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Posts Tagged ‘Prayer’

Following up on my previous post on Calvin and ‘prayer of gratitude‘ in J. Todd Billings book, Calvin, Participation, and the Gift, I found this set of quotations outstanding in their pastoral insight and theological depth at reading John Calvin. Speaking of the necessity of gratitude in prayer, Billings writes:

Yet there is a ‘negative’ side to this same theme. Two of the central ‘sins’ that one can commit in a wrong approach to prayer involve the violation of Calvin’s Trinitarian portrait of adoption: first, since one is under obligation to always give thanks to God, the sin of ‘ingratitude’ in prayer is a strong concern for Calvin.

The second frequent ‘sin’ of prayer is similar to the first, but it makes the structure of the dublex gratia all the more apparent: an uneasy conscience. The experience of prayer entails ‘extraordinary peace and repose’ for the conscience precisely because of the first grace: the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon believers, assuring them of their salvation. In contrast, others relay upon the prayers of the saints because their consciences have not experienced this first grace. After asking why persons rely upon the intercession of the saints, Calvin writes: ‘If we appeal to the consciences of all those who delight in the intercession of the saints, we shall find that this [practice] arises solely from the fact that they are burdened by anxiety, just as if Christ were insufficient or too sever’. This not only brings dishonour to Christ, but ‘at the same time they cast out the kindness of God, who manifests himself to them as the Father. For he is not Father to them unless they recognize Christ to be their brother.’

One doesn’t have to be Roman Catholic or to have prayed to the saints to appreciate the reality of this uneasy conscience inhibiting one from coming to the Father with full assurance and confidence. It happens to evangelicals too. And yet this is correlated to the abject need for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Billings continues:

If the imputation received from one’s union with Christ is not recognized, the Spirit of adoption does not manifest the kindness of the Father. The conscience can be calmed in only one way: by recognizing the kindness of the Father in freely pardoning the sinner, through the imputation of Christ’s fully sufficient righteousness. In Calvin’s account, those who rely upon the prayers of the saints do not explicitly seek to dishonour Christ. Yet, because they have not accepted the first grace of imputation, they necessarily dishonour Christ by implying that Christ’s righteousness is insufficient…. Calvin’s repeated concern in the prayer chapter is that believers express gratitude to God with a conscience at rest, not trusting in their own righteousness, but in the assurance, that comes through the Spirit that the Father has freely pardoned believers because of their participation in and oneness with Christ. Believers are freed from terror before God, because ‘our prayers depend upon no merit of ours, but their whole worth and hope of fulfillment are grounded in God’s promises, and depend upon them’. Accepting that one has no worthiness ‘in oneself’ before God is part of the dynamic of entering into the wondrous exchange–experiencing the reception of Christ’s righteousness through a restored relationship with the Father through the Spirit.
— 111-2

What a lovely summation and correlation of Calvin’s theology of prayer with his doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the assurance of the believer. For they are all interconnected with each other.

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So I’ve been reading a lot of Calvin (and about Calvin) lately. And that’s for two reasons: 1) I really like reading Calvin. And 2) I get to write a paper on Calvin for my Medieval Reformation class.

And I recently got my hands on J. Todd Billings’ book Calvin, Participation, and the Gift. He seems to deal with all sorts of issues in this book. However, I found his comments on Calvin’s view of prayer particularly insightful and pastoral. The following are a few excerpts:

Prayer is the place where people ‘learn it by heart’, namely, the dynamic reality that they must look outside of themselves for happiness, wealth, and communion. This takes place ‘in Christ’, revealing the Father.

[Calvin quotation] “After we have been instructed by faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father willed all the fullness of his bounty to abide so that we may all draw from it as from an overflowing spring, it remains for us to seek in him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him.”  Inst. 3.20.1

In explaining how we draw upon this ‘overflowing spring’, Calvin speaks of the Spirit and the adoption enabled through the Spirit. ‘The Spirit of adoption who seals the witness of the gospel in our hearts, raises up our spirit to dare show forth to God their desires, to stir up unspeakable groaning, and confidently cry, “Abba! Father!”‘

Through calling upon the Father by the Spirit, believers receive ‘an extraordinary peace and repose to our conscience’. When one experiences God as father, one recognizes that God deals with us with generosity and kindness, ‘gently summoning us to unburden our cares into his bosom’. In experiences this adoption through the Spirit by praying in Christ, one needs to have ‘true gratitude of heart and thanksgiving’, for all good gifts come from the Father. Indeed, one of the purposes of prayer is that ‘we embrace with greater delight those things which we acknowledge to have been obtained by prayers’.
— 110-1

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That’s not a bad question. And yet I wonder how often it is that we may continue in our particular pattern of prayer without really having a strong understanding of this essential Christian practice. Why do we pray? What’s the purpose? What’s going on? What should we pray? How should we pray? Certainly there are many opinions and books on the topic.

However, I’ve been continuing my reading through the Heidleberg Catechism and have come to the section on prayer which I think is particularly enlightening and helpful.

When we find ourselves not sure what to pray (or even how), it’s comforting to be reminded that Christ, our Great High Priest, has already been asked this question while he was on earth, and has himself provided us with an explicit example. This is how far our Savior has condescended to anticipate our weakness and meet us in our very real need.

The Lord’s Prayer

Lord’s Day 45
116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us,1 and because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who earnestly and without ceasing ask them of Him, and render thanks unto Him for them.2

1 Ps 50:14-15, 116:12-19; 1 Thes 5:16-18; 2 Mt 7:7-8, 13:12; Lk 11:9-13; Eph 6:18

117. What belongs to such prayer which is acceptable to God and which He will hear?
First, that with our whole heart1 we call only upon the one true God, who has revealed Himself to us in His Word,2 for all that He has commanded us to ask of Him;3 second, that we thoroughly know our need and misery,4 so as to humble ourselves in the presence of His divine majesty;5 third, that we be firmly assured6that notwithstanding our unworthiness He will, for the sake of Christ our Lord, certainly hear our prayer,7 as He has promised us in His Word.8

1 Jn 4:22-24; 2 Rom 8:26; 1 Jn 5:14; 3 Ps 27:8; 4 2 Chron 20:12; 5 Ps 2:10, 34:18; Isa 66:2; 6 Rom 10:14; Jas 1:6; 7 Dan 9:17-18; Jn 14:13-16; 8 Ps 143:1; Mt 7:8; Lk 18:13

118. What has God commanded us to ask of Him?
All things necessary for soul and body,1 which Christ our Lord comprised in the prayer which He Himself taught us.

1 Mt 6:33; Php 4:6; Jas 1:17; 1 Pt 5:7

119. What is the Lord’s Prayer?
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.1

1 Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4

Lord’s Day 46
120. Why did Christ command us to address God thus: “Our Father?”
To awaken in us at the very beginning of our prayer that childlike reverence for and trust in God, which are to be the ground of our prayer, namely, that God has become our Father through Christ, and will much less deny us what we ask of Him in faith than our parents refuse us earthly things.1

1 Isa 63:16; Mt 7:9-11; Lk 11:11-13; 1 Pt 1:17

121. Why is it added: “Who art in heaven?”
That we might have no earthly thought of the heavenly majesty of God,1 and from His almighty power expect all things necessary for body and soul.2

1 Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-27; 2 1 Kgs 8:28; Ps 115:3; Mt 6:25-34; Rom 8:10:12, 31-32

Lord’s Day 47
122. What is the first petition?
“Hallowed be Thy name;” that is, grant us, first, rightly to know You, 1 and to hallow, magnify, and praise You in all Your works, in which Your power, goodness, justice, mercy, and truth shine forth;2 and further, that we so order our whole life, our thoughts, words, and deeds, that Your name may not be blasphemed, but honored and praised on our account.3

1 Ps 119:105; Jer 9:23-24, 31:33-34; Mt 16:17; Jn 17:3; Jas 1:5; 2 Ex 34:5-8; Ps 119:137, Ps 145; Jer 32:16-20; Lk 1:46-55, 68-75; Rom 11:33-36; 3 Ps 71:8, 16, 92:1-2, 100:3-4, 115:1; Mt 5:16; Eph 1:16-17

Lord’s Day 48
123. What is the second petition?
“Thy kingdom come;” that is, so govern us by Your Word and Spirit, that we submit ourselves to You always more and more;1 preserve and increase Your Church;2destroy the works of the devil, every power that exalts itself against You, and all wicked devices formed against Your Holy Word,3 until the fullness of Your kingdom come,4 wherein You shall be all in all.5

1 Ps 119:5, 105, 143:10; Mt 6:33; 2 Ps 51:18, 122:6-7; Mt 16:18; Acts 2:42-47; 3 Rom 16:20; 1 Jn 3:8; 4 Rom 8:22-23; Rev 22:17, 20; 5 Ps 102:12-13; 1 Cor 15:24, 28; Heb 12:28; Rev 11:15

Lord’s Day 49
124. What is the third petition?
“Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven;” that is, grant that we and all men renounce our own will,1 and without gainsaying obey Your will, which alone is good;2so that every one may fulfill his office and calling as willingly and faithfully 3 as the angels do in heaven.4

1 Mt 16:24; 2 Mt 7:21, 16:24-26; Lk 22:42; Rom 12:1-2; Tit 2:11-12; 3 1 Cor 7:17-24; Eph 6:5-9; 4 Ps 103:20-21; Rom 12:2; Heb 13:21

Lord’s Day 50
125. What is the fourth petition?
“Give us this day our daily bread;” that is, be pleased to provide for all our bodily need,1 so that we may thereby acknowledge that You are the only fountain of all good,2 and that without Your blessing neither our care and labor, nor You gifts, can profit us;3 that we may therefore withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone in You.4

1 Ps 104:27-30, 145:15-16; Mt 6:25-34; 2 Acts 14:17, 17:25-28; Jas 1:17; 3 Deut 8:3; Ps 37:3-7, 16-17, 127:1-2; 1 Cor 15:58; 4 Ps 55:22, Ps 62, Ps 146; Jer 17:1-8; Heb 13:5-6

Lord’s Day 51
126. What is the fifth petition?
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;” that is, be pleased, for the sake of Christ’s blood, not to impute to us miserable sinners our manifold transgressions, nor the evil which always cleaves to us;1 as we also find this witness of Your grace in us, that it is our full purpose heartily to forgive our neighbor.2

1 Ps 51:1-7, 143:2; Rom 8:1; 1 Jn 2:1-2; 2 Ps 51:5-7; Mt 6:14-15, 18:21-35; Eph 1:7

Lord’s Day 52
127. What is the sixth petition?
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;” that is, since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment,1 and besides, our deadly enemies, the devil,2 the world,3 and our own flesh,4 assail us without ceasing, be pleased to preserve and strengthen us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we may make firm stand against them and not be overcome in this spiritual warfare,5 until finally complete victory is ours.6

1 Ps 103:14-16; Jn 15:1-5; 2 2 Cor 11:14; Eph 6:10-13; 1 Pt 5:8-9; 3 Jn 15:18-21; 4Rom 7:23; Gal 5:17; 5 Mt 10:19-20, 26:41; Mk 13:33; Rom 5:3-5; 6 1 Cor 10:13; 2 Cor 12:7; 1 Thes 3:13, 5:23-24

128. How do you close this prayer?
“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever;” that is, all this we ask of You, because as our King, having power over all things, You are willing and able to give us all good;1 and that thereby not we, but Your holy name may be glorified for ever.2

1 Rom 10:11-13; 2 Pt 2:9; 2 Ps 115:1; Jer 33:8-9; Jn 14:13

129. What is the meaning of the word “Amen?”
“Amen” means: so shall it truly and surely be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard of God than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of Him.1

1 Ps 145:18-19; Isa 65:24; 2 Cor 1:20; 2 Tim 2:13

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I’ve been reading through some more Calvin.  Needless to say, it’s pretty good.
On The necessity of prayer:

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. So true is it that we dig up by prayer the treasures that were pointed out by the Lord’s gospel, and which our faith has gazed upon.

Words fail to explain how necessary prayer is, and in how many ways the exercise of prayer is profitable. Surely, with good reason the Heavenly Father affirms that the only stronghold of safety is in calling upon his name. By so doing we invoke the presence both of his providence, through which he watches over and guards our affairs, and of his power, through which he sustains us, weak as we are and well-nigh overcome, and of his goodness, through which he receives us, miserably burdened with sins, unto grace; and, in short, it is by prayer that we call him to reveal himself as wholly present to us. Hence comes an extraordinary peace and repose to our consciences. For having disclosed to the Lord the necessity that was pressing upon us, we even rest fully in the thought that none of our ills is hid from him who, we are convinced, has both the will and the power to take the best care of us.

– Taken from the Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 3. CH 20, p 851.

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