Dragonish Hearts Grow Dragon Skins

March 6, 2024 • Life for Leaders

Scripture — Matthew 7:17-18 (NIV)

Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.


Who we are on the inside will ultimately be revealed on the outside. As with Eustace in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia story The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, if our inner selves hide the heart of a dragon, we will eventually also have the skin of a dragon. To be transformed into the image of Christ, it is not enough to focus on our outer dragon skin; we need the inner work that will transform our inner selves.


I was excited this past January when Mark Roberts announced a series of devotions on “Inner Work.” It’s a topic fundamental to Christian discipleship and to what the Apostle Paul refers to in Romans 12:2 as transformation and renewal. Thus it is a subject I continually need to learn about and devote time to for my own spiritual growth and development as a leader.

Another reason I was excited is that I recently finished writing a book titled Aslan’s Breath, exploring C. S. Lewis’s portrayal of the Holy Spirit in the Chronicles of Narnia. Thus several scenes from those Narnia stories were fresh in my mind. One of particular relevance was in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when the unsympathetic character of Eustace entertains dragon-like thoughts, and as a result finds himself under an enchantment that transforms him into an actual dragon.

Many readers of these devotions may be familiar with the scene. The scene (and indeed the entire book) is worth reading or rereading. C. S. Lewis illustrates several principles very beautifully and imaginatively in the passage. The first is seen at the start of the episode: Our inner self will find a way to way to bubble through to our visible outer selves. Or it might be better to say that our inner selves—if not transformed by the Holy Spirit—have a tendency to erupt out of the surface like a volcano, spewing over the landscape the lava that has been hiding beneath the mountain.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, seemed to have been pointing to a principle like this when he taught that “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” We can wear our masks and hide our inner selves for a time, perhaps deceiving some who aren’t looking too closely, but eventually who we are inside is revealed.

In the case of Eustace, we might observe that from the start of the story he was always a little dragon-like on the inside. Not that he was fierce like a dragon; indeed, he was rather cowardly. But he is shown to be rude, condescending, selfish, and greedy. And yet, although his inner dragon-ish self is clearly visible to those around him, Eustace doesn’t see himself in that light. Since he views the world as revolving around himself, he feels justified in his actions; he sees those around him as unreasonably unjust villains.

It is after a particularly stressful time due to a storm, when the Dawn Treader lands on an island to make repairs, that Eustace (seeking to avoid his share of work) wanders off and stumbles onto an old dragon treasure. His selfish and greedy thoughts then eclipse all else. And that is when his outer skin reveals his inner self: he actually becomes a dragon. “He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.”

Pondering this passage, I am reminded of countless public figures in our own world—professional athletes, politicians, entertainment celebrities, and sometimes even church leaders—who get caught doing or saying things that most people would describe as bad behavior. Often when this happens we hear the public figure saying something like: “That’s not the real me,” or “That doesn’t reflect who I really am.” I suspect, however, that what we often see in those moments really is an outward reflection of the inner person. One reason I suspect that in the case of these celebrities is that it’s true of me. When I lash out at a family member or say something unkind to a church sister or brother, or to a colleague at work—when I appear to be wearing dragon skin—I want to think it’s only because I’m especially tired, or in an anxious situation. But the reality is that my unkindness and harshness are a reflection of some aspect of my inner self that still needs to be transformed. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I acted unkindly because I harbor unkindness in my heart. A little bit of fatigue is all it took to let it out.

Richard Foster points this out in his classic book Celebration of Discipline, noting that even the spiritual discipline of fasting can reveal the untransformed parts of our inner selves. He writes, “Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fast.” He goes on to note our tendency to “rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger,” but then points out that “we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us.”  He states this principle more generally in the book’s introductory chapter: “In the cracks and crevices of our lives, our deep inner condition will always be revealed. . . .  By dint of will people can make a good showing for a time, but sooner or later there will come the unguarded moment when the ‘careless word’ will slip out to reveal the true condition of the heart.”

It follows that—and this is a second principle we see in C. S. Lewis’s story and a lesson that Eustace himself learns—we can’t get rid of our dragonish selves by trying to peel off the outer skin; we must allow our inner dragon selves to be transformed. How this happens with Eustace reveals more profound insights. These, however, will have to wait until tomorrow’s devotion.


Consider how you see your inner self reflected in your outward words and actions. What does that reveal?  Thank God for his transformational work in your life and the ways that has been visible. Lift up to God areas of your life in which you desire to see more of that transformational work.


Reflect this week on the ways that your inner self is revealed in your outer words and actions. Use these moments to reflect, and turn them over to God, asking for insights.


Lord, I still have dragon-like parts of my heart that I hold back from you. Reveal to me what they are that I might allow you to peel them away. I yield to your deep claws, longing to be freed from the dragon skins. Thank you that you love me so deeply, and that you know me so thoroughly, that I can trust you with my whole heart. Thank you that you are willing to do a transforming and renewing work in me, touching not only my outer skin but the deepest places in my heart. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Use the Power of Your Words for Good.

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