"Only he who is helpless can truly pray." - Ole Hallesby
Interesting quote, don't you think? Prayer is one of those topics that we as Christians like to give lip service to, pledge to do better, swear how important it is, and regularly regret how little we do it. I think part of the reason is that we wonder if we're doing anything more than talking to the air. After all, God already knows whatever it is we're going to tell Him. So it's hard to get charged up about rattling off a grocery list of prayer requests, no matter how much in need those people on the list truly are.
Over and over again, the topic comes back to me with a big, flapping, red flag attached to it. The words on the flag are pretty simple: Prayer isn't so much the words, but the attitude.
Jesus talked about the Pharisees who loved to be the ones called upon to make the big public prayer. They'd even do the prayers when nobody asked them to do it. They liked to be heard. They said all the right things. They were smooth as silk, and people looked up to them for their incredible prowess at public prayer. "Surely, that's a spiritual dude," the passersby must have said.
By Jesus talked down those showy prayers and the ones praying those prayers. Why? Probably because it was performance. I've done a little theatre work, and I realize that when I'm reciting my lines or even when I ad lib in character when I've forgotten what I was supposed to say, those words aren't real. Sure the words exist, but they don't really reflect what's in my heart. The words are uttered to keep the performance going. The show must go on, you know.
So all the recited prayers in the world don't seem to make a dent in our souls unless there is a true heart condition -- a point where what is said matches what is believed. On top of that, any prayer that does not come from the heart seems to me to be an almost useless exercise. Sure there are days that my heart doesn't seem to be in everything I pray, but if I am detached from what I say or simply praying out of obligation with no feeling whatsoever, I have to wonder what the point is.
Let's get back to Mr. Hallesby's thought. Helplessness. Do I really see myself as helpless when I pray? Am I fully leaning upon the everlasting arms? I'm not sure I can honestly answer that question because I'm not really sure. But what I do know for sure is that unless my heart is in my prayer, I feel nothing from it. I can use all the beautiful, poetic, psalmistic words my mind can recall, but as Paul might say, without my heart in it I am like a clanging cymbal.
I hate being helpless. I love to be able to do things myself. Down deep my manhood is bruised when I have to ask for help to do something that some other guy could do by himself. That same feeling hits me when I go to God for all those things I know I cannot do. Sick children I cannot heal. The pain of grief I cannot take away. Temptation I cannot extinguish. And my heart should reflect that in my prayer life.
So prayer actually begins, not with a list of concerns or a journal, but with a heart condition. Understanding my own helplessness puts me in the right frame of mind to go to God. I go not as a person saying all the right words, but as a person who acknowledges his own inability to do anything right.
"Apart from me, you can do nothing." - Jesus Christ.