lowest Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy 2021 new arrival with God outlet online sale

lowest Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy 2021 new arrival with God outlet online sale

lowest Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy 2021 new arrival with God outlet online sale
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Renowned pastor and New York Times bestselling author of The Prodigal Prophet Timothy Keller explores the power of prayer.

Christians are taught in their churches and schools that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God. But few receive instruction or guidance in how to make prayer genuinely meaningful. In Prayer, renowned pastor Timothy Keller delves into the many facets of this everyday act.

With his trademark insights and energy, Keller offers biblical guidance as well as specific prayers for certain situations, such as dealing with grief, loss, love, and forgiveness. He discusses ways to make prayers more personal and powerful, and how to establish a practice of prayer that works for each reader.

Dr. Keller’s previous books have sold more than one million copies. His Redeemer Presbyterian Church is not only a major presence in his home base of New York, it has also helped to launch more than two hundred fifty other churches in forty-eight cities around the world. His teachings have already helped millions, the majority of whom pray regularly. And with Prayer, he’ll show them how to find a deeper connection with God.



Review

Praise for Prayer

". . . Keller provides a contextually rich guide and companion to prayer."
Kirkus

". . . If you follow Keller into the arsenal, you will be powerfully equipped to overcome the world/flesh/Devil and see your prayers for kingdom advance answered by almighty God. And if you follow Keller to the banqueting table, you will increasingly feast on new and old treasures of awe and intimacy with your heavenly Father."
The Gospel Coalition

Praise for Encounters with Jesus

"Keller’s work belongs on the bookshelf of every serious Bible student. It is not a quick read, but, instead should be savored like fine wine, one sip at a time to glean the full impact of his life-changing message."
- Examiner.com

Praise for Timothy Keller and his books

"Tim Keller''s ministry in New York City is leading a generation of seekers and skeptics toward belief in God. I thank God for him." 
– Billy Graham

“Unlike most suburban megachurches, much of Redeemer is remarkably traditional. What is not traditional is Dr. Keller’s skill in speaking the language of his urbane audience . . . Observing Dr. Keller’s professorial pose on stage, it is easy to understand his appeal.” 
The New York Times

“Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.”
–  Christianity Today Magazine

“With intellectual, brimstone-free sermons that manage to cite Woody Allen alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Keller draws some 5,000 young followers every Sunday. Church leaders see him as a model of how to evangelize urban centers across the country, and Keller has helped ‘plant’ 50 gospel-based Christian churches around New York plus another 50 from San Francisco to London.” 
New York Magazine

“Theologically rich and philosophically informed, yet accessible and filled with practical wisdom.”
Comment Magazine on Every Good Endeavor

“This book is for us all and through its reading it can change and reshape your entire outlook on your life.”
– Sarah Macintosh on Every Good Endeavor

“It’s a great resource to equip you to speak with your secular friends; to show them why the Christian understanding of marriage is not only a tremendous blessing, it’s the only one that works.”
– ChristianPost.com on The Meaning of Marriage

The Meaning of Marriage is incredibly rich with wisdom and insight that will leave the reader, whether single or married, feeling uplifted. While the book is filled with expertly selected biblical verses, nonreligious readers willing to ‘try on’ these observations may find answers not only to the meaning of marriage but to that even bigger question—the meaning of life itself.”
The Washington Times on The Meaning of Marriage

“This is the book I give to all my friends who are serious spiritual seekers or skeptics.”
– Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, on The Reason for God

“Keller mines material from literary classics, philosophy, anthropology and a multitude of other disciplines to make an intellectually compelling case for God. Written for skeptics and the believers who love them, the book draws on the author''s encounters as founding pastor of New York''s booming Redeemer Presbyterian Church…[ The Reason for God] should serve both as testimony to the author''s encyclopedic learning and as a compelling overview of the current debate on faith for those who doubt and for those who want to reevaluate what they believe, and why.” 
Publishers Weekly on The Reason for God

World has briefly reviewed about 200 books over the past year. Many stand out, but one in particular is likely to change many lives and ways of thinking. World’s Book of the Year is Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. ”
– Marvin Olasky on The Reason for God

About the Author

TIMOTHY KELLER was born and raised in Pennsylvania and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular Sunday attendees and has helped to start more than two hundred and fifty new churches around the world. Also the author of The Songs of Jesus, Preaching, Encounters with Jesus, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Every Good Endeavor, The Meaning of Marriage, Generous Justice, Counterfeit Gods, The Prodigal God, Jesus the King, and The Reason for God, Timothy Keller lives in New York City with his family.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

CONTENTS

Introduction

Why Write a Book on Prayer?

Some years ago I realized that, as a pastor, I didn’t have a first book to give someone who wanted to understand and practice Christian prayer. This doesn’t mean there aren’t great books on prayer. Many older works are immeasurably wiser and more penetrating than anything I could possibly produce. The best material on prayer has been written.

Yet many of these excellent books are written in an archaic idiom inaccessible to most contemporary readers. In addition they tend to be primarily theological or devotional or practical, but seldom do they combine the theological, experiential, and methodological all under one cover.1 A book on the essentials of prayer should treat all three. Also, nearly all the classic books on prayer spend a fair amount of time warning readers about practices in their day that were spiritually unhelpful or even damaging. Such cautions must be updated for readers living in each generation.

Two Kinds of Prayer?

Recent writers on prayer tend to have one of two views on the subject. Most now emphasize prayer as a means to experience God’s love and to know oneness with him. They promise a life of peace and of continual resting in God. Such authors often give radiant testimonies of feeling regularly surrounded by the divine presence. Other books, however, see 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. One book of this sort is The Still Hour, by Austin Phelps.2 He begins with the premise that a sense of the absence of God is the norm for the Christian at prayer, and that the experience of God’s presence is difficult for most people to find.

Another book with the same approach is Donald G. Bloesch’s The Struggle of Prayer. He criticizes what he calls “Christian mysticism.”3 He resists the teaching that prayer’s ultimate goal is personal communion with God. He thinks this makes prayer a selfish “end in itself.”4 In his view, the highest aim of prayer is not peaceful reflection but fervent supplication for the kingdom of God to come to fruition in the world and in our own lives. The ultimate aim of prayer is “obedience to God’s will, not the contemplation of his being.”5 Prayer is not mainly for an inner state but for conformity to God’s purposes.

What accounts for these two views—what we could call “communion-centered” and “kingdom-centered” prayer? One explanation is that they reflect people’s actual experience. Some discover that their emotions are unresponsive toward God and that even paying attention in prayer for more than a few minutes is extremely difficult. Others regularly experience a feeling of God’s presence. This accounts at least in part for the different views. However, theological differences also play a role. Bloesch argues that mystical prayer fits more with the Catholic view that God’s grace is infused directly into us through baptism and the Mass rather than with the Protestant belief that we are saved through faith in God’s word of gospel promise.6

Which view of prayer is the better one? Is peaceful adoration or assertive supplication the ultimate form of prayer? That question assumes that the answer is completely either-or, which is unlikely.

Communion and Kingdom

For help, we should turn first to the Psalms, the inspired prayer book of the Bible. There we see that both experiences of prayer are well represented. There are Psalms such as Psalm 27, 63, 84, 131, and the “long hallelujah” of Psalms 146–150 that depict adoring communion with God. In Psalm 27:4, David says that there is one primary thing he asks of the Lord in prayer—“to gaze on the beauty of the Lord.” While David did in fact pray for other things, he means at the very least that nothing is better than to know the presence of God. Therefore he says: “O God . . . my soul thirsts for you. . . . I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, I will praise you” (Ps 63:1–3). When he adores God in his presence, he says his “soul is satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Ps 63:5). This is indeed communion with God.

There are, however, even more Psalms of complaint, of cries for help, and of calls for God to exercise his power in the world. There are also stark expressions of the experience of God’s absence. Here we indeed see prayer as a struggle. Psalms 10, 13, 39, 42–43, and 88 are just a very few examples. Psalm 10 begins asking why God “stands far off” and “hides” himself in times of trouble. Suddenly the author cries, “Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless” (Ps 10:12). Yet then he seems to speak almost to himself as well as to the Lord. “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief. You consider it to take it to hand. . . . You are the helper of the fatherless” (Ps 10:14). The prayer ends with the psalmist bowing to God’s timing and wisdom in all matters yet still fiercely calling out for justice on the earth. This is the wrestling match of kingdom-centered prayer. The Psalter, then, affirms both the communion-seeking and kingdom-seeking kinds of prayer.

Besides looking at the actual prayers of the Bible, we should consider also the Scripture’s theology of prayer—the reasons in God and in our created nature that human beings are able to pray. We are told that Jesus Christ stands as our mediator so that we, though undeserving in ourselves, can boldly approach God’s throne and cry out for our needs to be met (Heb 4:14–16; 7:25). We are also told that God himself dwells within us through the Spirit (Rom 8:9–11) and helps us to pray (Rom 8:26–27) so that even now by faith we may gaze and contemplate the glory of Christ (2 Cor 3:17–18). Thus the Bible gives us theological support for both communion-centered and kingdom-centered prayer.

A little reflection will show us that these two kinds of prayer are neither opposites nor even discrete categories. Adoring God is shot through with supplication. To praise God is to pray “hallowed be thy name,” to ask him to show the world his glory so that all would honor him as God. Yet just as adoration contains supplication, so seeking God’s kingdom must include prayer to know God himself. The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that our purpose is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In this famous sentence we see reflected both kingdom-prayer and communion-prayer. Those two things—glorifying God and enjoying God—do not always coincide in this life, but in the end they must be the same thing. We may pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, but if we don’t enjoy God supremely with all our being, we are not truly honoring him as Lord.7

Finally, when we consult many of the greatest of the older writers on prayer—such as Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin—we see that they do not fall neatly into either camp.8 Indeed, even the prominent Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar has sought to bring balance to the mystical, contemplative prayer tradition. He warns against turning inward too much. “Contemplative prayer . . . neither can nor should be self-contemplation, but [rather] a reverent regard and listening to . . . the Not-me, namely, the Word of God.”9

Through Duty to Delight

Where, then, does this leave us? We should not drive a wedge between seeking personal communion with God and seeking the advance of his kingdom in hearts and in the world. And if they are kept together, then communion will not be just wordless mystical awareness on the one hand, and our petitions will not be a way of procuring God’s favor “for our many words” (Matt 6:7) on the other.

This book will show that prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. These two concepts give us a definition of prayer and a set of tools for deepening our prayer lives. The traditional forms of prayer—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication—are concrete practices as well as profound experiences. 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. These will not happen every time we pray, but each should be a major component of our prayer over the course of our lives.

J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom’s book on prayer has a subtitle that sums all this up nicely. Prayer is “Finding Our Way through Duty to Delight.” That is the journey of prayer.

PART ONE

Desiring Prayer

ONE

The Necessity of Prayer

“We’re Not Going to Make It”

In the second half of my adult life, I discovered prayer. I had to.

In the fall of 1999, I taught a Bible study course on the Psalms. It became clear to me that I was barely scratching the surface of what the Bible commanded and promised regarding prayer. Then came the dark weeks in New York after 9/11, when our whole city sank into a kind of corporate clinical depression, even as it rallied. For my family the shadow was intensified as my wife, Kathy, struggled with the effects of Crohn’s disease. Finally, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

At one point during all this, my wife urged me to do something with her we had never been able to muster the self-discipline to do regularly. She asked me to pray with her every night. Every night. She used an illustration that crystallized her feelings very well. As we remember it, she said something like this:

Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine—a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No—it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.

Maybe it was the power of the illustration, maybe it was just the right moment, maybe it was the Spirit of God. Or, most likely of all, it was the Spirit of God using the moment and the clarity of the metaphor. For both of us the penny dropped; we realized the seriousness of the issue, and we admitted that anything that was truly a nonnegotiable necessity was something we could do. That was more than twelve years ago, and Kathy and I can’t remember missing a single evening of praying together, at least by phone, even when we’ve been apart in different hemispheres.

Kathy’s jolting challenge, along with my own growing conviction that I just didn’t get prayer, led me into a search. I wanted a far better personal prayer life. I began to read widely and experiment in prayer. As I looked around, I quickly came to see that I was not alone.

“Can’t Anyone Teach Me to Pray?”

When Flannery O’Connor, the famous Southern writer, was twenty-one years old and studying writing in Iowa, she sought to deepen her prayer life. She had to.

In 1946 she began keeping a handwritten prayer journal. In it she describes her struggles to be a great writer. “I want very much to succeed in the world with what I want to do. . . . I am so discouraged about my work. . . . Mediocrity is a hard word to apply to oneself . . . yet it is impossible not to throw it at myself. . . . I have nothing to be proud of yet myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule.” These kinds of declarations can be found in the journal of any aspiring artist, but O’Connor did something different with these feelings. She prayed them. Here she followed a very ancient path, as did the psalmists in the Old Testament, who did not merely identify, express, and vent their feelings but also processed them with brutal honesty in God’s presence. O’Connor wrote of

effort at artistry in this rather than thinking of You and feeling inspired with the love I wish I had. Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon . . . what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know You God because I am in the way.10

Here O’Connor recognizes what Augustine saw clearly in his own prayer journal, the Confessions—that living well depended on the reordering of our loves. To love our success more than God and our neighbor hardens the heart, making us less able to feel and to sense. That, ironically, makes us poorer artists. Therefore, because O’Connor was a writer of extraordinary gifts who could have become haughty and self-absorbed, her only hope was in the constant soul reorientation of prayer. “Oh God please make my mind clear. Please make it clean. . . . Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.”11

She reflected on the discipline of writing out her prayers in the journal. She recognized the problem of the form. “I have decided this is not much as a direct medium of prayer. Prayer is not even as premeditated as this—it is of the moment and this is too slow for the moment.”12 Then there was the danger that what she was writing down wasn’t really prayer but ventilation. “I . . . want this to be . . . something in praise of God. It is probably more liable to being therapeutical . . . with the element of self underlying its thoughts.”13

Yet with the journal she believed, “I have started on a new phase of my spiritual life . . . the throwing off of certain adolescent habits and habits of mind. It does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but the little it takes is long in coming. I see my ridiculous self by degrees.”14 O’Connor learned that prayer is not simply the solitary exploration of your own subjectivity. You are with Another, and he is unique. God is the only person from whom you can hide nothing. Before him you will unavoidably come to see yourself in a new, unique light. Prayer, therefore, leads to a self-knowledge that is impossible to achieve any other way.

Cutting through everything else in O’Connor’s journal was a simple longing to learn truly how to pray. She knew intuitively that prayer was the key to everything else she needed to do and to be in life. She wasn’t content with the perfunctory religious observances of her past. “I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love beating me when I think and write this to You. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologists about this make it turn suddenly cold.”15

At the end of one entry, she simply called out, “Can’t anyone teach me how to pray?”16 Millions of people today are asking the same question. There is a sense of the necessity of prayer—we have to pray. But how?

A Confusing Landscape

Across Western society an interest has been growing in spirituality, meditation, and contemplation that began a generation ago, perhaps inaugurated by the highly publicized interest of the Beatles in Eastern forms of meditation and fueled by the decline of institutional religion. Fewer and fewer people know the routine of regular religious services, yet some kind of spiritual craving remains. Today no one blinks to read a passing reference in a New York Times article that Robert Hammond, one of the founders of the High Line urban park in the Western Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, is going to India for a three-month meditation retreat.17 Scores of Westerners flood to ashrams and other spiritual retreat centers in Asia every year.18 Rupert Murdoch recently tweeted that he was learning Transcendental Meditation. “Everyone recommends,” he said. “Not that easy to get started, but said to improve everything!”19

Within the Christian church, there has been a similar explosion of interest in prayer. There is a strong movement toward ancient meditation and contemplative practices. We now have a small empire of institutions, organizations, networks, and practitioners that teaches and coaches in methods such as centering prayer, contemplative prayer, “listening” prayer, lectio divina, and many others of what are now called “spiritual disciplines.”20

All this interest should not be characterized as a single, coherent “wave,” however. Rather, it is a set of powerful crosscurrents causing dangerously choppy waters for many inquirers. There have been substantial criticisms lodged against much of the new emphasis on contemplative spirituality, within both the Catholic and Protestant churches.21 As I looked around for resources to help me with my prayer life as well as others’, I saw how confusing the landscape was.

“An Intelligent Mysticism”

The way forward for me came by going back to my own spiritual-theological roots. During my first pastorate in Virginia, and then again in New York City, I had the experience of preaching through St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the middle of chapter 8, Paul writes:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (vv. 15–16)

The Spirit of God assures us of God’s love. First, the Spirit enables us to approach and cry to the great God as our loving father. Then he comes alongside our spirit and adds a more direct testimony. I first came to grips with these verses by reading the sermons of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a British preacher and author of the mid-twentieth century. He made the case that Paul was writing about a profound experience of God’s reality.22 Eventually I found that most modern biblical commentators generally agreed that these verses describe, as one New Testament scholar put it, “a religious experience that is ineffable” because the assurance of secure love in God is “mystical in the best sense of the word.” Thomas Schreiner adds that we must not “underemphasize the emotional ground” of experience. “Some veer away from this idea because of its subjectivity, but the abuse of the subjective in some circles cannot exclude the ‘mystical’ and emotional dimensions of Christian experience.”23

Lloyd-Jones’s exposition also pointed me back to writers I had read in seminary, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, the seventeenth-century British theologian John Owen, and the eighteenth-century American philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards. There I discovered no choice offered between truth or Spirit, between doctrine or experience. One of the most accomplished of the older theologians—John Owen—was especially helpful to me at this point. In a sermon on the gospel, Owen gave due diligence to laying the doctrinal foundation of Christian salvation. Then, however, he exhorted his hearers to “get an experience of the power of the gospel . . . in and upon your own hearts, or all your profession is an expiring thing.”24 This heart experience of the gospel’s power can happen only through prayer—both publicly in the gathered Christian assembly and privately in meditation.

In my pursuit of a deeper prayer life, I chose a counterintuitive course. I deliberately avoided reading any new books on prayer at all. Instead, I went back to the historical texts of Christian theology that had formed me and began asking questions about prayer and the experience of God—questions I had not had in my mind very clearly when I studied these texts in graduate school decades before. I discovered many things I had completely missed. I found guidance on the inward life of prayer and spiritual experience that took me beyond the dangerous currents and eddies of the contemporary spirituality debates and movements. One I consulted was the Scottish theologian John Murray, who provided one of the most helpful insights of all:

It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith . . . of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer. . . . He communes with his people and his people commune with him in conscious reciprocal love. . . . The life of true faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.25

Murray was not a writer given to lyrical passages. Yet when he speaks of “mysticism” and “communion” with the one who died and ever lives for us, he is assuming that Christians will have a palpable love relationship with him and do have a potential for a personal knowledge and experience of God that beggars the imagination. Which, of course, means prayer—but what prayer! In the midst of the paragraph, Murray quotes Peter’s first epistle: “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.” The older King James version calls it “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Some translate it “glorified joy beyond words.”26

As I pondered that verse, I had to marvel that Peter, in writing to the church, could address all his readers like this. He didn’t say, “Well, some of you with an advanced spirituality have begun to get periods of high joy in prayer. Hope the rest of you catch up.” No, he assumed that an experience of sometimes overwhelming joy in prayer was normal. I was convicted.

One phrase of Murray’s resonated particularly, that we were called to an intelligent mysticism. That means 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. I was not being called to leave behind my theology and launch out to look for “something more,” for experience. Rather, I was meant to ask the Holy Spirit to help me experience my theology.

Learning to Pray

As Flannery O’Connor asked so plaintively, how, then, do we actually learn how to pray?

In the summer after I was treated successfully for thyroid cancer, I made four practical changes to my life of private devotion. First, I took several months to go through the Psalms, summarizing each one. That enabled me to begin praying through the Psalms regularly, getting through all of them several times a year.27 The second thing I did was always to put in a time of meditation as a transitional discipline between my Bible reading and my time of prayer. Third, I did all I could to pray morning and evening rather than only in the morning. Fourth, I began praying with greater expectation.

The changes took some time to bear fruit, but after sustaining these practices for about two years, I began to have some breakthroughs. Despite ups and downs since then, I have found new sweetness in Christ and new bitterness too, because I could now see my heart more clearly in the new light of vital prayer. In other words, there were more restful experiences of love as well as more wrestling to see God triumph over evil, both in my own heart and in the world. These two experiences of prayer we discussed in the introduction grew together like twin trees. I now believe that is how it should be. One stimulates the other. The result was a spiritual liveliness and strength that this Christian minister, for all my preaching, had not had before. The rest of the book is a recounting of what I learned.

Prayer is nonetheless an exceedingly difficult subject to write about. That is not primarily because it is so indefinable but because, before it, we feel so small and helpless. Lloyd-Jones once said that he had never written on prayer because of a sense of personal inadequacy in this area.28 I doubt, however, that any of the best authors on prayer in history felt more adequate than Lloyd-Jones did. The early-twentieth-century British writer P. T. Forsyth expressed my own feeling and aspiration better than I can:

It is a difficult and even formidable thing to write on prayer, and one fears to touch the Ark. . . . But perhaps also the effort . . . may be graciously regarded by Him who ever liveth to make intercession as itself a prayer to know better how to pray.29

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 many of the things we most 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.

TWO

The Greatness of Prayer

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. 

Ephesians 1:15–19

The Supremacy of Prayer

A quick comparison of this prayer from Ephesians 1 with those in Philippians 1, Colossians 1, and later in Ephesians 3 reveals that this is how Paul customarily prayed for those he loved. At the grammatical heart of Paul’s long sentence is a striking insight into the greatness and importance of prayer. In verse 17 he writes: “I keep asking that . . . you may know him better.”

It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. It is certain that they lived in the midst of many dangers and hardships. They faced persecution, death from disease, oppression by powerful forces, and separation from loved ones. Their existence was far less secure than ours is today. Yet in these prayers you see not one petition for a better emperor, for protection from marauding armies, or even for bread for the next meal. Paul does not pray for the goods we would usually have near the top of our lists of requests.

Does that mean it would have been wrong to pray for such things? Not at all. As Paul knew, Jesus himself invites us to ask for our “daily bread” and that God would “deliver us from evil.” In 1 Timothy 2, Paul directs his readers to pray for peace, for good government, and for the needs of the world. In his own prayers, then, Paul is not giving us a universal model for prayer in the same way Jesus did. Rather, in them he reveals what he asked most frequently for his friends—what he believed was the most important thing God could give them.

What is that? It is—to know him better. Paul explains this with color and detail. It means having the “eyes of their hearts . . . enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18). Biblically, the heart is the control center of the entire self. It is the repository of one’s core commitments, deepest loves, and most foundational hopes that control our feeling, thinking, and behavior. To have the “eyes of the heart enlightened” with a particular truth means to have it penetrate and grip us so deeply that it changes the whole person. In other words, we may know that God is holy, but when our hearts’ eyes are enlightened to that truth, then we not only understand it cognitively, but emotionally we find God’s holiness wondrous and beautiful, and volitionally we avoid attitudes and behavior that would displease or dishonor him. In Ephesians 3:18, Paul says he wants the Spirit to give them “power . . . to grasp” all the past, present, and future benefits they received when they believed in Christ. Of course, all Christians know about these benefits in their minds, but the prayer is for something beyond that—it is to have a more vivid sense of the reality of God’s presence and of shared life with him.

Paul sees this fuller knowledge of God as a more critical thing to receive than a change of circumstances. Without this powerful sense of God’s reality, good circumstances can lead to overconfidence and spiritual indifference. Who needs God, our hearts would conclude, when matters seem to be so in hand? Then again, without this enlightened heart, bad circumstances can lead to discouragement and despair, because the love of God would be an abstraction rather than the infinitely consoling presence it should be. Therefore, knowing God better is what we must have above all if we are to face life in any circumstances.

Paul’s main concern, then, is for their public and private prayer life. He believes that the highest good is communion or fellowship with God. A rich, vibrant, consoling, hard-won prayer life is the one good that makes it possible to receive all other kinds of goods rightly and beneficially. He does not see prayer as merely a way to get things from God but as a way to get more of God himself. Prayer is a striving to “take hold of God” (Is 64:7) the way in ancient times people took hold of the cloak of a great man as they appealed to him, or the way in modern times we embrace someone to show love.

By praying in this way, Paul was assuming the priority of the inner life with God.30 Most contemporary people base their inner life on their outward circumstances. Their inner peace is based on other people’s valuation of them, and on their social status, prosperity, and performance. Christians do this as much as anyone. Paul is teaching that, for believers, it should be the other way around. Otherwise we will be whiplashed by how things are going in the world. If Christians do not base their lives on God’s steadfast love, then they will have “to accept as success what others warrant to be so, and to take their happiness, even their own selves, at the quotation of the day. They tremble, with reason, before their fate.”31

The Integrity of Prayer

If we give priority to the outer life, our inner life will be dark and scary. We will not know what to do with solitude. We will be deeply uncomfortable with self-examination, and we will have an increasingly short attention span for any kind of reflection. Even more seriously, our lives will lack integrity. Outwardly, we will need to project confidence, spiritual and emotional health and wholeness, while inwardly we may be filled with self-doubts, anxieties, self-pity, and old grudges. Yet we won’t know how to go into the inner rooms of the heart, see clearly what is there, and deal with it. In short, unless we put a priority on the inner life, we turn ourselves into hypocrites. The seventeenth-century English theologian John Owen wrote a warning to popular and successful ministers:

A minister may fill his pews, his communion roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more.32

To discover the real you, look at what you spend time thinking about when no one is looking, when nothing is forcing you to think about anything in particular. At such moments, do your thoughts go toward God? You may want to be seen as a humble, unassuming person, but do you take the initiative to confess your sins before God? You wish to be perceived as a positive, cheerful person, but do you habitually thank God for everything you have and praise him for who he is? You may speak a great deal about what a “blessing” your faith is and how you “just really love the Lord,” but if you are prayerless—is that really true? If you aren’t joyful, humble, and faithful in private before God, then what you want to appear to be on the outside won’t match what you truly are.

Just prior to giving his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus offered some preliminary ideas, including this one: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. . . . But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen . . . in secret” (Matt 6:5–6). The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life. Many people will pray when they are required by cultural or social expectations, or perhaps by the anxiety caused by troubling circumstances. Those with a genuinely lived relationship with God as Father, however, will inwardly want to pray and therefore will pray even though nothing on the outside is pressing them to do so. They pursue it even during times of spiritual dryness, when there is no social or experiential payoff.

Giving priority to the inner life doesn’t mean an individualistic life. Knowing the God of the Bible better can’t be achieved all by yourself. It entails the community of the church, participation in corporate worship as well as private devotion, and instruction in the Bible as well as silent meditation. At the heart of all the various ways of knowing God is both public and private prayer.

A pastor and friend of mine, Jack Miller, once said he could tell a great deal about a person’s relationship with God by listening to him or her pray. “You can tell if a man or woman is really on speaking terms with God,” he said. My first response was to make a mental note never to pray aloud near Jack again. I’ve had years to test out Jack’s thesis. It is quite possible to become florid, theologically sound, and earnest in your public prayers without cultivating a rich, private prayer life. You can’t manufacture the unmistakable note of reality that only comes from speaking not toward God but with him. The depths of private prayer and public prayer grow together.

The Hardness of Prayer

I can think of nothing great that is also easy. Prayer must be, then, one of the hardest things in the world. To admit that prayer is very hard, however, can be encouraging. If you struggle greatly in this, you are not alone.

The Still Hour, a classic book on prayer by nineteenth-century American theologian Austin Phelps, starts with the chapter “Absence of God, in Prayer” and the verse from Job 23:3—“Oh that I knew where I might find him!” Phelps’s book begins with the premise that “a consciousness of the absence of God is one of the standing incidents of religious life. Even when the forms of devotion are observed conscientiously, the sense of the presence of God, as an invisible Friend, whose society is a joy, is by no means unintermittent.”33

Phelps goes on to explain the numerous reasons why there is such dryness in prayer and how to endure through that sense of God’s unreality. The first thing we learn in attempting to pray is our spiritual emptiness—and this lesson is crucial. We are so used to being empty that we do not recognize the emptiness as such until we start to try to pray. We don’t feel it until we begin to read what the Bible and others have said about the greatness and promise of prayer. Then we finally begin to feel lonely and hungry. It’s an important first step to fellowship with God, but it is a disorienting one.

When your prayer life finally begins to flourish, the effects can be remarkable. You may be filled with self-pity, and be justifying resentment and anger. Then you sit down to pray and the reorientation that comes before God’s face reveals the pettiness of your feelings in an instant. All your self-justifying excuses fall to the ground in pieces. Or you may be filled with anxiety, and during prayer you come to wonder what you were so worried about. You laugh at yourself and thank God for who he is and what he’s done. It can be that dramatic. It is the bracing clarity of a new perspective. Eventually, this can be the normal experience, but that is never how the prayer life starts. In the beginning the feeling of poverty and absence usually dominates, but the best guides for this phase urge us not to turn back but rather to endure and pray in a disciplined way, until, as Packer and Nystrom say, we get through duty to delight.

We must beware of misunderstanding such phrases, however. Seasons of dryness can return for a variety of causes. We don’t spend a discrete amount of time in dryness until we break through permanently into joy and feeling. Instead, the vivid reorientation of mind, and the overall sense of God on the heart, comes more frequently and sometimes in startling ways—interspersed with times of struggle and even absence. Nevertheless, the pursuit of God in prayer eventually bears fruit, because God seeks for us to worship him (John 4:23) and because prayer is so infinitely rich and wondrous.

The Centrality of Prayer

The Bible is all about God, and that is why the practice of prayer is so pervasive throughout its pages. The greatness of prayer is nothing but an extension of the greatness and glory of God in our lives. The Scripture is one long testimony to this truth.

In Genesis we see every one of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—praying with familiarity and directness. Abraham’s doggedly insistent prayer for God’s mercy on the pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is remarkable (Gen 18:23ff). In Exodus, prayer was the way Moses secured the liberation of Israel from Egypt. The gift of prayer makes Israel great: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” (Deut 4:7).34

To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule—it is a failure to treat God as God. It is a sin against his glory. “Far be it from me,” said the prophet Samuel to his people, “that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you” (1 Sam 12:23 [italics mine]).35 King David composed much of the Psalter, God’s inspired prayer book, filled with appeals to “you who answer prayer” (Ps 65:2). His son Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem and then dedicated it with a magnificent prayer.36 Solomon’s main petition for the temple was that from it God would hear his people’s prayers—indeed, Solomon’s highest prayer was for the gift of prayer itself.37 Beyond that, he hoped those from other nations would “hear of your great name . . . and pray toward this temple” (1 Kings 8:42). Again we see prayer is simply a recognition of the greatness of God.

The Old Testament book of Job is largely the record of Job’s suffering and pain—worked through with prayer. In the end, God is angry with Job’s callous friends and tells them he will refrain from their punishment only if Job prays for them (Job 42:8). Prayer permeated the ministry of all the Old Testament prophets.38 It may have been the ordinary means by which the Word of God itself came to them.39 The Jews’ preservation and return from exile in Babylon was essentially carried out through prayer. Their exile began with a call to pray for the pagan city and their neighbors (Jer 29:7). Daniel, nearly executed by the Babylonian authorities over his insistence on prayer three times a day, prays a prayer of repentance for his people, asks for their return, and is heard.40 Later, Nehemiah rebuilds the wall around Jerusalem with a series of great prayers interspersed with wise leadership.41

Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray, healed people with prayers, denounced the corruption of the temple worship (which, he said, should be a “house of prayer”), and insisted that some demons could be cast out only through prayer. He prayed often and regularly with fervent cries and tears (Heb 5:7), and sometimes all night. The Holy Spirit came upon him and anointed him as he was praying (Luke 3:21–22), and he was transfigured with the divine glory as he prayed (Luke 9:29). When he faced his greatest crisis, he did so with prayer. We hear him praying for his disciples and the church on the night before he died (John 17:1–26) and then petitioning God in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, he died praying.42

Immediately after their Lord’s death, the disciples prepare for the future by being “constantly in prayer” together (Acts 1:14). All church gatherings are “devoted . . . to prayer” (Acts 2:42; 11:5; 12:5, 12). The power of the Spirit descends on the early Christians in response to powerful prayer, and leaders are selected and appointed only with prayer. All Christians are expected to have a regular, faithful, devoted, fervent prayer life. In the book of Acts, prayer is one of the main signs that the Spirit has come into the heart through faith in Christ. The Spirit gives us the confidence and desire to pray to God and enables us to pray even when we don’t know what to say. Christians are taught that prayer should pervade their whole day and whole life—they should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).43

Prayer is so great that wherever you look in the Bible, it is there. Why? Everywhere God is, prayer is. Since God is everywhere and infinitely great, prayer must be all-pervasive in our lives.

The Richness of Prayer

One of the greatest descriptions of prayer outside of the Bible was written by the poet George Herbert (1593–1633) in his “Prayer (I).” The poem is remarkable for tackling the immense subject of prayer in just one hundred words and without a single verb or prose construction. Instead, Herbert gives us some two dozen word pictures.

In the next chapters, we will work at defining prayer, but there is a danger in doing that. A definition seeks to reduce things to the essence. George Herbert wants instead to move us in the opposite direction. He wants to explore the richness of prayer with all its infinities and immensities. He does so by overwhelming both our analytical and our imaginative faculties.

PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,

Gods breath in man returning to his birth,

The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,

The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner’s towre,

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,

The six daies world-transposing in an houre,

A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,

Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,

Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,

The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,

The land of spices, something understood.

Prayer is “Gods breath in man returning to his birth.” Many who are otherwise skeptical or nonreligious are shocked to find themselves praying despite not even formally believing in God. Herbert gives us his explanation for that phenomenon. The Hebrew word for “Spirit” and “breath” is the same, and so, Herbert says, there is something in us from God that knows we are not alone in the universe, and that we were not meant to go it alone. Prayer is a natural human instinct.

Prayer can be “softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse”—the deep rest of soul that we need. It is “the souls bloud,” the source of strength and vitality. Through prayer in Jesus’ name and trust in his salvation we come as a “man well drest,” spiritually fit for the presence of the king. That is why we can sit down with him at “the Churches banquet.” Feasts were never mere feedings but a sign and means of acceptance and fellowship with the Host. Prayer is a nourishing friendship.

Prayer also is “a kinde of tune.” Prayer tunes your heart to God. Singing engages the whole being—the heart through the music as well as the mind through the words. Prayer is also a tune others can hear besides you. When your heart has been tuned to God, your joy has an effect on those around you. You are not proud, cold, anxious, or bored—you are self-forgetful, warm, profoundly at peace, and filled with interest. Others will notice. All “heare and fear.” Prayer changes those around us.

Prayer can be a “land of spices,” a place of sensory overload, of exotic scents and tastes—and a “milkie way,” a place of marvels and wonders. When that happens, prayer is truly of “Angels age,” an experience of timeless eternity. Yet no one in history has found that “land of spices” quickly or easily. Prayer is also the “heart in pilgrimage,” and in Herbert’s time a pilgrim was someone who was engaged on a long, difficult, and exhausting trek. To be in pilgrimage is to have not yet arrived. There is a longing in prayer that is never fulfilled in this life, and sometimes the deep satisfactions we are looking for in prayer feel few and far between. Prayer is a journey.

Even in spiritually lean times, prayer can serve as a kind of heavenly Manna” and quiet “gladnesse” that keeps us going, just as the manna in the wilderness kept Israel moving toward its hope. Manna was simple food, especially savory, but hardly a banquet. Yet it sustained them wonderfully, a kind of travelers’ waybread that brought an inner endurance. Prayer helps us endure.

One reason for the arduousness is because true prayer is “the soul in paraphrase.” God does not merely require our petitions but our selves, and no one who begins the hard, lifelong trek of prayer knows yet who they are. Nothing but prayer will ever reveal you to yourself, because only before God can you see and become your true self. To paraphrase something is to get the gist of it and make it accessible. Prayer is learning who you are before God and giving him your essence. Prayer means knowing yourself as well as God.

Prayer is not all quiet, peace, and fellowship. It is also an “engine against th’ Almightie,” a startling phrase that clearly refers to the siege engines filled with archers that were used in Herbert’s day to storm a city. The Bible contains laments and petitions and pleadings, for prayer is rebellion against the evil status quo of the world—and they are not in vain, for they are as “church-bels beyond the stars heard” and indeed are “reversed thunder.” Thunder is an expression of the awesome power of God, but prayer somehow harnesses that power so that our petitions are not heard in heaven as whispers but as crack, boom, and roar. Prayer changes things.

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Tim Challies
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One of the Best
Reviewed in the United States on November 29, 2014
Hold on! Is it a book about prayer? Another book about prayer? Is there any possible way we can benefit from yet another book on the subject of prayer? Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God answers with a decisive yes. Now here’s the... See more
Hold on! Is it a book about prayer? Another book about prayer? Is there any possible way we can benefit from yet another book on the subject of prayer? Tim Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God answers with a decisive yes.

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.
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Patrick S.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I have read a great number of books on the topic of prayer from ...
Reviewed in the United States on April 2, 2016
I have read a great number of books on the topic of prayer from a number of different time periods. The basic breakdown for each of them has pretty much been 1) prayer is important 2) you should pray 3) pray the breakdown of the Lord''s prayer 4) practical and specific... See more
I have read a great number of books on the topic of prayer from a number of different time periods. The basic breakdown for each of them has pretty much been 1) prayer is important 2) you should pray 3) pray the breakdown of the Lord''s prayer 4) practical and specific examples of prayer. It is very rare that you have an author even discuss what exactly is prayer for more than one sentence to one paragraph. The problem being, that if you struggle with prayer from the basic foundation of a definition it''s really hard to grasp even the first rung in understanding it.

That being said, Keller''s book finally breaks the mold. He covers a large number of items concerning prayer and even starts with a very personal story of his own struggle with prayer. The fact that he says it took him two full years to develop a good prayer life is very encouraging. Of course that also means there wouldn''t be anything in the book that would flip a switch and make you a George Müller overnight.

The good thing about Keller''s writing is that he tends to build upon his chapters. He covers topics like what prayer is but the next chapters go into more depth about it. Chapters 6 and 7 were very important in my further understanding prayer - of course he uses people like Martin Luther and John Calvin really put it into perspective. Reading these excerpts really drove home the need to read things like Calvin''s Institutes and other Reformed writings in the future. Keller handles things like the sovereignty of God in relation to prayer (if God is sovereign why should I pray at all). A book that I''m sure Keller uses is A.W. Pink''s book on the Sovereignty of God that covers this as well. There are some really helpful application sections of the book in the latter sections. The biggest plus that Keller had going for him was he always kept God in primary focus and was always sure to lovingly hip-check questions that put man at the center of the question. Why? Because this leads to a lot of misunderstandings on the topic and causes issues people might have on the topic of prayer. It was also nice to see that Keller didn''t refer to prayer as only a means of changing our hearts and minds as some authors tend to do.

Keller does have a few quirks in his book that come out of left field and don''t quite fit with the flow. One major one concern an almost metaphysical aspect of prayer in general and a treatment of mystical forms of prayer and almost legalistic forms. Also, while Keller does a descent job of building upon his chapters and themes, there are times when his flow of writing doesn''t always hit its mark. This might cause some to almost get lost in what they''re reading.

Overall, this book helped me immensely. I would recommend it to anyone who is struggling with their prayer life or a new Christian looking to start one. It would also be worthwhile for those who have it down to do a wellness check on theirs to see if they are bionically sound or can improve upon it. While not a tough book in terms of theological terms, this is a book whose reading pace should be taken at a slow pace for good, sanctifying reasons. Final Grade - A
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Mathew Sims
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Must Read
Reviewed in the United States on January 18, 2015
I confess. I struggle with daily, personal prayer. When I do prayer, I fight to concentrate and when I do concentrate I often feel like my prayers are rote. It was encouraging to hear Tim Keller share his own struggle with prayer and the way he now has experienced God... See more
I confess. I struggle with daily, personal prayer. When I do prayer, I fight to concentrate and when I do concentrate I often feel like my prayers are rote. It was encouraging to hear Tim Keller share his own struggle with prayer and the way he now has experienced God through a daily prayer life. “The greatness of prayer is nothing but an extension of the greatness and glory of God in our lives” (26). So prayer for Keller and many before him in the Reformed tradition is a reflection of who God is (see 45).

Prayer begins by examining two major streams of prayer in the broad Christian tradition—mystical and prophetic. I’ve heard murmurs for years about Keller and mysticism, but regularly in Prayer Keller is critical of mysticism (see 43, 59, and 150). I also wanted to point out that when discussing meditation Keller centers the practice on Jesus. “Meditate on Jesus, who is the ultimate meditation of God” (164 see also 177)—a clear blow to the kind of mindless meditation in some mysticism. He argues prophetic prayer is closer to what we see in Scripture, but also doesn’t reject mystical experiences (not the same as mysticism). Keller notes, “[P]rayer is ultimately a verbal response of faith to a transcendent God’s Word and his grace, not an inward descent to discover we are one with all things and God. . . . [However,] we need to recognize that prayer also can lead regularly to personal encounter with God, which can be indeed a wondrous, mysterious, awe-filled experience” (43 see also 66 and 179-85). This balance of biblical, prophetic rootedness in knowledge of God and a certain expectation of “a wondrous, mysterious, awe-filled experience” with God fills the pages of Prayer.

After laying this foundation, Keller explores what prayer should look like—the how of prayer. In this regard especially, Keller paints skillfully on canvas of the Reformed tradition. Primarily the how is rooted in Scripture (64) and discovered through the Psalms, the Reformers broadly as expositors of Scripture, and the prayer life of Jesus. So Prayer can described most aptly as an experiential theology of prayer through the Reformed tradition.

This historical rootedness is something sorely missing in many theologies today. It was refreshing to survey how those before us prayed—St. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and John Owen—and not just their teaching, but their practice. For instance, Keller shows John Calvin’s rules for prayer:

“Calvin’s first rule for prayer is the principle of reverence or the ‘fear of God’” (97).
“Calvin’s second rule for prayer is ‘the sense of need that excludes all unreality’” (99).
“His third rule is that we should have a submissive trust of God” (101).
“[The fourth rule is praying] with confidence and hope” (101).
“The fifth rule is actually a major qualification of the very word rule. He says: ‘What I have set forth on the four rules of right praying is not so rigorously required that God will reject those prayers in which he finds neither perfect faith nor repentance, together with a warmth of zeal and petition rightly conceived’” (103).

Chapter eight “The Prayer of Prayers” ministered to me most personally. Keller here exposits the Lord’s prayer and teases out the full width and breadth of what Jesus sought to teach in it. Two observation were most helpful. First, as we pray “Our Father” we are not praying to a distant deity, but to a committed and loving Father who we have a relational communion with because of Jesus Christ. Also, he observes that praying for our daily bread also reminds us that we must not take more than our daily bread so that others might also receive their daily bread. “Therefore, to pray ‘give us—all the people of our land—daily bread’ is to pray against ‘wanton exploitation’ in business, trade, and labor, which ‘crushes the poor and deprives them of their daily bread” (114).

Prayer ends with the habitus—the daily doing of prayer. He gives four: (1) awe, (2) intimacy, (3) struggle, and (4) practice. In awe, Keller reminds us that we must praise God for who he is, just believing he is great is not enough. We are what we love. In intimacy, Keller leans hard on the forgiveness of sin we have in Christ. He emphasizes its freeness, while also reminding us to kill sin via the instruction of John Owen who encourages Christians to not kill sin with the law, but “‘by the spirit of the gospel’” (217). In struggle, Keller reminds us that many of our prayers our answered by changing our own hearts or giving us the ultimate good (the prayer we would have offered had we known everything God knows). He ends again with Jesus. “We know that God will answer us when we call ‘my God’ because God did not answer Jesus when he made the same petition on the cross” (239). Good news indeed. In practice, Keller connects daily prayer to the life of the church, offers helpful tips, and encourages us that communion with God is within our grasp.

Keller’s Prayer was a one of my favorite books of the year. Its depth and breadth will be invaluable for those struggling to pray for two reasons. First, Keller speaks experientially and theologically—a balance through out. Second, he also shows that prayer grows out of Scripture and also points to the fathers of our faith as our teachers and guides. A rare combination for any book dealing with such a practical and important topic.
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Joy S. Frady
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent and Insightful
Reviewed in the United States on July 6, 2018
The Pros: It is Tim Keller, so you are going to have some ''aha'' moments and some moments where you read something expressed in a way you had never considered or in a way that makes a truth come alive. The price at the time of writing (7/2018) is an absolute... See more
The Pros:
It is Tim Keller, so you are going to have some ''aha'' moments and some moments where you read something expressed in a way you had never considered or in a way that makes a truth come alive.

The price at the time of writing (7/2018) is an absolute bargain for the content you are getting.

It is good when it addresses Christian culture in terms of our tendencies toward mysticism vs. academic approaches.

The sections on how to implement prayer in a practical way in our lives is very helpful.

The connection of the Bible to prayer and meditation to prayer is an often overlooked but an essential aspect of a strong prayer life. Keller doesn''t miss this connection.

The Cons . . .

Length: Many Christians will not slog through 270plus pages on prayer. Many of Keller''s other books are short yet still substantive. I felt this book dragged a bit and was a bit wordy, especially in the middle section on the Lord''s Prayer.

Quotes: I felt at times Keller relied a bit too much on lights of the past, quoting many different figures from Church History at length. It is almost as if he had a kind of lack of confidence in his subject (understandable with the subject of prayer) so he buttressed his case a bit with the words of others.

Nevertheless, I still believe this is one of the better prayer books out there. I commend it highly.
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Ben
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Perfectly Practical Primer for Prayer
Reviewed in the United States on May 23, 2017
In a season of deep discipline from the Lord, I''ve sought resources to aid my study of the Word including Packer''s "Knowing God" and this book. I was very eager to get to this one. But as it started out I nearly despaired and gave up. The first few chapters deal with... See more
In a season of deep discipline from the Lord, I''ve sought resources to aid my study of the Word including Packer''s "Knowing God" and this book. I was very eager to get to this one. But as it started out I nearly despaired and gave up. The first few chapters deal with complex cultural and historical views on prayer and meditation that I simply don''t struggle with. So for me, it was difficult to get through, as many of the ideas seemed really "out there". As a global resource though, I am certain these are valuable pages to others. As the author moved into the practical patterns of prayer, I appreciate his redundant emphasis of not being confined to rules and also backing his thoughts with powerful accounts from people of God. His description for what Christian meditation should be was particularly illuminating to me. The final chapters are collectively an excellent primer for joyfully committing to healthy disciplines in prayers throughout the day. I have no doubt the Spirit will bless this effort and I''ll find a way to make it my own by His help and using this author''s trustworthy teaching as a starting point.
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Betty
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Hard to understand
Reviewed in the United States on May 29, 2018
I was born and raised in church. People tend to think that you know it all but that’s never the case. I bought this book to help me deepen my prayer life because God knows how much of a daily struggle it is. And although there have been some interesting parts... See more
I was born and raised in church. People tend to think that you know it all but that’s never the case.
I bought this book to help me deepen my prayer life because God knows how much of a daily struggle it is. And although there have been some interesting parts throughout the book, this book did not sit well with me. I’ll be honest I did not finish the book but can you blame me when it was so hard to understand to what I was reading? It almost felt like I was reading a school textbook.
This might be good for someone wanting to study prayer in depth with many points of view, but it was not what I was wanting. Unfortunately, this is not a book that will get 5 stars and a recommendation from me.
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Kevin Halloran
5.0 out of 5 stars
The Most Well-Rounded Book on Prayer to Date
Reviewed in the United States on November 7, 2014
There are two topics I try to read books on regularly: the gospel and prayer. I read on the gospel because I need it to grow me, to humble me, to sanctify me, and to help me remember what God has done in Christ to save me. I read on prayer because my prayer life needs... See more
There are two topics I try to read books on regularly: the gospel and prayer. I read on the gospel because I need it to grow me, to humble me, to sanctify me, and to help me remember what God has done in Christ to save me. I read on prayer because my prayer life needs encouragement and guidance to strengthen my desire and skills at communicating with God.

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.

My Experience

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
Year: 214
Rating: 5 Stars

Originally Published at KevinHalloran.net
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Mark Oshman
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A rich exploration of biblical prayer through the ages and for today.
Reviewed in the United States on October 26, 2015
I have found two things to be almost universally true in my Christian life and the lives of other Christians. First, I know prayer is an incredible privilege – communion with the Living God of the universe has been made possible through the reconciling work of Christ on the... See more
I have found two things to be almost universally true in my Christian life and the lives of other Christians. First, I know prayer is an incredible privilege – communion with the Living God of the universe has been made possible through the reconciling work of Christ on the Cross. Second, I am generally dissatisfied by my prayer life – both in terms of consistency and content. The disconnect between these two truths bother me greatly. Often books on prayer can lead me to feel guilty about not praying more (“well, you know, this one great missionary used to pray every morning from 4am until noon), or they can seem too formulaic, or even anti-Christian in their forms and patterns of prayer.

Few pastors and authors today have been able to understand the times and the concerns of modern western people like Tim Keller. In characteristic fashion, Keller explores his topics (in this case prayer) through the dual lens of contemporary culture and historical depth. There is a richness to his writing and his thoughts that speak to our busy lives while leading us on a path to deeper exploration of awe and intimacy with God.

This book is divided into five parts:

1. Desiring Prayer – Where Keller acknowledges humanities need to connect with God through prayer, and us humans have gone about the pursuit of prayer.
2. Understanding Prayer – Where Keller digs deep into the Bible’s understanding of prayer, with an emphasis on Word centered prayer.
3. Learning Prayer – Where Keller takes the reader on a historical journey through the teaching on prayer by giants of the faith such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, and ultimately Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s Prayer
4. Deepening Prayer – Where Keller explores examples and patterns of going deeper in our prayers through biblical examples found in the psalms, in Jesus’ own life, and elsewhere in the Bible.
5. Doing Prayer – Where Keller gets down to the practical patterns of daily prayer found in various Christian faith traditions, along with ideas and suggestions for the reader to pursue in their own prayer life.

Takeaway: This is a book I plan on returning to and thinking on more. If you have not read a book on prayer, or if you’re looking to read one with depth and richness, then this is the book for you.
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Top reviews from other countries

Elginson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Helpful... clear... do-able
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 5, 2015
Timothy Keller is among the best and most helpful of modern Christian writers. (His ''Preaching'' is an excellent textbook) This is a careful look at what prayer is and why it matters. He organises his writing into five main sections: desiring prayer, understanding prayer,...See more
Timothy Keller is among the best and most helpful of modern Christian writers. (His ''Preaching'' is an excellent textbook) This is a careful look at what prayer is and why it matters. He organises his writing into five main sections: desiring prayer, understanding prayer, learning prayer, deepening prayer and doing prayer. Keller always writes from an evangelical perspective and that is a strength here. Prayer does not get reduced to metaphysics and meditation, even though it includes the latter. Here is a much-needed reminder of why prayer should be at the heart of Christian life and Christian worship in its widest sense. Easy to read and clear to follow, the author has given us a practical book about a necessary subject. This is not prayer as ritual, this is prayer as relationship. I have no hesitation in recommending it both to the person exploring Christianity for the first time and to the mature Christian who wants to learn more.
28 people found this helpful
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Miss Elisabeth Threadgold
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Prayer the constant challenge
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 1, 2021
I have read many books on prayer but found this one very helpful. It is so grounded in our personal relationship with God and has many insights into the challenges and joys of prayer.
2 people found this helpful
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Sue E
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The best book I''ve ever read on prayer and meditation.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 13, 2018
A brilliant book. Very easy to read. Practical and full of teaching on prayer and Christian meditation with scripture examples and examples from early saints like Augustine , Calvin, Luther and many others. Spiritiually encouraging. Cannot recommend it highly enough. I will...See more
A brilliant book. Very easy to read. Practical and full of teaching on prayer and Christian meditation with scripture examples and examples from early saints like Augustine , Calvin, Luther and many others. Spiritiually encouraging. Cannot recommend it highly enough. I will buy copies for others.
6 people found this helpful
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D M MacDonald
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent and inspiring
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 7, 2017
This is an excellent and readable treatment of most aspects of prayer. The author honestly deals with problems and encourages readers to persevere in prayer. Highly recommended for ll, especially those who find it difficult to pray.
9 people found this helpful
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Bookman
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
OK
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 15, 2014
Too dry for me and overkill. Prayer shouldn''t be a rocket science like described in this book.
24 people found this helpful
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