everything is clearly going very well. I am specially glad to hear that the two new friends [of your Christian patient] have now made him acquainted with their whole set. All these, as I find from the record office, are thoroughly reliable people; steady, consistent scoffers and worldlings who without any spectacular crimes are progressing quietly and comfortable towards our Father's house. You speak of their being great laughers…. [This] point is worth some attention.
I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided…. Fun is closely related to Joy-a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct….
[But the] real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction…. Humour is for [some] the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame…. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful-unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man's damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke. And this temptation can be almost entirely hidden from your patient [the Christian]…. Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as "Puritanical" or as betraying a "lack of humour".
But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny…. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy [God] that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy [and] it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.
In this passage Lewis is soberly reminding us of how the Adversary of our souls uses humor to slowly deaden our souls to any sense of shame or sacredness.
Laughter Often Carries an Agenda
One point worth noting that Lewis shows is that behind laughter there often lies an agenda. We do not often think of this when we enjoy good banter. But this is true. That agenda can be merely to bring joy into others’ lives – which is a noble activity within itself. But often it can be pregnant with ulterior motives: such as to generate self-aggrandizement or attention-seeking or to soften people’s acceptability of particular behaviors, beliefs, or values. Here, on this last point specifically, lies the far more subtle yet sinister element of humor.
Humor can shape our souls. It can also shape culture. G.K. Chesterton poignantly said back in the twilight of Victorian England,
“If you really want to know what is going to happen to the future of our democracy, do not read the modern sociological prophecies, do not read even [utopian novels]…. Read the [comic pages] as if they were the dark tablets graven with the oracles of the gods. For…they contain some hint of the actual habits and manifest desires of the…people. If we are really to find out what the democracy will ultimately do with itself, we shall surely find it, not in the literature which studies the people, but in the literature which the people studies.”
If you want to shape people’s souls, and even guide the culture of a people, then shape what they laugh about. Shape the entertain they consume. In time what they consume will consume them. They will become what they cajole and joke about. Why? Because laughter has the inherent capacity to bypass the mind and go straight to the emotional and appetite driven parts of our nature. These areas of our souls are the most malleable and guiding aspects of our being. If you want people to be willing to start accepting a particular behavior, to normalize it, then your best methodology is to soften it as playful, innocent, and lighthearted.
I think we can say with some accuracy we can see this in our own lives and culture. Before any particular behavior or preference or lifestyle is accepted in our society it is always “normalized” on our televisions and the silver screen. Make it look “normal” or friendly or innocent within the context of story making and laughter and you have all but won over the audience. If you do not think this is the case, then take a moment for some personal inventory. Ask yourself: How much have you changed in the past 10 years in your views of religion, morality, modesty, gender identities and roles, language use, sexual preferences, politics, and justice? Have you come to accept, loosen up on, or shrug off certain ideas within these areas? Now ask yourself, how have you come to change so? Did you sit down and do a lot of arm-chair philosophizing and dialoging? Did you read a ton of philosophical, theological, political, sociological, and psychological manuals, treatises, and books? For most, the answers would be no.
While we can change our views on life based on mere experiences, education, and political shifts, these are not the central methods of how we change. Change happens gradually and centrally through the relationships we share and the entertainment we consume. It is inescapable and undeniable. This past year alone we Americas spent a whopping $30.03 billion on entertainment and spent an average over 7.5 hours a day using media. On top of this the U.S. media and entertainment industry has affirmed that its budget is going to exceed $825 billion by 2023. Interesting enough, connecting to the main point of this post and Chesterton’s words, the most popularly consumed genre by us is comedy.
It is a truism: the things we consume in turn consume us.
The movies, TV shows, video-games, and music of our age are all our modern high priests and philosophers slowly teaching us to accept the ways of the idols of our age. Laughter has always, but especially now in our age, possessed the power of democratizing or “leveling” values, behaviors, and beliefs. It has the capacity to make everything a desacralized joke or meme or caricature. As a result, slowly, unknowingly, unthoughtfully, the concepts and virtues of shame, respect, honor, dignity, faith, beauty, and charity are chipped down and become lost in a sea of chuckles and shrugs. This especially happens with religion and faith.
The Power of Laughter to Desacralize
Some of the most effective uses of laughter are those about spiritual things. Do not misunderstand nor assume that we cannot be joyous nor joking with our Faith. I believe there is a healthy, respectful form of this. But go deeper here. Think for a minute. There is truth in this worth mining. How far do we go with this?
Behind kiddish jests or irreverent puns about God and His Son in particular there can lie an inheritance of irreverence. Slowly the laughs can chip away at the sacredness and transcendence of Faith claims, bringing them low and close to the mud. It is not hard to see the logical jump that can and often happens when we move from laughing about Christ in a joke to inadvertently casualizing Christ in life. When this happens, we have entered a slippery slope of shifting from disciples worshiping at His feet to mocking bystanders who see Him as part of the regular landscape of life.
This is all subtle. There is deception here. Awaken yourself to this.
Joy and laughter are a medicine (Proverbs 17:22) but they can also become a hallucinogenic to our souls. They have within them the capacity to degenerate into flippancy and irreverence. This is Lewis’ warning from the lips of a devil.
This may sound prudish. But here again is Lewis is spot on. The simplest way to never have to question ones consumption of entertainment or what one laughs is to judge every judgement or correction as “Puritanical.” “Well that may be offensive to you, but it isn’t to me” is a common phrase at this point. Or the mantras of “spiritual maturity” or “that’s the way of the world” or “freedom in Christ” are conjured to expunge any sense of propriety or chastity in the realm of entertainment and laughter. I will not fight this game. Neither will Lewis. But be aware that you are dancing in the realm of the Adversary. He is elated that you are inundated and do not care. He is ecstatic to your gilded over indifference.
There is no lie here. It is tricky to locate what are the acceptable or unacceptable levels of laughter and humor. When does joy devolve into vulgarity? This is not easy to gage and if you are looking for a list of movies, books, and TV shows that are acceptable or not then you are missing the point of the post. We moderns love our check off lists of does and don’ts. But the authentic spiritual life doesn’t work like that. The key is not in a list but a consistent self-examination by the power of the Holy Spirit in ever facet of our lives, even the places we least expect or least want Him to check.
Are you doing this with what you consume with entertainment? Are you considering how Christ addresses that which you laugh at? If there is no reflection at all, then you may be in the realm of devils. If you are reflecting, then allow the Holy Spirit to continue to speak and guide you into His ways.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
 Saint Basil of Caesarea, “On the Perfection of the Life of Solitaries” from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 8. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3202022.htm
 If you want a more technical or philosophical understanding of the nature of “humor” then consider: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/ and https://iep.utm.edu/humor/
 G.K. Chesterton, “Humour” (1938) found at https://nonsenselit.com/g-k-chesterton-humour-1938/. Original source is Chesterton, G.K. The Spice of Life and Other Essays, Edited by Dorothy Collins (Beaconsfield: Darwen Finlayson, 1964)
 Chesterton, et.al.
 G.K. Chesterton, “Cockneys and Their Jokes” in All Things Considered (1908), accessed from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/All_Things_Considered/Cockneys_and_Their_Jokes
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters ibid, pg. 215-217
 G.K. Chesterton, “Cockneys and Their Jokes” in All Things Considered (1908), accessed from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/All_Things_Considered/Cockneys_and_Their_Jokes
 http://www.uky.edu/~jjord0/ArisIII.htm#:~:text=Appetitive%20soul%20%E2%80%93%20This%20is%20the,itself%20a%20faculty%20of%20thought, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/medieval-emotions/#:~:text=He%20regarded%20the%20emotions%20as,of%20knowledge%20and%20rational%20will,
 https://www.statista.com/statistics/254115/favorite-movie-genres-in-the-us/, https://www.marketingcharts.com/television/tv-audiences-and-consumption-110704, https://morningconsult.com/2018/11/27/reality-is-americas-least-favorite-tv-genre-yet-people-are-still-watching/, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2007/07/25/what-they-watch-online/
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Corinthians 15:13-19
This is perhaps the most unique passage in the entire history of religious texts. In this passage, the Apostle Paul hangs the entire edifice of Christian faith on a historical event: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Understand the strangeness of this. There is categorically no other religion in the history of Mankind that hangs its entire worldview and truth claims upon the tangibility of a verifiable occurrence in space and time. You will not get this with Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Scientology, Secular Humanism, or Liberal Christianity. While all these have origin stories, key founding figures, and calls spiritual wisdom and moral principles, none of them ground their essential doctrines, their whole worldviews, upon a historical event.
Christianity is different. Christianity starts not with “This is the way you should live,” as all other faith systems do, but with, “Here is what Jesus did in history, that you may live.” Huge difference.
In the passage above Paul says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead…your faith is in vain” (v. 14). That word “vain” is the Greek word kenos, which means unreal, empty, without power. It is getting across the understanding that the faith we have as Christians is impotent, incapable of changing anything if the resurrection is but a useful myth or a mere symbol. In short, Paul is making clear that Christianity is not less than emotions, but it is not relegated to mere emotions. He is saying that it does not matter if you feel that the resurrection is true, it does not even matter if you have had a cathartic religious experience about it, and it does not even matter how many Easter sermonettes proclaim the joys of it. No, he is affirming that if the resurrection did not tangibly happen in space and time, then Christianity is bunk. The whole Faith is at best a fanciful delusion and at worst the greatest falsified travesty in the chronicles of Humanity.
Easter, therefore, is the pivotal hinge of the Christian Faith. No Easter, no Christianity.
No Easter, then not only is Christianity bunk but all sense of identity, security, and peace in this life is bunk. How so? Well, if Jesus was not raised, then there is no hope beyond the grave, and if there is no hope beyond the grave then there is no objective standard of meaning and purpose in this life except what we conjure up in our three pounds of gray matter between our ears. Countless Christian and non-Christian thinkers have made this point very forcefully in the history of human thought. The ardent atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) helps to summarize much of the literature on this when he said,
"Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving…. His origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms [and there is] no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, [that] can preserve an individual life beyond the grave… [All the] labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement [will] inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins …. [It is only] within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built."
This oxymoronic view of life is what our whole vacuous post-modern culture is about. It proclaims: “You are an accident, there is no ultimate future, so live life to the fullest and be your best self!” But we know that this is inane. Such a “truth” means fundamentally that all our talk of objective “love,” all our fights for “justice,” all our language of “hope” for a brighter future, and all our desires for “identity” are at the bottom laid waste, eaten alive in the face of moral relativism and death.
The electrifying message of Easter guts the absurdity of Russell’s message. It affirms to us that God has entered history and that through love and justice He laid waste the power of death at the same to renewing our identity and giving us a glorious future. Because of Easter, history regains objective meaning, our faith is vindicated, our identities are renewed, our purpose is established, and our hope is assured.
THE TANGIBILITY OF THE EMPTY TOMB
This discussion of hope and identity is not emotional jargon, it is grounded in Reality. Precisely because of the historical reality of the resurrection we can take comfort in the objectivity of our Faith, meaning, and future. It is vitally important that you understand this Truth and teach it to your children and those around you.
The resurrection is as historical an event as Pearl Harbor, Washington crossing the Delaware, or the assassination of Julius Caesar. Understand this. There is actual historical evidence for such a claim. There is a tremendous body of world-renowned scholarship that affirms the historicity of the resurrection and the N.T. writings. I cannot get into the depths of it for sake of brevity but let me sketch out at least three points:
The fact that there was an empty tomb – This sounds insignificant, but it is profoundly important. A tomb is a particularly definable objective geographic location. This means to disprove the resurrection one need only provide the body of Jesus. Why didn’t the Romans, the Sanhedrin, or any other skeptics of the time produce such a body? Answer: Because it wasn’t there. The fact is all the Gospel writers and many Jewish, Christian, and pagan writers of the time affirmed that the tomb of Jesus was empty.
The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses – The Gospels claim that the first eyewitnesses were women. Have you ever thought of the importance of this easily looked over point? You see women were considered intellectually, emotionally, and morally deficient compared to men. Because of this their testimonies were not even permitted as acceptable evidence in the court of law in 1st Century Palestine. As the famed Jewish historian Josephus (37-100 A.D.), who lived at the same time as the N.T. authors, said,
"But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment."
The point is if you are constructing your own resurrection myth in the 1st Century you would not use women as the chief eye-witnesses to justify your position! People like Josephus would have disbelieved not merely on resurrection grounds but the fact of the absurdity of believing women to be legitimate witnesses to such an event.
The Gospel writers cited women as the eyewitnesses…because women were the eyewitnesses. In short, the fact that the Gospel’s record women as the eyewitnesses give historical authenticity to the truthfulness of the account. If they were liars or mythmakers they would not have crafted a narrative in which people (women) who were considered unreliable were the central sources of establishing the truthfulness of the event.
The fact of the transformation of the disciple's beliefs – There is no doubt that the disciples themselves did not have any kind of a religious or cultural understanding about the kind of messianic resurrection Jesus achieved. They constantly misunderstood His true purposes. But can we blame them really? Second Temple Judaism did not have any rabbinical teachings and no theological perspective on a resurrection of a single person amid history, much less the idea that the Messiah would be a dying and rising Savior. It is important to understand this. To First Century orthodox Jews the conceptual category of “dying and rising Messiah” did not even exist. For them, “resurrection” was an eschatological End of Days event for all Jews and the Messiah was to be the political figure who would come to redeem Israel from its oppressors and destroy her enemies.
The question that deserves much attention then is, “What made these 1st Century Jews transform their entire religious and cultural identities overnight?” What event could have happened that made these individuals go from Unitarians to Trinitarians; or go from believing God cannot be a man to God becoming a Man; or go from a political Messiah to a risen Messiah; or go from celebrating the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday; or go from kosher foods to freedom in what one eats? What could possibly explain all these social, cultural, and religious transformations among masses of people all at once?
Everything in their lives changed. How so!?! I would argue that the only viable historical explanation is the one they give. As the Apostle Peter said,
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
2 Peter 1:16
And the Apostle John said,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
1 John 1:1-4
They had such extraordinary transformation because they experienced an extraordinary event: the bodily objective tangible resurrection of their leader Jesus of Nazareth. If you do not believe this, then you have to come up with some other theory to make sense of all this historical data. But as the renowned 20th Century N.T. scholar C.F.D. Moule (1908-2007) said,
“If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with? … the birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church therefore remain and unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself.”
In the same vein Shusaku Endo (1926-1996), the famed Japanese Christian novelist and thinker, put it like this,
"If you don’t believe in the resurrection, you will be forced to believe that something hit the disciples that was every bit amazing, maybe different, yet of equal force in electrifying intensity. For if you try to explain the changed lives of the early Christians, you will find yourself making leaps of faith every bit as great as if we believed in the resurrection to start with."
A HISTORY THAT GIVES US HOPE
It is not enough to go away from this post with historical data about the resurrection. While this is essential to ground the reality of faith, it is not sufficient to ignite it. Easter must become more than an event we celebrate, a tradition we relive, or a feeling we have – it must become living and breathing and active. Therefore, we must keep before us the Reality of the resurrection on the daily. We must understand that this event in space and time changes all of space and time. It makes our space sacred, our time sacred, our lives sacred. As one author said, “The resurrection is not a stupendous magic trick but an invasion.” It demands our attention, it remakes us into a new creation, and it destroys the powers of insecurity, indifference, and fear in the present and the future.
The Resurrection makes shows us (proves to us) that there is a future that is deeply personal, certain, and wonderful (paraphrasing Timothy Keller’s words in a sermon I heard once). This means that whatever we do in this life has true lasting impact, it is not burned up into the sea of oblivion as Russell thought. It means that Love, justice, and relationships transcend their particular moments and have real eternal significance. It means suffering and evil has a purpose and are only to be tolerated – one day to be vindicated and swept away. It means that death, the great equalizer, the tyrant of our souls, loses its hold over us – the great irreversibility of life is made reversible. All of this is achieved because the Resurrection tangibly, historically, happened for us. Easter actually happened! I cannot say any better the words of N.T. Wright (1948-present) as I close this post,
"The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice and love have won... If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense - [then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world - news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn't just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world of injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things - and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement [the] victory of Jesus over them all. Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzche probably was right to say it was for wimps."
 Consider the works of Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Frederick Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, H.G. Wells and many others
 Bertrand Russell, “The Free Man’s Worship” (1903), Accessed from https://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/br-free-mans-worship.html
 I would suggest to you but a small collection of works: N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003); Gary Habermas, The Case of the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004); Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2010); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017); Peter J. Williams, Can we Trust the Gospels? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018); David Beck & Michael Licona, Raised on the Third Day: Defending the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020)
 If you want a more meaty discussion on the historicity of the empty tomb then consider: William Lane Craig, “The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus” https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/scholarly-writings/historical-jesus/the-historicity-of-the-empty-tomb-of-jesus/
 Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.219, accessed from https://lexundria.com/j_aj/4.219/wst
 N.T. Wright discusses the importance of this in Resurrection of the Son of God, pg. 28-31 and all of Chapter Two
 C.F.D. Moule as quoted in John Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (United States: The Good Book Company, 2019). Original work is Moule’s The Phenomenon of the New Testament: An Inquiry Into the Implications of Certain Features of the New Testament (United Kingdom: S.C.M. Press, 1967), pg. 13
 Quoted in Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p. 108
 Timothy Keller, Hope In Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter (New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2021), pg. xxi
 N.T. Wright, For All God's Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church, p. 65-66
Recovering Our Place At Golgotha
We need to de-sanitize Golgotha. By this, I do not mean we need more R-rated visual renderings of the crucifixion narrative (Mel Gibson’s vision is beyond sufficient). Neither do I mean we need more emotional sermonetting of the brutality of Christ’s physical torture and execution (though this is a worthy venture). Nor do I mean we need new cutting-edge scientific and historical documentaries verifying the accuracy of the Passion narratives (though this too is a worthwhile endeavor). Rather by this I mean we need to recover our place in all the hellish bloody cosmic messiness that occurred at Golgotha.
We conveniently (consciously or unconsciously) tend to “sanitize Golgotha” in our minds and hearts when Easter rolls around. We tend to place ourselves in the narrative of the Passion as passive onlookers witnessing from afar what the ominous “they” did to our Jesus that day. We are reminded through song, sermon, and drama of the brutality exacted towards “our” Jesus by the hands of tradition, religion, hate, and power. Tears roll down our faces, the emotions are stirred, and our faces are flushed. BUT THEN the songs fade and the sermon is over. As quick as the image came it dissipates, we shake ourselves and move on. We get back to our daily. We get back to fighting with our spouses and yelling at our kids. We get back to our insecurity, our gossip, lust, greed, envy, pride, and apathy. So, just like going to watch a movie in the theater, we are changed in the moment but afterward go out to find something else to do.
Is there really no difference existentially between our responses to a movie and the message of the cross? Surely there is more?
Do not misunderstand. I am not saying there is no place for us to reflect upon the brutality of the crucifixion or that we are wrong if we have emotional responses to the history of it. In fact, to fail to have emotion in the face of the cross is to fail to have a soul. But that said, what I am challenging and questioning is how we ritualistically go about our reflections and remembrances of Calvary. You must ask, I must ask, has its true message gone deep enough? We are moved by it, it jerks our heart, but does it really, categorically, transform us?
I do not presume to have all the answers and I do not want you to go away from this post thinking there is any form of “ivory tower judgmental preachy wisdom” coming from this author. There is a genuine conviction of thought and reflection in what is posted.
Without going into a long dissertation, I want to propose that for us to recover the true gritty nature of Golgotha, for it to have a real penetrating and lasting effect for our lives beyond Easter Sunday, it requires at least (but not limited to) a reworking of how we process its message in our hearts and minds on the daily.
Golgotha needs to become more than a tourist attraction we visit once a year on Easter Sunday. It needs to become the ever-present witness to just how serious sin is in our daily lives and just how profound God’s love is in those moments. We need to recover OUR PLACE and OUR SIN at Golgotha so that it becomes a living, breathing, memorial that awakens us to be what it achieved – to be a people who do not shrug at sin but crucify it, to be a people who love at the expense of themselves, to be a people whose identity, meaning, hope, and purpose is restored to the intended ends of God’s glory instead of self.
ADMIT THAT YOU DROVE THE NAILS
As I said earlier, we tend to stand as passive onlookers to the crucifixion story. We cry and rage at what “they” did to Him. The problem is there is no “they,” there is only “we.” There is no room for stagnant spectators at the cross. Everyone was actively participating. The masses of Jews and Romans were beating and butchering Christ physically as much as you and I did spiritually. You were at Golgotha and so was I. We all were.
The Romans alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. The Pharisees alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Pilate alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. Caiaphas alone didn’t put Jesus on the cross. You did. I did. We all did. Our sins did.
Chew on that. Let it sink in. Dwell on it a while. No, dwell on it a long while.
All the soiled sins of the world were affixed to His blinding purity. All the little ones, all the big ones, all the ones you shrug off, all the ones you exact towards family and friend, all the ones you fear others to know, all the ones you still battle with, all the ones you struggle to let go. Every day when you slip back into the old self and allow sin to rear its ugly head, be reminded, that those sins, with myriads of others, are the ones seared onto the bruised body and being of the Infinitely Innocent One. All of them were put onto Him so much so that there was no epistemic distance humanly discernable between His being and sin.
Putting this all into biblical language the Apostle Paul put it like this,
God made Christ who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
Did you really read this? Do you get this? Do you feel this?
The whole reason, the central driving meaning behind Christ BEING SIN was…FOR US. It is about us. Because sin is personal Golgotha is personal. Golgotha was logically, biblically, unquestionably because of us AND beautifully, gracefully, undeniably for us. The great theologian John Stott (1921-2011) put it like this,
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
It is a totally different thing when you intentionally remind yourself that the only nails that really kept Christ on the cross were the ones you use on your loved ones and neighbors many times on many different days of the week. When you nail them with pinpricks, backbiting, gossip, lust, envy, pride, and the whole slew of 1 Corinthian 6 vices, you actualize in your life the things for which Christ was eaten alive. He died because of those things and for those things to lose their power of keeping distance between you and the Holy One.
THE TERROR, JOY, & BEAUTY OF GOLGOTHA
Despite all the bruising and infinite weight of demonic distress upon Him, Christ still died for us. There is horror and sweetness in this. He died for our daily sins. Think on this for a moment. How insane it is to the human mind to willingly be ripped apart by a people who shrug at Your grace and purity. Yet, in such insanity there resides unbounded sobriety and beauty.
In the face of the vileness of Golgotha, we are also met with the Face of unshakably Love. In the wake of entering Jerusalem with throngs of half-baked worshipers Jesus prayed with anguish to the Father for such a time to pass from Him, and yet without losing a breath said,
“For this purpose, I have come to this hour”
Golgotha was His purpose. Golgotha penetrated everything He thought and did. It was there at the manger, it was there at the Sermon on the Mount, it was there at the Mount of Olives, it was there at the breaking of the fish and loaves, and it was there at the triumphal entry. It was at Golgotha that Jesus’ purpose would be and was actualized into space and time and for all eternity.
And yet with such horror ever-present to Jesus’ mind's eye all His days, the author of Hebrews says,
For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame…
The cross was set before Him. That is, it was always His end goal, His telos, His purpose. And yet He had joy? The words “joy” and “cross” do not go together in any humanly conscionable way. But in and with Christ they do. Such a joyous agent as Jesus did what no other merely human agent could possibly achieve: turning the image of the cross from a symbol of maximal derision and vileness into the symbol of infinite grace and a new identity.
In a real sense, joy conquered the shame of the cross and overtook it. This is why strangely we Christians can and do need to possess a robust balance between glory and humility when we behold the cross on Golgotha.
The terror of Golgotha that we need to ever keep in our minds is that it was because of us, yet the glory and joy of Golgotha reside in the fact that it was for us. John Stott powerful put it this way,
“The essence of sin is man substitution himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.”
The infinity of heavenly-wrath and holy-love crashed upon one another in a moment of space and time on Golgotha. It was in that moment that all our daily sins were vanquished of their potency and chains. This is why we can sing in ecstasy to the degree we mourn in travail over the events that transpired on the Place of the Skull.
May we never forget and readily retain the power of what happened on Golgotha.
O Golgotha! Good Golgotha!
My Lord was slain for me;
His precious blood in mercy flowed
That I from sins be free.
Therefore I pray, my Lord, reveal
So I may know that I am one
With Thee in certainty.
O Golgotha! I praise Thee, Lord,
For death was suffered there;
Released His life, redeemed my sins,
I’m freed into His care.
O Golgotha! I want to learn
All that indwells in Him;
By faith included in His work,
I’ll stand now firm with Him.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), pg. 63
 Stott, pg. 159
 Difficult finding the origin of this hymn, but it seems to be an old early 20th Century Chinese Christian hymn, most likely written by Watchman Nee. Source found in Watchman Nee, Collected Works of Watchman Nee, Vol. 23, The Song of Songs & Hymns (N.p.: Living Stream Ministry, 1993), pg. 174-175
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
Isn’t it interesting that in our culture we use phrases like “Devilishly delicious” and “Sinful selections” and “It’s so good, it’s sinful” to describe desserts? Now while one should not be overly puritanical or pareidolic about such things I think it worth reflecting on how our culture innately attaches pleasure with transgression even in the seeming innocence of food consumption. Even more, I think it worth reflecting on how such a surface-level assumption works its way out practically in how we see our Christianity through the everyday mundanities and pleasures of life. Even here many times we can be susceptible to ingesting the deceits of the devils.
HOW THE DEVILS DELIGHTFULLY TWIST OUR PLEASURES
As I have said many times the Adversary’s slithering subtilty is to be found not in the grand unabashed clanging sins of rebellion but in the steady trickles of nodding heads and folded hands (Proverbs 24:33). He works primarily in the good things of life. He and his minions come even amid the desserts (pleasures) of our lives. As Screwtape, the archdemon of temptation said to his underling Wormwood,
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it's better style. To get the man's soul and give him nothing in return-that is what really gladdens our Father's [Satan’s] heart.
From the sulfuric breath of Screwtape, C.S. Lewis enlightens us to Satan’s subtle methods of destroying our souls through the pleasures of life. There is richness here worth mining and chewing on.
We are ingrained to believe that the pleasures of life are antithetical to God’s intended order. We may not admit it but many of us, even the well to do polished up and churchy types, believe God does not want us to have fun, or better yet that we must pick between fun and God. But this is a damnable lie that the devils delight in. They and their Father of Lies want us to believe that God desires us to see life through prison bars; that He is a Cosmic Killjoy.
But we must remember a deep theological truth here: Satan is a pervert. He comes forth and distorts the gifts of God’s created order. He cannot manufacture anything; he can only retrofit and disassemble. He is a perfect example of unskilled labor. As Frodo said to Sam in The Lord of the Rings:
“The Shadow that bred [the orcs] can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. [It didn’t give] life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them...
The Shadow, twists, turns and overthrows everything he can get his hands on. He corrupts it and converts it into a curved-in husk of its true creative intention. Pleasure is just another example of this.
GOD MADE US TO EXPERIENCE, RECEIVE, AND ENJOY PLEASURE
Many times, we think (consciously or subconsciously) that when we become Christian’s pleasure takes a back seat to life. We concentrate overwhelmingly upon having to “give up” our life to “have God.” And so, we solemnly exempt ourselves from all forms of joy. With washed faces and horse-shoed mouths, we ascend to the heights of righteous separateness. Now while I do not want to be misunderstood as teaching antinomianism I do think we push our spirituality into areas of excessive boxed rigidity for the cause of caricatured holiness when such is contrary to the ethics of the Gospel.
Putting this another way, when we come to Christ, it is much less about losing than about gaining. It is much less about giving up than it is about giving in. It is not us exchanging pleasure for somberness, rather it is us exchanging lesser loves for the Greatest Love; it is us finding more pleasure in Him than in other things; it is us having our desires revitalized to their original Edenic purposes. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the great Puritan theologian and revivalist, said it this way,
True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures.
Notice he says “the things of God” become the “cream of all our pleasures” – this means there are other pleasures that are amiable and enjoyable, but God is the true flavor in all of them and above all of them.
We are made to experience joy and pleasure in life and for this to be ultimately displayed through God Himself. We are made to gain and develop knowledge, to draft inventions, to marry, to build families, to enjoy sex, to construct cities, to create music and art, to relish food and drink, to partake in fellowship and laughter, and so much more. These are all beautiful and good. These are the desserts of life. These are all intended by God. The author of Ecclesiastes said,
10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
Ecclesiastes 3:10-13 (ESV)
God gifted the pleasures of life to His creatures that we might enjoy life, each other, and through this Himself ultimately.
But be mindful of the subtle capabilities of the sweets of life to be reassembled by your Adversary for your demise. Here the words of Lewis resound in our ears.
The Adversary takes these good gifts of pleasure and tantalizes our flesh with them until they become a pantheon of parading idols in our lives. We subtly move from making money to the money slowly beginning to remake us. We move from enjoying entertainment to being chained to excessive diversion. We move from enjoying sex to becoming feverishly erotic. We shift from enjoying food and drink to gluttonous insobriety. We move from the joys of laughter and fellowship to the obsession for perpetual amusement and festivity. In all these things the good pleasures, the sweet things of life, come undone through their unintended ends. Through all these examples wisdom, intimacy, reason, peace, joy, and true pleasure is lost and dried up on the altars of our obsession, excess, and passivity.
The desserts of life can, when consumed excessively and thoughtlessly, thicken our spiritual blood. They can, with excessive consumption and a little discipline, make us spiritually flabby and lethargic with bland pallets. We can get to a point that we want less and less of God because more and more of our time, energy, conversations, thoughts, and choices are taken up with an abundance of these little sweets – family events, ballgames, videogames, movies, books, exercising, cookouts...etc. Inevitably we feel as if, without saying or thinking it, that we must choose between these joys versus God. But this is a lie.
SEEING THE PLEASURES OF LIFE THROUGH THE ULTIMATE PLEASURE
We must remind ourselves that all the pleasures of life are good, joyous, and from God. God is the source of all good things for He is Goodness itself. His nature is the paradigm of what true goodness is and therefore the paradigm of true Pleasure. Our problem then is not that we have pleasures in life, it is that we need a renewed understanding of what these pleasures can do and cannot do and how they interrelate to the nature and person and purposes of God Himself. As Dallas Willard (1935-2013) said,
“We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it.”
Practically speaking this means we can and should seek laughter, joking, and hanging out with friends. We should and can enjoy cookouts and game-nights with relatives and colleagues. We should and can enjoy movies and video-games and board-games. We should and can enjoy drink and food and abundance of joking. We should and can enjoy sexual union and intimacy with our husbands and wives. All of these are beautiful, in their time and way. But we should also remember that each of them only mirrors something far more transcendent and beautiful: God Himself. In short, these pleasures are calling us to the real pleasure, the seed, that lies behind or within them. The laughs, the joys, the peace, the camaraderie, the union we feel and experience in these moments are the winds of the aroma of Eternity. Behind them is a call to the Ultimate comrade, lover, and peacemaker who wants us to want Him. He is calling, even through these sweet things. We do a disservice to Him and ourselves when we shut out that call and desire not to experience its truth. In turn, we rip the root system away from what all these pleasures are nurtured by.
When we begin choosing between “these pleasures” and “time with God” then we have created a war where none should be. These pleasures can only satiate certain human longings, achieve certain cravings, but the truest parts of who we are can only find rest in the Infinite One who calls us to find peace in Him. It is there, in that time with Him, the sweetness of all sweets overcomes us and we find ourselves. When we deny ourselves such a time, we miss the greatest pleasure of all.
I leave you with the words of Dane Ortlund (1978-present) to help summarize this post,
“The Christian life is not an ascetic life, but a life in which every received pleasure draws the mind up to supreme Pleasure, Christ himself, in his resplendent beauty…. Jesus Christ gives meaning to all priorities, not only heading the list [of our packed schedules] but coloring every one with new and exciting meaning. To become a Christian is to make all of life sacramental…. True joy derived not from God and job, family, sex, friends, food, rest, driving, buying a home, reading a book, drinking coffee—but from God in these things…. Every taste of beauty in this world, from the roar of the waterfalls to the chatter of birds to the richness of true friendship to the ecstasy of sexual experience, is a drop from the ocean of divine beauty. Every pleasure is an arrow pointing back to him.”
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 210
 The word “pervert” is literally from the Latin pervertere "overthrow, overturn," figuratively "to corrupt, subvert, abuse," literally "turn the wrong way, turn about," from per "away" (see per) + vertere "to turn, turn back, be turned; convert, transform, translate; be changed" https://www.etymonline.com/word/pervert.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King in The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary One-Volume Edition (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004), pg. 914
 Antinomianism, (Greek anti, “against”; nomos, “law”), is a theological belief that says we are so freed by the grace of God that we no longer have to obey moral codes, laws, or rules. Essentially is the adage, “I can live like the devil and God accepts me” mentality or the “Greasy Grace” doctrine.
 We can also swing the pendulum to the side of moral relativism and “Everything-goes-ism.” But it is not the purpose of this post to deal with this. Another time!
 Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (WJE Online Vol. 2), Ed. Paul Ramsey http://edwards.yale.edu/
 Consider these Bible passages on all these subjects: Genesis 1:26-28; Exodus 35:35; Proverbs 5; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, Hebrews 13:4. Literally read all the Book of Ecclesiastes. Consider some of these specific passages: Ecclesiastes 2:24, 3:12-13, 9:9-10, and 11:9
 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1998), pg. 180
 Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on The Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), pg. 77-78
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.