|“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.” (18)
Timothy Keller, author of Counterfeit Gods, Jesus the King, The Prodigal God, and many others has written yet another book that speaks directly and genuinely into the lives of its readers. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Keller now resides in New York City with his wife, Kathy, and is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, which he founded in 1989.
Written in the engaging, easy-to-understand style for which he is so well known, Prayer is Keller’s endeavor to place the “theological, experiential, and methodological [aspects of prayer] all under one cover” (1). Ranging from the foundations of prayer (what it is; why and how we can), to how Martin Luther prayed (3 hours a day), to how we ourselves should be praying today, Keller draws us in and invites us to see the richness, vitality, and sheer necessity of an active prayer life. Filling 262 pages, this book is not a short read, nor is it light and fluffy; it is a deep, intellectual look at the importance of prayer and why Christians must make it a priority.
The Importance of Prayer
Beginning with a personal account of how he came to realize both his lack of understanding towards prayer and its utter necessity, Keller goes on to say that heart change is only possible through prayer. Without prayer, we cannot know God and therefore cannot follow him. “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” (26). To place it in a positive sense, prayer enables us to know God and his will for our lives and is therefore the greatest, most important thing for us to do in the world.
What is Prayer?
After establishing the greatness of prayer, he moves on to explain both what it is and what it should be. It is both instinct for all of humanity and a spiritual gift for the children of God (Gal. 4:5-6). Nowhere in the world does a culture exist that has no form of religion or prayer (Rom.1:20). To God’s children, however, prayer is a gift. And just as a child learns to talk only by hearing those around him, so God’s children learn to pray by listening to God’s Word in the Bible. However, prayer should not be merely theological; it should also be experiential. We are to seek God’s face, to encounter Him through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and to be filled with a sense of His presence and glory.
How to Pray
Next Keller uses writings from St. Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin to show us how to pray, focusing an entire chapter on what each of them had to say about “The Prayer of Prayers” (108). More commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, Keller says it contains everything we need. The biggest danger surrounding it is that of familiarity; we cannot mine its depths if we assume we already know what it says.
Water or Wine?
Keller ends the book with a section entitled “Doing Prayer,” which contains three chapters explaining each of the elemental kinds of prayer: awe, intimacy, and struggle, as well as one chapter with an overview of how personal prayer was done in the past and a few examples of how we could do our own prayer times. He ends with a challenge to evaluate yourself: where are you in your walk with Christ? Wherever you are, “pray no matter what…fellowship with God is available now…Why are we settling for water when we could have wine?” (260-262).
Developing a deep, enriching prayer life is not easy, but neither is it insignificant. As Keller says, “Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle – yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer” (32).
|Stephanie Kinsinger and her husband, Eddie, currently reside in Elnora, Indiana. Originally from Virginia, they both miss spending time with family and seeing mountains wherever they go. She works part time as the janitor for Elnora Bible Institute. Art, music, reading, coffee and good conversations with friends are all things she enjoys.