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.