Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Why Pray? part 2

Why Pray? part 2

Prayer is personal communication with God.  And we learn from God’s Word, that He desires our prayer.  But why?  Why does our infinite and all-knowing God want us to pray?

This is one of many good questions about prayer.  For awhile I’m going to interact with this and other questions through the lens of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  He, by no means, has the final word on prayer.  But I always appreciate Calvin’s ability to interpret the Bible and put it into an understandable theology, so he is a good place to begin.

Calvin’s introduction on prayer is so wonderful that I want to provide it in full in this post.  But let me explain a little of what Calvin is saying before you read his words.

First, Calvin’s Institutes are divided into four major books.  These include:

  • Book I: The Knowledge of God the Creator
  • Book II: The Knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ
  • Book III: The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ
  • Book IV: The External Means or Aids by Which God Invites Us into the Society of Christ

The location of Calvin’s discussion of prayer is important.  In Book II, Calvin shows that Christ has accomplished everything necessary for our salvation.  In Book III, Calvin discusses how we tap into (or, “individually appropriate”) what Christ has done.  In other words, Christ accomplishes salvation, but how does Christ’s work get applied to us?  The first and most important answer is faith.  However, prayer plays an important role:

“It is, therefore, by the benefit of prayer that we reach those riches which are laid up for us with the Heavenly Father…Therefore we see that to us nothing is promised to be expected from the Lord, which we are not also bidden to ask of him in prayers…Words fail to explain how necessary prayer is…” (III.xx.2)

I like the way Calvin scholar Anthony N. S. Lane says it, “All to which the gospel points us are treasures we must appropriate by prayer.”  In other words, God wants us to pray so that we can tap into the promises and power of God!

So why pray?  It is the means by which we connect to the promises of God.

Anyway, enough introduction, here are Calvin’s words, with some of my highlights:

1. FROM the previous part of the work we clearly see how completely destitute man is of all good, how devoid of every means of procuring his own salvation. Hence, if he would obtain succour in his necessity, he must go beyond himself, and procure it in some other quarter. It has farther been shown that the Lord kindly and spontaneously manifests himself in Christ, in whom he offers all happiness for our misery, all abundance for our want, opening up the treasures of heaven to us, so that we may turn with full faith to his beloved Son, depend upon him with full expectation, rest in him, and cleave to him with full hope. This, indeed, is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be learned by syllogisms: a philosophy thoroughly understood by those whose eyes God has so opened as to see light in his light (Ps. 36:9).

But after we have learned by faith to know that whatever is necessary for us or defective in us is supplied in God and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, that we may thence draw as from an inexhaustible fountain, it remains for us to seek and in prayer implore of him what we have learned to be in him. To know God as the sovereign disposer of all good, inviting us to present our requests, and yet not to approach or ask of him, were so far from availing us, that it were just as if one told of a treasure were to allow it to remain buried in the ground. Hence the Apostle, to show that a faith unaccompanied with prayer to God cannot be genuine, states this to be the order: As faith springs from the Gospel, so by faith our hearts are framed to call upon the name of God (Rom. 10:14). And this is the very thing which he had expressed some time before–viz. that the Spirit of adoption, which seals the testimony of the Gospel on our hearts, gives us courage to make our requests known unto God, calls forth groanings which cannot be uttered, and enables us to cry, Abba, Father (Rom. 8:26).

This last point, as we have hitherto only touched upon it slightly in passing, must now be treated more fully.

2. To prayer, then, are we indebted for penetrating to those riches which are treasured up for us with our heavenly Father. For there is a kind of intercourse between God and men, by which, having entered the upper sanctuary, they appear before Him and appeal to his promises, that when necessity requires they may learn by experiences that what they believed merely on the authority of his word was not in vain. Accordingly, 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. Assuredly it is not without cause our heavenly Father declares that our only safety is in calling upon his name, since by it we invoke the presence of his providence to watch over our interests, of his power to sustain us when weak and almost fainting, of his goodness to receive us into favour, though miserably loaded with sin; in fine, call upon him to manifest himself to us in all his perfections. Hence, admirable peace and tranquillity are given to our consciences; for the straits by which we were pressed being laid before the Lord, we rest fully satisfied with the assurance that none of our evils are unknown to him, and that he is both able and willing to make the best provision for us.

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