Martin Luther on Prayer & Meditation

I just finished Tim Keller’s new book on prayer. It is at one theological, practical, and pastoral. Overall it was a great book. However, there were a few chapters that really stuck out to me. One of those chapters was a chapter where Keller covers Augustine’s, Luther’s, and Calvin’s theology of prayer through the examination of letters that they wrote to laypeople on the nature of prayer.

Martin Luther

Keller tells the story of Luther’s barber, Peter Beskendorf, who asked Luther to give him a simple way to pray. Luther sent him a letter with “rich but practical set of guidelines for prayer.”

First, Luther suggests that one should pray twice a day. Once in the morning, before anything else is accomplished, and once at night. Morning and evening prayer is a discipline that must be cultivated whether we feel like praying or not.

Second, Luther suggests that we should “focus our thoughts and warm our affections for prayer.” In order to do this he suggest contemplation or meditation upon scripture. He advises Peter Beskendorf to begin his prayer by contemplating the word…

I want your heart to be stirred and guided…rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer.

After advising contemplation Luther describes how to do it. He says:

I divide each biblical command into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is I think of each commandment at first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second I turn into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.

Keller says that “this turns every biblical text into ‘a school text, a song book, a penitential book, and a prayer book.”

Practically this means that first we must figure out what the text is saying. Second, we must ask how this text leads us to praise and thank God; third we ask God how this text leads us to repent of and confess sin; finally we ask God how this text prompts us to appeal to God in petition and supplication.

So the next time you do your “quiet time” try Luther’s Four – Text method! I would love to hear how it works out!

Why The Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You

Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to serve the purposes of the gospel. The Holy Spirit first enables us to believe the gospel and then continually re-opens our eyes to its beauties… He empowers us to carry that gospel throughout the whole world. The Holy Spirit is given in the gospel, for the purposes of the gospel. – J.D. Greear


J.D. Greear’s new book, Jesus Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You is Greear’s latest book. In it he tackles the ever so expansive topic of the Holy Spirit. He addresses who the Holy Spirit is, how we experience the Holy Spirit, and finally how to seek the Holy Spirit. It is filled with solid biblical theology, wonderful illustrations, and plenty of stories from the mission field. The point of the book is that we need the Holy Spirit, that without the Holy Spirit we are helpless, that without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to experience God. The book is both clear and practical. Filled with doctrine but never minimizing the need to experience God. He shows us how our relationship with God flourishes when we acknowledge the work of the Spirit in our lives and how Ministry explodes when we lean not on our own power but in the Holy Spirit.

My Personal Thoughts on the Book

Honestly this book could not have come at a better time for me. The Lord used it to speak so much truth into my life, truths that I have neglected or forgotten…

Greear challenges us to recognize that it is our false sense of ability, not our inabilities that keep us from the power of the Spirit. How I needed to hear that!

He reminds us that it is possible to be mission driven but burned out – and that the only antidote to that burn out is to rely upon the Spirit’s power.

He reminds us that you will never be full of the Spirit as long as you are full of yourself. If you feel “full” of yourself in any particular area – ministry, family, relationships, skills – you are unlikely to experience the Spirit’s power in any of those areas.

He reminds us that we don’t need to feel anything when we pray, but that often times the Spirit does make us feel his presence in a special way.

He reminds us that hidden sin quenches the work of the Spirit in our lives.

He reminds us to come to church or small group with the expectation that God, through the Spirit, wants to give us words for others in the church and that he might want to give words to others to give to us. He ask us to come ready to speak in the Spirit and listen to the Spirit.

Finally he reminds us that God doesn’t need us – but he chooses to include us in his plans. He chooses to empower us through his Spirit to make us effective for his kingdom.

This book stirred my heart, and spurred me on to pursue more of the Spirit in my life. I highly recommend that you get it right now.

(Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.)

How Did Tim Keller Learn to Pray?

Prayer is hard. If you struggle to maintain a consistent prayer life you aren’t alone. In fact that is precisely whey famed 17th century poet George Herbert wrote that prayer is a “heart in pilgrimage.” No he wasn’t talking about the pilgrims we celebrate during thanksgiving. He was talking about the pilgrim (much like the one in Pilgrim’s Progress or Canterbury Tales) who engage in a long, difficult, and exhausting journey. Prayer is a lot like that – prayer is a journey that will take our entire lives to grow in.

So when I say that prayer is hard you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that even Tim Keller (my pastoral hero) barely “learned” or as he himself says “discovered” prayer only in the second half of his adult life. Yes he prayed, but even then it was difficult, it was only in the fall of 1999 that he developed a disciplined, consistent, and powerful, intimate prayer life. How did he do it?

How Did Tim Keller Learn to Pray?

In his new book simply titled Prayer, he describes four changes he made to his life that affected his prayer life (pg 17):

  1. He took several months to go through the Psalms, summarizing each one.
  2. He added a time of meditation as a “transitional discipline” between his Bible reading and his time of prayer.
  3. He began to pray in the morning and the evening instead of just in the morning.
  4. He began to pray with greater expectation.

So those are the four steps that Tim Keller took to grow in his prayer life. What sort of things have you done that have been helpful in your own prayer life? I would love to hear what you did/are doing!

Grace vs. Works

Is the gospel of grace opposed to good works? Should Christians who are pursuing God and his grace pursue good works with all that they are? By no means… Check out what Calvin says about being devoted to good works:

We, too, when treating of the righteousness of faith, do not contend against the substance of works, but against that quality with which the sophists invest them, inasmuch as they contend that men are justified by them. Paul, therefore, divested himself — not of works, but of that mistaken confidence in works, with which he had been puffed up.  (Calvin’s Commentary on Philippians)

Pursue good works, but don’t put your confidence in them, because that is not where your justification comes from.

John Calvin on The Holy Spirit’s Sense of Humor

I will explain Calvin’s view on the Holy Spirit’s sense of humor, but first a few jokes:

Knock Knock. Who’s there? Annie. Annie who? Annie way you can Let me in now? (badum – chhh!)

When drilled for details, the Dentist replied that his favorite hymn was “Crown Him with Many Crowns” @Joshuaray

Puns and wordplay are often key ingredients in some really funny/witty jokes. Without wordplay life would be a lot less funnier. Apparently the John Calvin thinks that the Holy Spirit thinks so too. Check out what Calvin has to say about the Holy Spirit’s sense of humor in this commentary on the book of Philippians (referring to Philippians 3)

In the third term employed, there is an elegant play upon words. They boasted that they were the circumcision: he turns aside this boasting by calling them the concision, inasmuch as they tore asunder the unity of the Church. In this we have an instance tending to shew that the Holy Spirit in his organs has not in every case avoided wit and humor, yet so as at the same time to keep at a distance from such pleasantry as were unworthy of his majesty. There are innumerable examples in the Prophets, and especially in Isaiah, so that there is no profane author that abounds more in agreeable plays upon words, and figurative forms of expression.

So the Holy Spirit does have a sense of humor, and most of his jokes are of the wordplay variety. However, the Spirit always makes sure that there are no profane word plays, only pleasant ones that are worth of his majesty.

Snodgrass on Reading Backwards

In light of Richard Hays fantastic new book, Reading Backwards, I’m sticking to the this weeks’s theme of “The NT use of the OT.” Here is what Klyne Snodgrass (Prof. at North Park) has to say about

Understanding the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament.
[Here is]  A concluding list of suggestions for understanding the use of the OT follows: (1) Identify if possible which OT text is being employed. (2) Compare the wording of the NT and the OT passages. If there are significant differences, assistance may be required from scholarly studies before drawing conclusions. (3) Determine the original intention of the OT text in its context. (4) Determine how the NT uses the OT text. Identify both the method by which the OT text is appropriated and the purpose for which it is employed. (5) Identify the teaching of both OT and NT texts for Christian understanding.
While the use of the OT in the NT is complex, no subject is more important or rewarding for a faith that speaks of itself and its founder as the fulfillment and climax of God’s Word in the OT.

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1813). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

No subject is more important than the NT use of the OT… Bold words.

On the Vices and Virtues of Analytic Theology

Oliver Crisp describes some of the vices and virtues of analytic theology:

In many ways, analytic theology is a return to more classical analytical sensibilities that have governed Christian theology for much of its history in scholasticism, as well as the work of key thinkers from St. Augustine and St. Anselm of Canterbury to Jonathan Edwards. Yet it is not just this; there is a real concern to engage in wider theological and religious discussion, and to foster dialogue between the Abrahamic faiths, as can be seen in the recent symposium on Yoram Hazonys work in the Journal of Analytic Theology.

There is also the beginnings of an awareness of the limits of analytic theology, and of worries it must take more seriously if it is to continue to flourish. These include concerns about ontotheology (roughly, the notion that the god of analytic theology is an idol), criticisms from feminist theology, the place of metaphor and tropes in religious language, and the relationship to other theological methodologies as well as allied disciplines such as biblical studies. There is much work to be done. But the fact that analytic theology has already made such headway indicates that it is meeting a theological need, and making a significant constructive contribution to twenty-first-century Christian theology.

You can read the rest of the article on Zondervan’s Koinonia Blog.


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