Monday, July 29, 2013

Prayer and Helplessness {Reflections on Prayer}

"For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us.
We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
2 Chron. 20:12, ESV

"Prayer and helplessness are inseparable.  Only those who are helpless can truly pray."  These words from O. Hallesby's book Prayer surprised me at first, but as I reflect on them I realize that perhaps this partially explains why I still do not know how to pray as I should.  I don't, you know.  In fact, the longer I walk with the Lord, the greater my realization of that shortcoming and of the corollary that I don't pray what little I do know.

More and more I become convinced of my own helplessness:  to walk in a manner worthy of my Lord, to be the woman and wife He calls me to be, to minister where He places me, let alone to pray faithfully for all the needs around me.  Pray as I should?  How often I am helpless even to find a quiet place in my own heart to meet with God in the truest sense.

So how do I respond to this sense of inadequacy?  The pride native to my sinful flesh, that Adamic spirit of independence, resists even asking for help.  To admit that I am in fact beyond help, unable to change anything in my own strength, puts that "self-sufficiency" on the cross, so that I am reduced to trusting God and Him alone.  How easy it is, instead of coming to Him in helplessness, with empty hands, rather to convince myself to try harder or ask Him for "help" when His real desire is to do in and through me what I cannot do for myself.  My view of myself is still far too great, and my view of God far too small.  (Oh, that He would increase and I decrease!)

On the contrary, "The greater your self-sufficiency, the greater your potential for disaster.  Helplessness is our greatest source of strength," as Charles Stanley once observed.  Only when I come to God openly confessing my inadequacy and inability even to gather and still my thoughts, can I truly pray.  Hallesby goes so far as to define prayer as "the helpless soul's helpless look unto a faithful Friend."  No words, no struggle, only a look up to hear Him say, "Cease striving, and know that I am God" (Ps 46:10).

When I do this, His grace--which always flows downhill--meets me in my point of need.  Throughout Scripture we see God's delight in filling truly empty hands.  Frequently He reduces His children to blatantly impossible situations to demonstrate His sufficiency all the more in their weakness.  Hundred year-old Abraham and the promise of a child, Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, Gideon and the Midianites, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Daniel in the lions' den, the disciples and the loaves and fishes, . . . the most impossible of our "impossible situations" are no match for the infinite resources of our matchless God.

True progress in prayer, then, comes when I start from my helplessness, when I make my "last resort" the first resort, when I come like Jehoshaphat:  "we are powerless. . . nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee" (2 Chron 20:12b).

As I learn to do this, to come with empty hands to God, He never fails to meet me and quiet my heart.  "Do not fear. . . for the LORD is with you."  God doesn't need my help to rule the universe.  His great desire is simply to be with me, and for me to be with Him.  Helplessness opens me to the full enjoyment of His presence.

"Lord Jesus!  I ask You this day to enroll my name among those who confess that they know not how to pray as they ought. . . .  May a deep sense of my ignorance, of the wonderful privilege and the power of prayer, of the need for the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of prayer, lead me to cast away my thoughts of what I think I know, make me kneel before You in true teachableness and poverty of spirit" (Andrew Murray).

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