This is a superb book on prayer, published in 2014 by the increasingly prolific writer/pastor Tim Keller. I would say that this book is probably my favorite overall book on prayer. Keller is so bright, so well-read, and so insightful, with such a deep heart for God.
He begins by talking about his own journey with prayer, how God used some struggles to raise this value in his own life. He talks about a milestone decision that he and his wife made in 2011 that they would pray together every single night, and the difference this has made for them.
The book is peppered with the quotes and learnings from writers and scholars, not only from our own day but down through the centuries. For example, there is a great section on the Lord’s Prayer in which he basically takes the best insights of Augustine, Luther and Calvin.
There is a tremendous section on meditation on the Bible, which is really a form of prayer. He talks about the various ways open to us to meditate on the Bible.
Here is his definition of prayer:
“What is prayer, then, in the fullest sense? Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.”
He elaborates with a couple of quotes: “Through Christ, prayer becomes what Scottish Reformer John Knox called ‘an earnest and familiar talking with God,’ and John Calvin called an ‘intimate conversation’ of believers with God, or elsewhere ‘a communion of men with God’ – a two-way communicative interaction.”
There is a good bit about how to pray, and he includes this insightful observation from Edmund P. Clowney: “The Bible does not present an art of prayer; it presents the God of prayer.”
Here are a few of the principles he lays out:
- Prayer is a duty and a discipline.
- Prayer is conversing with God.
- Prayer is a balanced interaction of praise, confession, thanks and petition.
- Prayer must be “In Jesus’ Name,” based on the gospel.
- Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe.
- Prayer is accepting weakness and dependence.
- Prayer reorients your view toward God.
- Prayer as spiritual union with God.
- Prayer seeks a heart sense of the presence of God.
- Prayer requires and creates honesty and self-knowledge.
- Prayer requires and creates restful trust and confident hope.
- Prayer requires and creates surrender of the whole life in love to God.
There is a wonderful chapter on the prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21, in chapter 11. It includes fascinating examples of Blaise Pascal, the philosopher and mathematician, and Jonathan Edwards, the pastor and theologian, having these striking encounters with the presence of God.
Keller closes with these challenging lines:
“It may be fitful and episodic, but fellowship with God is available now. George Herbert, remember, called prayer ‘the Churches banquet.’ Remember too Dwight Moody, who was praying one day and could say only ‘that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand.’
Why are we settling for water when we could have wine?”