Friday, May 22, 2015

Meditation in Keller's book on prayer

In the tenth chapter in Timothy Keller's book on prayer the author focuses on meditation. He elicits the help of renowned theologian and pastor John Owen to discuss this oft misunderstood discipline. In summarizing Owen's teaching on meditation, Keller writes:
According to Owen, meditation means analyzing the truth with the mind; bringing it into the feelings, attitudes, and commitments of the heart; and then responding to the degree to which the Holy Spirit gives illumination and spiritual reality.
Alternatively, Keller also paraphrase these ideas into his own summary of meditation:
We could say that meditation before prayer consists of thinking. then inclining, and, finally, either enjoying the presence or admitting the absence and asking for his mercy and help. Meditation is thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in until its ideas become "big" and "sweet," moving and affecting, and until the reality of God is sensed upon the heart.
I find both these summaries helpful. And in contemplating them, I must confess that I think I do a reasonable job of "thinking a truth out" but I am often negligent in "thinking a truth in." I want and need to get the practice of internalizing the truth of Scripture in the heart, so my affections are raised, more consistent in my prayer life. This is edifying stuff by Keller and Owen!

Friday, May 15, 2015


In chapter nine of Prayer Keller lists his twelve touchstones. Jude posted on the twelve as a whole below. The touchstone that grabbed me the most was the first one. Keller opens by stating that,

"Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel like it or not."

He further quotes Peter T. Forsyth as writing,
"The worst sin is prayerlessness. Overt sin . . .  or the glaring inconsistencies which often surprise us in Christian people are the effect of this, or its punishment. . . . Not to want to pray, then, is the sin behind sin."
I think this hit me like it did because I was just thinking how bad I've been at this lately. Life gets busy and it seems like the first things to get pushed aside for me are those associated with reading and prayer. Then I wonder why I'm struggling with things that shouldn't normally be an issue.

I hope that we can all treat prayer with the seriousness that it deserves!

Book Review – Interpreting the Prophetic Books

In sports, my experience has been that one of the main causes behind intimidation is simply the unknown. We are intimidated when we don’t know about: How good is this team? Will I be able to defend against this player? How will they attack our offence? More often than not, when the reality of things comes to light we realize we didn't really have anything to be intimidated about. They may be good, but they’re not Superman. They put their pants on the same way we did this morning. Knowledge leads to confidence. I find the same is true for interpreting and preaching; some books of the Bible are intimidating but with knowledge comes confidence.

In Interpreting the Prophetic Books, Gary V. Smith provides helpful information which leads to increased knowledge resulting in a lessening of the intimidation that preaching prophetic books produce.His thorough but concise teaching on understanding and processing biblical, prophetic literature helps preachers, particularly less-than-seasoned preachers such as myself, overcome any inhibitions about preaching this genre. Of course, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, but the Spirit can also use a resource like this as a foundation for future preaching.

Interpreting the Prophetic Books is a well organized, logically laid out book which fosters learning and makes it easy to return to for review. The series it belongs to-Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis-follows a predetermined chapter structure which Smith’s book follows: the nature of the genres, major themes, preparing for interpretation, proclaiming the text, putting it all together. Structure and organization is facilitated by two table of content; one is brief and the other in-depth. As well, each chapter begins with a very useful chart that provides the chapter at a glance. I really appreciate this aspect of the book. The book finishes with the expected glossary and indexes. Books that are to be used a resources which will be revisited would all benefit from simple yet effective organization as this book has.

Chapter one discusses the nature of prophecy including a distinguishing of the temporal categories as well as the genres of prophecy. It also considers the poetical aspects of these canonical books. For me, this was the most helpful chapter and I learned enough to ease some of that intimidation I was feeling. Chapter two investigates the major themes of all 17 prophetic books and encapsulates these ideas with an overall thematic summary. I will definitely be returning to this section of the book regularly. The third chapter aims at aiding one in preparing for interpretation. Included are concepts revolving around the historical setting, other ancient prophetic literature, textual criticism, and working with commentaries. This chapter ends with suggested commentaries and electronic resources on each book of the bible; this is a great bonus to the chapter.Chapter four addresses interpretive issues in the texts which include issues such as literal/metaphorical considerations, contextual topics, and various other difficulties. The fifth chapter delves into the actual preaching of the text with an almost step-by-step approach to dealing with proclaiming these Scriptures. Reflections on applications for this genre completes the chapter and these points were helpful. The final chapter offers some concrete examples of specific prophetic passages that have been dealt with by the author in light of preaching.This “walk-through”is a very practical demonstration of much of the books contents.

As mentioned, this book is a very helpful aid to those intimidated with preaching the prophetic books. I’m sure even experienced preachers will also find benefits through out. It tight organization strengthens its usefulness as a resource which one can return to. I will certainly be accessing this book for years to come.

One aspect of preaching that was not addressed was that of preaching Christ from these books. Though this may be a topic outside of the aim of the series, I feel that this issue is one that many preachers, experienced or not, will struggle with in the prophetic books of Scripture. Addressing this issue would have been a great finishing touch to a very helpful book.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Touchstones of Prayer

In chapter nine of Keller’s book on prayer he deals with what he calls “touchstones” of prayer. Touchstones are small rocks that are used to determine the purity of precious metals. Touchstones of prayer, however, are ways “by which we can judge the relative strength or weakness of our prayers for honoring and connecting us to God” (121).

Below I will list Keller’s twelve touchstones of prayer as well as a quotation about each one.

Prayer is a duty and a discipline.
“Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel like it or not.”

Prayer is conversing with God.
“Prayer in Jesus’ name and the power of the Spirit is the restoration of that single most precious thing we had with God in the beginning-free communication with him.”

Prayer is adoration, confession, thanks, and supplication.
These four elements of prayer are “interactive and stimulate each other.”

Prayer is “In Jesus’ name,” based on the gospel.
“Our prayer must be in full, grateful awareness that our access to God as Father is a free gift won by the costly sacrifice of Jesus the True Son, and then enacted in us by the Holy Spirit, who helps us to know inwardly that we are his children”

Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe.
“One important sign of an engaged heart is awe before the greatness of God and before the privilege of prayer.”

Prayer is accepting one’s weakness and dependence.
“To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything.”

Prayer reorients your view toward God.
“Prayer in all its forms. . . reorients your view and vision of everything.”

Prayer is spiritual union with God.
“Prayer is the way that all the things we believe in and that Christ has won for us actually become our strength.”

Prayer seeks a heart sense of the presence of God.
“[W]e are to meditate on the truth until our heart’s affections are stirred and we find ourselves desiring the service of God.”

Prayer requires and creates honesty and self-knowledge.
“Prayer, however, must eventually take us beyond a mere sense of insufficiency into deep honesty with ourselves.”

Prayer requires and creates both restful trust and confident hope.
“The final thought of every prayer must be for the help we need to accept thankfully from God’s hand whatever he sends in his wisdom.”

Prayer requires and creates surrender of the whole life in love to God.
“Real believers, though they are profoundly aware of how imperfectly they love God, nonetheless want to love him supremely.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Thy Will be Done

In chapter eight Keller breaks down the Lord's Prayer into sections and explains it from the teachings of Calvin, Augustine, and Luther.

My favourite section of the break down covers the section, "thy will be done." Keller starts by quoting Luther as explaining this to mean:
"Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize that in this your divine will is crucifying our will."
Keller follows up with writing:
"Unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say "thy will be done.""
Later on he writes:
"If we can't say "thy will be done" from the bottom of our hearts, we will never know any peace. We will feel compelled to try to control people and control our environment and make things the way we believe they ought to be. Yet to control life like that is beyond our abilities, and we will just dash ourselves upon the rocks. This is why Calvin adds that to pray "thy will be done" is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us."
 I love the part about submitting our feelings to God. So often it seems like we're playing by the rules and submitting to God's will when in actual fact we're bitter and angry because it didn't happen the way we would've liked. Sometimes we try to take the high road, "well I'll submit because it's God will but I'm not very happy about it!" Turns out it doesn't work like that!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Calvin on how God's kingdom comes

In chapter 8 of Prayer-Tim Keller's book on which has its subject declared in the title-Keller examines the world's best known prayer: The Lord's Prayer. He examines it in  light of the insights that John Calvin, Augustine of Hippo, and Martin Luther provide in their studies on the topic. Keller provides an almost line-buy-line exposition of the prayer, informing the reader of the ideas that the three masters committed to writing. Though I have read, and been taught, similar studies on the Lord's Prayer, I still thoroughly enjoyed Keller's treatment of it.

A particulr passage I particularly enjoyed was the writing in regards to the line "Thy kingdon come." Keller informs, "Calvin believed that there were two ways God's kingdom comes-through the Spirit, who "corrects our desires," and through the Word of God, which "shapes our thoughts.""

I love this twofold approach as it engages our minds by the Biblical shaping of our thoughts as well as our hearts through the Spirit-empowered correction of desires. I find the head-heart-hands paradigm very compelling and to read this approach to God's Kingdom coming was great. Keller comments on this idea writing, "We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy."

This is what I want. And whether or not this is precisely what Jesus had in mind when he instructed the disciples how to pray, I do want him to so rule my heart that obedience is a delight. So I pray, Thy Kingdom come!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Keller writes on Calvin and prayer

In the seventh chapter of Manhattan's own Tim Keller's book called Prayer, Keller provides a summary of some of John Calvin's teaching on prayer from Institutes of the Christian Religion. Keller reviews Calvin's treatment of what Clavin calls his "rules for prayer."

Keller introduces the four rules of prayer:

  1. Christians are to have a due sense of the seriousness of what prayer is. That is, they should pray with reverential fear.
  2. Christians should pray with spiritual humility which includes a sense of our dependence on God and a willing readiness to repent of our faults.
  3. Christians should pray with a submissive trust of God.
  4. Christians should pray with confidence and hope.

After laying out these rules  of prayer by John Calvin, Keller describes what it means to pray in Jesus' name. I found this a solid explanation.
To pray in Jesus' name means to come to God in prayer consciously trusting in Christ for our salvation and acceptance and not relying on our own credibility or record. It is, essentially, to reground our relationship with God in the saving work of Jesus over and over again. It also means to recognize your status as a child of God, regardless of your inner state.
I find the idea of regrounding my relationship in the saving work of Jesus again and again a concept that brings me much joy. Prayer can be intimidating if even the most miniscule part of it is relying on anything I have merited. If it's going to be, and it's up to me, then nobody should be holding their breath. But thankfully, prayer is not grounded on my actions, but rather it is grounded on the Son of God's greacious work of salvation. That I can work with!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sovereignty and Prayer

Chapter seven addresses John Calvin's rules of prayer. Towards the end of the chapter Keller raises the dilemma of divine sovereignty and the human responsibility to pray.

I know this is a question that I struggled through when I was first introduced to Reformed Theology. This is something that still comes up with both Christian and non-Christian friends alike. Why does it matter if pray? God's plan is perfect and sovereign. His perfect will is going to pass anyway, right?

Keller quotes Calvin stating:
"He so tempers the outcome of events according to his incomprehensible plan that the prayers of the saints, which are a mixture of faith and error, are not nullified."
Keller expands on Calvin's points:

"If God's will is always right, and submission to it is so important, why pray for anything with fervor and confidence? Calvin lists the reasons. God invites us to do so and promises to answer prayers--because he is good and our loving heavenly Father. Also, God often waits to give a blessing until you have prayed for it. Why? Good things that we do not ask for will usually be interpreted by our hearts as the fruit of our own wisdom and diligence. Gifts from God that are not acknowledged as such are deadly to the soul, because they thicken the illusion of self-sufficiency that leads to overconfidence and sets us up for failure."

This should give us enormous confidence to pray! God ordains certain things to come to pass only through our prayers. Our prayers don't need to be perfect because they're not answered based on the quality that we put forth. Everything is funneled through Christ, he is the only channel in which our prayers make it to God. So pray with confidence! It's your job to pray. Sometimes they will be answered, other times not. But who cares because whatever the result is, "Thy will be done."