John 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.
Photo credit: Thanh Hùng Nguyễn (via flickr.com)