Friday, August 6, 2010

Prayer: Necessity and Reverence

Today we cracked open volume 2 of the Institutes. It feels good to start the new book, but it is a little intimidating since I know we have a long way to still go.

Calvin begins here a long section on prayer. Looks like we will be involved in this section for approximately two weeks. As humans, we are "destitute and devoid of all good things." We really are hopeless on our own. "Therefore, if he [we] seeks resources to succor him in his need, he must go outside himself and get them elsewhere." This helplessness is the basis for our prayer. But whatever we lack, whatever we need is in and from God. We must be totally dependent on Him. The way we communicate our needs to Him is through prayer. Calvin writes, "just as faith is born from the gospel, so through it our hearts are trained to call upon God's name."

Prayer, as defined by Calvin, is this: "a communication of men with God by which, having entered a heavenly sanctuary, they appeal to him in person concerning his promises in order to experience, where necessity so demands, that what they believed was not vain, although he had promised in word alone." Prayer is our communication with God. He communicates with us in many different ways - through His word, through others, through our hearts, etc. By praying to God, we are invoking His providence, His power, and His merciful goodness. We "call him to reveal himself as wholly present to us."

Some have argued that prayer is superfluous. God is omniscient, therefore prayer is unnecessary. Calvin denies that prayer is not needed, in fact, he gives six reasons to pray. (1) to increase our desire for God, (2) to purify our minds, (3) to become thankful for His benefits, (4) that we may meditate on His Kingdom, (5) to become happier for those things He has given us in response to prayer, and (6) to confirm His providence in our minds.

Calvin next lays out four ground rules for prayer. Only the first will be examined today, and that rule is "reverence." He states that "we be disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God." We should put out of our minds the carnal desires of this world so we are not led astray during prayer. Unlike some religions that want you to empty your mind and meditate, Christian prayer should be focused on God and our conversation with Him. Calvin even states that we do not even need to be worry-free when in prayer because, "great anxiety should kindle in us the desire to pray." However, we must be mindful not to let our mind wander when we pray. Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult things for me when praying (or anything else for that matter). I must be vigilant to not let my mind go astray, especially at night before I go to sleep.

Fortunately, God gives us the Holy Spirit to aid us in our prayer. He is our "teacher in prayer, to tell us what is right and temper our emotions."  Romans 8:26 reads, "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."  Calvin says about this verse that the Holy Spirit, "arouses in us assurance, desires, and sighs, to conceive which our natural powers would scarcely suffice."  Later he tells us that "to pray rightly is a rare gift."  It may be, but I think that any believer is capable of right prayer.  I believe anytime a believer reverently prays to God, believes what he is praying, and his will is aligned with God's will, then he is praying rightly.  But, Calvin has been known to change my opinion on a few things.  He ends this first rule explaining that the Holy Spirit encourages and empowers us in our prayers, but does not hold back our own efforts, "since in this matter God's will is to test how effectually faith moves our hearts."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.6-3.20.10

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