Calvin on The Definition and Effectiveness of Prayer
Dr. Joel R. Beeke
Calvin assures his readers that these standards are not his but God’s, as taught in His Word. As such, these standards are not attainable by our sinful human natures, but God is pleased to help His children pray (Rom. 8:26).
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
The Definition and Effectiveness of Prayer
Calvin defines prayer as “the communion of men with God by which, having entered the heavenly sanctuary, they appeal to him in person concerning his promises in order to experience…that what they believed was not in vain.”
Prayer is holy and familiar conversation with God, our heavenly Father; reverently speaking, it is family conversation, or even intimate covenantal conversation in which the believer confides in God as a child confides in his father. Prayer is “an emotion of the heart within, which is poured out and laid open before God.”
In prayer we both communicate and commune with our Father in heaven, feeling our transparency in His presence. Like Christ in Gethsemane, we cast our “desires, sighs, anxieties, fears, hopes, and joys into the lap of God.”
Through prayer a Christian puts his “worries bit by bit on God.” We are “permitted to pour into God’s bosom the difficulties which torment us, in order that he may loosen the knots which we cannot untie.” Prayer is the outpouring of the soul, the deepest root of piety, the bedrock of assurance.
The childlike outpouring of the soul before its heavenly Father involves entreaties and thanksgiving. Proper requests include “those things which make for the extension of his [God’s] glory and the setting forth of his name, and those benefits which conduce [serve] to our own advantage.” Proper thanksgivings “celebrate with due praise his [God’s] benefits toward us, and credit to his generosity every good that comes to us.”
To the objection that prayer seems superfluous in light of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, Calvin responds that God ordained prayer more for man as an exercise of piety than for Himself. Our prayers do not get in the way of providence because God, in His providence, ordains the means along with the end.
Prayer is thus a means ordained to receive what God has planned to bestow. What God “has determined to give of His own free will, even before He is asked, He promises to give all the same in response to our prayers.” Prayer is a way in which believers seek and receive what God has determined to do for them from eternity.
Nevertheless, prayer is still effective, for these two truths must never be forgotten: “first, that in His divine wisdom God anticipates our prayers; and second, that in His divine love God responds to them.” It is against God’s nature not to hear and answer the prayers of His people. God feels drawn to help us and not to disappoint us in His grace.
From Familiar Conversation with God – Calvin on Prayer
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