In today’s passage, Paul calls us to be constant in prayer. Whenever I read those words from Paul, these words from J.C. Ryle come to mind, “When Paul says, ‘Continue in prayer’ and ‘Pray without ceasing,’ he did not mean that people should be always on their knees, but he did mean that our prayers should be like the continual burned-offering steadily preserved in every day; that it should be like seed-time and harvest, and summer and winter, unceasingly coming round at regular seasons; that it should be like the fire on the altar, not always consuming sacrifices, but never completely going out.”
Ryle is right, of course. But how do we pray in this way?
I’ve always found it interesting how little time John Calvin spends theologizing on the doctrine of prayer in The Institutes of Christian Religion, but how much time he spends on the practice of praying. Calvin understood that prayer is communion with God—an intimate and ongoing conversation built on love. Like all forms of communication, there are certain guiding principles—you might call them rules—that one follows to facilitate and maintain close relationship.
Helpfully, Joel Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, explores Calvin’s writing on prayer in a work entitled, Taking Hold of God. Reflecting on Calvin, Beeke distills four basic rules for conversation with God.
1. Heartfelt Sense of Reverence – Our prayers should take into account who we are speaking with, namely, God. Being moved by His character and the fact He desires to speak with us; should create within us a sense of awe, a holy reverence. Why? Because the God of the universe is mindful of us, desiring to hear from us.
2. Heartfelt Sense of Need & Repentance – As soon as we come in contact with the nature of God, we see our want. Calvin says we should have the “disposition of a beggar.” We see His glory, and with yearning that His will is to be done, we pray with the sense that our very life depends on it.
3. Heartfelt Sense of Humility and Trust in God – Naturally flowing from the two previous points is the realization that we despair of our position and ability and yield ourselves entirely to God. Confidence in self is drained, and transferred wholly to God, knowing that the heavenly Father will give to us all we need (Luke 11:13).
4. Heartfelt Sense of Confident Hope – Because the Scripture assures us of the Father’s great and unchangeable love for His children, we can pray expectantly. If we are in Christ, we have no reason to fear and every reason to hope. Our inheritance is absolutely sure (I Peter 1:3-4). Our prayers must reflect this surety, issuing forth with an unshakable confidence and joy.
If these four rules were to become the heart habit of your prayer life, what a difference it would make in your relationship with the Lord! Be forewarned though: these rules must not become rote. The key word in every point is “heartfelt.” So, let love for God stir your heart, filling your every prayer with enjoyment of heartfelt communion with the living God.