Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller. Penguin Books. 332 pages. 2014.
This is perhaps the best book on prayer that I’ve read, and I’ve read several. I’ve already read and discussed it with others on two occasions. Our discussions would move slowly, as there is so much rich material on prayer in the fifteen chapters in this book. This book will challenge you and your prayer life.
Keller writes that prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. He tells us that these two concepts give us definition of prayer and a set of tools for deepening our prayer lives. He tells us that prayer is both awe and intimacy, struggle and reality. These will not happen every time we pray, but each should be a major component of our prayer over the course of our lives.
He writes of wanting a far better personal prayer life. As a result, he began to read widely and experiment in prayer. In his pursuit of a deeper prayer life, he deliberately avoided reading any new books on prayer. Instead, he went back to the historical texts of Christian theology that had formed him and began asking questions about prayer and the experience of God.
In addition, he made four practical changes to his life of private devotion. First, he took several months to go through the Psalms, summarizing each one. The second thing he did was always to put in a time of meditation as a transitional discipline between his Bible reading and his time of prayer. Third, he did all he could to pray morning and evening rather than only in the morning. Fourth, he began praying with greater expectation.
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He tells us that prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray. To fail to pray, then, is not to merely break some religious rule—it is a failure to treat God as God. It is a sin against his glory. All Christians are expected to have a regular, faithful, devoted, fervent prayer life.
In looking at first of all what prayer is, he states that prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him. Prayer is both an instinct and a spiritual gift.
He writes that the primary theological fact about prayer is that we address a triune God, and our prayers can be heard only through the distinct work of every person in the Godhead. Prayer turns theology into experience. Through it we sense his presence and receive his joy, his love, his peace and confidence, and thereby we are changed in attitude, behavior, and character.
He looks at what Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Calvin wrote on prayer, Calvin’s “rules for prayer” and “The Lord’s Prayer”. He shares twelve touchstones by which we can judge the relative strength or weakness of our prayers for honoring and connecting us to God.
He writes of prayer as conversation, stating that if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.
He tells us that there are three basic kinds of prayer to God. There is “upward” prayer—praise and thanksgiving that focuses on God himself. He calls this the “prayer of awe.” Then there is “inward” prayer—self-examination and confession that bring a deeper sense of sin and, in return, a higher experience of grace and assurance of love. He calls this the prayer of intimacy. Finally, there is “outward” prayer—supplication and intercession that focuses on our needs and the needs of others in the world. He tells us that this prayer requires perseverance and often entails struggle.
He discusses the discipline of regular, daily prayer, stating that prayer should be more often than the classic once-daily “quiet time”. He believes that daily prayer should be more biblical, that is, more grounded in systematic Bible reading and study and in disciplined meditation on passages.
This is a book that you will most likely read slowly, as there is so much to consider about our prayer lives.
Embracing Your Identity in Christ: Renouncing Lies and Foolish Strategies by Robert Davis Smart. WestBow Press. 111 Pages. 2017
For many years, the author has been teaching his Identity in Christ course to groups in many places. Now, this helpful material is in book form, with this being the first book in the four-book series.
The author states that the first season of spiritual formation for the Christian, identity in Christ, is the first of four seasons of gospel transformation designed to shape us into the glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. He tells us that embracing our true identity in Christ has much more weight than we may give it at this time. It is foundational as a teenager, formational during our twenties and thirties, and progressively solidifying for all Christians until we come to cross the river of death.
In this book he teaches us to identify our Central Condemning Thought (CCT) or Core Lie. He writes that we actually cherish our core lie, because it has often functioned for a long time to give us a sense of success, but never enough. But, we eventually find ourselves surrendering to an identity of condemnation in the end. He tells us that by taking our condemning thoughts about ourselves and foolish strategies captive, and by believing the gospel each day, we are able to enjoy the stable, full, and solid Christian life Jesus promised us. A stronger sense of our Christian identity will set us up for living intentionally for Christ in midlife and pass on to others a legacy from Christ in old age.
He begins by stating that the central question of first importance for beginning a vital, lifelong, gospel-transformational process is the question of authority. Who have you given the authority to tell you just who you are? He writes that it is only God (the Gospel) that has the authority to answer the most important question of life—namely, “Who am I?” But we may ask, who is it that we have given the authority to tell us our identity? You have an identity given to you by God. God gave you a story with a plot, an evil enemy, and a happy consummation to envision. To know your story is to know how God has shaped you into a new creation in Christ with a past, a present, and a future.
The author writes about the importance of your name and ethnicity, and states that as you own your story, names, ethnicity, culture, and heritage, you will be increasingly ready to hear and believe the gospel.
Although the concept of gender being flexible is an issue currently in the news, the author writes that the uniqueness of our being male or female reaches to the core of our identities when God genders each of us at conception. He tells us that embracing our true identity according to gender, then, requires an understanding of all three aspects of glory, fall, and redemption.
A man embraces the glory of his identity when he exercises a tender strength to provide and protect, to remember and delight over, and to move toward creation and people in sacrificial love for God’s glory. A woman’s glory is her powerful ability to help others.
He writes that there is a real battle that rages in the heart of every Christian. It is an interpretation war about his or her identity. Just as Satan attacked Jesus’s identity first, so evil seeks to attack who we are before harassing what we do. He tells us that an identity built on a condemning thought can rule a Christian for many years, instead of the gospel.
He tells us that we tend to base our sense of our identities upon our Christian performance, rather than resting on the performance of another—namely, Jesus Christ’s perfect thirty-three-year life of righteousness. Once we can identify a core lie, basic fear, or CCT, then we are in a position to identify the foolish strategies we have come up with to overcome the lie. Attempting to obtain an identity we already have in Christ on the front end is surely foolish. Thus, they are foolish strategies. He tells us that we will never renounce a central condemning thought about our identities until we see how it has functioned for us to get what we wanted from others, which to some degree functioned for us to make us feel better about ourselves. He encourages us to repent of those foolish strategies that never worked and were only attempts to save our reputation, except to make us ultimately feel defeated, worn out, and vulnerable to bad habits. Then, preach the gospel to yourself and trust it is true.
Here’s an example for you of the gospel in my Identity Statement:
I am made in the image of God and bear God’s glory. I am a fallen image bearer too, and therefore a “glorious ruin”. I am pardoned of all my sins, and declared righteous in God’s sight, but only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me and received by faith alone. Through Jesus, God the Father chose me in love to be adopted into His family to be His son. I am a saint, a holy one, a consecrated man for holiness of life and calling. By the power of the Holy Spirit I am daily dying to self & striving to be His humble servant for His glory.
He helpfully discusses the theological topics of justification (giving us a helpful “Justification Prayer” to memorize), adoption and sanctification.
The book can be read individually or as part of a group. A leader’s guide and group discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter. If reading with a group, when you have completed the book, you are encouraged to share your identity with others.
The book includes three appendices:
- Appendix 1 Cherishing Lies about Our Identities as Ministry Leaders
- Appendix 2 Self-Hatred
- Appendix 3 Justification
I highly recommend the authors’ entire four-book series on spiritual formation, and that you begin with this book.
- The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (But Is Too Embarrassed to Ask). Tim Challies reviews the new book by Christopher Ash, The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (But Is Too Embarrassed to Ask). He writes that the book is “about creating an atmosphere in which pastors can carry out their unique tasks with joy and freedom, caring for the flock even as the flock cares for them. For that reason, I’m glad to commend it to you.”
- The Canons of Dort and the Gift of Faith. Kevin DeYoung provides on excerpt from a section on irresistible grace and the gift of faith from his new book Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400-Year-Old Confession Teaches Us About Salvation, Sin, and the Sovereignty of God.
- Five Takeaways from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke. Kevin Halloran shares these helpful takeaways from the new book by Tony Reinke, Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age.
BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”? MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer. For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges. The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands of Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?
This week we look at the Preface to the Second Edition:
- Our Lord was sounding a note that is missing from much that passes for evangelism today. His “follow Me” was a call to surrender to His lordship.
- The lordship of Christ is clearly at the heart of true saving faith. Nevertheless, many influential voices in contemporary evangelicalism are preaching with great fervor that we should not tell unbelievers they must yield to Christ as Lord. His lordship has nothing to do with the gospel, they claim.
- I am delighted to include here a new chapter on justification, because I am convinced that a correct understanding of this crucial Reformation principle is prerequisite to doctrinal soundness on all other points of soteriology.
- I yield no ground to those who insist that “lordship salvation” is a denial of justification by faith.
- Another omission is corrected in this revision. I have added a chapter dealing with Christ’s work on the cross.
- I have added a chapter on John 15 because that passage seems to be a stumbling block for so many people.