June 28, 2015
When it comes to talking about prayer, and when considering my own personal prayer life in particular, there are always two things that immediately spring to mind. ‘I want to pray!’, is normally my first thought, followed very quickly by, ‘I’m so bad at praying’. It was then to my great joy that I learned that Tim Keller, a pastor whose wisdom and honesty I have aways appreciated, had written a new book on the subject. With eagerness I bought and read!
Keller, in his typically concise and pithy manner, opens with these words;
‘This book will show that prayer is both a conversation and encounter with God. We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence. Prayer, then, is both awe and intimacy, struggle and reality.’ (p.5)
I absolutely loved this book. It really encouraged me not to view prayer as something I have to do, but rather, something I get to do. As I read, I found myself mulling over many of the ideas that Keller introduces and taking time to stop and trying to practice prayer rather than simply reading about it (which I guess was his whole point in writing!).
Here are 3 quick things I took away;
Firstly, prayer is a privilege. Keller devotes a few chapters to setting the groundwork for what prayer is. He takes us back to the gospel and reminds us what an incredible thing it is that we can address the God of the Universe in conversation. This isn't cheap access, this is something that Jesus achieved for us as he bled for us on the cross. We come before the God who spoke the Cosmos into existence only because Jesus stands in the throne room of heaven victorious, and by faith in him, we stand there with him clothed in his righteousness. As Keller writes;
‘We always have an audience (with God) because of what Jesus has done.’ (p.77)
There, at the right hand of the Father in heaven, Jesus lives to intercede for us. And God has sent his Spirit to live in me and help me live for him. Wow! What an awesome thing to be reminded of! We have access. Costly access. Full access. How often I forget. Father help me remember. Prayer is a privilege.
Secondly, prayer is a delight. One thing I really appreciated about Keller’s treatment of prayer was the wonderful way he so effortlessly switched between explaining simple and deep truths. If appreciating the privilege of prayer was a deep truth, here’s a simple one; the more you know who God is, the more you will delight to come before him in prayer. Why? Because God is a delightful God. How do I get to know him more? I encounter him in his Word. The God who I come to pray to isn't an unknown pie in the sky, he is a God who has so marvellously and fully revealed himself to us. Keller defines prayer as;
‘A personal, communicative, response to the knowledge of God.’ (p.45)
So who does God reveal himself to be in Scripture?;
‘The biblical God is majestic and tender, holy and forgiving, loving and inscrutable. In every case the nature of prayer is determined by the character of God, who is at once our friend, father, lover, shepherd, and King. ‘ (p.60)
The question then, naturally, is what picture do we have of God as we come to pray to him? Is Scripture moulding our view of the greatness of who God is or are we settling for a cheap imitation formed from our limited imagination? What a wonderful reminder. God is a delightful God. I can know him. I can speak to him. How often I forget. Father help me remember. Prayer is a delight.
Thirdly, prayer is a discipline. Prayer is not easy. I need to devote myself to praying. I need to invest myself in reading and praying through the Bible as I read it expectantly. I really appreciated how Keller was a realist in this respect. He devotes a good chuck of his book to laying out some really practical tools that will aid us in our prayer times. He so helpfully looks at differing approaches to prayer as adopted by some of the early Church fathers as potential models to follow. I particularly found the ‘Upward’, ‘Inward’, ‘Outward’ prayer model helpful in this respect. He also so beautifully expounds the ‘Lords prayer’ as a way of answering the question that the disciples originally asked Jesus, and the question disciples ever since continue to ask, namely, ’How should we pray?’. Keller was great at pointing to the fact that prayer and humility go hand in hand. Praylerlessness is a sign of self-dependence. As Keller writes;
‘To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything.’ - (p. 128)
What a great reminder. How often I forget. Father help me remember. Prayer is a discipline.
If you are looking for a practical, edifying, theologically rich treatment of the subject of prayer, than can I highly encourage you to invest your time in reading this book. You won’t regret it. I pray that you will.