One of the greatest descriptions of prayer outside of the Bible was written by the poet George Herbert (1593–1633) in his “Prayer (I).” The poem is remarkable for tackling the immense subject of prayer in just one hundred words and without a single verb or prose construction. Instead, Herbert gives us some two dozen word pictures.

One of the greatest descriptions of prayer outside of the Bible was written by the poet George Herbert (1593–1633) in his “Prayer (I).” The poem is remarkable for tackling the immense subject of prayer in just one hundred words and without a single verb or prose construction. Instead, Herbert gives us some two dozen word pictures.

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!  

In this chapter Keller describes prayer using five adjectives. 1. Supremacy, 2. Integrity, 3. Hardness, 4. Centrality, and 5. Richness. In each of these gives a glimpse of how deep, wide and towering prayer can be in scripture and tradition. In his words, “There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer.”

 Supremacy:

Keller brings us to a place of introspection with the prayer of Paul, “I keep asking that…you may know him better” (Eph. 1:17, Keller 19). Prayer is supreme, but we cannot be deceived into practicing prayer as a leisure sport. Like the Hounds of Heaven, we should hunt the goal of knowing God better. This is what Paul prays, and this is the challenge put before us as well.

 Integrity:

Prayer brings together the inner and outer life of a man.  “To discover the real you, look at what you spend time thinking about when no one is looking…At such moments, do your thoughts go toward God?” (22) Here, Keller briefly explores the inner life and outer life of the Christian. It is a paradox that can plague us if not rightly explored and dealt with in prayer. Our outer life can be so consuming that we woefully neglect who we are in the quiet moments of life–to the point that we run from the quiet. However, becoming in tune with our inner life is not an exercise in isolation. On the contrary, to be at peace and enjoy solitude, we must experience God in the community of believers.

Hardness:

Prayer is often dry.  There are times when we feel alone. “I can think of nothing great that is also easy. Prayer must be, then, one of the hardest things in the world” (24). There will be moments in prayer when we do not see or feel our great Friend’s presence. It is in these times there is tremendous reward to push through the dryness and to seek the treasure that comes from perseverance.

Centrality:

In this section we get two very powerful images. First, prayer is an “engine against th’ Almightie” (30). A siege engine was a large contraption used to storm a citadel. Think of it as a battering ram. Second, prayer is a strong tower–the citadel. Prayer is both offensive and defensive. There are times we storm the Almighty as an engine laid siege to a castle. But, there are times that in our arrogance (31) and sinfulness we need the strong tower of Christ as a sanctuary from rightly deserved justice, allowing us to pray from his sure defense.

Richness:

In this section we get two very powerful images. First, prayer is an “engine against th’ Almightie” (30). A siege engine was a large contraption used to storm a citadel. Think of it as a battering ram. Second, prayer is a strong tower–the citadel. Prayer is both offensive and defensive. There are times we storm the Almighty as an engine laid siege to a castle. But, there are times that in our arrogance (31) and sinfulness we need the strong tower of Christ as a sanctuary from rightly deserved justice, allowing us to pray from his sure defense.

Next Week, Chapter Three: What Is Prayer? 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Page 20, discuss the difference between a universal model for prayer like “The Lord’s Payer” and Paul’s prayer “to know him better.” What would it be like in your life if you focused less on praying about needs and more on seeking to know God more?
  2.  As we explore prayer that is deeper than asking for our basic needs to be met, is there a danger in viewing some prayers as loftier than others?
  3. What do you spend most of your time thinking about? What does that say about you?
  4. Look at the quote from John Owen of page 22. How does this challenge you in terms of your view of modern ministry or the contemporary church?
  5. How have you found peace between the inner self, outer self, being alone with God and experiencing him in the covenant community?
  6. How have you struggled?
  7. Discuss the times of drought you have experienced in prayer. If you have encountered the blessing of perseverance in prayer when it seemed God was not around, encourage the group with your story.
  8. On page 26, Keller states that to fail to pray is to fail to treat God as God. How is this true? What are the consequences?
  9. If you still have time read George Herbert’s poem, Prayer. How did Keller’s exposition of this poet’s words deepen your understanding of prayer?

 On your own:

Tim Keller outlined four changes to his private devotional life, which helped him grow in understanding of prayer. Last week we added one of these to our prayer discipline. See if you can add another.

  1. He began reading and praying through the Psalms daily
  2. He put time of meditation as a transitional discipline between Bible reading and his time of prayer
  3. He prayed morning and evening
  4. He began praying with greater expectation

In this week’s chapter, we pulled focus on Paul’s devotion to “keep asking that…you may know him better.” See if you can add to your prayer life and language to commit to knowing God better and for others to know him better.

Tagged with:
 

Leave a Reply