The Present: Reflections on Instructions from Screwtape

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In chapter fifteen of The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape writes to Wormwood that humans must be made to look to the future and must be kept from any focus upon eternity or upon the present. Screwtape, a wiser, older demon than Wormwood, explains that “nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead” (1). By keeping humans focused on the future they will be kept away from the designs of the Enemy, who desires humans to focus upon the present, upon eternity, upon himself, and upon their present work.

Lewis’ point seems clear: an unhealthy focus upon the future disconnects people from what God has called them to do in the present. As Screwtape writes, “The Present is the point at which time touches eternity” (2). By forfeiting attention on the present, we forfeit effectiveness and growth.

Twice in the past week, I’ve heard the charge to “bloom where you’re planted.” The idea fits well with Lewis’ point in the chapter referenced above. We can become too consumed with fears of future events or with hopes for future blessings. The past can also factor into the equation, as Lewis notes, for we can try to hold on to past seasons instead of recognizing the responsibilities and the opportunities of the present (3). While the past can teach us and the future inspire us, we must remember that our lives are lived in the present, in the moment to moment progression of time on this earth.

This is far more easily affirmed than applied. Fears of what may lie ahead can shift my thoughts away from the reality of God’s sovereignty. Unfulfilled desires can tempt me to forget that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Dissatisfaction with a current situation can give greater strength to fear and to desire, further distracting me from the truths that I know. And when I become distracted, I tend to lose motivation for the work at hand. Although I know God has called me to work as unto Christ in all that I do, be that academic study or student ministry or personal discipline, I can quickly lose steam if I’m not careful to maintain my focus. This may be part of the thought behind Paul’s words to the Corinthians. As Paul wrote “to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35), he was steering his readers away from unnecessary distractions and toward focus upon the kingdom and the mission. The Lord calls us to love him with our whole being (Deuteronomy 6:5). Focus on the present, then, may be crucial to faithful service of the Lord.

This week, ask yourself how you can better focus on the present. Consider what the Lord has called you to do in this current season and commit yourself to work as unto him now (Colossians 3:23-24). This is not a call to avoid all thoughts of the future, for wisdom bids us plan for the future. This is also not a call to live for only the present moment, as the perspective of eternity teaches us to see the bigger picture. This is a call to recognize where God has providentially placed you and to be faithful to his call now. Trust him with every anxiety and hope, every cherished memory and every regret, and learn to seek him first in this moment. And may we be found faithful as we do so.


(1) Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002) 228.
(2) Ibid., 227.
(3) Ibid., 227-228.

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

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