Over the course of this summer, two of our writers, Lianna and Amy, will be exchanging letters to each other—from their personal “desks” straight to the blog. If you have any ideas of what you’d enjoy seeing them write about, feel free to send us a note. Read back through all of the letters here.
Well here I am, safely back over the threshold of the little homely house that I have always called home. (Thank you for your prayers!) What a year this has been! For the moment, I’m grateful just to be in the proximity of so many loving embraces again. Grace upon grace.
The weather here is marked as "mostly cloudy", which is colder than it sounds, as we settle in for the winter solstice days—perfect weather for "blobbing" as my mom calls it (which in winter denotes a cosy sort of hibernating from the world in the snuggly corner of the couch or duvet, with a cup of tea and no special plans to go out). Also, our town has been without power for almost 48 hours now. I’m sending this to you with questionable laptop battery and the hotspot Wi-Fi of my cousin’s phone. Good book weather!
Back home, now, I’ve been luxuriating in the magnificent reunion with my books. I’ve undertaken to reread Tim Keller’s book on prayer. It is very seldom that I tell people that a book will change their life. I have read enough to be very opinionated about books that could or perhaps should change your life, but rarely would I venture such a definitive statement—except about two. In fact, I’m convinced that if anyone reads only one other book besides the Bible in your life, it should be this one: Timothy Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.
Lately, "praying about it" has become the watchword I live by. I think it was Martin Luther who once said one day that he had so very much to accomplish that day that he would spend the first three hours in prayer.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found praying quite difficult. The still, quiet wrestling of praying, asking, submitting, worshipping—all of this can fill me with a sense of duty that approaches actual dread. I felt guilty in the way Keller describes when he says that if prayer is “an extension of the greatness and the glory of God in our lives”, then failing to pray “is a failure to treat God as God […], a sin against his glory” (26).
But, he reminds us, (and this is what makes me so enthusiastic) praying is worth every effort. It was such an encouragement to me! So I had to share it.
He says it so well here:
“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 how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.
We must learn to pray. We have to” (18).
That’s part of the reason I’ve so appreciated Keller’s being upfront, emphasising the need to get through duty to delight. We move “beyond abstract knowledge to heart-changing engagement” (192). Prayer was always such an uphill battle for me. Yet just a quick glance at some of the chapter titles – “Desiring Prayer,” “The Necessity of Prayer,” “As Conversation: Meditating on His Word,” “Intimacy: Finding His Grace,” “Struggle: Asking His Help,” “Practice: Daily Prayer”—and I knew that despite all my efforts and failures to actually finish a book of theological non-fiction, that I needed this one as much as I needed to breathe. It was like pressing on a wound, like finally accepting a need for help after a long struggle of “I’m fine. Really.”
And what a powerful difference it made! Just as I reread through the pages exactly a year after I first began them, I am reminded of a struggle I was praying through at the time, and the necessity of praying “Thy will be done” after I had boldly approached the throne of grace with my plea, “Lord, this is what I want, but Your will be done.” That prayer re-oriented my desires. I wrestled with my prayer, and prayed for it diligently, but even when my desire was not granted, the life-giving lessons I learned were trust in God’s faithfulness enough to accept His will, whatever my desires might otherwise have been. And when I received His “no,” I was able to let it drop without any residual bitterness or heartache.
I no longer fretted over my worries in prayer, but brought them to the Lord, and left them there. If you’re anything like me, unguided meditation becomes a “solitary exploration of your own subjectivity” (12). It was not for nothing that Jesus had to teach His disciples how to pray. We need to learn, acknowledging our dependence on Him, fleeing all phoniness and ruthlessly facing up to our flaws and insufficiencies, allowing His awesome grace to flood into our lives and enable us, in “restful trust and confident hope” (136), in “persistent yet nonhysterical prayers” (137), to leave all our needs and desires in His hands.
Isn’t it astonishing how real, good prayer is sound theology? In prayer, I am reminded of what God has done, what He is doing in my life, and I am humbled. I also begin to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness as the specificity of my prayers teaches me to take note of how God is working in response to my prayers. I had become too accustomed to even take heed of the grace He sends, whatever His response may be. But in looking for answers, I almost begin to see them everywhere, for so involved is God in my life.
Granted, it can still be hard to maintain. Like exercise. A few days without and I have to rebuild the resolve and habit from scratch. When I read this book the first time, I thought my prayers would be forever re-orientated, but it is still something I need to cultivate, as I do with fitness.
For instance, I never thought of myself as the sort who would ever spend money on sports clothes when old clothes will do just fine, thank you very much. But Lianna, the experience of running is so much better with leggings that don’t chafe. Game-changer! I know this probably sounds obvious, but it wasn’t for me. Just like running, prayer wasn’t natural, but once I had access to the knowledge and experiences of the many other learned believers Keller’s book draws on, I found very practical help which makes a daily habit of prayer that much more easy, satisfying, profound and focused—all of which I’d struggled against previously.
So if you need some summer reading Lianna, I reckon this one should be high on the list. There was a powerful and glowing sensation of having been enriched and glimpsing an attitude of the heart as it was supposed to be: fulfilled, at rest, both hungry for and satisfied in God. I kept promising my copy to all my friends, but I took so long finishing it because I kept having to put it aside in order to read my Bible as it suggested, or because I waited to finish my chapter because I was too excited to begin praying immediately.
Enjoy your summery weather, as I bump my chair closer to the fire.
Sending scents of winter’s delight in the form of wood smoke and book pages,
“Prayer is the way to experience a powerful confidence that God is handling our lives well, that our bad things will turn out for good, our good things cannot be taken from us, and the best things are yet to come” (73).