Tuesday 9 September 2014

Prayer is a means of grace

There is a wonderful balance to the teaching of the Westminster lArger and Shorter Catechisms. These documents bring out the doctrines of Scripture and are therefore international in their usefulness. There are three things which have been passed on by the church to succeeding generations of disciples. These are the teaching of the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer. Question 88 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks a vital question which is: "What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?". The answer is: "The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation".

In Acts 2:42 we recognise some of the fundamental activities and commitments of the infant church in Jerusalem. These were a steadfast devotion and commitment to:

I. The apostles' doctrine or teaching
II. Fellowship
III. The breaking of bread
IV. Prayer

While a commitment to the apostles' doctrine must have priority and this must be the basis for the other three, we must not neglect or downplay the importance of prayer as a means of grace. I have heard it taught that prayer is not a means of grace but that we simply pray in response to the word and sacraments but this is incomplete doctrinally.

The Larger Catechism makes it clear in its detailed questions on prayer, that we are to pray to God only (not to Mary, saints, angels of false gods). We are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ and it is by the Holy Spirit, the one who helps us (questions 181-182). Paul writes from a prison cell when he wrote to the Philippians and he instructs the church: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" 4:6-7). Clearly through the act of praying biblically and in presenting our requests to God, there is then a communication of God's grace to the church with the result of restored peace, instead of anxiety. The peace of God is communicated by Christ Jesus to the church through the means of prayer.

Here are two examples from the writings of John Calvin which explain his understanding that prayer is a means of grace.

"Prayer digs out those treasures, which the gospel of the Lord discovers to our faith" (Institutes III:xx2).

"We [are] permitted to pour into [God's] bosom the difficulties which torment us, in order that He may loosen the knots which we cannot untie" (Genesis I:489).

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