Prayer is that discipline that I feel like is so important yet strides often seem so elusive. In addition to regular reading I try to mix in a number of books on prayer throughout the year. I liken it to hiring a “prayer-coach” at a fairly equitable hourly rate. For some strange reason I did not read Tim Keller’s book on prayer when it came out in 2014. I resolved to pick it up and read it in December in view of a new year. I was greatly helped. In this brief review I’ll highlight some of the particulars.
Keller begins the book by disclosing his own weakness in prayer. He transparently writes about a season of intense physical affliction and how he learned that he (and his wife) had no other choice but to pray. It was Keller in the locker room giving a story of his own struggles. Right away you know this is going to be a different book. It is going to be intensely personal and thoroughly practical. And it was.
The book is divided into 5 parts, Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, and Doing Prayer. Each section warrants thoughtful slow interaction and application.
One of Keller’s strengths is his depth of knowledge of church history and in particular, faithful men and women. He brings in 3 main teachers to help in the lessons on prayer. Augustine, Luther, and Calvin serve to help readers to better understand and engage in prayer. These chapters are gold; Keller skims off the cream from these great men of prayer to apply very helpful teaching. In particular, his interaction with Martin Luther on the subject of mediation and the Lord’s Prayer were particularly useful for me. After all, we are talking about practical right? We often think of Luther the guy who prayed for hours at a time. But we are also instructed that he told his barber that it was better to pray more frequent, focused prayers than longer, distracted ones. Using the Lord’s Prayer as a template has been so helpful for me. These chapters strengthened my hand.
In the final sections Keller provides some basic models for regular, daily prayer. He is very gracious to open up his journal and practice to show us how he goes about this discipline. I found it most helpful.
One other takeaway for me. Tim Keller is a very public guy. His church and ministry are expanding. His books are all “must-reads” and when he talks everyone wants to hear him. Without saying it explicitly Tim Keller is saying by his life and book that he didn’t make all of this happen because he was awesome. By his own admission, God often does not give us what we want apart from prayer so that we don’t think it comes from our superior wisdom and strength. This book underscores that Keller’s ministry is fueled by faithful prayer. That’s encouraging.