I’ve always found it interesting how little time John Calvin spends expounding on the doctrine of prayer in The Institutes, and how much time he spends on the practice of prayer. Though full of doctrine and undergirded by doctrine, prayer for Calvin was primarily a means for communion with God. In concert with many writers on prayer throughout history, Calvin sees prayer as a means of relationship, the kind of sharing that goes on between two beings in intimate fellowship. Like all forms of communication, there are certain principles—you might call them rules—that one follows to facilitate and maintain close relationship.
Joel Beeke forays into Calvin’s writing on prayer in a new work entitled, Taking Hold of God. In that work, he distills four basic rules for conversation with God.
- Heartfelt Sense of Reverence – Our prayers should take into account who we are speaking with, namely, God. Being moved by His character and the fact He desires to speak with us; should create within us a sense of awe, a holy reverence. Why? Because the God of the universe is mindful of us, desiring to hear from us.
- Heartfelt Sense of Need & Repentance – As soon as we come in contact with the nature of God, we see our want. Calvin says we should have the “disposition of a beggar.” We see His glory, and with yearning that His will is to be done, we pray with the sense that our very life depends on it.
- Heartfelt Sense of Humility and Trust in God – Naturally flowing from the two previous points is the realization that we despair of our position and ability and yield ourselves entirely to God. Confidence is self is drained, and transferred wholly to God, knowing that the heavenly Father will give to us all we need (Luke 11:13).
- Heartfelt Sense of Confident Hope – Because the Scripture assures us of the Father’s great and unchangeable love for His children, we can pray expectantly. If we are in Christ, we have no reason to fear and every reason to hope. Our inheritance is absolutely sure (I Peter 1:3-4). Our prayers must reflect this surety, issuing forth with an unshakable confidence with joy.
If these four rules were to become the heart habit of your prayer life, what a difference it would make in your relationship with the Lord. Be forewarned though: these rules must not become rote. The key word is “heartfelt.” Like any rules, if these instructions in prayer are abstracted and practiced without a heart aflame with Christ, filled with faith, love, and devotion; then you will not experience the sweetness of fellowship you desire. Remember, prayer is a relationship, an intimate form of communication. The Spirit of God must carry you along to enjoy communion with God in prayer. There is no substitute.