How often are my prayers are merely “worrying in God’s direction”?

January 7, 2015

kellerIn Timothy Keller’s new book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he discusses an essay on prayer that Augustine wrote. I find these words helpful:

Augustine’s first principle is that before you know what to pray for and how to pray for it, you must become a particular kind of person. “You must account yourself ‘desolate’ in this world, however great the prosperity of your lot may be.” The scales must have fallen from your eyes and you must see clearly that no matter how great your earthly circumstances become, they can never bring you the lasting peace, happiness, and consolation that are found in Christ. Unless you have that in view, your prayers may go wrong.[1]

Do I really believe I’m “desolate” in this world apart from God? What does my heart think it needs more than God?

Keller connects this first principle to an important theme in Augustine’s theology: the disordered desires of the heart. We tend to love people and things more than we love God—even though, as Augustine famously prayed, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee.”

Unless at the very least we recognize this heart disorder and realize how much it distorts our lives, our prayers will be part of the problem, not an agent of our healing. For example, if we look to our financial prosperity as our main source of safety and confidence in life, then when our wealth is in grave jeopardy, we will cry out to God for help, but our prayers will be little more than “worrying in God’s direction.” When our prayers are finished we will be more upset and anxious than before. Prayer will not be strengthening. It won’t heal our hearts by reorienting our vision and helping us put things in perspective and bringing us to rest in God as our true security.[2]

In other words, our prayers are requests for God to facilitate our idolatry: “God, would you please enable this other god I worship to meet my deepest needs?” God is obviously not interested in doing that!

1. Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), 84.

2. Ibid., 85.

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