Timothy Keller, “Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God”

This book is partly a historical survey of kinds of prayer and ways to pray, and partly a how-to guide on what the author, a Presbyterian pastor in Manhattan and one of the best current Christian apologists and writers, recommends.  I would grade it a “B” on both.  There’s lots of Luther and Calvin (and C.S. Lewis); he tilts away from some of the more mystic approaches (including some Catholic prayers).  He endorses tying Bible-reading in with prayer, and is big on Scripture-based prayer — especially the Lord’s Prayer.  He says that supplicant prayers should be thoughtful, good arguments to God for what is being requested.

I photocopied five passages.  First (94-95):

   To summarize this point — Luther says we should start with meditation on a text we have previously studied, then after praising and confessing in accordance with our meditation, we should paraphrase the Lord’s Prayer to God.  Finally, we should just pray from the heart.  This full exercise, he adds, should be done twice a day.

Second (111, footnotes omitted):

… This petition [i.e., “Hallowed be Thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer] …  has a second meaning for Luther, who joins Augustine when he says it is a prayer that God “be glorified among all nations as you are glorified among us.” It is a request that faith in God would spread throughout the world, that Christians would honor God with the Christ-likeness or holiness of their lives, and that more and more people would honor God and call on his name.

   Calvin agrees but adds a thought that goes deep into the heart. “What is more unworthy than for God’s glory to be obscured partly by our ungratefulness?” In other words, ingratitude and an indifferent attitude toward God fails to honor his name. To “hallow” God’s name is not merely to live righteous lives but to have a heart of grateful joy toward God—and even more, a wondrous sense of his beauty. We do not revere his name unless he “captivate[s] us with wonderment for him.”

Third (197, footnote omitted, emphasis in original):

   First, we should learn to do what C. S. Lewis speaks about in his book on prayer, Letters to Malcolm. He deliberately tries to see all pleasures as “shafts of the glory as it strikes our sensibility. … I have tried … to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration.”  By “pleasure” Lewis means things as diverse as a beautiful mountain valley, delicious food, a great book, or a piece of music. What does it mean to make every pleasure into adoration? He quickly points out that, while we should give God thanks for every pleasure, Lewis means something more. “Gratitude exclaims . . . ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.” He learns to instinctively think “What kind of God would create this, give me this?” He concludes that while he doesn’t succeed in always keeping this discipline, it has enriched both his joy in everyday life and his concentrated times of prayer.  He says we “shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasion if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest.”  [For further thoughts on adoration, see post on “What Triggers ‘Adoration’?” on this site.]

Fourth (207-08):

   Only against the background of the Old Testament, and the great mystery of how God could fulfill his covenant with us, can we see the freeness of forgiveness and its astounding cost.  It means that no sin can now bring us into condemnation, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. It also means that sin is so serious and grievous to God that Jesus had to die. We must recognize both of these aspects of God’s grace or we will lapse into one or the other of two fatal errors. Either we will think forgiveness is easy for God to give, or we will doubt the reality and thoroughness of our pardon.

   Both mistakes are spiritually deadly. To lose our grip on the costliness of forgiveness will result in a superficial, perfunctory confession that does not lead to any real change of heart. There will be no life-change. To lose our grip on the freeness of forgiveness, however, will lead to continued guilt, shame, and self-loathing. There will be no relief. Only when we see both the freeness and the cost of forgiveness will we get relief from the guilt as well as liberation from the power of sin in our lives.

And fifth (224-25, footnote omitted, emphasis in original):

   Why call this a “practical” mystery?  The teaching is that our prayers matter—“we have not because we ask not”—and yet God’s wise plan is sovereign and infallible. These two facts are true at once, and how that is possible is a mystery to us. We feel that if God is completely in control then our actions don’t matter—or vice versa. But think how practical this is. If we believed that God was in charge and our actions meant nothing, it would lead to discouraged passivity. If on the other hand we really believed that our actions changed God’s plan—it would lead to paralyzing fear. If both are true, however, we have the greatest incentive for diligent effort, and yet we can always sense God’s everlasting arms under us. In the end, we can’t frustrate God’s good plans for us (cf. Jer 29:11).