This is part of an ongoing series book study which complements the Thursday and Friday morning Men’s book study on prayer. Read the other chapter discussions here. Read along with us! Last Week: The Greatness of Prayer
Last week, we discussed how modern scholars and many who participate in the work of the church place a higher value on Eastern and Secular meditation practices.
In this chapter, Keller digs deeper in to why a Biblical vocabulary is necessary for a robust prayer life and shows how speaking and listening is the primary Biblical way that we communicate with God. “We must not decide how to pray based on what types of prayer are the most effective for producing the experiences and feelings we want” (60). Words matter because everything exists due to The Word (The Eternal Logos, Christ). God did not create what he said, creation exists because God said it. Before there was anything, there was the Word (52). So when we speak with God, we are entering into the beginnings of our relationship with Him. When we read his Word, we are listening to the Voice of Creation.
It is important to understand that words not become incantations or Tantric meditation (See Matt 6:7). Keller is keen to point out that prayer cannot become the object itself. Seeking emptiness or some state of being to better communicate with God is also self-glorifying. This does not fail to account for being still and knowing God is God or meditating, literally ruminating on God’s law, however, Keller quotes JI Packer as saying that these moments of mystical silence should be a “periodic punctuation” (59) to a rich, ongoing conversation with God, not the pinnacle.
On a couple of occasions, Keller uses the idea of an intimate date night between couples as a view of prayer with God. Yes, two people often look into each others eyes and are mesmerized in a silent moment of awe. But, Keller points out how much deeper that moment is as a punctuation to experiences and conversations (59). The couple who has walked though life, sickness, joys, sorrows, pain and joy together and who have shared in meaningful conversation over the years, how much more does that moment of silence mean to them than the awkward silence of a first date?
Varied Prayer Life
Keller brings home the fact that Biblical prayer gives us a much more varied prayer experience. If our prayers are only left to our needs, the needs of others, our psychological make-up, cultural experience or natural temperaments then we would have a very narrow prayer experience. The Bible introduces us to a God who is “majestic and tender, holy and forgiving, loving and inscrutable” (60).
All of these things point us to why prayer must be tethered to scripture, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Keller writes, “We should not decide how to pray based on the experiences and feelings we want. Instead, we should do everything possible to behold our God as he is and prayer will follow” (62). This is an amazing view of prayer and it falls in line with Paul’s prayer that we might know God better. If we genuinely encounter God, through his word, what will follow is prayer.
Find the Heart to Pray
Finally, Keller gives us marching orders to “find the Heart to Pray.” He uses David as an example of one who finds a heart to pray due to the promise of God’s blessing. Keller then points out, how much more we have found a heart to pray since we have the benefit of knowing the Old and New Testament story, and even more, we have a God who has chosen not to build a house, as with David, but to make us his house. “He will fill us with his presence, beauty, and glory. Every time Christians merely remember who they are in Christ, that great word comes home to us and we will find, over and over again, a heart to pray” (65).
Questions for Discussion:
- What is your prayer vocabulary like? When words end and contemplation begins in your prayers, is it an awkward silence? Do you feel like a teenager on his first date, or is your relationship with the Almighty deep and abiding?
- What are your thoughts on contemplative prayer (prayer without words, simply being with God) and prayer through language (speaking and listening to God)?
Do you agree with Keller, that contemplation is a punctuation for our time talking with God? Why or why not?
- What are ways you can “tether” your prayer more securely to scripture? What are some traditions in the “Christian” context where you have seen the tethers cut? What was the result?
On your own:
Tim Keller outlined four changes to his private devotional life, which helped him grow in understanding of prayer. Since we started the study we have been adding one of these a week. Are you at a place where you can add another? How has your prayer life changed over the last few weeks?
- He began reading and praying through the Psalms daily
- He put time of meditation as a transitional discipline between Bible reading and his time of prayer
- He prayed morning and evening
- He began praying with greater expectation
Do you need to repent of a non-Biblical prayer life? What ways can you seek to be more faithful in being tethered to scripture as you pray? This week, memorize a portion of a psalm that is meaningful to you. As you do, study the vocabulary of prayer and talk with God about how this language might change you.