Little children are good at helplessness. It’s what they do best. But as adults, we soon forget how important helplessness is.

God wants us to come to him empty-handed, weary, and heavy-laden.

Instinctively we want to get rid of our helplessness before we come to God.

The Norwegian Lutheran Ole Hallesby articulated the importance of helplessness in his classic book Prayer. He described how Mary’s request to Jesus at the wedding of Cana—“They have no wine” (John 2:3)—is a perfect description of prayer. Prayer is bringing your helplessness to Jesus.

Throughout the book of John we see people coming to Jesus because of their helplessness. The Samaritan woman has no water (see John 4). Later in that same chapter, the official’s son has no health. The crippled man by the pool of Bethesda has no help to get into the water (see John 5). The crowd has no bread (see John 6). The blind man has no sight (see John 9). And finally, Lazarus has no life (see John 11).

We received Jesus because we were weak, and that’s how we follow him. Paul told the Colossians, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (2:6). We forget that helplessness is how the Christian life works.

Paul was reminded of this when he prayed three times for God to remove his thorn in the flesh. It didn’t happen. Instead, God reminded Paul of how the gospel works. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to—our helplessness—is what makes prayer work. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.

Prayer mirrors the gospel.  In the gospel, the Father takes us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of salvation.  In prayer, the Father receives us as we are because of Jesus and gives us his gift of help.

We look at the inadequacy of our praying and give up, thinking something is wrong with us. God looks at the adequacy of his Son and delights in our sloppy, meandering prayers.

–excerpted from Paul E. Miller’s A Praying Life