Prayer is hard work. Tim Keller admits as much in his new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God. In fact, Keller admits that prayer is a spiritual discipline he discovered and developed in the second half of his life. That’s a comforting thought from an accomplished pastor and theologian. It means that seasoned veterans of the faith still wrestle with prayer.
In Prayer, Keller argues that, though difficult, the practice of prayer is a necessary work in the believer’s life. Keller doesn’t depend on his own authority in making this assertion. He turns to Jesus’ words just before he offers his disciples a model prayer. When you pray…go into your room…pray in secret. Matthew 6:6. Jesus places an emphasis on us developing our personal prayer life. Keller notes, “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.” As someone who needs to develop his private prayer life, these words gripped my soul. But how could I do it?
Keller doesn’t jump immediately into the how in this book. He first develops a theology of prayer. Why do we pray? What is prayer? That’s the thing I appreciate most about Keller’s work. And it’s the thing that is missing from books on prayer from many of Keller’s contemporaries. Keller gives the reader the sense that the why and what questions about prayer are just as important as the how question about prayer. Keller is merely being himself, a practical theologian who combines theology and practice in pastoral ways.
Drawing From Others
Keller admits that the best works on prayer have already been written. He remains true to his word throughout the book, as he leans heavily on classical works from those who have labored before him. He cites Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Owen, the Westminster Catechism, and many other seminal works on prayer in working through his own book. He relies on faithful Christians of day’s past to lead the reader toward a healthy prayer discipline.
Keller advises that a healthy prayer discipline is one that engages God’s Word. For Keller, reading God’s Word might not precede every prayer, but God’s Word should permeate every prayer. Keller notes, “A sponge needs to be saturated in water only periodically in order to do its work. We can cry out to God all during the day as long as we regularly spend time with his Word.”
Fresh, Yet Classic
If you read this book, it might alter your prayer life. It’s a God-centered treatment of a topic that has gotten far too much man-centered treatment in contemporary culture. Keller pulls back the curtain on centuries of godly advice on prayer and gives practical advice on prayer that could develop both awe and intimacy with our Creator.
I’d recommend Keller’s work for beginners and “experts” alike, as he offers a fresh, yet classic, look at a practice that has confounded many for decades. After reading this book, you’ll view the “work” of prayer as a joy and an honor.