Three Things: “Prayer” by Tim Keller

Have you ever had a book that you’ve started reading but just haven’t been able to finish it? I’m sure we all have. In fact, I have several. Some of them have been great and I just never got around to finishing them and others have been, well, awful and I didn’t want to continue reading them.

One book that I have started reading on more than one occasion is Tim Keller’s book Prayer. I’ve picked it up a few times and each time I made it a little further. This is evident by the different shades of blue from the various pens I’ve used. I’m not entirely sure why I have never finished this book; it’s outstanding. The book is biblically based, intellectually organized, and personally applicable. It is one of the best books on prayer I have ever read and I highly recommend it.

Keller’s thesis is “Experiencing awe and intimacy with God”. He is committed to providing a practical understanding to the importance of prayer. Throughout the book, he draws attention to inaccurate understandings, historical evidence and practices, the nature and character of God in prayer, and the vital necessity of God’s Word in prayer.

A Definition

Prayer is a hard concept to define, mainly because it’s a difficult practice to develop. If we are being honest, prayer is a little weird. There is very much a need for faith and trust in God for prayer. Our world strives for instant response and instant gratification. We don’t like to wait in lines, so we sign up for fast passes. We don’t like to talk on the phone, so we communicate through text message. We need our items shipped to us in two days and now, in some cities, we can receive those items in the same day. We are a fast pass, answer me now society.

Prayer is very much a wait and see practice. At least, this is how prayer is often viewed. Keller, however, says differently. While we think of prayer as talking to God, Keller sees prayer as a response to God already communicating with us. This is why I believe his definition of prayer is well written.

Keller defines prayer, in the fullest sense, as

“continuing a conversation God has started through His Word and His grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with Him.” (48)

Prayer is not a conversation we started; it’s a conversation God started through the Word. This is why the Bible is vital to our prayer life.

Prayer and Grace

Chapter seven works through John Calvin’s rules for prayer. Essentially all the rules point back to our need for God, which is why we need to pray. Yet, prayer can become a part of the good christian “check list”. We do pray every morning, read our Bibles, and go to church and this is how we define “a good Christian”. Yet, we are not good based on our own efforts (Eph 2:8-10). Even if we keep the rules, we must rely on grace.

“Calvin’s fifth rule is the rule of grace. He urges us to not conclude that following any setoff rules could make our prayers worthy to be heard. Nothing we formulate or do can qualify us for access to God. Only grace can do that – based not on our performance but on the saving work of Christ.

What, then, is the function of ‘rules’? Why does it matter how we pray if it’s all by grace? The answer is that prayer should be shaped by and in accord with that grace. Only when we see we cannot keep the rules, and need God’s mercy, can we become people who begin to keep the rules”. (103-104)

A Practical Guide on Prayer

While the entire book is worth reading, chapter fifteen puts it over the edge. The book is not just theologically and Biblically sound, the practical portion it provides is worth the price of admission.

There is too much in chapter 15 to include here; you’ll just have to purchase the book and check it out for yourself. Keller gives us an incredible example of how to practice the biblical discipline of praying without ceasing. The chapter was so good, I made a resource for myself and placed in the Bible I use for devotions as a way to grow in my own personal prayer life.

Be sure to grab a copy of the book and work through it. Don’t make the same mistake I did and take your time finishing it. Work through it, mark it up, and put it into practice.

You can purchase the book here.

To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

Martin Luther

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