One of the fundamental concepts of prayer is that it’s an action of looking outside of ourselves for what we can’t find inside. That means, at its core, prayer is an admission of weakness, inability, and humility.
You’ll notice that in David’s famous prayer of repentance it’s God that has mercy (v. 1), blots out transgressions (v. 1, 9), washes David (v. 2, 7), cleanses David (v. 2), delights in truth and teaches David (v. 6), purges David (v. 7), breaks David and brings joy in him trough it (v. 8), creates a clean heart and renews David’s poor spirit (v. 10), doesn’t remove David from his presence and doesn’t take his spirit from David (v. 11), restores David’s joy and upholds his spirit (v. 12), delivers David from his guilt (v. 14), opens David’s mouth with praise (v. 15), and does good (v. 18). David is almost completely passive in this prayer. In fact, the only thing that David brings to the equation is his sin which he repeatedly acknowledges. David’s prayer is one of complete reliance on God to do for him what he can’t do for himself: take away his sin, restore him, and keep him.
The Lord’s Prayer serves as a frame-work for how we ought to approach God in prayer, generally. First, glorify God and align ourselves with his priorities; then, make requests accordingly. Not unlike David’s prayer, though, Jesus instructs us to ask God to do things for us that we can’t do for ourselves. David’s prayer, however, focused on his inability to clean himself from his sin, but Jesus wants us to see that we don’t actually do anything for ourselves. Jesus asks us to admit our total weakness. We’re to ask him to glorify his name (v. 9), spread his kingdom and carry out his will (v. 10), feed us (v. 11), keep us from temptation (v. 12), and ultimately deliver us from evil (v. 13). This prayer is a complete admission of God’s authority over every area of our lives. From the spread of his gospel to the food on the table, it’s God that does it, not us.
We Should Pray
Given this — our complete weakness — we should pray. We should bring our cares before God — the God who created the heavens and the earth (Psalm 124:8), and rely on his strength. However, we should not do this alone.
We Should Ask for Prayer
God uses us (his Church) to build each other up (Ephesians 4:29). So, along with our private prayer, we should be asking one another for prayer. It glorifies God, and edifies us, when we point each other to God’s faithfulness and capability. Asking each other for prayer is a great way to do that because in doing so we’re telling each other that even if we look like we have it all together, we don’t. We’re communicating our complete reliance upon God for everything.
This builds up and displays our faith. It takes faith to admit weaknesses to God, but it takes (arguably) more faith to admit weakness to each other. God knows the depths of our hearts better than we do, and knows our thoughts before they even come to mind, so we’re not really “letting him in” when we pray, we’re just acknowledging that he’s got the controls and we don’t. Our aim is (or should be) to have our will conformed to his.
On the other hand, when we ask others for prayer we have to let them in. If we don’t, they may still be able to learn some things about our need through observation, and those closest to us may be able to pick up on cues better than others, but if we want others to really struggle with us in prayer we have to be vulnerable. We have to trust that others are going to treat us, and the information we share, with love, grace, wisdom, and care. We have to show our weaknesses, not only to God, but to our brothers and sisters. Paradoxically, though, this is our strength.
We know that it’s when we are weak that we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). With God the way up is down. He exalts and gives grace to the humble (Luke 14:11). He listens to the weak and needy (Psalm 69:33). He hears and saves the poor and powerless (Psalm 34:6). Thanks be to God that he doesn’t just tell us to figure it out. Instead, he lovingly says, “I’ll take care of you,” and we can take him at his word.
We end where we began: prayer is an admission of our weak, unable, and creaturely nature. However, God uses this admission, through the blessing of his Body, to direct our gaze to him, our strong, able, creator and sustainer. It’s when our eyes are directed to his strength and care that we’re strengthened too. So prayer is a sign of weakness, but it’s precisely through our great weakness that we find great strength.