I once preached a sermon entitled, “How to Train Your Dragon.” Basically, Genesis 3 gives us the account of mankind’s decision to live under the rule of dragons. Each of us have a throne at the center of our being, and someone or something must always occupy that throne. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, humans decide to sit on their own thrones; and when they do, they become dragons at heart, destroying everything in sight. This isn’t about getting Satan off the throne of our hearts, it’s about killing our own dragon-natures and allowing God to sit on the throne he created. Christian life is the return of the rightful occupant after willful rebellion.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen instantaneously. Even the great missionary and apostle, Paul, struggled with his dragon (Romans 7). Even the man after God’s own heart spent his fair share of time with a dragon on his throne (2 Samuel 11, 24). I draw two conclusions from this: 1. God knows we have dragons on our thrones and loves us anyway. 2. Not only does God love us when dragons occupy our thrones, he offers to help us get rid of them. When God rules on our thrones, we become more like him and less like dragons. This we call growth or sanctification. However, dragons do not go down easily or without a fight.
Screwtape loves to remind Wormwood of ways to keep these dragons on the throne as long as possible, primarily through confusion and twisting God’s good gifts. In Letter 14, Screwtape advises, “All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride – pride of his own humility – will appear. If he wakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt – and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humour and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.” This is tame compared to his strategy in Letter 12: “As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago. And while he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognised, sin, but only with his vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.”
I’ve caught myself falling prey to these dragon-hearted mind games many times in life. Screwtape hits the nail on the head when he tells Wormwood, “Keep [your man] wondering what pride or lack of faith has delivered him into your hands when a simple enquiry into what he has been eating or drinking for the last twenty-four hours would show him whence your ammunition comes and thus enable him by a very little abstinence to imperil your lines of communication.” In the quest to be eternally rid of my dragon, I’ve periodically returned it to the throne, only to wonder how it got there. The temptation is to look for grand flaw or gaping lack of faith, when, in reality, the small steps, the little things I’d done in the previous day or so gave the dragon a paved highway directly to the throne.
In my experience, self-growth and sanctification rarely (if ever) constantly move toward the goal of God on the throne. The fight often feels like one step forward and two steps back. Thankfully, the will to allow God to change me is all God requires for forward progress, even when I give up that forward progress and allow the dragon to gain ground. This forward and backward, upward and downward movement, is the result of what Lewis called, the Law of Undulation, the “repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.” Screwtape tells Wormwood in Letter 8, “If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life – his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down.” Both the peaks and troughs can increase and decrease our likelihood to return our dragons to the throne.
The Christian’s tendency to rise and rise again after each of these failures sets him or her apart from non-believers. “Though a righteous man (or woman) falls seven times, he (or she) rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity” (Proverbs 24:16). As much as I wish it would happen instantaneously, perfection will never come for the Christian until the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). Until that time, God desires nothing more than a willingness to submit to his plan. One of my favorite descriptions of this reality comes from Letter 8: “He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. … He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” This kind of growth destroys dragons more quickly than any other method. This is sanctification; this is Christian growth at its finest.
If you’ve got a dragon-killing story, share it in the comments below. Even if you’re experiencing the Law of Undulation, God can and will kill your dragon. “If only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with [your] stumbles.”