Tim Keller’s 5 Steps For Effective Prayer

Sometimes there are no steps. We are too desperate. We’re hurting, anxious, and worried. Fearful, even. So we don’t think of steps. We just run to God as our Abba Father and cry, “Help!” And that is completely fine.

But for those times where there is time for extended prayer, a pattern is helpful. Last month I wrote about how Tim Keller’s most recent book, Prayer, was my top book of 2014. I enjoyed all of the book, but I particularly enjoyed the framework for prayer he outlines towards the end.

Mixed with his words and some of mine, here are the five steps he suggests:

1) Evocation. To evoke means “to bring to mind,” though it also can include invocation, calling on God. Keller says that there is almost, “universal agreement that prayer should be started by ‘thinking over who it is that you will be addressing, what he has done to give you access to himself, and how you stand related to him …” Think before you pray.

2) Meditation. To respond to God in prayer, we must listen to his Word. This means taking some time to meditate on some portion of the Bible as a bridge to prayer. Meditation is a form of reflection and self-communion. Take a verse or two, or an entire section, and meditate on it as a way of fueling your heart to prepare you to pray.

3) Word prayer. Keller received this insipiration from Martin Luther. And this is a step that is often overlooked. After meditating on Scripture, Luther takes time to “pray the text” before moving on to more free-form prayer. Luther advises that we take the Lord’s Prayer and paraphrase each petition in his or her own words, filling it out with the concerns on his or her heart that day. Keller advises that we do this at least once a week.

4) Free prayer. Free prayer, as Keller explains, means simply to pour out your heart before the Lord in prayer. This is where we bring on all the supplications, petitions, prayer-lists, and anything on our heart that we want or need. This is the kind of prayer that we’re probably most familiar with. Helpful — indeed, God is our Father and we are his children and he loves it when we ask him for things — but J.I. Packer would warn us that this kind of prayer is only life-changing if it is not merely running down a “grocery-list,” but instead lifts each cause to God with theological reasoning and self-examination.

5) Contemplation. Here, Keller points us to Jonathan Edwards who points us to the Lord: “Edwards described contemplation as times when we not only know God is holy, but when we sense — ‘”see'” and ‘”taste'” — that he is so in our hearts. Luther would say that this is like getting “lost” in some aspect of God’s truth or character. Either way, prayer is always enhanced when we end with praise and contemplation.

“Don’t be intimidated by these plans,” Keller adds at the end. He finishes with saying, “Follow the steps … without feeling the need to do all the specific proposals or answer all the questions within each part. Prayer will grow and draw you in.”

Prayer is not just helpful, but essential. It is a must. It is both a delight and a duty. We should pray everyday whether we feel like it or not. And lately, since reading Keller’s book, I’ve followed the aforementioned pattern, and my prayer life has been richer as a result. And if you adhere to the pattern, I’m sure yours will too.

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