If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll probably know I enjoy Calvin’s writing on prayer from The Institutes of Christian Religion—that’s why I made it accessible in the stand-alone volume The Chief Exercise of Faith: John Calvin on Prayer.””
This post shares tips gleaned from Calvin. The tips are more scattered than systematic, and present a sample of the richness of his writing. For Calvin’s four rules for prayer or his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, you’ll have to read one of the aforementioned volumes for yourself.
May Calvin’s explanation of Scriptural principles lift your gaze toward your heavenly Father in joyful and reverent prayer!
1. Keep the gospel always before you.
“As faith springs from the Gospel, so by faith our hearts are framed to call upon the name of God, (Rom 10:14).” (3.20.1)
2. Consider prayer a spade for digging up God’s promises.
“We see that nothing is set before us as an object of expectation from the Lord which we are not enjoined to ask of Him in prayer, so true it is that prayer digs up those treasures which the Gospel of our Lord discovers to the eye of faith. The necessity and utility of this exercise of prayer no words can sufficiently express.” (3.20.2)
3. Cultivate a serious demeanor in prayer.
“Let the first rule of right prayer then be, to have our heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into converse with God.” (3.20.4)
“It is very much for our interest to be constantly supplicating him; though our most merciful Father never slumbers nor sleeps, he very often seems to do so, that thus he may exercise us, when we might otherwise be listless and slothful, in asking, entreating, and earnestly beseeching him to our great good.” (3.20.3)
4. Let God’s majesty prepare your heart for prayer.
“Let us know, then, that none duly prepare themselves for prayer but those who are so impressed with the majesty of God that they engage in it free from all earthly cares and affections.” (3.20.5)
“Under the name of Father is set before us that God, who hath appeared to us in his own image, that we may invoke him with sure faith; the familiar name of Father being given not only to inspire confidence, but also to curb our minds, and prevent them from going astray after doubtful or fictitious gods.” (3.20.40)
5. Pray from a repentant heart.
“God promises that he will be near to those who call upon him in truth, and declares that those who seek him with their whole heart will find him: those, therefore, who delight in their own pollution cannot surely aspire to him.” (3.20.7)
“One of the requisites of legitimate prayer is repentance.” (3.20.7)
“Supplication for pardon, with humble and ingenuous confession of guilt, forms both the preparation and commencement of right prayer.” (3.20.9)
“No heart will ever rise to genuine prayer that does not at the same time long for holiness.” (3.20.10)
“[T]he beginning, and even the preparation, of proper prayer is the plea for pardon with a humble and sincere confession of guilt…it is no wonder if believers open for themselves the door to prayer with this key.” (3.20.9)
6. Pray with confidence that God answers prayer.
“We should be animated to pray with the sure hope of succeeding.” (3.20.11)
“Believers ought to be specially on their guard never to appear in the presence of God with the intention of presenting a request unless they are under some serious impression, and are, at the same time, desirous to obtain it.” (3.20.6)
7. Pray with faith.
“The only prayer acceptable to God is that which springs (if I may so express it) from this presumption of faith, and is founded on the full assurance of hope.” (3.20.12)
“Prayers are vainly poured out into the air unless accompanied with faith, in which, as from a watchtower, we may quietly wait for God.” (3.20.12)
8. Keep the Scriptures always before you in prayer for inspiration and to purify your words.
“All the passages throughout Scripture in which we are commanded to pray, are set up before our eyes as so many banners, to inspire us with confidence.” (3.20.13)
“Since faith is founded on the word, and is the parent of right prayer, the moment we decline from the word, our prayers are impure.” (3.20.27)
9. Present your request in light of God’s glory and what would be advantageous for God’s people.
“By prayer and supplication we pour out our desires before God, asking as well those things which tend to promote his glory and display his name, as the benefits which contribute to our advantage.” (3.20.28)
10. Always praise God and give thanks in prayer.
“So great and widely diffused are the riches of his liberality towards us, so marvellous and wondrous the miracles which we behold on every side, that we never can want a subject and materials for praise and thanksgiving.” (3.20.28)
11. Remember the intercession of Christ.
“In regard to the office of intercession, we have also seen that it is peculiar to Christ, and that no prayer is agreeable to God which he as Mediator does not sanctify.” (3.20.27)
“Without the intervention of his priesthood our lips are not pure enough to celebrate the name of God.” (3.20.28)
12. If singing to the Lord prepares your heart for prayer, sing.
“If singing is tempered to a gravity befitting the presence of God and angels, it both gives dignity and grace to sacred actions, and has a very powerful tendency to stir up the mind to true zeal and ardor in prayer. We must, however, carefully beware, lest our ears be more intent on the music than our minds on the spiritual meaning of the words.” (3.20.31)
“Hence it is perfectly clear that neither words nor singing (if used in prayer) are of the least consequence, or avail one iota with God, unless they proceed from deep feeling in the heart.” (3.20.31)
13. Fight distraction in prayer.
“The principle we must always hold is, that in all prayer, public and private, the tongue without the mind must be displeasing to God. Moreover, the mind must be so incited, as in ardor of thought far to surpass what the tongue is able to express.” (3.20.33)
“It was not without cause that our Lord himself, when he would engage more earnestly in prayer, withdrew into a retired spot beyond the bustle of the world, thus reminding us by his example that we are not to neglect those helps which enable the mind, in itself too much disposed to wander, to become sincerely intent on prayer.” (3.20.29)
14. Pray for the community of believers.
“All our prayers ought to bear reference to that community which our Lord has established in his kingdom and family.” (3.20.37)
15. Turn to the Spirit for strength to pray.
“For if the Spirit of God is our strength in waging the contest with Satan, we cannot gain the victory unless we are filled with him, and thereby freed from all infirmity of the flesh. Therefore, when we pray to be delivered from sin and Satan, we at the same time desire to be enriched with new supplies of divine grace, until completely replenished with them, we triumph over every evil.” (3.20.46)
“Christ is not only the earnest and pledge of our adoption, but also gives us the Spirit as a witness of this adoption, that through him we may freely cry aloud, Abba, Father. Whenever, therefore, we are restrained by any feeling of hesitation, let us remember to ask of him that he may correct our timidity, and placing us under the magnanimous guidance of the Spirit, enable us to pray boldly.” (3.20.37)
16. Intentionally schedule time to pursue God in prayer.
“Ought always to raise our minds upwards towards God, and pray without ceasing, yet such is our weakness, which requires to be supported, such our torpor, which requires to be stimulated, that it is requisite for us to appoint special hours for this exercise, hours which are not to pass away without prayer, and during which the whole affections of our minds are to be completely occupied; namely, when we rise in the morning, before we commence our daily work, when we sit down to food, when by the blessing of God we have taken it, and when we retire to rest. This, however, must not be a superstitious observance of hours, by which, as it were, performing a task to God, we think we are discharged as to other hours; it should rather be considered as a discipline by which our weakness is exercised, and ever and anon stimulated. In particular, it must be our anxious care, whenever we are ourselves pressed, or see others pressed by any strait, instantly to have recourse to him not only with quickened pace, but with quickened minds; and again, we must not in any prosperity of ourselves or others omit to testify our recognition of his hand by praise and thanksgiving.” (3.20.50)