Christian Living

Why Tim Keller Started to Pray

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 02/06/2015

I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. There was a time in my life when I loved and looked forward to prayer. I’m not sure how it happened, but I drifted away from it, and now, as the struggles of life have made me increasingly aware of my need and my dependence on God, I’ve been trying to rekindle that habit. What a difference communion with God through prayer makes! I’ve known this to be true, both intellectually and experientially, yet I still let my prayer life falter.

In his book, Keller gives a wonderfully motivating illustration of how we should view prayer:

In the second half of my adult life, I discovered prayer. I had to.

In the fall of 1999, I taught a Bible study course on the Psalms. It became clear to me that I was barely scratching the surface of what the Bible commanded and promised regarding prayer. Then came the dark weeks in New York after 9/11, when our whole city sank into a kind of corporate clinical depression, even as it rallied. For my family the shadow was intensified as my wife, Kathy, struggled with the effects of Crohn’s disease. Finally, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

At one point during all this, my wife urged me to do something with her we had never been able to muster the self-discipline to do regularly. She asked me to pray with her every night. Every night. She used an illustration that crystallized her feelings very well. As we remember it, she said something like this:

Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine—a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No—it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.

Maybe it was the power of the illustration, maybe it was just the right moment, maybe it was the Spirit of God. Or, most likely of all, it was the Spirit of God using the moment and the clarity of the metaphor. For both of us the penny dropped; we realized the seriousness of the issue, and we admitted that anything that was truly a nonnegotiable necessity was something we could do.

I included Keller’s description of his difficulties at the beginning of that excerpt, but I hesitated to do so. None of us should think we’re in any less dire circumstances just because we don’t have cancer or didn’t go through a terrorist attack. Mundane, ordinary lives are just as in need of the Holy Spirit’s work as anyone with unusual suffering. We need God. Our souls are empty and hungry without Him. Don’t starve yourself!