Pray Desperately

This is the second of a five-part series on how God invites us to pray. Don’t miss yesterday’s post (“Why Do We Find It So Difficult to Pray?”), and check back in throughout the rest of the week for the remaining three posts.

There’s something about desperation that changes us. It takes a usually cautious person and makes him do incredibly risky things. It takes a generally timid person and gives her audacious courage. In Jesus’ parable of Luke 11, it transforms a polite neighbor into an obnoxious man who is willing to beat down his friend’s door for some food.

We Americans tend to avoid desperation. It’s not who we are. We are the “can do” people, with the assurance that enough time, energy, and talent can solve our problems. (I mean, it’s right there in our name. Ameri-can. We aren’t Ameri-can’ts.) We are a DIY people, and most of the time, that’s good. But when you’re dealing with a God who says, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” that “can do” attitude is absolutely deadly.

One of the biggest hindrances to our prayers is our failure to recognize how utterly desperate we are for God’s help. Paul Miller, in his excellent book, A Praying Life, puts it like this:

If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life. You’ll always be a little too tired, a little too busy to pray. But if, like Jesus, you realize you can’t do life on your own, then no matter how busy, no matter how tired you are, you will find the time.

(Paul Miller, A Praying Life, 37)

My wife and I have experienced this in parenting. When I became a parent, I read just about every Christian book on parenting. My thought was, “If I can just figure out the parenting techniques, I’ll be able to guarantee that my kids turn out right.” (Those of you without kids may not realize how absurd this is. Those of you with kids are now laughing at me.)

Of all the books I read on parenting, the most startling was Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Give Them Grace. She pointed out that the entire idea of following a parenting “formula” is bound to fail. God himself, the perfect Father, had a third of his angels fall. And the only two humans he created rebelled. Fitzpatrick then asks, “So, do you really think you’ll be able to out-technique God?”

Parenting techniques matter. But it’s folly to think that what our kids need most is a parenting technique. What they need is for us to cast ourselves down at the feet of Jesus, looking to him for his mercy in our kids’ lives. They need us to plead with God to do what we never can—transform their hearts. Perhaps the most effective parenting you can ever do is to pray for your kids.

The Apostle Peter says that if we humble ourselves in prayer, God will exalt us at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6). Our hope for success—in parenting or in anything we put our hands to—is not in ourselves. God does the exalting. We do the pleading, the praying, and the hoping.

My hope for my kids isn’t in parenting skill, even the skills I learned from the Bible. My hope is in the grace of God, who will himself raise them up. When I believe that, I start to pray.

My hope for my marriage isn’t in good Christian habits and learning to fight fair. My hope is in God’s grace to make two sinners into something beautiful. When I believe that, I start to pray.

My hope for the mission of my church does not lie in a superior strategy or the best talent. My hope is entirely in God’s grace. When I believe that, I start to pray.

No skill, not even biblical skill, is sufficient for the task of ministry. As Jeremiah says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man” (Jeremiah 17:5 ESV). How tragically ironic would it be for us to “trust in man” by learning all of the biblical principles we can and losing the dependency upon God that gives those principles life.

Jesus didn’t save us by teaching us principles. He saved us by giving us resurrection power. If we understand that, we will pray desperately. We won’t need to be told to pray more often. Instead, we won’t be able to keep from praying. The more we see our desperation, the more we sense our need for prayer.

For years, my wife and I have struggled to have a regular prayer time together. You know what has changed that recently? It’s not better principles. It’s having four children approaching the teenage years. We’re desperate. And I find that my wife and I are praying together all the time. I’m serious.

The core of effective prayer isn’t discipline. It’s desperation. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, defeated, weak, or insufficient, there’s good news: You’re in the perfect spot to pray. In prayer, all you need is nothing. All you need is need.