Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

4 May 2013

Four Guidelines for Prayer

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A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about six reasons for prayer drawn from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (3.20.3). In addition to these reasons for prayer, and in fact immediately following them, Calvin also put forward four rules or guidelines for prayer. Here are those guidelines:

Calvin suggested, first, that those who pray “be disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God” (3.20.4). In other words, believers should approach God reverently. Although God has invited us to call him our Father, he is not one of our peers, much less our “buddy.” God is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Our prayers to him should never be marked by irreverence or a casual attitude.

Second, Calvin said that when we pray we should “ever sense our own insufficiency, and earnestly pondering how we need all that we seek, join with this prayer an earnest—nay, burning—desire to attain it” (3.20.6). We should not pray out of mere habit or sense of duty. God is pleased when his children pray to him out of need. Our prayers should be marked by urgency and dependence. When we pray we are talking to the one who can do what no one else can do.

Third, Calvin suggested that in prayer we should put away all pride and self-assurance (3.20.8). God does not owe us anything. We should approach him as those asking for mercy, not our due.

And fourth, Calvin explained that having been “cast down and overcome by true humility, we should be nonetheless encouraged to pray by a sure hope that our prayer will be answered” (3.20.11). Although God does not owe us anything, he is a good Father who graciously gives good things to his children. We should approach God reverently, earnestly, and humbly. But we should also approach him confidently—not confident in ourselves, but fully confident in the fact that he is good, wise, and generous.

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt 7:11)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (Jas 1:17).