Friday, November 9, 2007

need, helplessness and prayer

Following is the text of a sermon I gave last Saturday. I hope it helps you in some way.


Need, Helplessness and Prayer
a sermon by Troy Cady

There are two kinds of people: The first kind of person has needs and they know that they have needs. The second kind of person has needs and they do not know that they have needs. In either case, everyone has needs.

Perhaps the biggest difference between infants and mature adults is that babies have needs but don’t know it yet (at least they don’t know that they know it yet!), whereas mature adults know what their needs are (most times!). Maturing, then, does not mean that you cease to have needs; rather, it means you become more aware of what your needs are.

I have often heard stories of elderly people whose children tried to address their changing needs as they became unable to care for themselves in old age. Sometimes, however, the older person will refuse to be helped. After all, it is a matter of human dignity to take care of oneself. But, often, the refusal to accept help breaks the hearts of those that are truly trying to help. Why? Because need itself is not something to be ashamed of, but too often we think it is.

The foolish person attempts to rid their life of the appearance of need or even of need itself, as if that were possible. This is nothing less than a manifestation of our compulsion to become self-sufficient, independent. But the person who tries to rid themselves of need will forever be locked in a fruitless endeavor, because getting older merely involves the replacement of one kind of need with another. Mature adults still have needs; it’s just that their needs are different than those of a child.

When a baby turns into a child, she may not need you to change her diaper anymore, but she does need you to provide clothing for her. In a similar way, when the child becomes an adult, she may not need you to clothe her anymore, but she will need other, perhaps more emotional things that you—and only you—can provide. As long as we live we have needs. Maturity involves knowing you will always have needs and, therefore, it involves understanding more fully the nature and extent of those needs.

In light of that, the foolish person also has no precise understanding of what their needs are, nor do they often understand precisely the extent to which their need reaches. Because of that, they also often have no understanding where and how their needs can be met.

The mature person, on the other hand, knows where and how their needs can be met. Directly speaking, my need for food can not be met by going to the library. If I’m hungry, and want my hunger to go away, I need to have food. Reading a book—no matter how many books I may read (even if those books are about food!)—will not take away my actual hunger pangs. Or, if I expect my thirst to go away by simply running more, I am stupid, not brave. Every need has a proper counterpart, a place where that need can be met.

The drug addict is just like you and me. We both have needs—often identical or very similar needs. The difference is where one looks to fulfill that need. In either case, notice: both the whole person and the addict have a measure of hope in something. The difference is not, at first, in the absence of hope, it is in the placement of hope.

The Psalmist says: “I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from the mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.” (Psalm 121:1)

And again: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.” (Psalm 20:7)

And Solomon writes: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding…” (Proverbs 3:5)

There is nothing more tragic than the misplacement of hope. Those who make a habit of misplacing hope are doomed to despair, because the longer you misplace hope, the less hope you have. This is why the addict (of any sort) will inevitably end up frustrated and, eventually, hopeless. It’s like thinking that hitting your hand with a hammer will mend your broken thumb if you but hit it harder each time. After a while you won’t have any strength left to continue hitting your hand even, and you’ll just give up.

So, remember: we all have needs; we do well to know the nature and extent of our unfulfilled needs; and we do well to know where we might find the fulfillment of our needs. What now?

I’ll just come out and say it: God not only provides for our every need, He Himself is the counterpart to our every need.

Teresa de Avila puts it this way: “Who God possesses in nothing is wanting; alone God suffices.” In other words, God is the only One who can fulfill your every need, and we look in vain to search anywhere else. Nor are we wise to think we do not need Him.

Unfortunately, there are many people who think they do not need God. In fact, sometimes I act as if I do not need God. For example, I get my schedule to a point where I can manage, where I am comfortable and I think, “Ah, if things could just stay this way now, I would be happy!” So, I go on my merry way, spending whole days at a stretch where I do all but ignore God. I don’t look to Him in His Word, I don’t bother listening to Him through the fellowship of believers, and I certainly don’t look to Him in prayer. (In fact, prayer is usually the first thing to go when I’m feeling self-sufficient). But then, inevitably, I get restless, because no amount of temporary comfort can change the simple, indisputable fact that:


The fact is: everyone needs God. Jesus himself said, “Apart from me you can do nothing. Remain in me and I will remain in you.” (John 15:5 and 4) To abide in Christ, to remain in Christ, then, consists in understanding that, apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. This is why I say that the chief difference between the mature Christian and the immature Christian lies in developing a deepening awareness that God, and only God, can meet our every need. Christian maturity primarily involves a strengthening conviction that one is totally and utterly dependent on God for everything; in a word, we are helpless. The mystery of the Christian faith is that the more helpless you know yourself to be, the more apparent God becomes.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:3-4)

We are helpless. So, we do well to tear down the illusion that we can live life without God’s assistance. And, to the extent that we dismantle that lie, we grow in prayer, true prayer. For to know, to really know, the nature and extent of your need, is to know the only place your needs can be met. And to know, to really know, the source of the fulfillment of your needs is to look to and cry out to God in prayer.

We too often say that we know we need God, that, without God, we are nothing, but yet we fail to turn to him in prayer. Why is this so? Why do I find it so hard to pray when I know that, apart from Christ, I can do nothing?

It is because I know this in my head, but not in my heart. Because of that, I do not really know it yet. You can always tell those who really know the reality of their own helplessness by the fact that they are the ones who are continually turning to God in prayer. These are those who are often heard crying out, “Have mercy, dear Lord! We look to You and You alone for all things! Have mercy!”

The Norwegian pastor Ole Hallesby says this about helplessness: “This is unquestionably the first and the surest indication of a praying heart. As far as I can see, prayer has been ordained only for the helpless. It is the last resort of the helpless. Indeed, the very last way out. We try everything before we finally resort to prayer. This is not only true of us before our conversion. Prayer is our last resort also throughout our whole Christian life. I know very well that we offer many and beautiful prayers, both privately and publicly, without helplessness as the impelling power. But I am not at all positive that this is prayer. Prayer and helplessness are inseparable. Only those who are helpless can truly pray.”

This is why, when I think about you, my friends, I’m happy to say that I know a bunch of helpless souls. I know many of your stories and I know that many of you have needs—deep, soul-stretching needs.

I want to plead with you right now by asking a question:

What are your needs? Do you know what your needs are? I’m not just talking about the needs you think you have, but the needs you have that you might be trying to hide from your family, your friends, from God, or even from yourself. Remember, we all have needs. The difference is whether you know what your needs are and how deep your need is buried in your soul.

Some of you may be in denial, thinking, “I know what my needs are and I’ve taken those things to God, so I’m doing okay, honestly.” But deep, deep down you know: you have another need that, for now, seems to be taken care of through an attractive, seemingly less-demanding substitute. And you know that, God, only God can meet you at your point of need. And you hear Jesus knocking, you hear his voice pleading with you to give him access to that need so he can show you his all-sufficient grace, but it’s risky giving that particular need over to Jesus. The way you’ve managed to cope with your need over the weeks, months or even years is more familiar to you and so it feels safer to try and manage as you’ve always done without bringing your need to Jesus.

But the need is still there. I know this because when I look around the world, I see people with needs, deep needs. Some of you have needs for things like physical provision. Some of you have relational needs. Some of you feel helpless about the future, you don’t know what to do, where to turn. You may be scared, thinking, “What if I make a bad decision?” Some of you have a need to be noticed or to have a sense of purpose in life. Some of you just want to be loved, to have a friend, a husband or a wife. Some of you would do anything to have a life-long companion. Some of you need stability, a sense of security. Some of you need time, rest. Some of you need forgiveness. Most of us have at least one thing going on in our lives that makes us feel, quite frankly, helpless, at our wits’ end, at a loss for what to do next.

If that’s you, good! Because Jesus knows your need. And Jesus is a helper to the helpless. He is the defender of the weak. He shows mercy to those who need mercy. He supplies that which you lack through his grace.

And, he stands with you, beside you, before you and behind you, wanting to meet you at your point of need. He’s asking for access to your heart, he wants you to let him in so he can show you his ability to meet your every need, no matter how deep.

This is prayer, my friends. This is true prayer. “To pray is to let Jesus into our hearts.” (O. Hallesby) But, we cannot receive Jesus into our hearts without understanding our need for Jesus to come into our hearts.

So, do yourself a favor, admit your need, whatever it may be. Let Jesus meet you at your point of need. Let him in. Cry out to him in prayer, true prayer. Do it here. Do it now. For you can be sure: whenever you cry out to him, he hears, he comes, he answers. He will not fail you. So, come to him like little children. Ask him, “Father, give us this day our daily bread.” He will not turn you away, because he is a loving Father and he loves it when we come to him. So, come to him like little needy children.

And don’t just do this once, for remember: as long as you live you will always have need for Jesus. There is not a day that passes that you do not need Jesus. So come to him again and again, each and every day, several times a day; “pray without ceasing” for there is never a moment passes that we do not need him. Say to him, sing to him, “I need Thee! O, I need Thee! Every hour I need Thee! O, bless me now, my Savior! I come to Thee!”

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