Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.
On those days when I don’t feel like praying I often kindle my flickering flame of devotion with the words of esteemed Methodist minister Samuel Chadwick: “The one concern of the Devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayer-less studies, prayer-less work, and prayer-less religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.” (The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations) Emboldened by Chadwick’s words, I’m ready to pray!
I know well how feelings can often get in the way of praying, draining away our commitment to pray. There are days I feel nothing when I pray. Days I rise from my knees with no spine-tingling feelings, wondering if my prayers even got past the ceiling. But I remind myself that feelings are fickle and not to be trusted.
C. S Lewis takes up this matter of feelings and prayers in his satirical novel Screwtape Letters in which the senior demon Screwtape mentors the novice tempter Wormwood. In one letter Screwtape warns Wormwood about the danger of letting his human subject begin to pray: “Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself [God] we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so.” One of the ways Screwtape prescribes to keep humans from praying is to get them preoccupied with themselves and what they are feeling:
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 that moment.
Many people wrote to C. S. Lewis for spiritual counsel. One to whom he replied was Genia Goelz, who had written to Lewis about feelings and prayer:
Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them: when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behavior.” (Yours Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis, ed. by Paul Ford)
Every day I perform tasks without any thought about what I feel about doing them. I take out the garbage because it needs to go out. I pay the mortgage because it needs to be paid. I don’t give a moment’s thought to how I feel about doing them. Doing things that need to be done makes a difference in our lives. How much more does devoting ourselves to daily prayer!
I have a friend who once had a brain tumor. Several of us took turns driving him to the hospital each day for radiation treatment. It was amazing. My friend would walk into the hospital, then lie down on a table for a few minutes of radiation. He never felt a thing. He never heard a thing. But slowly, gradually, imperceptibly the radiation was doing something powerful in him. That’s how prayer is when we do it every day. Slowly, gradually, imperceptibly God works something powerful within us and for us.
Grace and peace,