In response to my quote from Thérèse of Lisieux yesterday, my friend Randy at Bible Study Geek posted an excerpt from an old book on prayer. A snippet:

What is that attitude of heart which God recognizes as prayer? I would mention two things.

In the first place, helplessness.

This is unquestionably the first and the surest indication of a praying heart. As far as I can see, prayer has been ordained only for the helpless. It is the last resort of the helpless. Indeed, the very last way out. We try everything before we finally resort to prayer.

This got me thinking further about the need for us to be helpless in order for prayer to be meaningful. (In fact, I posted a comment on Randy’s blog that kind of turned into a draft of this post.)

I’d like to offer a couple more thoughts on the subject:

1. “Shopping list” prayer is not prayer from helplessness. To put together a shopping list, you have to have the composure and clarity of mind to think about what you might want to ask God to do. The helpless person is concerned with one thing alone, usually expressed as either “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” or “Help me, God!”.

2. There is also a danger of using prayer as a way to regain competence or strength. I may pray from a place of helplessness when I truly reach the end of my rope, but the purpose underlying my prayer might be to return me to a position of competence and control. In that case, it seems to me that what I’m really doing is asking God to serve my desires and needs. And if I only pray when I’m at the end of my rope – in other words, when all else has failed – am I not simply using God as a personal safety net, a divine rescuer of last resort?

It’s one thing to pray from helplessness; it’s another thing to cultivate a continuous attitude of helplessness. I think this, in a sense, is what God wants. It’s the hardest thing. For me, anyway.

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.

— 2 Corinthians 12:9

(Photo credit: Dwell In Bethel)