I've prayed prayers for persecuted saints, prayers of intercession, and prayers for wisdom and strength . . . so many prayers. But the prayer I sometimes don't pray is exactly the prayer I need to pray.
I need to pray prayers of helplessness.
I wonder how many of us as Christians are praying with that attitude. So often we prefer to suggest or even dictate to God what He should do. I presume to know what needs to be done . . . and when . . . and how. But come to Him in helplessness? I resort to everything but that.
The Prayer We Don't Pray
Some time ago, while reading the classic book Prayer by the Norwegian theologian O. Hallesby, I gained fresh understanding of what most of my prayers were lacking—the humility to see my utter helplessness. Prayer is not using God to my own ends nor attempting to make something happen. Prayer is just coming to God, admitting my helpless state, and acknowledging my deep, gut-level need.
"Prayer and helplessness are inseparable," Hallesby wrote. "Only those who are helpless can truly pray."
I began to understand. From the moment I acknowledge my helplessness, the Lord becomes actively engaged in hearing my cry. He stoops down to help me.
"Our helplessness is one continuous appeal to His father-heart," Hallesby says.
We may feel our helplessness is overwhelming, like a cyclone in the center of our lives. But in God's sight, our helplessness is both the foundation and the sustaining power of our prayer life.
In reality, we can do only one thing—permit the great, sovereign God to have mercy on us, to love us, and take care of us. Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). Why does it take so many of us a lifetime to learn this?
"Prayer, therefore, consists simply in telling God day by day in what ways we feel that we are helpless," Hallesby writes.
We tell God how powerless we are by nature to love others, to believe His promises, to hope, to serve, to practice the spiritual disciplines, to struggle against our fleshly desires, to suffer well. This acknowledging of helplessness puts us in a position to be helped.
"As long as we are conscious of our helplessness, we will not be overtaken by any difficulty, disturbed by any distress, or frightened by any hindrance," Hallesby says. "We will expect nothing of ourselves, and therefore, bring all our difficulties and hindrances to God in prayer."
We will simply open the door and let Jesus come in to our hopeless messes. And in our helplessness, we will see the power of God work in and through us.
Asking in Faith
And then, to our cry of helplessness, we add simple faith.
"Without faith," Hallesby writes, "our helplessness would be only a vain cry of distress in the night."
Prayers of faith are not about thinking we can help God fulfill our prayer, commanding God to do our bidding, or coming to Him in our own strength and wisdom. We can only pray by faith when we come in Jesus' name—the only name that gives us access to the Father. We must come in the humility of helplessness.
Helplessness and faith work together. With God-honoring faith we see our need, turn to Jesus, acknowledge helplessness even in matters of faith—"Lord, help my unbelief"—and get honest with God. We admit to Him how bad things really are. Then, again by faith, we leave everything with Him.
We can bring absolutely everything to Jesus, knowing He cares. And He is not helpless! He is strong to rescue and transform us.
So I'm learning to come to God in my sorry, helpless state. I ask Him to examine my heart and bring my sins and rebellion to light. I am thankful for mercy. I then pray for a wayward relative, asking the Lord to work in His own time and way. I intercede for my persecuted brothers and sisters around the world who are dying in a kind of helplessness few know in the Western world.
And I pray for a nation that desperately needs God—a nation that doesn't realize how truly helpless we all are.
What does being helpless before the Lord mean to you?
How can you remember how desperately you need God’s grace-filled involvement in your life?