Thursday, May 7, 2009

5/7- National Day of Prayer- Prayer and Providence

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room close the door and pray to you Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask them. (Jesus- Mathew 6:5-8)

Calvin: But, someone will say, does God not know, even without being reminded, both in what respect we are troubled and what is expedient for us, so that it may seem in a sense superfluous that he should be stirred up by our prayers—as if he were drowsily blinking or even sleeping until he is aroused by our voice? But they who thus reason do not observe to what end the Lord instructed his people to pray, for he ordained it not so much
for his own sake as for ours…Therefore they act with excessive foolishness who, to call men’s minds away from prayer, babble that God’s providence, standing guard over all things, is vainly importuned with our entreaties, inasmuch as the Lord has not, on the contrary, vainly attested that “he is near... to all who call
upon his name in truth” [Psalm 145:18, cf. Comm. and Vg.]. Quite like this is what others prate: that it is superfluous for them to petition for things that the Lord is gladly ready to bestow, while those very things
which flow to us from his voluntary liberality he would have us recognize as granted to our prayers. That memorable saying of the psalm attests this, and to it many similar passages correspond: “For the eyes of the
Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears toward their prayers” Peter 3:12; Psalm 34:15; cf. 33:16, Vg.]. This sentence so commends the providence of God—intent of his own accord upon caring for the salvation of the godly—as yet not to omit the exercise of faith, by which men’s minds are cleansed of indolence. The eyes of God are therefore watchful to assist the blind in their necessity, but he is willing in turn to hear our groanings that he may the better prove his love toward us. (III.20.3)

Jesus said that God knows what you need before you ask him. Yet Jesus still says to pray. In fact, Jesus indicated that God longs for us to talk to him and ask of him- “seek and you will find, ask and it will be given to you, knock and the door will be opened to you. Jesus sees no conflict between God’s foreknowledge and our need to pray. He does see a conflict with God’s foreknowledge and repetitive babbling in prayer. He also sees a conflict between praying for show and God’s omniscience. God knows our hearts when we pray.
Similarly, people have always criticized Calvin’s emphasis on God’s foreknowledge or foreordination and doing anything- including prayer. The similar criticism is that if God has already planned it, then why do anything (including pray)? Typically, Calvin’s first line of defense is the scriptures themselves. Calvin didn’t just make up this stuff on his own. We pray because God has told us that it is important in scripture- no matter what we believe about predestination or foreordination or God’s omniscient foreknowledge. If it is no conflict to God, to Jesus, to the people of God, then it should be something we can live with as well. Second Calvin gives philosophical reasons. God includes our prayers in His plans and knowledge. God doesn’t know and plan despite us- but through us- and in a sense with us. He incorporates our prayers and the answer to our prayers into his design. Finally, there is the human element. For Calvin, prayer is more for us. It is for our benefit that we would learn to be grateful to God, to worship God, and to experience the reality of God in our lives.
Today is National Day of Prayer. It is a day to pray for our nation, and our nation desperately needs it. We have turned away and it appears we are still turning. Last week I read a survey that said that despite all the problems in our country- economic downturn, war, plague, church attendance has not increased. I believe this is the first time in the history of our country that when troubles come we do not come back to God in humility and worship. There are prayer meetings all over the country today, and it would be great to take part either by going or in prayer.

Prayer: Thank you God for the gift of prayer. Help us to use that gift today. Here our prayer for our country and for us. Amen.

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