John Calvin believed that prayer is not an academic problem, but a precious gift and the essence of Christian life. Therefore his theology of prayer is very practical. In his Institutes, Calvin defined prayer: “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.” He also said that it is “a communication between God and us whereby we expound to him our desires, our joys, our sighs, in a word, all the thoughts of hearts.” Calvin saw prayer as given for man that he might lay hold of divine riches.
Prayer is part of the means that God has ordained to bring about His plan, so it is not useless in light of God’s sovereignty. It does not change God or His decrees because 1) God is immutable, 2) God’s pleasure governs all things 3) God controls everything, including prayer. However, God anticipates our prayers and responds to them. As someone suggested, prayer is a “divine response to a divine initiative in the elect.”
Calvin offered at least six purposes for prayer: 1) To go to God in every need and find them met in Him 2) to learn to desire what is right 3) to prepare to humbly receive God’s response 4) to meditate on God’s kindness 5) to delight in His response 6) to confirm God’s faithfulness as we see our prayers answered. Scripture shapes, controls, and restrains the content of our prayers as they spring from faith.
Beeke provided four rules of prayer from Calvin: Prayer must maintain a heartfelt sense of 1) reverence 2) need and repentance 3) humility and trust in God and 4) confident hope. “Prayer is given by the Father, is made possible through the Son, and is worked out in the soul by the Spirit, through whom it returns via Christ to the Father.” Our prayers our heard by the Father because of Christ as the Spirit teaches us how to pray.
Christian piety is necessarily dependent upon prayer as it is the channel between us and God. By it we submit all things to God and adore Him, both as individuals and corporately. “The prerequisite of effective corporate praying is effective private prayer.” Those who do not pray neglect a precious treasure and commit idolatry by defrauding God. Calvin saw lack of prayer as a denial that God is the author of all good things.
Beeke concluded, “Ultimately, for Calvin, prayer is a heavenly act, a holy and precious communing with the Triune God in His glorious throne room, grounded in an assured eschatological hope.”
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