Timothy Keller. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. New York: Dutton, 2014. 328 pp. $26.95.
Church and Ministry
The subject of prayer commands great interest today. Our rationalistic “quiet time” devotional age is coming to a close, and forms of prayer – which follow a Medieval contemplative template – are on the rise. Some are repulsed with the mystical methods of lectio divina; others invite experimentation with these ancient practices.
I would not call this the singular impetus of Timothy Keller’s recent contribution to the dialogue on prayer. Nonetheless, it is an element that led the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of nine other books to offer his tenth, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.
Readers will speedily discover – upon a cursory glance – that Keller employs years of experimental practice and studious reflection to produce this extensive work. Stimulated by the events of 9-11 and physical afflictions that he, his wife, and other church members experienced during decades of ministry, Keller set to studying and rigorously practicing prayer; this is the fruit from this practice.
Keller thoughtfully dialogues with seminal works on prayer, finding the locus of his study in credible forerunners such as Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Owen. Keller provides evenness while embracing an “intelligent mysticism” of prayer. By this he means that the heart of prayer embodies truth and experience, rationale and emotion. “This heart experience of the gospel’s power can happen only through prayer – both publicly in the gathered Christian assembly and privately in meditation” (15). Thus, Keller introduces Christ followers to a historic practice of blending meditative bible study that leads to robust prayer, articulating the truths of who God is and what God does in the world as revealed through the Scripture – all this to His glory producing our joy.
This five part work from the onset stimulates readers to desire prayer in part one and understand prayer in part two; this is the functional discussion on prayer. Parts three through five is the exposé on the practice of prayer: we learn prayer in part three, deepen our prayer life in part four, and do prayer in part five.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
I’ve read a number of the contemporary classic works on prayer, but rarely did I see how those writer’s interacted with the truly classical works on prayer. Keller confesses, “The best material has been written” (1). What sets Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God apart is how Keller distills the best of the best in one place, dialogues with it, and unpacks the glittering prizes held within for us to war well in the craft of prayer.
The wealthiest material, no doubt, is produced from Keller’s dialogue with John Owen. Chapter after chapter is rife with Owen, but chapter ten’s three steps of meditation is Owen’s most valuable contribution to the dialogue. This chapter instructs us to fix our mind on a scriptural truth, inclining our heart to God, and then enjoy that truth or cry out to God for that truth to be realized (152-164). Keller asserts that this process of meditation is “thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in until its ideas become “big” and “sweet,” moving and affecting, and until the reality of God is sensed upon the heart” (162).
Keller’s interaction with our Lord’s prayer life is captivating. His smart study of the Lord’s Prayer – what Keller refers to as the prayer of prayers or in another place the alpha prayer – yet again profits from other fine works. Keller says, “The whole world is starving for spiritual experience, and Jesus gives us the means to it in a few words” (109). This prayer of prayers is altogether too familiar to us, but Keller’s fresh presentation of it is delightful, whether it is his exhortation to long for Christ’s kingdom with our whole heart and joy or to see the same social dimension that Luther saw in the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
The most piercing moment for me, as I read along, is the meeting of atonement with prayer found in the Garden of Gethsemane. There Keller declares that Christ’s unanswered prayer and humble submission to God’s will is for our benefit. “More specifically, Jesus’ prayers were given the rejection that we sinners merit so that our prayer could have the reception that he merits” (238).
Fringe benefits of Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God include chapter nine’s touchstones of prayer (cf. 141) and the practical guides and methods to integrating your life with prayer (cf. 252-255, 263-266). These two resources help you come to prayer with the right motive and practice prayer with a reasonable routine.
Simply put, just as always with Timothy Keller, you will not close the back cover disappointed. His unswerving commitment to biblically and theologically teeming discourse interacts seamlessly with culture and history to produces a work on prayer that will not soon be surpassed.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Prayer by Timothy Keller inspires readers to pursue awe-filled adoration of God through communion with him in prayer.