Seeking ‘the Enemy’

C. S. Lewis was a keen observer of human beings and of the Christian life. Nowhere is that more obvious than in his masterfully written book The Screwtape Letters. The book contains letters written by Screwtape, a senior devil, to his nephew, a junior tempter named Wormwood. Wormwood has been assigned his first "patient," the human he is to guide into hell. Screwtape offers him advice on how to keep the human out of Enemy hands -- that is, how to keep him away from God. Wormwood's "patient," however, becomes a Christian in spite of Wormwood's best efforts. And so, Screwtape addresses what, from his point of view, is the distasteful topic of prayer. Given the options, he tells Wormwood, the best outcome is that the human not pray at all. This is best done, he says, "by encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood." Well, it is true: Prayers are parrot-like. While there is always something new to pray about, they seem to be the same year after year. After all, we pray for wisdom for the president, vice-president, and members of the cabinet. We pray that Congress and state legislatures would make wise laws and that the courts would interpret them justly. We pray for our military and for peace. We pray for righteousness to mark our nation and for the needs of the poor. The individuals are different from year to year, of course. New domestic and foreign policy challenges arise every day. But much of our prayer for the nation could be characterized as "parrot-like." And that's okay -- it's a discipline that focuses us on certain issues. But we must not fall into Screwtape's trap. He thinks we will get bored by parrot-like prayers. And then, he writes, we will "aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to the beginner," he continues, "will be an effort to produce in himself a vague devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part . . . That is exactly the sort of prayer we want." Of course, the devil wants us to be bored and then distracted. The need to pray for our country -- particularly in the dangerous world in which we find ourselves -- requires real concentration of will and intelligence. A Christian worldview understands that prayer is an assault on the status quo. It calls upon the One who created the universe and everything in it. It brings the power of heaven to bear on our country and our world. So let me urge you to set aside time today to pray for our nation. Pray the same prayers for wisdom and righteousness, for peace and for the poor. You can pray parrot-like prayers, if you want to call them that, without getting distracted or conjuring up "a vague devotional mood." Pray instead with a concentration of your will. Pray intelligently basing your prayers on your Christian worldview and the ideas you've heard here from BreakPoint. Pray to God, as Lewis reminds us, "not to what I think Thou art, but to what Thou knowest Thyself to be." For when Christians do that, as Screwtape warns Wormwood, "our situation [that is, the devil's] is . . . desperate." We live in perilous times. Ignore the Wormwood who wants to tempt us to dereliction of duty. Let us pray. For further reading and information: Visit the National Day of Prayer website for more ideas and information on activities taking place, including a prayer guide. Pray for Our Nation: Scriptural Prayers to Revive Our Country (Harrison House, 2000). BreakPoint Commentary No. 020502, A Prayer for a Troubled World: National Day of Prayer." John Fischer, "On Bended Knees: God's Strength in Our Weakness," BreakPoint Online, 22 April 2003. Sarah E. Hinlicky, "Teach Me to Pray," Boundless, 29 March 2001.
  1. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters(HarperSanFrancisco, 2001).
Gina Dalfonzo, "Screwtape's Favorite Vice: With Apologies to C. S. Lewis," BreakPoint Online, 24 January 2003. Every weekday, BreakPoint Online provides a daily devotional by Wilberforce Forum Fellow T. M. Moore with a commentary from Chuck Colson.
  1. M. Moore, The Psalms for Prayer(Wynwood, 2002).
Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination (Doubleday, 1999).


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary