Many Christian books are a useful once-off read but are then tossed aside, gather dust on a bookshelf somewhere and are soon forgotten. Others like J.I. Packer’s Knowing God and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity provide a resource that can feed and stimulate us for a lifetime. I have little doubt that Tim Keller’s masterful book ‘Prayer’ will come to be regarded as a classic that readers will return to again and again.
In the introduction Keller admits that “the best material on prayer has already been written. Yet many of the excellent books on prayer tend to be primarily theological or devotional or practical, but seldom do they combine the theological, experiential, and methodological all under one cover”. Keller doesn’t jump immediately into the how in this book, he first develops a biblical theology of prayer. Why do we pray? What is prayer? The major strength of this book is it’s well rounded approach to the subject of prayer. Keller gives a strong sense that the why and what questions about prayer are just as important as the how questions about prayer.
Keller is not trying to write anything new on prayer. He openly confesses to only having developed a deep and meaningful prayer life after the age of fifty. This was in response to tough personal conditions that forced him and his wife to the conclusion that deepening their prayer life was the only way they could cope with their circumstances. He therefore embarked on a journey of exploration into what the Bible and Christian history had to teach about prayer, and put everything into practice in his personal life. This book is the result of that massive scholarly and personal journey. ‘Prayer ’is therefore a solidly Biblical book. True to Keller’s customary style, and in keeping with the Reformed Evangelical tradition in which he writes, the source of all the ideas and advice given is God’s Word itself. Keller brings to life the subject of prayer from both the Old and New Testaments, and draws deeply from The Psalms, the inspired prayer book of the Bible. God’s word permeates this book, as it should every prayer.
Keller also interacts wonderfully with a rich variety of authors and theologians from throughout Church history. He does not hesitate to rely on those who have come before him, pulling back the curtain on centuries of godly advice on the subject of prayer. In these pages you will come to meet, understand and share Keller’s admiration for such Christian greats as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Owen, Henry and C.S Lewis, to name but a few of the more well-known who have deepened and enriched our understanding of prayer.
This is not an easy book, because prayer is not an easy subject! It will frustrate readers looking for simple mechanical formulas. But it will enrich and liberate those who yearn to mature in their faith and participate in mysteries they cannot fully understand. Keller boldly wades into the deep richness of prayer, exploring it’s multi-faceted and often paradoxical nature. Prayer takes both head and heart. Prayer is awe before an infinite force, yet it is intimacy with a personal friend. Prayer is a struggle and a duty, yet it is a delight.
If you are looking for a book that covers all the ground on the subject of prayer, then this ‘fresh classic’ by Tim Keller is your answer. You will get a biblical grounding in prayer, a gospel motivation for prayer and practical methods for prayer. The chapters move seamlessly through from theology to practice. However the real strength of this book is that it will move you and challenge you. The journey of prayer, and relating to the God who created you, is laid out before you in such an honest, genuine, rich and inspiring way that you will want to pray more and pray more deeply. I have read this book twice, and I am not nearly finished with it.