This isn't really going to be a blog about Tim Keller's book on prayer. But I was struck by different quotes he included from other people who struggle with prayer, and I wanted to share them.
"Can't anyone teach me how to pray?" --an entry from Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal
And another entry: "Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth's shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon...what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know You God because I am in the way."
"It is necessary for us to recognize 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." --John Murray
I was especially drawn to this Murray quote because of the phrase "intelligent mysticism." I was raised in a nondenominational, very decidedly non-charismatic church. I learned so much, got such a great foundation, and I am grateful to those who taught me so faithfully. I emerged from that church (or maybe it's me -- my tendencies -- and I would've been like this anyway?) very skeptical of emotion applied to religion. I DO think one is right to be wary -- nothing lies to us quite so convincingly as our emotions. But we are emotional creatures, after all, and sometimes I know that I am shortchanging myself because I never just dive into the deep end when it comes to worship. Raise my hands during prayer or singing? You might as well ask me to run naked through the choir loft (and it kind of feels like that to me -- I'm so self-conscious about doing anything like that during worship that just thinking about it takes me completely away from thoughts of God to an intense focus on myself). I do believe I can lead a full and blessed life without raising my hands during corporate worship. But I also know that I am too closed off and I want God to bust through my reserve and fill me with more of Him, His Spirit.
Anyway, back to the quote. "Intelligent mysticism" acknowledges that we must never park our brains at the door (of either the church or our private offices) -- but it also reminds us that there is an awful lot in Christianity that is mysterious and awful (awe-full) and not understandable by finite beings. And that's okay. A God so small that we could understand Him would not be a god worth having. Sometimes I just need to believe and not understand. And sometimes I just need to feel (not indiscriminately, but freely -- if you know what I'm trying to say) and let the awesomeness of God's power and love take me out of thoughts of myself. As difficult as that is for me to even imagine, much less do!
Keller writes about some things that he did to alter his prayer life. He prays through the Psalms a few times a year (this interests me -- he promises to write more about this later in the book). He meditates as a transitional discipline between his Bible reading and prayer time. He prays morning and evening instead of just morning. And he prays with greater expectation. And he wrote this:
"The changes took some time to bear fruit, but after sustaining these practices for about two years, I began to have some breakthroughs. Despite ups and downs since then, I have found new sweetness in Christ and new bitterness too, because I could now see my heart more clearly in the new light of vital prayer. In other words, there were more restful experiences of love as well as more wrestling to see God triumph over evil, both in my own heart and in the world."
It's interesting to me that he says he exercised the changes for two years before he experienced "breakthroughs." I'm not sure I'm disciplined enough to do something for that long and not see any results. Maybe that's not what he means, though. Maybe he was happy with the changes -- they were satisfying to him and fulfilled a need that he'd been feeling -- but he had no flashes of inspiration until two years had passed. At least, I hope that's what he means. Impatient woman that I am, I really do want tangible results like yesterday!