Two Books on Prayer

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Lucado, Max. Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.

Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. New York: Dutton, 2014.

Recently prayer has unwittingly become the topic of the day. Frankly, this is a subject that most of us would rather not address. Why? Many reasons could be listed, but I would suggest part of it is because prayer raises difficult questions. For instance:

  • We are told in the Bible to ask God for things – “you have not because you ask not” (James 4:2) – yet we know that God is sovereign, infallible, and has a plan. So in other words, why ask God for something if he already has everything set and according to some great plan? How do you resolve that?
  • Additionally, any discussion regarding prayer surely raises the issues of how we should pray, how often, publicly or privately, and an array of other questions.
  • Lastly, what about unanswered prayers, or more troubling to me, how about when the prayer is answered, but you don’t like the answer!

Thankfully, this critical topic has been addressed by two of evangelical Christianity’s best authors – Timothy Keller and Max Lucado. Both men are pastors, successful writers, and very good at what they do, yet in their respective books, they tackle the issue of prayer very differently. But as you will see, we are the ones who benefit from that!

So here are my thoughts on both of these exceptional books on prayer.

Lucado’s Before Amen:

  • This is a book about prayer for everyone! Lucado’s thesis is that when Jesus was urged by the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray”, he taught them what we call today “The Lord’s Prayer.” Lucado has taken this prayer, and basically all other prayers in the Bible, and succinctly distilled them into what he dubs a “pocket-size prayer:”

You are good.
I need help. Heal me and forgive me.
They need help.
Thank you.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

     Subsequently, each chapter of his book investigates the individual parts of this “pocket-
size prayer”.

  • This is a highly motivational and encouraging book to read on prayer and easily comprehended, especially in comparison to Keller’s scholarly tome. Lucado’s book is only 163 pages, and 60 of those pages consist of a study guide at the end of the book!
  • The one critique I’d make is I would have enjoyed more substantiation for his claim that this pocket-size prayer is really an accurate summation of all the prayers in the Bible. He declares such, but with no support offered for this bold claim.
  • Some notable quotes from Lucado:

“In an effort to see him as our friend, we have lost his immensity. In our desire to understand him, we have sought to contain him. The God of the Bible cannot be contained.” (p. 23)

“He will heal you – instantly or gradually or ultimately.” (p. 52)

“He will heal you, my friend. I pray he heals you instantly. He may choose to heal you gradually. But this much is sure; Jesus will heal us all ultimately. Wheelchairs, ointments, treatments, and bandages are confiscated at the gateway to heaven. God’s children will once again be whole. (p. 56)

“Jesus never refused an intercessory request. Ever!” (p. 70)

{On Moses interceding to God to spare the Israelites} This is the promise of prayer! We can change God’s mind! His ultimate will is inflexible, but the implementation of his will is not. He does not change in his character and purpose, but he does alter his strategy because of the appeals of his children. We do not change his intention, but we can influence his actions.” (p. 74)

“When we pray in the name of Jesus, we come to God on the basis of Jesus’ accomplishment.” (p. 98)

“The phrase “In Jesus’ name” is not an empty motto or talisman. It is a declaration of truth: My cancer is not in charge; Jesus is. The economy is not in charge; Jesus is. The grumpy neighbor doesn’t run the world; Jesus, you do!” (p. 100)

Keller’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God:

  • Undoubtedly, this is the more scholarly of the two, and I believe a great summation of the history of prayer and the beliefs of key figures on the issue such as Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, just to name a few.
  • Keller wanted to write a book on prayer that investigated it as both a conversation and encounter with the living God, all in a resource that addresses prayer from a theological, experiential, and methodological perspective (p. 1).
  • In his pursuit of that goal, this book is divided into five sections: Desiring Prayer, Understanding Prayer, Learning Prayer, Deepening Prayer, and Doing Prayer.
  • With such a formidable goal, I fear many readers may start this book, and unfortunately put it aside in the midst of all of this impressive, detailed exploration on prayer.
  • As to a critique, I feel so inadequate. I learned so much from reading this book. The only critique I can muster would be based on what I said in the preceding point – ultimately Keller may have attempted to put too much in one book, and sadly that may lead to some readers putting the book down and never finishing it.
  • I was fascinated by Keller’s evaluation of the modern daily Quiet Time. He reminds the reader that this is a recent phenomenon, propelled by the publication of an InterVarsity booklet in 1945. Keller stresses he fears the modern Quiet Time is lacking for several reasons, and he himself has a morning and evening time of prayer and Bible reading mixed with meditation.
  • Some notable quotes from Keller:

“It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul’s prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances. . . He does not see prayer as merely a way to get things from God but as a way to get more of God himself. Prayer is a striving to ‘take hold of God’ (Isa. 64:7) the way in ancient times people took hold of the cloak of a great man as they appealed to him, or the way in modern times we embrace someone to show love.” (p. 20-21)

“What is prayer, then, in the fullest sense? Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him.” (p. 48)

“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, and our good things cannot be taken from us, and the best things are yet to come.” (p. 73)

“To pray in Jesus’ name is not meant to be a magic formula, as if the pronunciation of the words coerces God’s power or mechanically taps into supernatural forces. Jesus’ name is shorthand for his divine person and saving work. To come to the Father in Jesus’ name, not our own, is to come fully cognizant that we are being heard because of the costly grace in which we stand.” (p. 125)

“There are three basic kinds of prayer to God. There is ‘upward’ prayer – praise and thanksgiving that focuses on God himself. . . 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 . . . Finally, there is ‘outward’ prayer – supplication and intercession that focuses on our needs and the needs of others in the world.” (p. 189)

“Jesus was the only human being in history who deserved to have all his prayers answered because of his perfect life. Yet he was turned down as if he cherished iniquity in his heart. Why? The answer, of course, is in the gospel. God treated Jesus as we deserve – he took our penalty – so that, when we believe in him, God can then treat us as Jesus deserved (2 Cor. 5:21).” (p. 237-8)

At last, I would venture to say that both books should be read if one wants to get the fullest, most comprehensive view of prayer. In my estimation, they truly do complement each other. As stated earlier, Lucado’s book is great motivation for actually praying, and a marvelous tool on how we should pray. And Keller’s project takes the reader deeper into how prayer has been used in the church, how prominent leaders viewed and practiced it, methods of meditation, and ultimately laying a strong theological basis for the entire endeavor of prayer.

Thanks to both gentlemen for their rich and lavish gift to the church at large.

RA

Author: Randy Allison

I am an adjunct professor and pastor, driven to understand more about faith and how to live that faith in twenty-first century America.

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