Everytime I read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, I’m amazed at how contemporary it is. It always seems to have been written yesterday about Christians and the Church and me. I’m stimulated by the book, intellectually and spiritually, because the pictures he paints and the illustrations he uses always relate perfectly to my situation.
In the twelfth letter, though, Screwtape tells his nephew tempter, Wormwood, to allow his “patient” to be lulled to sleep in his relationship to “the Enemy.” Allow this Christian, Screwtape says, to pick up subtle habits and develop relationships here and there that give him only a vague feeling that “he hasn’t been doing very well lately” in his relationship to God. The advice is to handle those feelings carefully. You don’t want to wake the Christian up and spoil everything with his repentance. It’s best to help him to waste his time.
Screwtape says Wormwood can start distracting his patient with a good book or in conversation with his new friends. But then eventually, as his relationship to God begins to wane, the devil can lure him away with nothing more than a column of ads in the newspaper or a boring visit with people he doesn’t even like or just staring at a dead fire in a cold room.
“The only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.”
This is just about the only place in the book I think our society today is so very different from the world of the early 1940s that the text doesn’t have the same dramatic impact it did then. I believe now that instead of sitting and doing nothing, our relationships to God are much more threatened by the fact we never just sit and do nothing. The busy-ness with which we fill our lives today is killing us. And it’s destroying our discipleship to our King. Our precious time is scheduled to the minute with career, social, leisure, and family obligations that have us running from the moment we wake up until the second our heads hit the pillow at night. We’re so busy. We’re too busy. We’re too busy to spend any time with our kids and God because we’re spending all of our time driving our kids back and forth from practices and games to concerts and friends’ houses. We’re too busy to spend any time with our spouses and God because we’re spending all of our energy maintaining our houses and burying ourselves in entertainment. Church work and church programs and church business can also interfere with our relationships with God. We’re too busy. Way too busy. God and our commitments to him get edged further and further out. I’ll catch up on my Bible reading tomorrow. I’ll pray a little more seriously and fervently when I have more time. I’ll assemble with the church for worship next week once this project’s finished. And we’re so busy with our commitments and obligations we don’t think for a moment we’re slipping away. We don’t have time to notice.
Screwtape delights in this.
“Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
I have found in my own life (here’s a confession so, what happens on the blog stays on the blog) that I spent more time with my God in his Scriptures and in fervent prayer before I went to Austin Grad and then began preaching full-time. I just assumed that studying the Word and preparing to preach the Word and praying to God about his Word and my delivery of that Word meant I was closer and stronger in those spiritual disciplines than ever before.
It was always very easy for me to set aside one hour a day to pray and to meditate on Scripture. Now I find myself getting behind on my Bible reading because I’m spending so much time studying for my sermon. Does that make sense? My alone time with God is compromised because of a church meeting or a devotional. Is that crazy? My great friend, Jason Reeves, told me it happened to him when he went to school. He warned me about it when he began preaching. At the time, I didn’t understand. Now I do.
In some ways I’m with my God and his people every waking moment. In other ways, I’m not as close to him as I was when I was in radio.
Let’s just all be careful with our busy-ness. Me included. We’re fully aware that work and family and recreation can edge us away from God. But let’s be aware that Kingdom work can also.