Lewis: “Attempts at worship are often 99.9 percent failures”

October 2, 2015


“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” So begins Psalm 103, the psalm to which my “Fight Songs” sermon series takes us this Sunday. One thought I’ve had as I’ve studied the psalm is how impoverished our praise is in a typical worship service—nearly any worship service in my experience.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Reflections on the Psalms, doesn’t disagree. At all. In fact, one doubts he’d ever worshiped outside of some stodgy Anglican parish (not that they’re all stodgy!). Still, he says, we shouldn’t on this account lose heart. He writes:

For our “services” both in their conduct and in our power to participate, are merely attempts at worship; never fully successful, often 99.9 per cent failures, sometimes total failures. We are not riders but pupils in the riding school; for most of us the falls and bruises, the aching muscles and the severity of the exercise, far outweigh those few moments in which we were, to our own astonishment, actually galloping without terror and without disaster. To see what the doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God—drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, hence hardly tolerable, bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression, our joy no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds. The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

Meanwhile of course we are merely, as Donne says, tuning our instruments. the tuning up of the orchestra can be itself delightful, but only to those who can in some measure, however little, anticipate the symphony. The Jewish sacrifices, and even our own most sacred rites, as they actually occur in human experience, are, like the tuning, promise, not performance. Hence, like the tuning, they may have in them much duty and little delight; or none. But the duty exists for the delight. When we carry out our “religious duties” we are like people digging channels in a waterless land, in order that when at last the water comes, it may find them ready. I mean, for the most part. There are happy moments, even now, when a trickle creeps along the dry beds; and happy souls to whom this happens often.[1]

1. C.S. Lewis, “Reflections on the Psalms,” in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), 180.

3 Responses to “Lewis: “Attempts at worship are often 99.9 percent failures””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Yeah, I can resonate with this. About the “hardest” thing for me to do is actually concentrate on truly praising God. Way too easy to rush to requests.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Have you ever worshiped in a third-world or non-Western country? Not to generalize, but I perceive that most of our brothers and sisters in Christ outside of the West are much better at worship than we are!

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