The apostle Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians commands Christians to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17).What does this mean and how is it even possible? After all, the medieval monks had 7 fixed times of daily prayer, and that was eventually proven to be physically insupportable even for men who had devoted their lives to prayer and didn’t have to be at an office or dealing with the demands of a family who produce an insane amount of laundry. (info taken from p 241; laundry example is from my own life) I have a lot of Muslim friends and sometimes they’ll ask me how many times a day I pray, usually after pointing with pride to their 5 times of prescribed prayer. “We’re supposed to pray without ever stopping,” I tell them, and they’re amazed because they think of prayer as being very ritualistic, with certain motions done and words recited.
I don’t know about you, but prayer is something I want to do more of, feel that I should be doing more of, and yet somehow usually fail to do more of. I’m a big fan of Tim Keller, so I was pretty excited when I saw he had written a book on prayer.
Well-known pastor and author Tim Keller writes in the forward that he realized several years ago that he didn’t have one book that summed up all aspects of theology, experience and methodology, written in modern language and idiom, that he could give to give those wanting to understand Christian prayer. He has put together a work that manages to be both scholarly and approachable, theological and practical with everyday applications.
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God looks at various kinds of prayer, most notably whether or not we should strive for contemplative prayer which muses on the majesty of God or active supplication which appeals to his power and love for help in various situations of life, and finds that one is not better than the other but that both are necessary in the life of an active, growing Christian. The subtitle of the work, “experiencing awe and intimacy with God,” points to this. We can know and experience God through prayer, and this will change us.
Keller paraphrases methods of combining Bible study with meditation and prayer. “We pray in response to God himself,” he says, in a section titled “Conversing with God.” (p.60) His book emphasizes the importance of being grounded in the Word of God in order to be able to properly appreciate just who it is we’re praying to. He doesn’t shy away from mysticism and emotion, but points to the necessity of first establishing a foundation of contemplation of the word and the gospel of grace.
I love how practical this book is. It’s divided into 5 sections; Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, and Doing Prayer. Each section is further broken down; for example the final section includes the sub-sections Awe, Intimacy, Struggle and Practice. The third section, Learning Prayer, includes a deep meditation on the “prayer of prayers,” The Lord’s Prayer, which through familiarity has become banal to many, but which contains many riches.
Whenever I read or listen to Tim Keller, I’m always impressed at how well-read he is and this book is no exception. I feel he quotes nearly everyone who’s written on prayer, from various “greats” through the ages like St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Thomas Cranmer, John Calvin and others, to everyone from medieval mystics to Anne LaMott and Flannery O’Connor. The book is also saturated in Scripture, and will cause you to look at even familiar passages with fresh eyes.
Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God is the sort of book to be savored. The many ideas and experiences put forth within offer ways to transform your life, to bring you into deeper knowledge and intimacy with God. Of course this isn’t a get-spiritual-quick scheme, and ups and downs are inevitable while we continue as broken people in a broken world. But I came away from this book with a fresh excitement for spending time in prayer, and with some practical tips to help me move forward.
Please check out my column at 5 Minutes for Mom, 2 Good Resources on Prayer, where I compare this with another of my favorite books on prayer.