Monday, September 25, 2017


Prayer, Timothy Keller

Sometimes you read something and think “Yes! This now THE book I will recommend to people on this topic”.

Timothy Keller states that as a pastor he “didn’t have a first book to give someone who wanted to understand and practice Christian prayer”. I think he has certainly met his own goal, outlining the theological, experiential and methodological in one volume. Long term readers will know I am a big fan of prayer having been challenged and encouraged by numerous books on the topic, such a A Praying Life, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Praying the Scriptures for your Children, Pray for the World and books of prayers such as the Valley of Vision. I have done a series on praying with your family and once had a blog of prayers.

So, I am deeply committed to prayer, but by no means consider myself to be an expert. There is always more to learn, and I have been encouraged by Keller’s insights.

He arranges his work into five logical parts:

1. Desiring Prayer. As he explores both the necessity and the greatness of prayer, our vision is immediately lifted to seeing the extraordinary privilege of being able to pray and the need to prioritise it.
“Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us may of the things we desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray. We have to.” (p18) 
“Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle – yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer.” (p32)
2. Understanding Prayer – expanding that prayer is both conversing with God, through immersion in his word, and encountering God personally.
“Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.” (p48)
It must however, be tethered to our knowledge of God through Scripture:
“Without immersion in God’s words, our prayer may not be merely limited and shallow but also untethered from reality. We may be responding not the real God but to what we wish God and life to be like.” (p62)
3. Learning Prayer

This was where I found the true gold. Taking us through the thoughts of Augustine, Calvin and Luther on the topic, Keller helps outline a way to closely link our bible reading and our prayer.

I particularly appreciated Luther’s two patterns. The first is to look at every part of scripture four ways: determine the point, praise God for the truths found in it, confess our failings regarding it, and pray for change for ourselves and others in response. I have started this practice myself and have been so encouraged by the breadth and depth to which I can understand and respond to God’s word. His second suggestion is to ‘riff’ the Lord’s prayer, taking each phrase in turn, and expounding on it in depth in prayer. I have heard this suggestion before, but am now encouraged to return to it in my own practice.

4. Deepening Prayer

By thinking about both what meditating on God’s word can look like, and encouraging us not to fear experiencing God in prayer; Keller expands both the evangelical practice of careful bible reading and more mystical, experiential expressions of prayer, and argues there is a way forward which embraces the biblical aspects of both, in a way that enables us to truly experience the presence of God.

“an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together.” (p17)

5. Doing Prayer

Breaking this down in four categories, he starts with awe – the importance of praising God. Then to intimacy, or finding God’s grace, that is rejoicing in forgiveness through confession and repentance. Thirdly he moves to struggle, or asking for help. Very insightfully, he applied Packer’s ideas as to what we should do when we ask God for things:
       1. Think about why we ask for it (this may revise our list to start with)
       2. Acknowledge God may will otherwise with the assurance that he wants what is best for his children.
       3. Consider what we might need to do for the prayer to be answered (what does it tell us about our own motivation, sin, etc). This can place limits on what we pray for.
He finishes with the strong encouragement to daily prayer, with his suggestion actually being 2-3 times per day.

He concludes with a great bibliography, explaining why he recommend each of the books. As a result I have four more books on order, so that I can push my thinking further and also encourage me in my practice.

Did I have any hesitations? Only a few. His method of prayer rightly asserts that if you pray like this, you will not have time for long prayer lists, because you will praying in much more depth about each person or thing. I agree, but I don’t want to reduce the range of people that I pray for. I think a wide variety of people and situations broadens our minds and hearts to include those not in our immediate circle. Related to this, I didn’t find a lot of encouragement to really pray about mission, world situations, the persecuted church, etc. I think it was implied, for really praying God’s word should lead us to those far-reaching, outward-looking prayers, but I didn’t overtly see it.

What have I concluded as a result? I can now understand how some of the great people of faith of the past (and surely some of the saints of today) spent hours in prayer. With the tools I am grasping, plus the desire to apply them, I now want more time to pray.

This book is theological rich, pastorally astute and practically applicable. Keller has met his own goal and produce a definitive book on prayer for a generation. I have read and appreciated other excellent books, but for now, this is my favourite.

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