It so happens that this time of year is especially stressful for me. Being in politics comes with its benefits and opportunities to serve the Lord and one’s country, but it also entails a great deal of stress, which can lead to anxiety. I make a distinction between the two terms because I feel that stress is best defined as the result of outside agencies pressing down upon a person’s life – these can’t always be avoided. Whereas anxiety is probably best defined as the nervous feeling we have inside as a result of the stress – and ultimately because we are weak and sinful creatures who battle “unbelief.”
I am not unique in feeling “anxious.” The topic is so intrinsic to our fallen humanity that Christ spent a lot of time addressing it during His Sermon on the Mount. But because it is a battle I have fought often, I am familiar with the weaponry one needs to successfully wage war against anxiety. One of the major weapons is prayer – not simply small little prayers you send up during the day, but long, deep, gut-wrenching prayers that bring you to your knees. As it happens, I’ve been reading a lot about prayer, and wanted to post some of the quotes and tips that I’ve come across in the past few days. This is a combination of two sources, 1. Jerry Bridges’ chapter on Prayer in ‘The Transforming Power of the Gospel‘, and 2. John Calvin’s 4 rules of prayer that was posted on Ligonier’s blog earlier last week. I hope you find these excerpts helpful and encouraging!
For John Calvin, prayer cannot be accomplished without discipline. He writes, “Unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory.” He goes on to prescribe several rules to guide believers in offering effectual, fervent prayer.
1. The first rule is a heartfelt sense of reverence.
In prayer, we must be “disposed in mind and heart as befits those who enter conversation with God.” Our prayers should arise from “the bottom of our heart.” Calvin calls for a disciplined mind and heart, asserting that “the only persons who duly and properly gird themselves to pray are those who are so moved by God’s majesty that, freed from earthly cares and affections, they come to it.”
2. The second rule is a heartfelt sense of need and repentance.
We must “pray from a sincere sense of want and with penitence,” maintaining “the disposition of a beggar.” Calvin does not mean that believers should pray for every whim that arises in their hearts, but that they must pray penitently in accord with God’s will, keeping His glory in focus, yearning for every request “with sincere affection of heart, and at the same time desiring to obtain it from him.”
3. The third rule is a heartfelt sense of humility and trust in God.
True prayer requires that “we yield all confidence in ourselves and humbly plead for pardon,” trusting in God’s mercy alone for blessings both spiritual and temporal, always remembering that the smallest drop of faith is more powerful than unbelief. Any other approach to God will only promote pride, which will be lethal: “If we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit,” we will be in grave danger of destroying ourselves in God’s presence.
4. The final rule is to have a heartfelt sense of confident hope.
The confidence that our prayers will be answered does not arise from ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit working in us. In believers’ lives, faith and hope conquer fear so that we are able to “ask in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6,KJV). This means that true prayer is confident of success, owing to Christ and the covenant, “for the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ seals the pact which God has concluded with us.” Believers thus approach God boldly and cheerfully because such “confidence is necessary in true invocation… which becomes the key that opens to us the gate of the kingdom of heaven.”
These rules may seem overwhelming—even unattainable—in the face of a holy, omniscient God. Calvin acknowledges that our prayers are fraught with weakness and failure. “No one has ever carried this out with the uprightness that was due,” he writes. But God tolerates “even our stammering and pardons our ignorance,” allowing us to gain familiarity with Him in prayer, though it be in “a babbling manner.” In short, we will never feel like worthy petitioners. Our checkered prayer life is often attacked by doubts, but such struggles show us our ongoing need for prayer itself as a “lifting up of the spirit” and continually drive us to Jesus Christ, who alone will “change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.” Calvin concludes that “Christ is the only way, and the one access, by which it is granted us to come to God.”
Jerry Bridges on Individual Prayer
“Biblical meditation simply means to prayerfully and carefully reflect on Scripture in order to determine what God is saying and the possible application of that Scripture to you.”
“…though we cannot transform ourselves, we can and must bring our minds under the continual influence of the Word of God. And as we do that, the Holy Spirit will use His Word to do His transforming work in us.”
“As we open our Bibles to read, we should do so with a prayer that God, through His Spirit, will meet with us in His Word.”
“We pray more about our needs, both temporal and spiritual (but probably more in the temporal area), than we do about God’s glory and will. Therefore, in our time with God, it is good to expand our horizons beyond ourselves and our families and consider the work of God worldwide.”
“Does your prayer during your time with God reflect this interest in His glory and will?”
“We know that we are both responsible and dependent, and prayer is, among other things, an expression of that dependence. It is an acknowledgement that we are helpless sin ourselves – that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to both do His own work and enable us to do the work we must do.”
“I also pray that I will be motivated to obey and serve Christ out of love and gratitude, not out of a sense of duty.”
“He will give us the desire and motivation to pray if we ask Him.”