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
What is prayer?
Many have tried to define prayer through the years. Recent, secular, modern scholars such as Freud, Jung, Heiler and others have made attempts through psychological and anthropological systems (35-41) to classify and rate the superiority of prayers. Most of these scholars gravitate toward the Eastern religions as superior in methods and ends. Timothy Keller breaks all of this down for us in a very compact way in chapter three.
Prayer as instinct. But Why?
One way to do this is to look at the broad practice of prayer to identify religions which dedicated to its regularity and rigor. However, Keller points out that these acadmic professionals base their judgement of these religions on a worldview consumed with self-interest. In this chapter we encounter a counter-cultural Biblical idea of prayer fueled by a desire to come closer to God and to know God more because we are made in the image of God. This is the first understanding of prayer that Keller gives us–prayer as “instinct” (45). But, we are not driven simply by instinct.
Prayer as gift
Keller goes on to give us an additional understanding of prayer as “gift” (45). Christ mediates our prayers (through the gift of the Holy Spirit) by giving our prayers “express delivery” directly to the Father’s ear. While we must never allow our prayer life to become lazy, we do not rely on many words or purgation to establish a right prayer life. To the secular scholar, this no doubt looks inferior when compared to the busy prayers of pagans. But, we do not serve a God who looks only at outward appearance. This is where the power of the “intimate conversation” (49) becomes apparent. Good conversations make “knowing” the other person the ultimate end.
Prayer as conversation and not monologue
If our prayer life seeks any end other than seeing God more clearly, then we run the risk of having prayer become an end in and of itself. That renders prayer as monologue and misses what Keller shares of John Knox’s experience, that prayer is “an earnest and familiar talking with God” (49).
Questions for Discussion:
- Does the fact that adherents to other religions pray more than we do cause you any conviction? From where does that conviction come? Is it valid? Why or why not?
- Discuss the various ideas about prayer on pages 37-43. Why do you suppose these scholars gravitated toward Eastern religions? How has this paved the way for acceptance of these practices in Western society? Have you seen these practices in the Western Christian church? What has been the effect?
- “One Hindu monk describing samadhi says that when he attained it, “there was no god to speak of, except himself” (41). How does this remind you of original sin? What happens when prayers begin and end with us?
- Read page 41(last sentence) through page 43 again and discuss Jonathan Edwards’ view of prayer. Could we describe Edwards as mystical? What is the difference between a mystical view of prayer and mysticism?
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
In chapter two we heard Paul’s appeal for us to know God better. In chapter three, Keller points us to knowing God better being the way Job’s prayer’s became fuller. As you live into Paul’s prayer, focus on simply conversing with God. While we approach God’s throne with deep reverence, we also have the privilege of being called “friend.” Take the opportunity this week to speak with God in an intimate way.
Next Week, Chapter Four: Conversing with God