Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Book Review)

keller-prayerThere are a number of helpful books on prayer that I’ve read.  From most of them I’ve taken away one or two nuggets of truth that have bolstered my prayer life.  Paul Miller’s A Praying Life taught me to ask simply and boldly like a child would pray.  Philip Reinder, in his compilation Seeking God’s Face, encouraged me to pray daily and with a worshipful order.  Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline showed me that prayer fuels the other spiritual disciplines.  All of these books do one or two things well.  But none of them seems to be comprehensive.  This is where Tim Keller has filled a void in the literature on prayer with his book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.  It is basically an accessible course and handbook on the theology, historical practice, and personal experience of God in prayer.  The reader is led by the hand, step by small step, in a surprisingly clear and compelled manner, from a position of curiosity about prayer to the practice of daily intimate prayer.  I can’t think of any major stone he leaves unturned, or any question or objection he doesn’t address.  From the perspective of a Protestant minister in the Presbyterian tradition, Keller nevertheless draws from the best of other Christian traditions, including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, to supplement his desire to learn from the “Prayer Masters” of Church History.  His primary teachers are St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, and of course Jesus Christ.  By returning to the fountainheads of Protestant spirituality, Keller shows us a way forward.  He strikes a delicate balance between the rationalistic and mystical prayer practices that have left so many would-be pray-ers dissatisfied and longing for more.  For all of us who struggle to pray, or who struggle to break through our prayer rut, his way forward is refreshing and doable.

Here are just 20 of the helpful nuggets of truth I gathered from this book that is literally chock full of insight:

  1. The Bible itself gives us examples of “communion” and “kingdom” prayers.  We need both.
  2. Mysticism in prayer must be intelligent and grounded in Scripture.  The Prayer Masters model this for us.
  3. Prayer is a duty and delight.  Often it feels more duty than delight.  But if we are faithful to keep on rowing, we will be there when the Spirit catches our sails and carries us along by the breathtaking power of God.  Awe and intimacy result.
  4. Prayer is the way to reality.  The way to God as the base of all Reality.  The way to really know ourselves.  The way to know the world and others as they really are.
  5. “Prayer as a spiritual gift is a genuine personal conversation in reply to God’s specific, verbal revelation.” (46)
  6. Sincere prayer untethered to God’s Word may fail, sometimes embarrassingly.
  7. “The primary theological fact about prayer is this: We address a triune God, and our prayers can be heard only through the distinct work of every person in the Godhead.” (66)
  8. Prayer “in Jesus’ name” is essentially about qualification and access, not the stamp to ensure the letter gets delivered.
  9. Meditation and prayer go together hand in glove.  Meditation on God’s Word prepares the heart for prayer responding to God’s Word.
  10. Make the prayers of Scripture your own by spiritually “riffing” (improvising) on them.
  11. Keep a lookout for the Holy Spirit to “preach” to you during prayer.  When he “speaks” stop the routines and pay close attention. (95-96)
  12. Whatever good rules for prayer there are, remember the “rule against rules”.  God’s grace alone makes our prayers worthy to be heard.  Not our rule keeping.
  13. The order of petitions in the Lord’s Prayer is vitally important.  If we don’t put God first, then our heart’s desires will likely be disordered when we ask him for things.  Praising God is both the Alpha (beginning of Lord’s Prayer) and Omega (last Psalm) Prayer.
  14. Review the Touchstones of Prayer frequently as a prayer reminder and reorientation. (141)
  15. Study Thomas Cranmer’s prayers in the Book of Common Prayer.  Use them as models for your personal prayer.
  16. Make George Whitefield’s prayer a structural model for your prayers: ask for a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love, a “single” eye.  Use these prayer to examine yourself and consider the free grace of Jesus. (218-220)
  17. Petitionary prayer serves two purposes: to change the circumstances of history, and to change me by receiving peace and rest.
  18. Three sorts of petitions: asking, complaining/lamenting, and waiting.
  19. Follow this pattern for daily (morning, evening, and perhaps midday) prayer: evocation, Bible reading and meditation, Word prayer, free prayer, contemplation.
  20. Pray the Psalms again and again and again.

I really cannot praise this book highly enough.  It is the kind of book that clearly explains Christian prayer, but is accessible to everyone, regardless of their belief or practice of religion.  After finishing it, I resolved to draft a thorough analytical outline for my benefit (and hopefully yours too).  It will function as a reminder and guide for all these (and many more) lessons on prayer.  Keller’s book on prayer is one of those books that I’ll probably read and discuss with my wife, and possibly lead a small group study on it in the future.  The more times I read it, use it, and practice it, the better.  Why?  Because it points me to God and equips me to experience awe and intimacy with him.  For until the Christian sees the Beatific Vision, prayer must be our breath and connection to God.

Resources

The Publisher Highlighting Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

Prayer: Timothy Keller Reveals How We Can Experience Awe and Intimacy With God

Personal Prayer: Leadership Training Session

10 Questions on Prayer with Tim Keller

20 Quotes from the book

Keller on Quiet Times, Mysticism, and the Priceless Payoff of Prayer

Don’t skip the endnotes at the back of the book

Reviews

Challies

Christianity Today

Goodreads

The Gospel Coalition

Guideposts

Jesus Creed

Tim Keller discussing Prayer on MSNBC’s Morning Joe

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