PrayerIn last week’s book review I mentioned that I was skeptical of 2 kinds of books: leadership books and prayer books. In 2015, I was fortunate to read one book from each category that I not only tolerated, but deeply enjoyed. Last week, I reviewed the leadership book; today, I am reviewing the prayer book. Its author is Timothy Keller and its title is, “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.”

In the introduction, Keller asks an important question regarding the purpose of prayer, “Is peaceful adoration or assertive supplication the ultimate form of prayer?”[1] He goes on to answer his own question from the Psalms, “The Psalter, then, affirms both the communion-seeking and kingdom-seeking kinds of prayer.”[2]

Keller says that most people see prayer as one or the other, but a proper view of prayer must have a high view of both aspects. With this foundation in place, Prayer is split into 5 sections that are roughly 40 pages each: Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, and Doing Prayer.

  1. Desiring Prayer – Keller starts by showing the utter necessity of prayer. Once realized, this necessity will drive us to desire prayer. Keller says, “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our loves.”[3] Keller then drives home the point of what happens when we fail to pray, “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.”
  2. Understanding Prayer – Following a survey of prayer in various religions, cultures, and time periods, Keller lands with the following definition of prayer, “a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God.”[4] He goes on to say that the more we pray, the more intimately we will know God; similarly, the more we know God, the better our prayers will be. Keller goes on to argue that our prayers should flow responsively out of Scripture. In his own words, “God speaks to us in His Word, and we respond in prayer, entering into the divine conversation, into communion with God.”[5] What follows, then, is that we must not “pit theological truth against existential encounter. Rather, we must experience the truth.”[6] In this sense, prayer turns theology into experience. Theologically, we know that we should desire God more than improved circumstances. Prayer takes the theological truth and turns it into a realized experience. This is what prayer is and does.
  3. Learning Prayer – In this section, Keller evaluates the writings of Augustine, Calvin, and Luther on prayer. They have differing perspectives, but Keller focuses in on the common theme of the Lord’s Prayer. Chapter 8 was phenomenally helpful for me in learning how to pray the Lord ’s Prayer in such a way that it transforms my longings, my requests, and my relationship with Jesus. After this rather heavenly section, Keller reminds us of our earthly status, and thus, the difficulty in prayer. He says, “Prayer – though it is often draining, even an agony – is in the long term the greatest source of power that is possible.”[7] Some have complained that Keller’s description of prayer was depressing, but I disagree. Prayer is hard for me. Reading Keller’s realistic description of the difficulty encouraged my soul to press on and strive in prayer with the knowledge that heavenly bliss awaits.
  4. Deepening Prayer – This section really challenged my thinking as it relates to my devotional life. And, over the last few months, has brought me into more intimate communion with Christ. The quote I highlighted says, “Many of us have a devotional life in which we jump from fairly academic study of the Bible into prayer. There is a “middle ground,” however, between prayer and Bible study, a kind of bridge between the two.”[8] His point is to help people realize the need for meditation. He says, “Meditation leads to stability … but not to complete immunity from suffering and dryness.”[9] We desire freedom from our enslavement, yet all our methods seem to be incapable of freeing us. In light of this dilemma, Keller again pounds meditational prayers, “If we want freedom from being driven by fear, ambition, greed, lust, addictions, and inner emptiness, we must learn how to meditate on Christ until his glory breaks in upon our souls.”[10] Does that sound abstract to you? It did to me at first. But, by working to meditate and pray on Scripture in the ways recommended by Keller, God is making himself real to me, and I trust He will do the same for you!
  5. Doing Prayer – Keller says the “alpha prayer” is that of praise, “Praise motivates the other kinds of prayer. The more we attend to God’s perfect holiness and justice, the more readily we will see our own flaws and confess them.”[11] Keller goes on throughout this section to explain how abstract theology becomes practical realities through prayer. It is deep and it is rich.

You have the basic outline of the book. Cool. Is Prayer actually worth your time when there are so many other books on the market? Yes. Here are 3 reasons why:

  • It accurately speaks to the ups and downs – Some prayer books talk only about the beauty of prayer. These leave you disillusioned when your prayer experience is hard. Other books speak only to the difficulty of prayer. These leave you depressed and wondering why you should even try. Keller’s book balances both and helps you see that the struggle is worth the prize, which is God Himself.
  • It gives helpful models – On numerous occasions, Keller suggested a model of prayer that I didn’t like. However, the more I thought about what he said, I couldn’t really refute it. And, after several months of practicing what he advised, I sense the presence of God in ways that I had not previously. In this sense, Prayer was used by God to correct my faulty thinking and to draw me closer to Himself.
  • It is deeply rooted in Scripture – When making points about how to pray or what prayer is, Keller almost always is unpacking a passage of Scripture. On the one hand, this strengthens his argument significantly. But more importantly, it means that by reading this book, you will be growing in the knowledge of God and you will be forced to think deeply about Scripture.

You can buy Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, here.

What is your favorite prayer book? Leave a comment!

[1] Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, (New York: Penguin Group, 2014), 3.

[2] Ibid, 4.

[3] Ibid, 18.

[4] Ibid, 45.

[5] Ibid, 64.

[6] Ibid, 66.

[7] Ibid, 140.

[8] Ibid, 146.

[9] Ibid, 147.

[10] Ibid, 178.

[11] Ibid, 189.