Today’s post is a review and recommendation for Tim Keller’s book on prayer.
- Keller is excellent at using the examples of what praying people have said over the centuries about prayer instead of looking for the latest and greatest fads. He gives special attention to Augustine, Calvin and Luther.
- Keller begins by quoting Peter to show something amazing that we can ALL experience in prayer.
In 1 Peter 1:8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.”
Peter assumed that an experience of sometimes overwhelming joy in prayer was normal for all of us, not just for “spiritual giants”.
- Some of you may “specialize” in Bible knowledge. Others may “specialize” in “experiencing Jesus”. But look at what Keller says:
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.
- Keller describes changes in his personal prayer life that happened after a bout with thyroid cancer. Here and elsewhere in the book Keller describes how important endurance is: it always leads to delightful prayer even if not as quickly as we would like!
- The importance of the Bible in prayer:
“If the goal of prayer is a real, personal connection with God, then it is only by immersion in the language of the Bible that we will learn to pray, perhaps just as slowly as a child learns to speak. This does not mean, of course, that we must literally read the Bible before each individual prayer.”
- Varied Prayer as Response to God’s Glory
“We must not decide how to pray based on what types of prayer are the most effective for producing the experiences and feelings we want. We pray in response to God himself. God’s Word to us contains this range of discourse—and only if we respond to his Word will our own prayer life be as rich and varied.”
- Do we only pray to get stuff?
“We may believe in God, but our deepest hopes and happiness reside in things as in how successful we are or in our social relationships. We know God is there, but we tend to see him as a means through which we get things to make us happy. For most of us, he has not become our happiness. We therefore pray to procure things, not to know him better.”
What can marvelously change: Learning to enjoy spending sustained time adoring and praising God.
- What Christ has done — and how it changes our heart
John Calvin argues that you may know a lot about God, but you don’t truly know God until the knowledge of what he has done for you in Jesus Christ has changed the fundamental structure of your heart. “You don’t have true saving knowledge of God until you long to know and serve him.”
- Here’s what I need—but you know best
“Only through prayer can we leave all our needs and desires in God’s hands. That transaction brings a comfort and rest that nothing else can bring. We can pray confidently because he won’t give us everything we want.”
“In moralistic religion our only hope is to live a life good enough to require God to bless us. We will also take as little blame as possible, reciting all the mitigating circumstances to ourselves and others. When we do try to repent in this legalistic frame of mind—since we can never be sure if we have been abject enough to merit God’s favor—we can never experience the release and relief of resting in Jesus’ forgiveness.”
One way petitionary prayer can actually do us harm is if we see it as a means to say to God, “My will be done.” We are prone to indulge our appetites, telling God in no uncertain terms how he should run the universe. Such prayer neither pleases God nor helps us grow in grace.
When we petition God, “we should lay before God, as part of our prayer, the reasons why we think that what we ask for is the best thing.”
“Rather than simply running down a quick list of things we want, we should reflect on what we want in light of all we know from the Scripture about the things that delight and grieve God, in light of what we know about how his salvation works and what he wants for the world.”
“It usually requires years of experience in petitionary prayer to get the perspective necessary to see some of the reasons for God’s timing. In some cases we realize that we needed to change before we were able to receive the request rightly or without harming ourselves. In other cases it becomes clear that the waiting brought us the thing we wanted and also developed in us a far more patient, calm, and strong temperament.”
Two Related Resources
“Especially for beginners, it can be very helpful to use this older volume by Matthew Henry. He digs out of the Scripture hundreds of actual prayers and then organizes and classifies them under subheadings of the larger headings of praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, and conclusion. If you feel your own times of free-form prayer have stalled, Henry’s book affords an almost endless amount of grist for the mill.”
This book is readily available for free on the internet
Matthew Henry, A Method for Prayer, with Scripture Expressions, Proper to Be Used Under Each Head
Below is a free book on Amazon. It includes some printed prayers from centuries ago that are surprisingly relevant today. For example, there is a prayer for the King which is helpful in praying for the President today!