10 Questions on Prayer with Tim Keller (Part 2)

prayerQuestion 6: Entering God’s Happiness

The book is drenched in God-centered joy. On page 68, you write, “Prayer is our way of entering into the happiness of God himself.” Unpack that sentence for us.

I bring that up in the place where I am talking about Jonathan Edwards’s great work The End for Which God Created the World. Edwards’s thesis there, which, of course, John Piper has been hammering at, and promoting in his own way for decades, is that God is happy because he enjoys his own glory. That is trinitarian — the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit are glorifying each other.

But the fact is that God is infinitely happy because of who he is, and he is just happy in his own glory. When you are especially glorifying him, when you are adoring and glorifying him, that is when you, in a sense, are entering into his happiness, because you are doing what he does, and you are experiencing the same joy he has. So that is where I talk about that.

Question 7: Praying to a Father

We have passages like Luke 11:11–13 that seem to say a fruitful prayer life requires a foundational conviction that God is my Father, he is totally for me, without hesitation on his part, he is wholly for my good. Just how key is this conviction for our prayer life?

It has to be foundational or Jesus wouldn’t have started the Lord’s Prayer with the words “Our Father.” Some Bible scholar may find an exception to what I am about to say here, but I don’t think Jesus ever addressed God without calling him Father. And so it must be foundational. And I would say it is foundational because in the word Father — that you are my Father — is the gospel in miniature. If God is my boss or my employer, then even though he might be a good boss or a good employer; nevertheless, in the end, he is not unconditionally committed to me. If I act up, he may give me a break or two, but eventually my boss will terminate me.

And so if I forget that God is my Father, I may come to him in prayer in a mercenary way, saying: I am going to do this and this and this, and now you owe me this and this and this. First, that destroys the ability to adore God. You are basically in petition. Secondly, it makes prayer a way of manipulating God.

I have three sons, and growing up they were always at different places. But if one of them was acting up, if one of them was actually being a little more disobedient, a little more rebellious or something like that, as a father my heart went out to him more. It actually got me more involved with him, because I am not his boss, I am his father. And so when I know that when I call God Father I know I am coming in Jesus’s name. I am coming only because of God’s grace. I know because Jesus died for me, now God is committed to me.

By the way, to say that God is my Father and I can always know that he will hear me and I can rest and I can adore him, that doesn’t mean I can sin away. And the reason is, of course, that if you break your boss’s rules, that doesn’t hurt your boss as much as if you break your father’s rules, because that is trampling on your father’s heart.

So I would say calling God Father means, on the one hand, I’m assured of grace and assured that he is always going to hear me. So that makes my petitions stronger. But on the other hand, it also means that I have to confess my sins because this wonderful God who has done all this for me and has brought me into his family at infinite cost of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that I need to obey him because of his good grace.

So to call God Father enhances everything you do in prayer. If you don’t know that God is your Father, it flattens and reduces and thins out every prayer.

Question 8: Prayer and Self-Knowledge

Here is perhaps the thing I was least expecting to learn, and found most surprising to see in your book. You say prayer gives us an accurate knowledge of ourselves. Explain this. How does prayer lead to self-knowledge?

C.S. Lewis gives an image. If you are a proud person, you will never be able to see God, because a proud person looking down on everyone cannot see something that is above him, bigger than him. And from that image, I get that it is in God’s presence that I learn humility. I really don’t know how sinful I am unless I am in the presence of a holy God. That is what happened to Isaiah. When Isaiah is in the presence of the “Holy, holy, holy God” in Isaiah 6, what is the first thing he says? He does not say: “Oh, you are so holy.” He says, “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). So right away, he senses his sin just like the brighter a light is, the more you can see the dirt on your hands.

The more beautiful a person is, the more we unbeautiful people see that we are not good looking. In other words, when you get close to superlativeness, you see your flaws. And so there is absolutely no way that you will really existentially know that you are sinner, and know what is wrong with you, unless you draw near to a holy God in prayer.

Is this why we don’t pray? We don’t want to see the dirt on us?

Yes. Prayer is humbling. For example, if I am really upset, it is hard for me to stay upset when I get in God’s presence, because I say: Lord, you are wise, and I really don’t need to be this upset. You know what you are doing. It is hard to stay on a high horse and be self-righteous and then turn around and pray. It just knocks you off your horse right away.

Question 9: Prayers That Don’t Work

In passages like James 4:3, we are told there’s a type of prayer that doesn’t work, an idol-centered prayer, asking for something with wrong motives. Can you explain this? What type of prayer doesn’t work?

When James talks about prayers in which you are asking for something selfishly or just to spend on selfish desires, I would say this would be a sub-heading under an even bigger heading.

God is not going to give you something that is bad for you, just like I, as a father, wouldn’t give my children something they ask for if they don’t realize it would not be safe and they would probably hurt themselves. J.I. Packer in his book on prayer actually says that ultimately there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. And even John Calvin says that God grants our prayer even if he does not always respond to the exact form of our request. That is a pretty amazing thing for Calvin to say.

So what Packer and Calvin are saying is that we might ask for something that is just not good for us, and God, being a good Father, tries to give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knew, or give us what we are after even though he won’t give it in the form that we ask for.

Now that is the general heading of things that are bad for us. But inside, there are some things that we are asking for with bad motives. We don’t know about it at the time. It could be selfish or proud or maybe there are things that assume an overblown assessment of our own gifts. And those things that are actually badly motivated, God particularly can’t give us because that would just fuel pride. And so I would say that is a sub-heading. It is something that is not good for us.

Now you could ask for something that is not good for you with the best of motives. You are not being selfish. It is not idol-driven. It is just unwise, and he is not going to give it to you. But then the idol-driven kinds of requests would even be worse and he just simply won’t do it.

Question 10: The New Book

Of course, there are a lot of books on prayer, and some especially good ones. So what do you think will surprise readers about your book? Or what do you think makes your book on prayer unique?

I will give you three, and I think people will probably come away with at least one of these three.

First, it is a more comprehensive book. The reason I wrote it was because there is a lot of great books on prayer, but the books on prayer either go into the theology of prayer or they go into the practice of prayer or they troubleshoot it. And I didn’t have one book I could give to people that was basically covering all the bases — a biblical view of prayer, the theology of prayer, and methods of prayer. So some people might say it’s balanced and comprehensive, but not too long.

Second, and this might be surprising, I really go deeply into John Owen, not only his book on the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer, but also his book on the grace and duty of being spiritually minded. John Owen is mystical. He really believes that you can have a faith-sight of Jesus Christ — really see the glory of God, not with your physical eyes, but with the eyes of the heart. He says your affections have to be involved. There must be deep, deep, deep joy in prayer. So he is mystical in that sense. But at the same time, he is down on Catholic mysticism and down on an awful lot of the ways in which evangelicals are trying to bring in Catholic contemplative prayer practices.

That is what is unusual about the book. Most books I know that are critical of contemplative prayer, as I am, do not turn around and try to give you a robustly Reformed and Protestant approach to affectionate prayer and meditation. Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and John Owen give you that. But many people trying to get away from the contemplative prayer practices are afraid of talking about meditation at all, and they are afraid of talking about deep experiences and encounters with God. I try to say: No, we have to get there. And these guys are good guys. But at the same time, we need to be pretty critical of a lot of the contemplative prayer practices that are being brought into the Church right now. I think that is what I think a lot of people would probably find pretty interesting.

Third, in the end the book is practical. I do find an awful lot of books are afraid of actually saying: Here is a way to actually spend 15 or 20 minutes in prayer. I try to get pretty practical at the end. I think some people would expect a Reformed, evangelical type like me to be a little bit more: Here is the exegesis, and now you go and apply it for yourself.

A lightly edited transcript of the conversation.

Noah is that really you?

noah-movie-poster-cast-405x600I’m sure by now most if not all of you have either watched or heard of the NOAH movie that has been screened in cinemas around the country. It created quite a stir in the U.S. when it was launched and had Twitter and Facebook buzzing with both compliments and criticism. I felt it was necessary to mail you about it as its probably a subject that will be raised in your home groups (if it hasn’t already!). I have included a link to a review of the movie from a Christian standpoint. It makes for some interesting reading. Click on the following link:


I went to watch the movie last week and personally did not enjoy it. Keep in mind that the Director Darren Aronofsky made himself clear during an interview when he said he had made “the least-biblical biblical film ever” so don’t be shocked when what you watch doesn’t line up with what you’ve read in Genesis. If you’re like me you might find yourself asking the question “Noah is that really you?” after watching the movie. Yes, the movie will create dialogue which will potentially give you opportunities to speak to your friends\colleagues about Noah or the Bible. However, it will also potentially give folk out there a warped view of Noah and worse still of God himself. Remember, God reveals himself through Scripture and the story of Noah is no different. We see his holiness, judgment and incredible mercy displayed in the story of Noah and the ark. The distant God the movie portrays is not the God revealed to us in the Scriptures and is certainly not the God whom the Scriptures tell us “Noah walked with” (Gen 6:9).

Watch the movie for yourself and read the review – but after all is said and done, nothing beats sitting down with a good cup of coffee and reading through Genesis 6 to 9.

Grace & peace,


Are You a Part-Time Churchgoer? You May Be Surprised

Geoff and Christine are thirty-something churchgoers who love Jesus and love their three kids. They consider themselves faithful members of New Life Community Church.

Their oldest is about to be in the youth group, and their youngest is finally out of diapers. Christine has been involved in the kids’ ministry through the years. Geoff is a deacon.

But they are part-timers when it comes to church attendance, and they never set out to be. Continue reading


An unlikely collision of Friendship & Grace

Sometimes the best things in life are those we’re not even sure we’re looking for at the time, but those we realize we can’t live without in the end. This DVD is the story of Ashley, a somewhat typical college senior – loving life, partying hard and trying to balance it all with success in the classroom. Disengaged from God and turned off by most Christians she knew, unexpected events turned Ashley’s world upsdie down and brought a new roommate for her final semester at the University of Florida. Ashley’s personal journal entries provide the backdrop for Fruitcake and Ice Cream, a message that breathes hope for the spiritually searching while providing a massive kick-start for those within the Church who carry the unrivaled story of God’s grace and truth in a darkened world.

Available in the church resource library

1 DVD – includes bonus CD of 5songs.
Approx. running time = 54 mins

Going Beyond Madiba’s 67 Minutes

Hi folks,

I have just spent 30 mins. reading the latest newsletter from “Stop crime….say Hello”. http://ss14.gmsend.com/sendlink.asp?HitID=1311935175702&StID=5647&SID=14&NID=281725&EmID=2314298&Link=aHR0cDovL3d3dy5zYXloZWxsby5jby56YS8%3D&token=19432676a442b2e44c40db2df4b7ec9a0e6cd994 www.sayhello.co.za

Justin Foxton has done some sterling work in improving the website and there are several interesting things to explore and look at.

The one that I really enjoyed this afternoon was “The Wall” and I encourage you to at least look at that if you don’t have time to explore the rest. I’d also ask you to encourage your HG members to have a look at this site. The reference to the large amount of negativity that is spoken in our social circles etc. prompted me to find the attached verse:

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart and

the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart.

For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks.”

Luke 6:45

Let’s always be mindful of the need to guard our tongues.

Love from


From: Stop Crime…Say Hello [mailto:justin@scsh.co.za] Sent: 29 July 2011 12:28 PM To: justjones@absamail.co.za Subject: Going Beyond Madiba’s 67 Minutes


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This article first appeared in The Mercury on 25th July 2011

The 67 minute campaign on Madiba’s birthday invites all of us to look deep within ourselves and ask a very uncomfortable question: do we really give a damn?

Do we give a damn about the poor – really? Do we give enough of a damn to spend 67 minutes feeding them, perhaps touching them, walking in their often non-existent shoes; parting with our time, money and other resources?

Do we care about our nation’s needy children? Do we care enough to stop hypothesizing and theorizing for just 67 minutes, and actually get out there and spend time feeding them, clothing them and loving them?

And how do we really feel about people lying lonely and afraid in overcrowded hospitals? Do we care enough to visit them and brighten their day with a gift or even just a hand held, or is it good enough for us just to carry on bemoaning the state of health care in our country?

What about our environment? We all hate to see the pollution, litter and general decay. Yet do we give enough of a damn to go out and clean up our street, paint a wall or get rid of some graffiti?

The 67 minute campaign asks us if we are as proficient at being part of the solution as we are at pointing out the problem. This is why the 18th of July is becoming a day which unsettles us just a little bit. It is becoming a day that places a finger on a pressure point and gently squeezes.

The reason for this is that one of Madiba’s most admirable qualities is that he didn’t blame anyone for what was wrong without working to provide a solution. A deep desire for such integrity exists in most if not all of us, hence the universal love and admiration for this man. The 67 minute campaign challenges us as to whether or not we will choose to live with such integrity.

It asks us if we are willing to be doers as well as talkers. It is easy, for example, to have an opinion on how to eradicate poverty. Education, education, education, is a pet mantra for many of us. However, good theories on education, albeit right, do not fill the stomach of a starving person today. They do not warm a child freezing on a street corner today. They do not comfort a destitute man standing begging today.

The campaign demands that on at least one day of the year, we stop making excuses for our apathy. What is yours I wonder? “Charity begins at home,” or perhaps; “what good will my giving do?” I am embarrassed to admit that when apathy creeps in I resort to everyone’s favourite excuse: “Well, we do our bit anyway.”

But this isn’t about ‘doing our bit’. It also isn’t about having to make excuses, or feeling ‘guilted’ into action. It’s about a fundamental change in how we view the world around us. It’s about recognizing that in order to live the life we wish for us and our children, we have to – by absolute necessity – work consistently to improve the communities in which we live. Not just on one day – all year round. It is about agreeing that our prophesies of doom-and-gloom will almost certainly come true unless each of us participate in the solution.

And finally, our giving must benefit those in need but as I have written before, giving benefits us in return.

If you gave 67 minutes to improving your community last Monday, you will know the joy that that gave you. You will also know that a shift took place in you and that in some small yet profoundly meaningful way you will never be the same again.

Something happened in you when that abandoned baby nestled into your neck as you held her. Something changed forever when you handed a plate of warm food to a homeless man and saw the look of disbelieving gratitude on his face. You will never be the same again having seen the tears streaming down the face of the dying woman as you handed her a flower from your garden.

You will know from experience that the more you give the more you want to give. This is because giving provides the answer to the very deepest cry of our hearts; the cry for our lives to have meaning and purpose beyond our own comfort and safety.

Flipside tip of the week:

The 67 minute campaign should be seen as symbolic rather than an end in itself. Let us view it as a start point. Let us take it as a call to action to participate regularly; weekly or even daily – not just annually – in the healing of our communities.

For more on how to get involved go to

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SHIFT Book table

Good day to you all,
We attended the first SHIFT meeting last night. It was quite special from a singing worship point of view and Carrick did a talk on the doctrine of the Trinity which was very interesting. The young folks then invited everyone for hotdogs, tea/coffee and cup-cakes. The fellowship was really good.

Please have a look at Carrick’s comments below and advise your members that each Sunday he will be setting up a book table. He is sourcing books from a supplier different to CUM books which is both cheaper and has better quality reading material.
So come and browse and also bring some cash to purchase when you see an appropriate book.

In addition, let’s support the young folk who will run SHIFT meetings on the first Sunday of every month.


From: Carrick Van Rensburg [mailto:Carrick.VanRensburg@spar.co.za] Sent: 06 June 2011 10:30 AM
To: Gary Jones
Subject: SHIFT Feedback

Good Morning Gary,

Thanks for attending last night’s SHIFT service. It went off very well and we had just under 40 people attending!

Please let the home group leaders know that it happened and it went off well. Let them know that the notes around the message on the Trinity will be posted up on the website and will be available for download.

I will be setting up the Book Table this Sunday morning @ Church so please let the Home Groups know that they can bring cash this Sunday!

May God SHIFT us in His direction Thank you so much.


Carrick & the SHIFT Team

Noah’s Ark

Somewhere in the past I was sent an article about a man who was rebuilding the Ark to specs in the Bible…somehow I think that was a different one to this one in the link below. Worth a look. and Noah only had hand tools to do it with. God takes the “willing” and makes them “able” through His intervention

SA The Good News

5 of our Worship team attended a conference @ Durban North Presby today.
Among many things discussed was the concept of “Singing a new song”. Our old songs are songs of despair, sadness, anger, and the like …all belonging to Satan. God wants to hear our songs of happiness, joy, deliverance, forgivness etc…..in short songs of positiveness in the middle of our busy and challenging lives.
Our general talk and sentiments around SA, the government, corruption etc are usually “old songs”.
Have a look at the link below at some “song sheets” for new songs about SA. For all the warts, I would not live in any other country