I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. —John 15:5
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 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 acknowledgement 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 into our hopeless messes. And in our helplessness, we will see the power of God work in and through us.
How to Pray
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:25–26)
What to Pray
- Confess all areas of weakness to the Lord.
- Thank Him for His strength for each one.
- Ask Him to help you see your true state and to cry out to Him in humility.