Teach Us to Pray: Week 5
John Calvin: “Praying to a God Who Already Knows our Needs”
The necessity and utility of this exercise of prayer, no words can sufficiently express. Assuredly it is not without cause that 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, his power to sustain us when weak and almost fainting, 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 tranquility 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.
But someone will say, “Does he not know without a monitor both what our difficulties are, and what is meet for our interest? so that it seems in some measure superfluous to solicit him by our prayers, as if he were winking, or even sleeping, until aroused by the sound of our voice?”
Those who argue thus attend not to the end for which the Lord taught us to pray. It was not so much for his sake as for ours. He wills indeed, as is just, that due honour be paid him by acknowledging that all which men desire or feel to be useful, and pray to obtain, is derived from him. But even the benefit of the homage which we thus pay him rebounds to ourselves. Hence the holy patriarchs, the more confidently they proclaimed the mercies of God to themselves and others, felt the stronger incitement to prayer.
Wherefore, although it is true that while we are listless or insensible to our wretchedness, he wakes and watches for use and sometimes even assists us unasked, it is very much for our interest to be constantly supplicating him:
- first, that our heart may always be inflamed with a serious and ardent desire of seeking, loving and serving him, while we accustom ourselves to have recourse to him as a sacred anchor in every necessity;
- secondly, that no desires — no longing whatever! — of which we are ashamed to make him the witness may enter our minds, while we learn to place all our wishes in his sight, and thus pour out our heart before him;
- and lastly, that we may be prepared to receive all his benefits with true gratitude and thanksgiving, while our prayers remind us that they proceed from his hand.
Moreover, having obtained what we asked, being persuaded that he has answered our prayers, we are led to long more earnestly for his favour, and at the same time have greater pleasure in welcoming the blessings which we perceive to have been obtained by our prayers.
Lastly, use and experience confirm the thought of his providence in our minds in a manner adapted to our weakness, when we understand that he not only promises that he will never fail us, and spontaneously gives us access to approach him in every time of need, but has his hand always stretched out to assist his people, not amusing them with words, but proving himself to be a present aid.
~ From The Institutes of Christian Religion