Letters to Malcolm...

In his book, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis writes:

"It is no good angling for the rich moments. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard. Doesn't Charles Williams say somewhere that 'The altar must often be built in one place in order that the fire from heaven may descend somewhere else?'" (Find this in chapter XXI)

Lewis is right on both counts. First there is no use in "angling for the rich moments." God is free and will meet us at the right moments. This very often is not at our bidding, but at our most inconvenient! God often interrupts my life at the busiest of times, not the quietest. Sometimes God breaks in during very public moments, when I would rather be in charge of the moment itself. I've had this happen several times during worship lately, when I would much rather be in control of myself, than fumbling around for words, trying to gather my emotion. Most of the time I believe God intersects our lives through the most ordinary and mundane moments, when we simply are not looking in his direction. To think that we can create a moment where it will insure that God is present is thoroughly presumptuous. I've known many a pastor and worship leader who will manipulate moments and simply try to create emotion that might pass for the Spirit of God. God is not often found in these moments. The rich moments are when we are "off our guard."

But this does not mean we shouldn't be disciplined in building the altar. Lewis's quote of his friend Charles Williams is so apt. Week by week we in a sense, build the altar of worship in our churches. When we do this, it is our hope and prayer that God may meet us during this time. And for many, worship becomes a place of encounter. At its best worship can be a sign and a foretaste of heaven, where for a few moments in our week, God can reveal himself to us. Being consistent in worship is so important, not because it is the only place we're likely to meet God (that would be a pathetically short window of opportunity!), but that the disciplined 'building of the altar' makes us more open to the other times God is trying to get our attention.

So we build the altar week by week, not because we are angling for the rich moments with God, but because by so doing we are being prepared to see God's presence throughout the rest of our week. I'm reminded of Richard Foster's words in the first chapter of his now classic book Celebration of Discipline, "By themselves the Spiritual Disciplines can do nothing; they can only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God's means of grace." It is the discipline of building our altars that makes us available to the possibilities of God's intervention. If I didn't expect God to speak to me, or to act in my life at the altar, how could I conceive of God acting elsewhere? I believe what people often think of as God in the world has nothing to do with the one we meet at the altar. Often we project what we want God to be like, what we hope God to say to us and look like. But the God at the altar of our lives is quite different, the crucified Lord, Jesus himself, is nothing we could have imagined. And so at the altar our imaginations are lit, so we can see the fire elsewhere in our world.

Craig S. Williams
Orange County, California


Anonymous said...

That's the most persuasive argument for going to church I've ever encountered. Something to think about. Unfortunately there seems to be a fashion for church worship to simply manipulate emotion and this is putting off alot of people - many of us non- church attenders find it excruciatingly false and embarassing and actually avoid church when we would otherwise like to go. Still looking for one that won't make me feel out of place.It's getting harder and harder to find one.

Carla Taylor, Illinois said...

Thanks for helping me find this quote. I knew I had it in a book here somewhere!