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Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God Paperback – January 26, 2016
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Now here’s the interesting thing. There is not much new in this new book. As Keller says, the best books on prayer have already been written. So instead of pursuing novelty (see The Prayer of Jabez or The Circle Maker or a thousand other books) Keller looks to the past, to the deep wells of Christian history, and draws heavily from Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, and Edwards (and, in more recent history, Edmund Clowney). He understands that any new insights on prayer tend to go farther from rather than closer to biblical truth. Instead of looking for new secrets to discover or keys to unlock, Keller looks for fresh ways of saying those old things. Again, there is nothing profoundly new in this new book, but that is its strength, not its weakness.
Keller begins his book in an interesting place—the tension between two kinds of prayer. Christians tend to describe prayer in one of two ways: communion-centered or kingdom-centered. Communion-centered prayer is “a means to experience God’s love and to know oneness with him. [Such authors] promise a life of peace and of continual resting in God. [They] often give radiant testimonies of feeling regularly surrounded by the divine presence.” Kingdom-centered prayer “sees the essence of prayer not as inward resting but as calling on God to bring in his kingdom. Prayer is viewed as a wrestling match, often—or perhaps ordinarily—without a clear sense of God’s immediate presence.” He opts to discard the either-or view and will not drive a wedge between the two. Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God.
This is not to say he advocates the kind of prayer you might find among the Roman Catholic mystics whose books remain so popular today. In fact, he pushes firmly against mysticism, against meditation as being an emptying of the mind rather than a filling of it, or against rapturous but mindless prayers. But still he leaves plenty of room for true communion with God, and for the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit who may bring Scripture to mind and cause us to understand it better in those times we are prayerfully meditative. Even as he teaches these things, he leans on the Reformers and Puritans.
As I began to read, I had thought that Keller’s purpose in the book might be to try to resolve the mysteries of prayer. Over time, though, I came to see that this is not the case. There is much about prayer we cannot understand and may never understand on this side of eternity (and perhaps even after). Keller peers into these mysteries, but he does not attempt to resolve them. He understands that prayer will always be difficult and never over-promises, never lays out a plan that, if followed, will supposedly bring guaranteed or overwhelming results. We can grow in our understanding of prayer and our skill at prayer, but we will never solve it, and will never pray perfectly.
One particularly interesting aspect of the book is Keller’s definition of prayer. Few books on prayer pause to actually define prayer, but Keller gives it his best shot. Prayer, he says, is a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God. This accounts for the universality of prayer—all religions, and very nearly all human beings, pray. They pray because they have some knowledge of God through his creation. But as God awakens the hardened hearts of his people, Christians are now able to pray on the basis of much greater and much more specific knowledge. Thus, for the Christian, “praying is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.”
Early in his book Keller critiques most books on prayer as being “primarily theological or devotional or practical, but seldom do they combine the theological, experiential, and methodological all under one cover.” This is what he has attempted to do, and it is exactly what he has done, as displayed in the book’s five parts: Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, Doing Prayer. He has written a winsome, well-rounded book that leads through theory and into practice. It is one of the strongest books on prayer I have ever read and it receives my highest recommendation.
Naturally, when I heard one of my favorite authors, Timothy Keller, was coming out with a book on prayer, I was eager to get my hands on a copy and dig in.
Prayer: Experiencing Prayer and Intimacy with God is a book that was birthed out of Keller's realization of his own shortcomings in prayer. Both he and his wife were diagnosed with diseases during a certain season of their lives (his was thyroid cancer and hers was Crohn's disease). This coupled with pastoring in Manhattan around the time of the September 11th terrorist attacks forced Keller to his knees and really begin to practice and wrestle with the concept of prayer.
Readers will sense within the first five pages just how well-read and well-thought-out Keller is in dealing with prayer. Keller sought to write on the essentials of prayer from a "theological, experiential, and methodological" perspective, and thus do something most books on prayer seldom do (1).
A Brief Summary
This book is divided into five parts, each comprising from two to five chapters. Part one is called "Desiring Prayer," which answers the "why?" question about prayer and digs into its necessity, mapping out the terrain for the rest of the book.
Part two, "Understanding Prayer," describes the many differing views of prayer from many vantage points including world religions, the non-religious, and various Christian traditions. He then moves to discuss how prayer is our response to God's Word and share how the Trinity is essential to true prayer.
Part three, "Learning Prayer," interacts with great theologians from church history (Augustin, Luther, and Calvin), sharing their instruction and methods in prayer. (I was especially helped by Keller's interaction with Luther's teaching on meditation on Scripture and the Holy Spirit "preaching to us" in prayer.) Keller then moves on to prescribe modeling our prayers along the Lord's Prayer before laying out a biblical and balanced grid of what prayer is, what it requires, what it gives, and where it takes us.
Part four, "Deepening Prayer," dives deeper into meditation and the experiential aspect of prayer, interacting with theologians like John Owen, J.I. Packer, Jonathan Edwards, and C.S. Lewis along gleaning truth and offering critique of medieval and Catholic practices of mystical prayer.
Part five, "Doing Prayer," practically teaches just that: the place of praise in prayer, the role of the gospel in prayer, and our ability to ask for help in prayer. The last chapter offers a guide for daily prayer, sharing sample devotions and methods to practice.
Simply put, I was floored by Prayer. There is much that he mentioned that will change my life and practice of prayer. Here are a few things that have been echoing in my head the past several days:
--We are to pray in Jesus name, not our own. This means that our basis for approaching God is the finished work of Christ and that we shouldn't think our good works or performance earns us access to God.
--We are to always have the gospel in focus during prayer to keep us humble, fuel our praise, and provide us so many reasons to give thanks to God in prayer. If we are in Christ, it also grounds our prayer in reality and not circumstances around us.
--Meditating on Scripture is a bridge that moves from Scripture reading to heartfelt prayer.
--Prayer-lists can be unhelpful if they are merely rattled off to God like a grocery list. They should be accompanied with theological reasoning and self-examination.
--I also greatly valued interacting with people from church history and their experience in prayer.
What Center Church: Doing Balanced Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City did for equipping and encouraging gospel-centered ministers, Prayer does for equipping and encouraging gospel-centered pray-ers. The rich theology of Prayer grounded me in biblical truth and motivated me for prayer; the experiential aspect guided me in understanding more of what prayer is like while pushing me to dig deeper; and the methodological section equipped me to develop my own practical and sustainable life of prayer that makes a difference. I feel like I've just gone through a masters-level class on prayer.
Keller interacts with a variety of authors and theologians and puts together a scholarly--but not overly-scholarly--treatment on prayer that may be the most well-rounded book on prayer there is.
Who This Is For
Prayer is a book for people who want biblical grounding in prayer, a gospel motivation to pray, and practical methods for prayer. This book might be hard for some due to its somewhat scholarly nature (Keller writes for a well-educated congregation in Manhattan), but shouldn't scare people away who are serious about maturing in their understanding and experience of prayer.
I could see this book being widely read by a variety of people. Christians looking to deepen their understanding and practice of prayer will find it invaluable. Small groups will value its practical instruction, gospel-grounding, and prescribed methods, while Bible school and seminary students will value the depth of citations and additional resources in the appendix and learning from different Christian traditions they might not otherwise have exposure to.
The true value of this book will not lie in having read and understood it, but from having it change your daily life and practice. I am greatly challenged to more intentionally pursue a richer, deeper, more faithful and more God-honoring time in prayer. I hope it does the same for you.
Title: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Dutton House
Rating: 5 Stars
Originally Published at KevinHalloran.net
Top international reviews
He enjoys Timothy Keller books so this one is right up his street.
when he's read it i will update with what he thinks of it too.
it's a softback book - came well packaged and undamaged.
To actually giving examples of men of God practice in daily prayer, so helpful for anyone who truly desire intimacy with God.