Prayerby Timothy Keller
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (325 pages)
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Many Christians struggle with their daily prayer life. Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God gives a treatise on prayer from God’s Word, history, and a pastoral touch that help us look for deeper communion with God in our lives. The focus is on preparing our hearts for prayer and knowing God more.
Who should read this?
This work can have a broad audience including Christians and non-Christians. Timothy Keller importantly has a knack in addressing issues for followers of Christ, but still really reaching non-Christians by keeping the Gospel as the focal point. The main focus for the audience with this book is Christians struggling and looking to strengthen their prayer lives.
Many times we are looking for a quick fix to the things that ail us in life, or even a fix for our lackluster, non-existent prayer life. Timothy Keller argues in his book Prayer that the authority of God’s Word and proper preparation before speaking with the Lord will lead to a deeper communion with God. He breaks up his book into five sections: Desiring Prayer, understanding prayer, learning prayer, deepening prayer and doing prayer.
The author begins by sharing the importance of prayer in the Christian life and how without it we lack a vital spiritual discipline that leads us to know God more. He proposes moving from duty to delight, where we desire to love God more through our open communication with Him. Timothy Keller writes, “Prayer, then, is both awe and intimacy, struggle and reality. (5)” The desire here is to avoid extremes with being just obedient in prayer and getting overly emotional in our prayer lives. Beyond just necessity comes the greatness of prayer. Through the words of Paul in Ephesians 1 and the life of a few believers, the author addresses the glory of God being shone through prayer.
Once we get a fuller understanding of why we should pray, understanding prayer is the next step for Keller. The truth is that most people and religions think prayer is important but don’t understand it correctly. He lands here on the idea of a “mystical prophet” by looking at the life of Jonathan Edwards and his prayer example. He addresses two key areas of conversing with God and encountering God in strengthening our prayer lives.
Quoting Martin Luther’s thoughts on conversing of God, Keller writes, “We must first hear the Word, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost works in our hearts, he works in the hearts of whom he will, and how he will, but never without the Word. (57)” Timothy Keller also speaks here about the importance of knowing more of God through prayer. A highlight section here talks about how we approach God desiring to encounter more of Him, giving our petitions to God directly through Jesus’ name.
One of the things we have gone away from is looking at what other Christians from history think on a certain subject. Timothy Keller here presents the idea of practicing prayer looking at several examples from church history. These are also very personal in nature as the first two are letters from early church theologian Augustine and the reformer Martin Luther.
These letters show the approach and technique to prayer, but also, most importantly, the passion these men of God had for seeking deep, daily communion with our Savior. Augustine’s focus on the Lord’s Prayer of adoration, petition, thanksgiving, and confession are very helpful. Martin Luther also instructs here with his ideas of praying according to God’s Word through instruction, thanksgiving, confession, and finally praying. The author here also uses the example on prayer from reformer John Calvin from his Institutes. The focus of his work on prayer is the heart attitude with which we approach the throne of God. Keller comments here, “Calvin says that this sense of awe is a crucial part of prayer. Prayer both requires it and produces it”(99). Concluding this section on learning prayer are strong chapters on the Lord’s Prayer example and main touchstones of prayer. Some of these include prayer as work, prayer requires grace, and prayer gives strength.
After defining what prayer is, the author spends the second half of the book giving practical advice for prayer in our daily lives. The first section portrays the deepening of communion with God through prayer. Keller talks about approach to prayer when discussing meditation of God’s Word first. He says here, “Nonetheless, if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation in Scripture”(145). The writer also addresses looking to have a serious encounter with God, allowing for a deeper relationship and more knowledge of Him to be the fruit of these conversations.
One of the largest problems seen in the church today with prayer is misunderstanding the right techniques to make prayer joyful. He finishes up Prayer by giving us several aspects of prayer that should be included regularly for all of us. We see the need for an approach of awe and wonder for the God we serve. We see the need to find intimacy in our relationship with God through grace. We often need help, so struggling with God is important.
The grind can also distract us from the importance and need we have for prayer. As Keller says, it needs to be a vital aspect of our lives. 1 Thess. 5:17 is the key passage to this section. There are also several types of prayer examples given for specific situations, such as grief, loss, and forgiveness. The book includes several appendices at the back of the book to help with the practical side of the daily prayer life of Christians.
Even outside of Christian circles, there has been extensive writing done on the idea of prayer. Quite often these books, blogs, and articles can be less than helpful and can also become repetitive. That is not the case with Timothy Keller’s Prayer. Keller gives us a unique and refreshing work that adds greatly to the conversation about finding communion with the Lord. We are blessed to have this book in the catalogue of works on prayer.
There are certainly several strengths with this book, but the one that leads the way is the depth throughout. Many books on prayer stay on the surface and focus entirely on the practical nature of the prayer life. Timothy Keller works hard in Prayer to give a fuller definition of what prayer is before diving into the practical nature. As with much of the Reformed crowd, the author focuses on God as the center of prayer instead of the person who is praying.
Keller comments, “That’s the ground motive of Spirit-directed, Christ-mediated prayer—to simply know him better and enjoy his presence” (77). There is a seriousness and reverence seen across the book that is rarely seen, and brings much needed depth to this. The two focuses of the book that addresses this the best are the awe of God in prayer and the true intimacy of approaching God’s throne.
One of the most unique and helpful sections of the book comes in Timothy Keller’s study of history on the subject of prayer. What is the most striking about this section is that two of the people discussed, Martin Luther and Augustine, are writing personal letters. This part of the book really pulls at the heartstring of a pastor as it looks at ministers sharing with others the power of prayer in their natural context.
Also, discussed here is John Calvin in his great theological work, Institutes. The most helpful section in that chapter is where Calvin balances out restful hope and confident hope in our prayer lives. The strong reminder from R.A. Torrey at the end of this section about assuming we are owed by God through prayer is really convicting.
Timothy Keller spends the second half of the book with a very strong, practical section. This is where many books on prayer park for the whole of the work, but not Keller’s Prayer. Having the proper perspective and understanding before heading into the practical really makes this book the excellent work it is.
The practical side of this book focuses on approaching God in the right manner, knowing more of God’s glory through prayer, and seeking deep communion with God in prayer. An example of the author’s earnest care for the daily prayer life of the believer, Keller writes, “Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel it or not” (121). We can be challenged very deeply throughout this work about the practical nature of prayer for our lives.
There isn’t too much to fault with this book, but one of the areas of weakness is many of the larger, theological words used by the author. I truly believe this book, for the most part, will have a large audience across the board, but some of the words used by Keller will make it harder for some to follow. It would help this work to be more accessible if some of the terms were a little less academic for those just reading this that might struggle with prayer.
I would with no hesitation recommend all Christians and those seeking Christ to read this great God-centered book on prayer. This book will benefit many who are looking for a refreshing look on their daily prayer lives.
Is it time for a reflection on your prayer life? Are you trying to find that deeper communion with the Lord? Timothy Keller’s Prayer brings us to a place where we need to reflect and renew our passion for prayer.
Giving a full definition of prayer that focuses on God Himself, looking at historical ideas of prayer, and giving strong, practical advice on how to strengthen our daily prayer lives, we have one of the best works on prayer today. 1 Thess. 5:17 says to “Pray without ceasing,” and this book helps a long way to achieving this very 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.” (Introduction- 4)
- “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change- the reordering of our loves. (18)
- “To fail to pray, then, is not merely to break some religious rule- it is a failure to treat God as God. It is a sin against his glory.“ (26)
- “We should ask God for things with boldness and specificity, with ardor, honesty, and diligence, yet with patient submission to God’s will and wise love.” (238)