Which view of prayer is the better one? Is peaceful adoration or assertive supplication the ultimate form of prayer? That question assumes that the answer is completely either-or, which is unlikely.
For help, we should turn first to the Psalms, the inspired prayer book of the Bible. There we see that both experiences of prayer are well represented. There are Psalms such as Psalm 27, 63, 84, 131, and the “long hallelujah” of Psalms 146 –150 that depict adoring communion with God. In Psalm 27:4, David says that there is one primary thing he asks of the Lord in prayer—“to gaze on the beauty of the Lord.” While David did in fact pray for other things, he means at the very least that nothing is better than to know the presence of God. Therefore he says: “O God . . . my soul thirsts for you. . . . I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, I will praise you” (Ps 63:1–3). When he adores God in his presence, he says his “soul is satisfied as with the richest of foods” (Ps 63:5). This is indeed communion with God.
There are, however, even more Psalms of complaint, of cries for help, and of calls for God to exercise his power in the world. There are also stark expressions of the experience of God’s absence. Here we indeed see prayer as a struggle. Psalms 10, 13, 39, 42–43, and 88 are just a very few examples. Psalm 10 begins asking why God “stands far off” and “hides” himself in times of trouble. Suddenly the author cries, “Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless” (Ps 10:12). Yet then he seems to speak almost to himself as well as to the Lord. “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief. You consider it to take it to hand. . . . You are the helper of the fatherless” (Ps 10:14). The prayer ends with the psalmist bowing to God’s timing and wisdom in all matters yet still fiercely calling out for justice on the earth. This is the wrestling match of kingdom-centered prayer. The Psalter, then, affirms both the communion-seeking and kingdom-seeking kinds of prayer.
Excerpt from PRAYER by Timothy Keller
Reprinted by arrangement with DUTTON, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2014 by Timothy Keller