Real Calvinists Pray
“If God is totally sovereign, then why should I pray?”
Maybe you’ve seen that grenade tossed your way while talking about the doctrines of grace. How do you respond? Hurl it back with something like, “We pray because God is sovereign.” Theologically, that’s right—but do you live it out? Would your prayers be as strong an argument for God’s sovereignty as your arguments?
When we understand Calvinism in our hearts, and not just our minds, we’ll find ourselves humbly drawing near the throne of grace in our times of need.
In John Calvin’s famous Institutes, he wrote more on prayer than he did on the extent of the atonement. Why? Because, as Kevin Vanhoozer said, “Unless we are praying to God, we are talking, as it were, behind his back.” Real Calvinists talk, if you will, to God’s face, praising him, thanking him, and making requests—just like Jesus taught us.
Real Calvinists Remember Whose Disciple They Are
Above any theological system, label, or tribe, we must be Christians first. Our allegiance and faith are squarely on the shoulders of the one who spread his shoulders on a splintery cross; the one who was wrapped in burial linens; the one who died, his shoulders on a stone slab, until he sat back up again, alive. The risen Lord of all tells us to pray, he taught us how to pray, and so we pray (Matthew 6:5–11).
Real Calvinists don’t fall into the trap of faithless fatalism; “Everything is determined, so it doesn’t matter if we pray.” We act out our faith in the sovereign Lord who ordains the ends, the means, and the methods. Our obedience in prayer—our requests and petitions—are all a part of his plan. I know we know this, but do we live accordingly?
Compare the attendance of your church’s latest prayer meeting to the last men’s and women’s Bible study. Does your church even have a regular prayer meeting? Do you go? What’s your Calvinism doing to you and your prayers?
Prayerless Calvinists are functional hyper-Calvinists. We may theologically deny the doctrines of hyper-Calvinism—that evangelism, missions, and prayer don’t matter because God is sovereign—but if we’re not praying, then our lives argue for it. Real Calvinists follow Jesus’s commands. They pray confidently, frequently, and spur-of-the-moment-ly because God is in control and he loves to hear from his children while he sits on his throne. Or, in other words, they “pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, CSB).
Real Calvinists Pray for God to Save Sinners
Real Calvinists pray for the work of the gospel in their city, their family, their office, their church plants, and among unreached people groups. Irresistible grace—that is, God drawing sinners to himself by his unrivaled gravitational glory in the gospel—doesn’t stifle prayers for God to save others. It should ignite us and accelerate our excitement.
The triune God is the only one who grants faith and repentance. So we plead with God to remove the veil (2 Corinthians 3:18), to remove the scales (Acts 9:18), and to draw sinners to himself (John 6:44). Irresistible grace is more than a talking point against pragmatic, seeker-driven Churchianity. We ought to connect it to our prayers to see sinners made new by a sovereign God.
Calvinists should be revival-ready people. We should plead with God to save; we should knock until he answers.
Real Calvinists Pray for the Local and Global Church
At the cross, as Jesus’ blood poured out and mixed with Golgotha’s soil, Jesus purchased a particular people for himself. This people, the church, is from all around the world (Acts 20:28). And Jesus wants it to flourish (Revelation 2–3).
The members of your church, the ones with whom you chit-chat and eat the Lord’s Supper, are precious to Jesus. He calls us to love one another like he loved us (John 13:34). The church, no matter how dysfunctional she can be, is precious to Jesus and should be to us as well. In John 17, Jesus prays for the unity, flourishing, and mission of the church. If you believe in particular redemption, then you must have a particular affection for your church. So pray for her elders, deacons, and leaders. Pray for her health and continued faithfulness.
And let’s not forget: the persecuted church is your church, too. The brothers and sisters of Christ in China, whose government is trying to run them out, are fellow members of the body of Christ. The definite atonement of Christ brings us together. So we should pray not only for the church we see on Sundays but for those we can’t see—persecuted believers around the world. We pray for all churches, even those who don’t enjoy tulips, because Christ, not Calvinism, is what makes us the church.
Real Calvinists Pray for Help in the Pursuit of Holiness
Total depravity reminds us we are totally dependent on Christ. “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me” (John 15:5, CSB). We can’t do anything without Jesus. Any fruit from our lives grows via our union with him. Our growth in Christ comes from Christ. But far too often, we forget this.
Real Calvinists realize we must depend on the one who refused to stay dead. Every day, we depend on the righteousness of the righteous one. Jesus is the only one who wasn’t born depraved—and he is the one who took our depravity at the cross so we could become holy as he is holy, so we could bear fruit with him as we’re transformed into his image.
If you’re battling a specific sin, ask Jesus for help. Do you want to kill that flit of anger you get toward you-know-who? Then look to Jesus. Don’t simply remind yourself of the truth (“I know Jesus can help me”), act on it. Kneel by your bed, get prostrate on the floor, or scribble in your notebook: “Jesus, I need your help. I can’t grow in holiness without you. Help me work out my salvation because I know you are at work in me.” Christlikeness only comes from Christ.
Calvinism doesn’t render our prayers meaningless. On the contrary, it ought to revive and even sustain our prayer life. As Calvin said, “To taste of God’s mercy opens to us the door of prayer.” Real Calvinism reminds us that while we are sinners, we are saints, and we can—we must!—cry out, “Abba! Father!” Because he is sovereign after all.