screwtape on prayer

What if we could figure out Satan’s specific strategies to deter us from God?

It would be like intercepting an enemy camp messenger and decoding his commander’s instructions during a war – we could take action to not only prepare for the attack, but also know how to gain victory.

C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters is a fictional take on the strategies and thought processes of our enemy, as portrayed through letters from a high-ranked “assistant” to the devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood. Screwtape provides instruction and suggestions as Wormwood attempts to secure the eternal damnation of his “patient.”

In high school, a Bible teacher took us through several of the letters during a discussion on spiritual warfare, and I found it a really helpful way to look at things.* As Eric and I are beginning a season of raising support and preparing to enter college ministry, we are already starting to experience the resistance of the enemy, so I decided to pull out this book and re-read it as an aid in processing through this time.

NOTE: in excerpts from this book, “they” and “them” typically refer to believers; “the Enemy” refers to God

Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them to do 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.

How crazy is it that, in our walk with God, we can finish time with Him on this great emotional high – and our enemy can use that for his own purposes? We can get so attached to that “feeling” (and this can be in prayer or in worship services or in reading the Word or anything) that, without it, we feel like nothing is happening. When we don’t “feel” in love with God, then something is wrong.

However, Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Our enemy wants us to rely on our heart, our feelings, our flesh – because these do not result in truth. We are broken people, and on our own we cannot discern what is true or hear the voice of God.

So what is truth?

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. {Hebrews 13:8}

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. {Isaiah 40:8}

He has not changed. His Word remains true. Even when we do not “feel” Him, He is there. He is faithful.The significance and results of our prayers are not a result of how we feel, but how big our God is. We are told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), not to “pray when you feel like it.”

Screwtape explains that the situation they want to avoid is a believer’s “real nakedness of the soul in prayer.”

Once… 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.

Ways to fight this dependency on “feeling” when it comes to God?

Focus on the truth in the Word.
Allow yourself to be real with God.
Trust yourself to Who you do not feel or see.

After all, isn’t that the definition of faith?

Now faith is… the conviction of things not seen. {Hebrews 11:1}

*No work of literature, or no other writing in general, for that matter, should be given the authority that the Bible has. The Bible is the only book Divinely inspired. However, I do believe God has provided man with a creative mind to use for His glory, and many books can foster spiritual growth in our lives.


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