A Review of Tim Keller’s new book on Prayer

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God

I think it takes some courage for a reformed pastor/author to use the word “experiencing” in a book title. We “frozen chosen” conservative Presbyterians are known (infamously?) for our pride of doctrinal correctness, and we don’t want to be confused with Charismatics and Pentecostals. We are well aware of the dangers of “affections outrunning light” (John Owen), leading to superstition and mysticism. We strive to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and we pray for grace to lead us to all knowledge of the breadth and depth and height of God’s electing love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39). We know that God is God and we are not, regardless of our state of mind, mood, or circumstances. We know that feelings are sinking sand as a foundation for salvation. We know that God is sovereign over whatsoever comes to pass, that there is not an aberrant atom anywhere, and we cannot talk him into anything that is not in his will, try as we might with our daily laundry list of petitions. We know the Holy Spirit of the Triune God dwells in us, even if we cannot scientifically explain how, but too often we do not bear the fruit of that miracle in this fallen world, nor do we pray to him in a manner that manifests that amazing grace showered daily upon us.

But Tim Keller can talk to me about “experiencing the awe and intimacy” of the King of Kings in prayer. He planted a church in the heart of New York City 25 years ago, perhaps the hardest ground in America to sow the seeds of the gospel, and today it has 5000 young members, with 250 more churches planted in cities around the world. A godly man with such an extraordinary harvest will have my attention on any subject he feels led to talk about between Genesis and Revelation. And no subject concerns me more than this one.

I have never been satisfied with the quality of my personal prayer life. My undisciplined mind wanders all over the place when I pray alone. I get so frustrated I start all over again. I’ve started all over again a greater percentage of the time than I will confess to anyone except God. My private daily prayers are a shopping list of what I want from God, and I’ve said them for so many years that they’ve become mindless mantras—mere yoga chants. I even shamefully confess that I recently caught myself praying for the salvation of a friend who died 5 years ago. God must listen to me and shake his head. If his grace had not convinced me he loves me infinitely anyway, I would have given up years ago.

Tim Keller’s book, in the providence of God, has given me another chance to get it right, after 71 years, and I am so optimistic and excited I feel like the kid who found the actual pony under the Christmas tree. The book has been a breakthrough for  me. It’s classic biblical exegesis—sound doctrinal teaching from scripture on prayer followed by nuts and bolts application that makes perfect sense, with large dollops of advice from those great titans of the faith, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. I admit the lessons on prayer he relates from these three men of God were not new to me—I have read them all in their own words on that very subject, but Keller’s 21st century intellectual style was precisely on my wavelength all the way down to the second decimal place. His 25 years of experience communicating with brilliant skeptical (toward the things of God) minds in a city where only the best and brightest can make it, has paid dividends that will reward Christendom for ages to come, just like his mentors, Augustine, Luther and Calvin.

Far better minds than mine have reviewed this book, so go here to read an excellent one that coincides with my take on it. With the invention of the Kindle reader coinciding with my retirement a few years ago, and with the consequent availability of Puritan writings—my favorite—at a cost of anywhere from 99 cents to nothing, my consumption of great books has increased ten-fold. I think that Keller’s latest work will join the top tier of Christian classics, the best book yet from the pen of a man of God who has already written a number of great books. And here’s an interview, both manuscript and audio, with Keller on this book at John Piper’s website. Buy the book and be blessed… and your eternal soul will be grateful.

Our God reigns.

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