Monday, March 23, 2015

Tethering your prayers to reality


Keller, in his increasingly admired (by me) book on prayer, simply titled Prayer, touches upon a very helpful concept.

His concept is that God should be the starting point. And he should be this because if he's not, "then our own perceived emotional needs become the drivers and sole focus of our prayer" (61).

Since prayer is a continuation of communication started by God, to omit him or relegate him to the backseat suggests that whatever it is we are doing, it isn't prayer.

Keller's remedy for this, indeed God's remedy for this, is to enwrap ourselves in God's Word. Keller writes, "[w]ithout immersion in God's words, our prayers may not be merely limited and shallow but also untethered from reality" (62).  Keller continues by warning the reader that we "may be responding not to the real God but to what we wish God and life to be like" (62).

Prayer untethered from God's words risks becoming a prayer disassociated from reality; in fact, it becomes non-prayer. We may be doing nothing more than "talking to ourselves" (62).

I find this admonition very helpful, and know that I have often been untethered from the Word when I have prayed. I believe there is grace for that, but my desire is to pray earnestly, accurately, and effectively. Clearly, I need his words found in the Word for that.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Knowledge Matters

In the third chapter of Timothy Keller's Prayer he moves toward his definition of what prayer is. He defines it as:
"a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God."(p.45)
He goes on further to state that:
"All human beings have some knowledge of God available to them. At some level, the have an indelible sense that they need something or someone who is on a higher plane and infinitely greater than they are. Prayer is seeking to respond and connect to that being and reality, even if it is no more than calling out into the air for help. 
That is, I believe, the common denominator of all human prayer. However, because our definition understands prayer as a response to the knowledge of God, it means that prayer is profoundly altered by the amount and accuracy of that knowledge."(emphasis mine)

 This reaffirms my position that we all have a duty to be mini Theologians! We need to learn more about God; who he is, what he's done, and what he's going to do. This knowledge has a wider application than just filling our brains with cool facts, it influences even the most private times of prayer. The more we know and understand about God, the more intimate I believe our prayers will become.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Prayer in the fullest sense

 The third chapter of Prayer by Tim Keller dealth with the question "What Is Prayer?" I found this chapter less interesting and less inspiring than the first two, but I also see it as a necessity to define prayer as the book continues.

Consider the following quotation: "What is prayer 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" (48).

There are several things I like about this definition. First, Keller recognizes that any communicative approach to God on our part is a response; that is, God has initiated the conversation. This speak to his graciousness. We deserve punishment, he offers his presence.

Second, the conversation was started by God through his Word and his grace. The revelation of God is seen in the created universe. It seen more clearly in his Word, the Bible and the Logos. Keller later writes "Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1:1-14) because no more comprehensive, personal, and beautiful communication of God is possible (49, italics in original).

Finally, Keller states this conversation "eventually becomes a full encounter with him" (48). Initially, I thought this was overstating things; I countered that not everyone does encounter him . . . some never encounter him. But really, Keller is right. I was only considering encountering God is a positive sense. But everyone WILL encounter him, some for glory and others for punishment. The conversation that began with God's Word and grace will come to a full encounter: "Well done my good and faithful servant" or "Depart from me, I never knew you."

I am left contemplating the conversation God started at with me at creation, that he continued with me at Calvary, and that he will perpetuate with me throughout eternity at the consummation of all things.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I used to sing

In his book on prayer, Keller writes: "Singing engages the whole being-the heart through the music as well as the mind through the words."

This reminded me of a time in my life when I would sing during my daily prayer time. Now, I am not a good singer. And I'malso not a person who IS a good singer but says he's not a good singer with false humility the basis for his words. I really and truly am not a good singer.

Nevertheless, I used to sing during times of adoration. And this quote by Keller reminded me of that. And in thinking on this, I think that I should return to this practice. I love the idea of it engaging both my heart and my mind.

Here is how I would arrive at a song in the morning: I would be actively looking for a song to sing during my time of Bible reading. I would anticipate direction for a song in the words of scripture. Maybe I would read a word or a phrase that would remind me of a song. For example, tody I read the account of the Egyptians being killed in the Red Sea and of the song Miriam sang: "The horse and rider fell into the sea." This reminded me of a fun and upbeat song we used to sing that went like so: "I will sing unto the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider fell into the sea." Back in the day, that might be come the song I sang during a period of adoration in my devotions. So that's how it went.

I think I shoud revisit this practice.

And in case you're wondering, I did not subject the workers and patrons at Starbucks to a rousing chorus; I'll save that for the privacy of my home.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wait. Prayer is hard?

Chapter two of Keller's work on prayer addresses various aspects of it, one being the hardness of prayer. He introduces the section by writing:
I can think of nothing great that is also easy. Prayer must be, then, one of the hardest things in the world. To admit that prayer is very hard, however, can be encouraging. If you struggle greatly in this, you are not alone.
Keller writes about a loneliness and emptiness when we first try to establish our prayer life. He observes this to be a very important step as we don't necessarily understand this to be our state until we begin to feel, "lonely and hungry," for God.

Likening the above to physical hunger or loneliness was helpful for me. I can think of many times when for whatever reason I wasn't able to eat for a period of time. Then, when I was able to eat I found it difficult, I was almost so hungry that I wasn't wanting to eat....if that makes any sense. Same with loneliness or solitude. Doing something by yourself for an extended period of time and then trying to interact with other people suddenly can prove challenging. You get used to doing your own thing. I've become irritable or frustrated or short tempered or....or...or I could keep going all day.

Keller provides encouragement for the difficulties we may experience, he writes:
In the beginning the feeling of poverty and absence usually dominates, but the best guides for this phase urge us not to turn back but rather to endure and pray in a disciplined way, until, as Packer and Nystrom say, we get through duty to delight[...]the pursuit of God in prayer eventually bears fruit, because God seeks for us to worship him (John 4:23) and because prayer is so infinitely rich and wondrous.
I'm thankful that I'm not the only person that finds prayer difficult, however, the challenge will be not using this as a crutch for a hollow and underdeveloped prayer life. I look forward to what the rest of the book presents.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Prayer – Why So Serious?

As Jude previously wrote, the two of us are tackling Keller's new book on prayer. When we were mulling over various books to read together this one seemed to jump out as something I absolutely needed to work on. I look forward to working through this material togehter over the next many weeks.

The first chapter was packed full of reasons why prayer needs to be taken seriously. As a summary at the end of the chapter Keller writes:
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. Prayers is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray. We have to.
Earlier in the chapter Keller writes of a time when he and his wife were going through many challenges. His wife challenged him to treat prayer, specifically praying together as a couple, as serious as a pill that he needed to take to live. That's how powerful she understood prayer to be and how serious it should be taken.

I need that. I'm flippant with prayer and often times realize I haven't prayed at all until I'm about to drift off into Never Never Land. I look forward to the continued learning in this book and that looking back I can say that God changed my prayer life through this book.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Reading in Community - Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.

I'm starting a new book today, and reading it in community with Chris Power, who is separated by distance but unified in Spirit. To compensate for the physical difficulties of fellowshipping over a book while separated by an hour and a half drive, we are going to try and post on the blog once a week a reflection on the chapter we have read.

The book we are reading together is by Timothy Keller: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.


Towards the end of the first chapter, Keller discusses some practical changes he made to his prayer life after a particularly difficult season of his life. These changes included: summarizing the Psalms and "praying through the Psalms regularly"; adding a "time of meditation as a transitional discipline between my bible reading and my time of prayer"; praying both in the evening and the morning instead of just the morning; and"praying with greater expectation."

I look forward to learning more about these practices from the author, but it is what he wrote next that really caught my attention. Keller informs that the changes "took time to bear fruit, but after sustaining these practices for about two years, I began to have some breakthroughs" (emphasis mine).

I find it both daunting and encouraging that Keller experienced breakthroughs after two years of applying and practicing his new found disciplines: daunting because I am a fickle, lazy, and self-seeking individual; encouraging because breakthroughs take time, hard work, and God's grace even for gifted and godly people like Keller which means there is hope for me.

And here is my hope: I hope to pray more, and to pray more sincerely, and to pray with greater effectiveness, and to pray for the glory of God.