C.S. Lewis’s Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly On Prayer is a most creative and fascinating read on the topic of prayer and how it works. I highly recommend it.
And there’s something else by Lewis I’d recommend reading first, because it helped me get even more out of Letters to Malcolm.
Tucked away in the appendix of a book by C.S. Lewis that isn’t even about prayer, is a jewel on the topic. At the back of Miracles: A Preliminary Study (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) is “Appendix B: On Special Providences.”
That appendix contains an elegant explanation of the effect of prayer on events, including events with outcomes other than what one prayed for. When I came upon this outstanding, thought-provoking essay a few years ago, it changed the way I pray.
Lewis makes so many excellent points in Appendix B of Miracles that I highly recommend this section of the book to all who pray, have considered doing so, or have given it up–and especially to those who are just beginning to understand the relationships between the seen and unseen worlds, and their role in all of it.
The Interplay of Prayer, Providence, and Free Will
It is one of the best pieces I’ve read on how providence unfolds, affected by both prayer and free will. Here’s an example of Lewis’s insight:
“When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds that (if only we knew it) the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided–in a sense it was decided ‘before all worlds.’ But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering” (Miracles, C.S. Lewis, page 291, in “Appendix B: On Special Providences”).
The Metaphysical Reality of Prayer
It is fascinating to consider Lewis’ perspective in conjunction with a similar discussion of the actual, metaphysical impact of prayer found in in the book UpperDogs by Sarah Thiessen and Heather Hughes.
Lewis hit on a rarely discussed point that as destiny unfolds, it contains not only the results of our prayer, but of “all our other acts.” Here is where our chickens, along with our prayers, come home to roost. Here is where the bread we have cast on the waters comes back to us (Ecclesiastes 11:1); and where the measure we have used to give to others is also used to measure what comes back to us (Luke 6:38).
“Your Prayer Has Never Been Ignored”
Let me leave you with this one last point from Miracles:
“When the event you prayed for occurs your prayer has always contributed to it. When the opposite event occurs your prayer has never been ignored; it has been considered and refused, for your ultimate good and the good of the whole universe (Miracles, C.S. Lewis, page 294, in “Appendix B: On Special Providences”).
(Note: Although I found Appendix B of Lewis’s book Miracles mentioned above to be extremely useful on the topic of prayer, on the topic of miracles, as much as I appreciate Lewis, Craig S. Keener’s book Miracles was far more helpful to me.)
For more of my favorite books on prayer: