John Calvin’s Pastoral Words About Prayer

13712688913_80b64ee497_mJohn Calvin, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, offers some strong pastoral counsel to keep our prayers from becoming flat and tedious. He makes six points.

Calvin’s sentences, reflecting the writing style of his time, are complex. I take the liberty of presenting his ideas about revitalizing prayer both in summary and in simpler English.

He introduces the subject with the assurance that God watches over us even when our awareness of Him is dim.

After this, he makes his first point: that even though we have not yet learned as a matter of habit to come to Him with every need, we should as a conscious decision pray with a burning desire to seek, love, and serve Him until that custom of reflexively coming to Him in every circumstance has formed.

Second, we should pray that nothing we would be ashamed of, if seen by Him, should enter our minds or hearts. This calls for dependence on the Holy Spirit and his aid in our discipline.

Third, our prayers will include a review of the benefits that come from his hand and we should receive them with deep gratitude. Gratitude is a practiced element in prayer, easier for some than others.

Fourth, when we perceive that God has answered a prayer, we should consciously meditate on his kindness. We can do this not only in the prayer chamber but on our way to work.

Fifth, at the same time, we should embrace with greater delight those things we acknowledge we have obtained by prayer.

Last, may we settle in our minds that God promises never to fail us, that he invites us to call upon him, and that he is actively extending his help to us right now.

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Photo credit: Thanh Hùng Nguyễn (via


5 thoughts on “John Calvin’s Pastoral Words About Prayer

  1. Yes, and again I say yes. After several days of coming to the end of my human resources, I asked for help. I called my one daughter and asked for a meal. My other daughter and husband came without knowing what the need was. Just came to visit. My daughter stepped into my kitchen to tidy things up. Her husband pulled a foot stool up to be near to my husband to visited and listened. My husband has declined over . the last 6 years with Alzheimer. He hadn’t slept and continued to be overly restless during these last day. I was exhausted from lack of sleep. His symptoms could have indicated the need for more water. That is what I was impressed to offer. When we say help, the Lord takes care of more than we ask. We were both able to sleep soundly through the night. i wrote the answers to prayer in my journal this morning with praise and thanksgiving. I humbled myself to ask for help, “A meal to give physical strength,” A son in law who listened to the confused words of a dear soul. The Living Water and the water that sustains the physical life was there all the time. This sounds simplistic but the Lord’s way follows a pattern. Help was the first step. .Thanks for you words today. Mary Fullmer

  2. As a life-long student of Wesley I too have discovered riches in Calvin’s writings. And I can relate to Mary Fullmer’s words. I cared for my wife Rose, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, until it was necessary to place her into full time care where she is now in the advanced stages of the dread disease. As the challenges have increased so has my dependence on God’s grace. Prayer has taken on new meaning, and I resonate with ”Calvin’s pastoral words” on the subject. Thank you.

  3. Alan, it’s great to hear from you but I’m sorry to hear about Rose and what this means to both her and you. I have good memories of your days with us here. Now if I can make this thing work Ill fire it off to you. Don

  4. The seminal book ‘ Institutio Christianae Religionis’ , published in 1536 when Latin was still the main ecclesiastical language, was written by French Hugenout theologian John Calvin. Very soon published in French,then English it was a landmark handbook on the theology and doctrines of the new Protestant faith ,the faith of most Christian churches in the world today , whether Lutheran,Anglican,Methodist , Baptist ,Presbyterian or Episcopalian.

    Round about the time of the publication of what we now know as a key Reformation document, ‘ The Institutes of the Christian Religion ‘, my home city’s first cathedral , St Mary’s was being dissolved .In 1016 King Canute and his Viking army had raided Coventry and destroyed our Saxon nunnery.This is the first recorded event in our city’s history.In 1043 Lady Godova and her husband Lord Leofric founded a Benedictine Priory on the site of the sacked nunnery ,dedicating it to St Mary,mother of Christ. This was consecrated Coventry’s first cathedral,St Mary’s ,in 1095.

    St Mary’s became the only English cathedral destroyed during Henry V111’s dissolution.Later ,Coventry’s second cathedral,St Michael’s, on roughly the same site, was to be the only English cathedral destroyed during World War 11.It was destroyed ,along with much of Coventry city,during an 11 our bombing raid by the Luftwaffe, one cold November night in 1940.

    Our third cathedral,also named for St Michael, is adjoined to the ruins of the second,making a symbolic transition from death to resurrection, which especially poignant each Easter.

    Consecrated in 1962,UKs newest cathedral church, this is my church where I worship every weekend.I was pleased when you told me you had visited St Michael’s,Pastor Don.

    As well as sending our citizens clothes parcels after they were bombed out of their homes,the people of Canada gave generous financial help toward rebuilding our cathedral. In fact, the people of Canada gifted us our magnificent and huge new organ,one of the finest in EuropeThis instrument accompanies our hymns of praise to God every Sunday and holy day.A bronze maple leaf is engraved in the floor at the cathedral’s west end,in recognition of and gratitude for, Canada’s kind generosity to us.

    Back in the 1530s ,along with the unfortunate destruction of places of worship and the sad conflict of Christian disunity between Catholic and Protestant Christians, came a positive new freedom in worship and Christian life.Ordinary people had access to the bible for the first time , without fear of punishment by the state and in their own native language.There came a new Christian liberty ,reforms that gave ordinary people the freedom to study scripture and have a direct relationship with God.The first great Christian Revival was born.

    Calvin’s Institutes built upon the theology of Martin Luther and provided a guide to a new way of living the Christian life,closer in spirit to the Gospels of Christ,and based on the pure preaching of Christ’s Gospels message.Here was a fresh new voice,calling for a Christianity based on the authority of Scripture,God’s Word.

    200 years later , from the 1730s ,a second Great Christian Revival, was to begin , initiated by the Wesley brothers and their Oxford Holy Club.

    Back in the 1530s,Calvin’s Institutes made clear how we can only know the Father through the Son,precisely the very message of Christ in the Gospels.God can only be known through God.

    How exciting it must have been to read the Institutes in the 1530s and think about God by the light of biblical scripture.This way of thinking we often take for granted now,but how fresh it must have felt back in the 1530s.

    I value the summary,in simple modern words,of Calvin’s 6 ways to keep our prayers fresh and alive, in this Just Call Me Pastor blog.It reminds me God watches over us even when we’re barely aware of it .I shall make it my habit to follow these 6 principles.

    1. BRING EVERY WORRY TO GOD.Bring Him my every concern,seeking His love , as a natural daily habit.

    2.REMEMBER GOD SEES EVERYTHING I THINK AND FEEL Knowing God sees every thought and feeling, I’ll pray I never think or feel anything I’d be ashamed of God seeing ,trusting the indwelling Holy Spirit guide me..

    3. COUNT MY BLESSINGS. Daily ,recall and name all blessings received ,giving thanks with deepest gratitude.

    4. NOTICE GODS ANSWERS TO MY PRAYERS. See when God answers my prayers making a habit of thinking deeply on His kindness.

    5. DELIGHT IN THE GOOD PRAYER BRINGS.Acknowledge with joy God’s answers to my prayers .

    6. TRUST IN GOD NEVER TO FAIL ME.See clearly God’s perfect reliability. Trust He always invites me to call on His help

    Considering these 6 points makes me feel secure,comfortable and happy in my faith ,remembering God is right here, right now, offering help, a perfect loving ever present Father.

    This thought keeps my prayers to Him spontaneous , loving and personal. I know when I pray,that I’m talking intimately to the real living Person of God,just the security every child needs.

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