Why bother with personal devotions?

I’m currently re-(re-re-re-…)reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and among the many things that have struck me with fresh force have been Lewis’s thoughts on the value of what we might call “personal devotions”, above all individual prayer and Bible reading.

In the first of two chapters on Faith, Lewis defines the virtue of faith “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods”. He writes (in words that I can identify with a lot):

Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

How to do this? Lewis continues:

The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.

So that’s the first reason for personal Bible reading and prayer: to ensure that at least some Christian teachings are “deliberately held before your mind for some time every day” (a thought that was enough to rouse me from lethargy on the train this morning and make me get my Bible and office book out, against my slovenly mood). This matters, because:

if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?

A second reason which Lewis gives in Mere Christianity for personal prayer and devotion is more positive. In the chapter “The Three-Personal God”, he writes:

You may ask, ‘If we cannot imagine a three-personal Being, what is the good of talking about Him?’ Well, there isn’t any good talking about Him. The thing that matters is being actually drawn into that three-personal life, and that may begin any time – to-night, if you like.

Lewis goes on to describe how, when an “ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers” – and I’ll have to ask you to excuse Lewis’s non-inclusive language – he is praying to God the Father, but at the same time knows that it is God the Holy Spirit within him who is moving him to pray, and that God the Son is standing alongside him, “helping him to pray, praying with him”:

So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kinds of life – what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself.

So there are two reasons for daily prayer and Bible reading: to remind ourselves of the truths of the Faith so that we don’t drift away from our moorings, and for us to be drawn into the life of the Trinity.

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