Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape
Day 19 – Wednesday after 3rd Sunday of Lent
From The Screwtape Letters:
Screwtape, a senior demon, is offering advice to Wormwood his nephew, an apprentice demon. The language he uses is ‘upside down’ referring to God as ‘the Enemy’ and the devil as ‘Our Father Below’.
MY DEAR WORMWOOD
Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own nature for any other reason.
Your affectionate uncle
One of the joys of my life is that I am part of the team in our Diocese who helped lead IME2 events for the recently ordained. For those who were ordained this used to be called ‘Potty Training’ – more properly Post Ordination Training. IME2 (Initial Ministerial Education) is the second part of the training that clergy receive. Often away from Seminary and formal study and exams it is where pastoral experience meets theology and, in the words of John Wimber, where clergy get to talk about what it is like to ‘do the stuff’.
Oftentimes such sessions are places where new ministers can trade experiences, cry on each other’s shoulders, and have a gentle moan about their Training Incumbent or the Churchwarden or, failing anything else, the Bell-Ringers.
But these gatherings are also places of joy, hope and excitement. Everyone of us there, from newly ordained Deacon to superannuated Canon have been given the gift of waking up each morning with the knowledge that we are free spend the day fulfilling our heart’s desire and can celebrate the truth that God’s ‘service is perfect freedom’.
Little wonder Screwtape is mystified by the ways of God. In calling us to the service of others God asks each of us to lay down self, yet as we begin to bend our will to God’s will we find a new fulfilment and a different way of living. We have learnt what Screwtape moans about that when we are wholly God’s possession we will become more ourselves than ever.
For a long while I have been convinces that God runs a perfect economy – perhaps the world of finance might be in a better place if bankers remembered that ‘economy’ was originally used to describe the management of the household of God (oikumene) and from it comes the word ecumenical…
In God’s perfect economy there is allowance for no waste or emptiness.
If God calls us to service, and we are willing to lay down our lives, God will equip us for service. God trains us and enables us for service by giving us the necessary skills to serve well. Having trained us God leads us to the places where our gifts can be best used. And finally God sets us free to serve by providing all the tools for the call to be answered perfectly.
A maxim of ministry – which demonstrates God’s economy – was coined by a colleague and I in East Suffolk some time ago, ‘If you give what you’ve got you’ll receive what you need’.
….and even more. For here is the amazing bit, and to be honest it surprised me when the truth dawned on me. Having given everything away to love and serve God the work, though difficult is not demanding, though dealing with dark places is full of light and, even when walking amongst intense sadness there is to be found an immense amount of joy!
Not only does the economy of God provide willing servants with all they need to proclaim the Good News it is also fulfilling and fun! People are amazed when they discover, like my friends in the IME group, that we do honestly enjoy the vocation to which we have been called – I for one have often said that I would pay folding money for the privilege of preaching a sermon. This joy should be the common experience of most Christians.
It is in the title of the book of his own conversion to a lively Christian faith that C.S. Lewis himself let the cat out of the bag. Lewis describes himself as the most reluctant of converts, owning only an intellectual assent to a faith, until he finds himself to be ‘Surprised by Joy’.
Joy, unlike pleasure, is permanent and possible in even the darkest places spilling over into the lives of those around us. Pleasure (in Lewis’ terms) is temporary and leaves people hungry for more even if it is at the expense of others. Of this we must beware, for when this happens pleasure quickly becomes indulgence.
I am a firm believer that the best witness to the Good News is a joyful spirit. A true deep joy welling up from a firm knowledge that we are perfectly loved by the One who loves us best. Knowing and submitting to this profligate love we are then set free in service to spread that same joy to others.
Look up references to the word ‘joy’ in the Bible. If stuck start with Proverbs 17:22
A Psalm To Ponder:
Psalm 22 part 4 – WHY? WHY? WHY?
Refrain: In the depths of our darkness you are rising, O Christ.
And can those who are buried give you worship,
those ground to the dust give you praise?
Will nothing be left but the wind and the silence,
a dead earth, abandoned, forgotten? Refrain:
But you are a God who creates out of nothing,
you are a God who raises the dead,
you are a God who redeems what is lost,
you are a God who fashions new beauty,
striving with the weight of your glory,
bearing the infinite pain. Refrain:
The footfalls of faith may drag through our days,
God’s gift of a costly and infinite enduring.
We remember your deliverance of your people of old,
we remember the abundance of the earth you have given us,
we remember the care and compassion of folk,
we remember your victory of long-suffering love. Refrain:
The power of the powers is but a feather in the wind!
Death is transfigured to glory fore ever! Refrain:
Risen Christ, breaking the bonds of death, shine on us with eyes of compassion and glory. Let light flood the dungeons of our rejected and downtrodden selves. So may the oppressed go free, the weak rise up in strength, and the hungry be fed, now in these our days. AMEN
Please Note: These reflections are also published on my blog: suffolkvicarhomes.com on Twitter as @SuffolkVicar, and on my public Facebook page Rev Andrew Dotchin
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Quotes from The Screwtape Letters are copyright © 1942 C.S. Lewis Pte
Prayers from Psalms for a Pilgrim People are copyright © 1989, 1991, 1993 Jim Cotter
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘Resisting the Prowling Lion’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2023
 From the Collect for Peace at Morning Prayer – Book of Common Prayer