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Resisting the Prowling Lion – Day 21

Resisting the Prowling Lion – 40 Days with Screwtape

Day 21 – Friday after 3rd Sunday of Lent

To Read:

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’.


The most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion.   No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of ‘grace’ for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation!   This is very bad.

I see only one thing to do at the moment.   Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact?   All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility.   Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove! I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride – pride at his own humility – will appear.   If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt – and so on, through as many stages as you please.   But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.

Your affectionate uncle


To Reflect:

Of all of the passages that people quote from The Screwtape Letters this is perhaps the most used: such a marvellous description of the human condition yet sadly so true.

Not listed amongst the nine fruits which prove that the Holy Spirit has been at work in our lives, humility, if we but give space for it to grow in our hearts, is the key to the blossoming of all the fruits of the Spirit.

The Franciscan calling, which I try to follow, reminds me continually that humility is drawn from the word humus and that we are to be ‘earthy’ people – rooted in the simple things of life and place ourselves underneath others instead of standing on top of them. 

True humility is the antidote to the great sin of pride, which presumes that somehow we have a share in our own creation and origin.  Pride grabs and holds and strangles.  Humility teaches us to be open handed, allowing those around us to grow, content to see, and rejoice in fruit borne by others.

The Rule of the Franciscan community to which I belong has this to say about humility;

Humility confesses that we have nothing that we have not received and admits the fact of our insufficiency and our dependence upon God. It is the basis of all Christian virtues.

We are called to own up (confess) to the fact that we own nothing, and to be happy with our dependence on God.  This is the antithesis of my current favourite heresy, ‘Little Jack Horner’ theology.  How tempting it is as we make a little progress in the life of faith to pat ourselves on the back for thinking we must be ‘jolly good fellows’ for God to have chosen to love us and care for us!  

When I first returned to the Church of England from Southern Africa I met a wonderfully vivacious priest who, tongue fully in cheek, revelled in the fact that her car (inherited from her dad who was a cathedral canon) which not only had the number plate REV 007 but also sported a bumper sticker reading, ‘Jesus loves you… but I’m his favourite.  Needless to say she was a wonderful living example of the joy that comes with genuine humility.

Much better is the hand to mouth faith of someone who only hopes, ‘for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation!’  If we learn to live provisional lives, lives without presumption, lives in which our eyes are fixed firmly on our Lover the whole time, that is indeed very bad news for tempters senior and junior alike.

Like Peter, struggling to walk on the water, we flounder every time we take our eyes off Him.  Thinking that perhaps we can work miracles in our own strength we puff out our chests and look around us for other things on which to stand.  This may work for a while, much sin feels good and reasonable at its beginning, but as pride proves its hollowness we realize there is indeed only one sure foundation, only one rock and with Peter cry out, ‘Save us for we are sinking’.

Polishing up one’s humility, as Screwtape advises Wormwood, is simply choosing to make a proud boast about the work of God’s grace in our lives and will always end in futility.  

How then do we learn humility?  We do this by a simple growth in faith.  Quiet devotion, care for others before we care for ourselves, cultivating a thankful heart and, above all laughter. 

To Do:

Give something away without being asked for it.  

Tell someone a joke today.

A Psalm To Ponder:


Refrain:        Amidst the confusions of time, may we hear eternity’s heartbeat.

God of eternity,

God beyond time,

our refuge and our hope 

from one generation to another: 

Before the mountains rose from the sea, 

before the rivers carved the valleys, 

before time itself began, 

you are God, eternal.      Refrain:

From dust we came, 

to dust we return.

“Be shaped from the clay, 

be crumbled to the earth.”

Creator of life, of death, 

so did you order our ways.

A thousand years in your sight 

are as yesterday.

As a watch in the night 

comes quickly to an end, 

so the years pass before you, 

in a flicker of the eye.      Refrain:

The years are like the grass, 

which in the morning is green, 

and by evening is dried up and withered.

As the grass shrivels in the smoke, 

so is our pride consumed in your fire: 

we are afraid of the burning of the dross.     Refrain:

All our misdeeds and deceits 

are brought to light before your eyes, 

all our secret sins 

made clear in the light of your truth.

When you are angry, 

our days are as nothing: 

our years come to an end, 

vanishing with a sigh.     Refrain:

The decades soon pass, 

no more than a handful.

Some show vigour in age, 

yet even they are soon gone.

So much of our span is wearisome, 

full of labour and sorrow.     Refrain:

O the speed of it all, 

and the vanity of the years: 

all I have done is like straw, 

and most of it is forgotten already.

Success crumbles into dust: 

there is nothing to pay love’s account.      Refrain:

Who is even aware 

of the purging of your wrath?

Who pays a moment’s attention 

to the fierceness of your love?

Teach us to number our days, 

and apply our hearts to wisdom.     Refrain:

Turn again, O God, do not delay: 

give grace to your servants.

Satisfy us in the morning 

with your lovingkindness.

So we shall rejoice and be glad 

all the days of our life.     Refrain:

Give us days of gladness 

to make up for those of affliction, 

for the years of adversity.

Show your servants your deeds, 

and your glory to your children.

May your grace be upon us; 

fill us with the Spirit of love.

For in the evening of our days 

when we come to be judged, 

we shall be known only by love, 

delivered only by love.     Refrain:

Eternal God, thank you for your gift of time and the measure death gives to our days.  They pass so quickly as to dent our pride.  May we neither rely on our achievements nor be downcast at our failures.  Keep us but faithful to your love, and dependent on your grace alone.  AMEN.     (Jim Cotter)


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

If you would like them as a daily email please send a request to vicar@felixparish.com


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

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