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resolved and reforming

a great sinner in need of a great saviour

What Is The Cost Of Prayer?

How is such access (to God) and freedom possible? The only time in all the gospels that Jesus Christ prays to God and doesn’t call him Father is on the cross, when he says, “My God, my God, why have you forgotten me? Why have you forsake me?” Jesus lost his relationship with the Father so that we could have a relationship with God as father. Jesus was forgotten so that we could be remembered forever-from everlasting to everlasting. Jesus Christ bore all the eternal punishment that our sins deserve. That is the cost of prayer. Jesus paid the price so God could be our father.

Timothy J. Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton General Division, 2014), 79 – 80.

If God did not need to create other beings in order to know love and happiness, then why did he do so?

Jonathan Edwards argues, in A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, that the only reason God would have had for creating us was not to get the cosmic love and joy of relationship (because he already had that) but to share it. Edwards shows how it is completely consistent for a triune God-who is “other-oriented” in his very core, who seeks glory only to give it to others-to communicate happiness and delight in his own divine perfections and beauty to others.

-Timothy J. Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton General Division, 2014), 68.

How Deep Is Your Prayer?

We speak only to the degree we are spoken to.

Tim Keller proves this idea by quoting Eugene Peterson in p.55 who highlights the way a child picks up language.

“Because we learned language so early in our lives we have no memory of the process” and would therefore imagine that it was we who took the initiative to learn how to speak. However, that is not the case. “Language is spoken into us; we learn language only as we are spoken to. We are plunged at birth into a sea of language… Then slowly syllable by syllable we acquire the capacity to answer: mama, papa, bottle, blanket, yes, no. Not one of these words was a first word…All speech is answering speech. We were all spoken to before we spoke.”

It is therefore essential to the practice of prayer to recognise what Peterson calls the “overwhelming previousness of God’s speech to our prayers.” This theological principle…means that our prayers should arise out of immersion in the Scripture. We should “plunge ourselves into the sea” of God’s language, the Bible. We should listen, study, think, reflect, and ponder the Scriptures until there is an answering response in our hearts and minds. It may be one of shame or of joy or of confusion or of appeal-but that response to God’s speech is then truly prayer and should be given to God.

Where Can You Meet God?

Keller writes in p.54:

To understand the Scripture is not simply to get information about God. If attended to with trust and faith, the Bible is the way to actually hear God speaking and also to meet God himself.

When the Bible speaks, God speaks.

What is Prayer?

Prayer is a personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God. All human beings have some knowledge of God available to them. At some level, they have an indelible sense that they need something or someone who is on a higher plane and infinitely greater than they are. Prayer is seeking to respond and connect to that being and reality, even if it is no more than calling out into the air for help. (p.45)

The Richness of Prayer

Keller on pages 28-32 of his book on Prayer introduces a poem by poet George Herbert (1593-1633). This poem deals with the subject of prayer in one hundred words and without a single verb. What we get is two dozen word pictures. Keller goes on unpack the richness of this poem of prayer and prayer itself. It’s really worth a full read. But here’s Herbert’s poem reproduced along with a summary of Keller’s explanation.

PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner’s towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kind of tune, which all things heare and fear;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.

Prayer is “Gods breath in man returning to his birth.”
Prayer is a natural human instinct.

Prayer can be “softnesses, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss”.
Prayer is a nourishing friendship.

Prayer also is “a kinde of tune.”
Prayer changes those around us.

Prayer can be a “land of spices”.
Prayer is a journey.

Prayer can serve as a kind of heavenly “Manna” and quiet “gladnesse”.
Prayer helps us endure.

Prayer is “the soul in paraphrase”.
Prayer means knowing yourself as well as God.

Prayer is also an “engine against th’ Almightie”, “church-bels beyond the stars heard” and indeed are “reversed thunder”.
Prayer changes things.

Prayer is a “sinner’s towre”, the “Christ-side piercing spear”.
Prayer is a refuge.

Prayer is “a kinde tune” that transposes “the six daies world” with one “houre”.
Prayer changes us.

Prayer is a “plummet sounding heav’n and earth”.
Prayer unites us with God himself.

Prayer is “something understood.”
Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle-yet the way to reality.

What Paul Did Not Pray For

It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. (p.20)

Now, that does not mean that it’s wrong to pray for circumstantial changes. But it surely shows that there is something that is more important for Paul.

What is that? It is-to know him (God) better. (Ephesians 1:15-19)

Paul sees this fuller knowledge of God as a more critical thing to receive than a change of circumstances. Without this powerful sense of God’s reality, good circumstances can lead to overconfidence and spiritual indifference. Who needs God, our hearts would conclude, when matters seem to be so in hand? Then again, without this enlightened heart, bad circumstances can  lead to discouragement and despair, because the love of God would be an abstraction rather than the infinitely consoling presence it should be. (p.20-21)

Do You Know How To Pray? The Call to an Intelligent Mysticism

We were called to an intelligent mysticism. That means an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind. We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. They go together. (p.16-17)

Reading those sentences reminded me of my classes in Christian spirituality back in my first semester in Bible college. During that time, I felt the tension between what the class was teaching me in experiencing God through various mystical ways (e.g. lectio divina) and knowing God using the tools from my hermeneutics textbooks. I’m so glad Keller writes this:

I was not being called to leave behind my theology and launch out to look for “something more,” for experience. Rather, I was meant to ask the Holy Spirit to help me experience my theology. (p.17)

Keller’s stresses on the necessity of prayer in quoting John Murray:

It is necessary for us to recognise that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer…He communes with his people and his people commune with him in conscious reciprocal love …The life of true faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent. It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion. (p.16)

It was helpful to read again this interview with Keller where he answers some questions on his book. Here’s one of the questions.

You argue for a “radically biblical mysticism” a la John Owen and Jonathan Edwards—or what John Murray called an “intelligent mysticism.” How should we view the intersection between theology and experience when we’re on our knees?

Biblical meditation means, first, to think out your theology. (That means having it clearly in your mind. Know what you believe.) Second, it means to work in your theology. (That means self-communion, talking to yourself. For example, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” It is asking yourself, “How would I be different if I took this theological truth seriously? How would it change my attitudes and actions if I really believed this from the bottom of my heart?”) Third, it means to pray up your theology. (That means turning your theology into prayer, letting it trigger adoration, confession, and supplication.) Do those things, and your theology will intersect with your experience.

What is Prayer?

Keller’s purpose in his book is to show that:

“Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God… We must know the awe of praying his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help… Prayer, then, is both awe and intimacy, struggle and reality.” (p.5)

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