Sunday, August 8, 2010

Prayer: Confidence

Over the past couple of days we have looked at three of Calvin's four rules of prayer. Today's reading focuses on the fourth rule: confidence. This rule of confidence comes immediately after the rule of humility and they are related. Calvin writes his rule by saying, "thus cast down and overcome by true humility, we should be nonetheless encouraged to pray by a sure hope that our prayer will be answered." He ties together fear and hope in prayer. This is based on a number of Scripture passages like Psalm 5:7, "But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple." David proclaims his faith, but does not exclude the fear of the Lord. Even though we are dedicated to God, we still have struggles in life. This is a popular misconception by non-Christians. Calvin assures us in this section that just because we have faith, it does not mean that we lead carefree lives. What makes us different is the hope and faith we have in Jesus Christ.

Now when we pray, we must have confidence that our prayers are heard. We have faith when we are praying. Calvin says that prayers do "not break forth by chance, but follow faith as a guide." Look through Scripture and we are told that if we pray with faith, our prayers will be answered. "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them." (Mark 11:24, New King James Version). "And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matthew 21:22, New King James Version). Scripture even speaks about when we pray without faith. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6, New King James Version).  Calvin sums up the relation of faith and prayer by simply stating, "it is faith that obtains whatever is granted to prayer."

There are people who do not believe that prayers will be answered.  Some of these people pray anyway, doubting that their prayers are even being listened to.  However, those who are the Lord's can confidently pray knowing that He hears their prayers.  Calvin does write however, "God cannot be called upon by any except those who have learned of his mercy from the gospel (Romans 10:14), and have surely been persuaded that it has been prepared for them."  Calvin highlights even more Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments which tells us to be confident in our prayers.  Our prayers are in vain unless they are prayed with hope and faith.

We are commanded to pray by God and by Christ.  "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” (Psalm 50:15, New King James Version). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7, New King James Version).  God is readily accessible to us all.  We don't need an appointment nor do we have to go through an intermediary.  We speak with Him directly. 

Calvin gets back to praying with confidence, but with reverential fear.  He listed probably more Scripture in these past few pages than anywhere else that we have read so far in the Institutes.  He even somewhat acknowledges this by saying, "it is not my list every passage but to choose certain pre-eminent ones, from which we may taste how gently God attracts us to himself, and with what tight bonds our ungratefulness is bound when, amidst such sharp pricks, our sluggishness still delays."  We join with the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles when we boldly pray to God.  Prayer is a common action among us in a common faith.  As long as we truly rely upon God's word, "we are rightly their fellows."

One more quote from Calvin, which really sums up confidence in prayer.  He writes, "We receive this singular fruit of God's promises when we frame our prayers without hesitation or trepidation; but, relying upon the word of him whose majesty would otherwise terrify us, we dare call upon him as Father; while he deigns to suggest this sweetest of names to us."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.20.15-3.20.20

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