Book Review – Prayer by Timothy Keller

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Book Reviews

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This book had been sitting on the shelf collecting dust for a while, I was a little intimidated by the volume of it, but always had the prompting to pick it up, knowing the richness of wisdom that the book would have to offer. And yes like any other book penned by Keller, Prayer did not disappoint.

How did we first learn how to pray? Most of us just picked it up as we spend time in the church, and see how other people do it – and that’s a great way to start, to see how other people speak to God. The best way to learn prayer is actually through praying, and develop a personal routine and rhythm of prayer.

After a season I think it’s helpful to read a more systematic exploration of prayer, for it is one of the core ‘spiritual disciplines’ (some people refer to them ‘means of grace’), and for myself, the hardest one, one I need to intentionally spend effort to do – prayer is work to me.
Although logically I understand how important a constant prayer life is to Christian life, the resistance is great whenever I try to pray.

Keller helpfully defines prayer as both a deep communion with God and a wrestling with God. There’s a beautiful balance of letting our desire made known to God, yet at the same time resting and trusting wholeheartedly in God’s plan. In this sense, prayer is both working and resting. Knowing this we may be freed from trying to work our way into God’s approval (Heb 4:16), we will also be prevented from being prayer-less – as the epistle of James mentions, ‘you have not because you ask not’ (James 4:2). Prayer is, as Keller has it, a continuation of conversation that God has started.

We must avoid extremes – of either not asking God for things or of thinking we can bend God’s will to ours. We must combine tenacious importunity, a “striving with God,” with deep acceptance of God’s wise will, whatever it is.

The book discusses about three great Christian forefathers and what they said about praying. They are St Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin. Keller then went on to a verse-by-verse exposition of – as we would expect – the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of all prayers.

The book adds in the end some helpful resources on the pattern of prayer, what to pray for and how to pray. There is no set of rules on prayer, although there are some basic guidelines. Keller suggested some literature to go to if one wishes to deepen his experience of prayer, to see how the historic men of faith had prayed. One such book is actually the book of Psalms, the divine-inspired prayer and worship book. This would be the number one recommendation to someone who wants to know more about praying. Another resource is Anglican Church’s Book of Common Prayer, accompanied with scriptural readings, is a great book recorded with words that God’s people have prayed for centuries.

Overall I think Keller’s language is quite easily understood yet well-crafted, which makes some deep theological discourse very accessible to read. Although this is not the book I will give to someone new to the faith to learn how to pray, I will definitely encourage him/her to read this book some point in their life to deepen their understanding, or even better to re-kindle a heart for prayer.

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A Psalter’s Delight (Meditation on Psalm 1)

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Essays

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(Recently I became convinced that I lack a prayer life. Not that I don’t pray at all, but my prayers lack the same level of fervidity and belief that I see in the great men of God. Apart from the Lord’s prayer, Jesus’ teaching, and the many prayers recorded in Bible, I started to look into Psalms, the divine inspired prayer book, to learn how God wants me to pray. )

…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. (Ps. 1:2-3)

Two ways presented, the blessed and the cursed proclaimed, the righteous and the wicked apportioned – one with fruitfulness and everlasting joy, the other, life of vanity and destruction. Like the children of Israel before Mt Gerizim and Mt Ebal, the psalter warns us clearly the end to each road. (Deut.11:29)

And it is not hidden from us how we ought to walk: delight in the law (precepts, instructions) of God and meditate on it day and night. If we stop saturating our life through the word of God, how we should know we are walking in his will? How do we know we still have a living relationship with God, if we found his word tiresome and unattractive compared to the colourful screens in our hands?

If I ceased to pray or sat in his presence, I would be cut off from the author of life (Acts 3:15); I would be like a tree uprooted, having the appearance of lush foliage, but I would be as good as dried firewood.

Father help me to be rooted in the river of living water, that I may live and live fruitfully. Teach me to see myself in your words, lest I rely on my own knowledge and ignorance. Know my way and keep me in your way, for in your way only, there is life and everlasting joy. Amen!

What I Learnt Through Miscarriage

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Essays

Though almost a week has passed since we lost our 9-week old baby, and life has to resume at its relentless pace, the painful memory in the emergency department is still vividly alive. The sorrow that followed however, has receded and been comforted by the Holy Spirit.

The sheer emptiness of losing a family member (though one we’ve never met) is sharp. By grace of God, many a comforting words and prayers are received, our hearts are definitely well underway towards healing and rejoicing (Ps 30:5).

By no means I am to compare with others who lost a loved one, suffered illness or depravity. I believe the pains are distinctive to each person, and so are God’s ways for bringing consolation and healing. Nevertheless, God’s deep compassion and love for his children are always, beautifully true.

We hope that we may use what we have walked through to help others who had a similar experience, knowing that our sufferings are not in vain (Acts 14:22), and to help them look to Christ, from whom we may receive all the answers.

 

The Sovereignty of God’s Good Will

We understood that even if we do all the right things, life still doesn’t go according to our plans. That is because hardly anything is in our control, and this world is but a far cry from the perfect and glorious age to come. Still, God is sovereign in every detail of our lives. We came to understand God’s unquestionable sovereignty in a deeper sense – that sovereignty overrides our will, hope and striving.

And for us children of God, it is very good news that God is sovereign over all things. I dwell on Romans 8:1 to reaffirm ourselves that God’s will is good towards his children.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

It means much more now when I pray “Thy will be done”(Mt 6:10), not adding a tiny postscript saying “so long as I like it too”, or “so long as I am comfortable”. But a concrete, all-submitting “not my will, but Thine be done.”(Lk 22:42)

Perplexed, but not Driven to Despair

God’s love are manifested in ways we sometimes do not comprehend. In our limited knowledge and humanity, God seems to do things contrary to our intuition.

Thinking back, God’s provision is throughout. We are grateful this happened while I am full-time studying, it would’ve been much harder to manage if I was working. And also mum and dad are staying with us to look after Esther. Above all else, we rooted much deeper this year in the Word of God, our souls were better prepared.

As perplexing as the thorn to Paul, we hear our saviour say, “My grace is sufficient for you”!(2 Cor 12:9)

Satisfaction in Christ and Christ Alone

While we ought to receive every gift with thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:4), the gifts are NEVER to replace the gift-giver. We sometimes look at our material accumulation and personal success to reaffirm our belief that God is a good God.

My friends, I pray we never fall into the trap of the false prosperity teaching.

Jesus only promised a few things by following him, and worldly riches and honour are not. The world will pass away with all its desires (1 Jn 2:17).  If we follow Jesus, we get Jesus. Christ is enough and that Christ alone is all of our hope, joy and peace combined.

Christ taught us that he IS our greatest joy and satisfaction, not our own dreams, wealth or children. We learnt to cling to Christ every day to know him more, love him more, and find joy in him more.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. “(Mt 16:24)

“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” (Ps84:10)

Children are Undeserved Blessings from God

When we see children as inconvenience and burdens, we fail to appreciate the blessings that come with them. Throughout history, children had always been seen as desired to a family. It is only recent that people start to postpone establishing family and having children, as some see children as bondage and burden, or they feel inadequate to fill such responsibilities.

I’d want to encourage married Christians to pray for offspring given to them at a suitable time, for they are like the arrows in the hands of a warrior (Ps 127:4). Rather than being worried about parenthood, look to God for help. Children are wonderful, precious, fragile and undeserved blessings from God.

My Wife is Incredibly Strong and Beautiful

Last time I particularly felt the weight of motherhood, was during Tifa’s giving birth to Esther. Something about a woman giving up her life for her baby leave me in awe – for the strength of womanhood that God created. So much bravery and stamina embedded in such gentleness and nurturing, I am dumbfounded.

This time also, Tifa went through all kinds of tests and examination without a flinch, all she wanted was the baby to be okay. Though in the end we couldn’t keep it, I was captivated by her strength and determination.

 

It wasn’t easy to bring back the emotions that I went through, yet I do hope my long-winded testimony would someday encourage a downhearted soul. So if you find this helpful, feel free to pass it on to someone who’s experienced a similar loss.

My friends, whatever you may be going through, let us lift our drooping hands (Heb 12:12), be rooted to the Word of God and run the race that is set before us, for God has provided what we need to finish our race.

Book Review – Cost of Discipleship

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Book Reviews

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I think this might be the book that completely overturned my understanding of grace and discipleship, which are concepts so fundamental to the core of Christianity. Never has any other author explained with such clarity, conviction and rawness of the truth of Christ-following.

In an age that individualism and Hedonism being so exalted in both the sacred and secular world, the sacrifice that is required to follow Christ seems distance, cold and unattractive. Even genuine Christians are sometimes taught they are entitled to enjoy – by means of loving God – prosperity, health, fame and self-fulfilment in this world, now. This cannot be further away from the truth that Jesus required his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, persevere in persecutions, and to pray without ceasing the Kingdom, glory and rewards in the age to come.

If following Christ means we are to expect much comfort and success in this life, why did Paul write all the letters to affirm the churches in their persecutions? Then did all the apostles and martyrs of faith suffered and died in vain?

(2 Timothy 3:12) “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Isn’t it for reasons of encouragement that Paul wrote this to Timothy?

In this age we Christians are prone to hear words that we like. We love to hear that we are children of God; we love to hear that our transgressions forgiven; we love to hear about eternal life; we love to hear we are the light and salt, city on a hill. None of the above is unbiblical, yet I believe that half-presented truth often breeds danger. We cannot, and we must not deny the harsh truth that is also in the Bible, for indeed the gate is narrow and way is hard that leads to life.

This is not just an issue facing 21st century believers, Bonhoeffer also perceived the danger of a lukewarm, softened version of Christianity in his days. He coined the term ‘Cheap Grace’, and its opposition, ‘Costly Grace’.

Grace and Discipleship are indubitably inseparable, one is nullified without the other. The moment we receive grace we are called to discipleship. The same goes with Belief and Obedience. One cannot believe unless he obeys, and also truly, one cannot obey unless he believes.

Much can be expanded on this topic, and I feel like writing on and on. In fact a great number of books have been devoted fully to explore the depth of grace and discipleship. I believe a Christian cannot live to the fullness of his calling and enjoy the abundance in Christ, until he understands the cost and is willing to submit wholesomely to Christ, and to will to suffer for Christ – as that is indeed the disciple’s joy to do so.

Obtain a Kindle copy of this book here:
The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Classics)

Book Review – Imitation of Christ

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Book Reviews

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Obtain a Kindle copy here:
The Imitation of Christ (Penguin Classics)

In this antiquated collection of essays by a 15th century monastic, there’s a seriousness in pursuing Christlikeness that is lacking in some contemporary Christian titles. John Wesley considered this to be the best summary of Christian life he had ever read.

Instead of focusing on an elementary level of self-improvement, Kempis wrote in depth that the reality of a Christian life is to imitate Christ with utmost authenticity and with every effort possible. So hard and raw is the truth that I feel a reader is most benefited to take down this book in smaller sections, not moving on quickly but to dwell on the contents prayerfully.

Thus I have not completely finished this book, as I feel this book is worth re-reading again at a much slower rate in order to grasp its fuller meanings. It currently sits on my desk so I could read a chapter from it from time to time.

There are a lot of biblical truth spilled over the pages of this little gem.

Kempis quoted scriptures fluently and amalgamated them into his sentences very naturally, given that one of his monastic duties is hand-copying scriptures, this should not come as a surprise.

One thing I appreciate in this book is his passionate longing for holiness and eternity, and a godly hatred towards sin and fleshly desires. Kempis urges the reader to see suffering in this life is brief and finite comparing to the eternal glory if we persevere. He also strongly rejected idleness and encouraged community servicing wherever possible.

I love how Kempis wrote down his personal reflections and prayers, his inner struggles and reflections are I believe a benefiting spiritual discipline to be exercised.

However I’d like to advise the readers to be conscious of the asceticism expressed, though this is not unexpected from a catholic monk during his time.

There are some Catholic views on the concept of purgation, which is not found in the Bible.

Therefore I tend to think some solid foundation of faith needs to be established before reading this work. Nevertheless, the depth of thinking and admiration to God that Kempis presented has been proved influential and timeless, thus made it a worthwhile reading.

Obtain a Kindle copy here:
The Imitation of Christ (Penguin Classics)