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, we discussed how conversing with God is analogous to the way we converse with each other. Relationship and personal knowledge requires conversation in both directions.
Experience through Encounter
Chapter five explores this topic through two questions: (1) “To whom is the God we pray, and (2) how does Scripture says we can encounter him?” (66). Simply knowing about God is not a relationship. We are called to see him face to face. We are called to commune with God and to do that we must enter into an understanding of God’s nature through our encounter with God. This is accomplished by engaging scripture.
When we engage God through prayer in the scripture, we encounter a Tri-Personal God. That is, we “address a triune God, and our prayers can be heard only through the distinct work of every person in the Godhead” (66). This means that God has always had an existence in relationship. He didn’t create us because he needed us. It was not out of a need for communion, rather it was out of a desire to share his ultimate relationship in the Godhead. He wants us to know this kind of love.
Whom and How we Encounter
Whom We Encounter: The Father is particularly our Father. Not simply because he created us in a general sense, but because he adopted us. To put it in modern terms, he is not simply a “baby-daddy,” but he is our Father in the sense that he has taken time to count the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7). He is intimately engaged with us (Matt 6:4) and genuinely interested in our needs (Matt 6:8). God is mindful of you (Ps 8:4) because you are his chosen child and this means you have unlimited access to the Father.
How We Encounter: The Spirit, as Keller explains, puts his prayers in ours so that our groaning becomes his groaning in prayer to the Father (72). Our view is limited. We are like infant children who can’t know what is going to happen or even what we need, but the Spirit gives us a longing for the Father in whom we cry out “Abba!” “The Spirit enables us to long for the future glory of God and his will, even though we don’t know the specific thing we should pray for here and now.” (73). The Son is our bridge, our connection to the Father. No one comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). As Keller points out from his reading of John Murray, nothing illustrates the Son’s preoccupation with the security of his people than his intersession for us. When we approach the Father, we approach with the Son interceding on our behalf (73-75).
Seeing God for who he really is can be quite the encounter, especially when we stop seeing him in light of our own self-saving prayer life and we encounter God in such a way that he becomes our happiness (78). We don’t live a life of trying to stay out of hell, but we live in such a way that even if hell didn’t exist we would still shudder at offending God. The key is the Gospel. Without the Gospel, God might be unapproachable and fearsome. Or, without the Gospel God might be imagined as a type of love which regards all people positively. “Thus without the Gospel, there is no possibility of passion and delight to praise and approach the true God” (79).
All of this was made possible because our brother (Christ) gave up, on the cross, his relationship with the Father so that we could have and share in that relationship with the Father.
Questions for Discussion:
- In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands us to baptize in the “name” of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He did not say in the “names” of the persons of the Trinity. What does this do to bolster your Trinitarian understanding of the Godhead? How does this picture of divine relationship resonate with relationships you currently have?
- Keller asks us to think about walking into the President’s office and talking with him. It’s a privilege that is hard for many of us to imagine. But we have access to the King of Kings, the Creator of all things, the Almighty and yet we don’t always exercise our privilege to do so. What keeps us from seeing our access to God in the way we might imagine being able to speak to the President?
- Keller talks about Christ being not just our friend on the other side of the chasm, but he is the bridge over it. The Pope is known as the Pontiff. It comes from the Latin, pontifex, which means bridge. Roman theology suggests a need for a human intercessor or bridge to God. However, the Reformation theologians called for Solus Christus, or Christ alone as our mediator. Do we have a natural tendency to attempt to create bridges to God other than Christ? Does the Protestant church have practices or traditions that could be considered false bridges that endanger the doctrine of Solus Christus?
- On pages 76 and 77, Keller talks about praying in Jesus’ name and the importance as well as necessity of doing so. What does it mean to pray in Jesus’ name? Is it more than simply saying those words? Is there a danger of “in Jesus’ name” being used as a talisman? What would it mean for someone to ask for something in your name? How might that be a better way to look at this practice?
On your own:
Tim Keller outlined four changes to his private devotional life, which helped him grow in understanding of prayer. 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
During your prayer time this week, think of what it meant for Christ to cry out to God on the Cross. What does it mean to you that the only time Jesus didn’t call God “Father” was when he was on the cross? Meditate on Keller’s thought about Jesus losing his relationship with the Father so that you and I could call God, “Father, Abba, Papa, Daddy.” Imagine losing a relationship with some one very dear to you and not being able to call them by your favorite term of endearment. What devotion do we desire to give our God who would do so much for us?