As I work through John Calvin’s chapter on prayer in the Institutes, I have a new understanding of prayer. I have read and listened to many talk about prayer, but by God’s grace, God is opening my eyes to the need of prayer, the desire to pray, and the truly powerful thing about prayer. Perhaps I have in the past read all the same things, but truly scales are falling off my eyes as I see more and more clearly.
What I am about to write is a reflection on Calvin’s work on prayer in the institutes coupled with my thoughts on praying for others.
Paul says in Acts that Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In context, Paul is describing how he worked hard to obtain funds for himself by tent making. Even though he could have asked for lodging and food, he worked hard while doing ministry so as to give and not receive. Paul did this because 1) it is more blessed to give than to receive, 2) because he wanted to set an example.
When Jesus says it is more blessed to give than to receive, we must consider that this is saying something about the character of God. We too often take this and apply it to ourselves first without thinking how this flows from the character and nature of God. God gives more than he will ever receive. God is a giver. He blesses the good, the evil, the righteous, and the unrighteous alike. He cares for all and gives according to His wisdom to the needs of all. God is the giver of all givers. In fact, no one can give unless it first came from the hand of God.
I believe that one of the greatest things we can give to someone is our prayers unto God for them. Which means the lesser things we can also give to someone is towards any need they have.
Let me further explain. James said in James 2:16 that we cannot just say to someone to be filled and warm and to go in peace without also giving them towards their need. Your words must also be aligned with your actions. But the reverse is also true. Your actions ought to be aligned with your words as well. And perhaps not your words to the person, but your words for that person made in intercession to God.
It may be easy for some to give towards a persons needs without ever considering the other pressing needs. Food may be a necessary thing to give someone, as when Jesus fed the five thousand because he didn’t want them to faint going back home. But Jesus also turned away the five thousand by telling them that they need more than physical bread, they need his flesh and blood.
Which means, in our prayers, we can petition the giver of all to give to someone something far greater than bread. As when Peter gave to a man his legs back, even though he didn’t have any money. We must go before God on behalf of men, beseeching the Lord on their behalf, because God must do the work, or the work will be done in vain.
There is something that is obvious that is overlooked here. We are talking about praying to the king of the universe who owns all things and provides for all people. Some provision is miraculous and some provision is through mundane labor.
You can go before the ruler of all things and ask him for things. We have the ability, as beloved children of God, to bow before Him, and petition to him, both on our own behalves but also on the behalf of others. What do you think is greater, to give to someone bread, or to petition the king on their behalf for their good? Both are good, and both need to be done. But in certain ways, petitioning the King of their behalf for their good is far greater.
It is better to give than to receive. So give in every way possible. Give in the greatest way, prayers for those people. Give in the lesser way, their physical needs. Give liberally. Give without hesitation. Give as you feel constrained to give. For God loves a cheerful giver, and we ought to cheerfully give our time in the presence of the father seeking the good of those around us.
It is easy to care for someone physically. But are you petitioning the ruler of the universe on their behalf? We are given this joyful task. Why do we neglect it?