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Dependence: The Heart of Prayer


"The shape of your prayer life is determined by the size of your dependence."

The Real Reason We Don't Pray

Few things breed discouragement in the heart of a Christian like the topic of prayer. We experience an ongoing disconnect between the Bible’s clear command that we pray and our consistent failure to do so.

Our failure to pray is fraught with excuses. See if you can find yourself in one of these five reasons we fail to pray:

  1. Insecurity – “I don’t know how.”

  2. Doubt – “I don’t know if it works.”

  3. Schedule – “I don’t have time.”

  4. Desire – “I don’t want to.”

  5. Shame – “I don’t deserve to.”

Regardless of the specific reasons we offer, our prayerlessness boils down to a single, subversive barrier: self-dependence.

Created To Depend On God

Sadly, we believe that we’re capable of accomplishing whatever we want or need on our own. The supremacy of our self-capacity is the single most consistent sermon preached by our culture, and both Christians and non-Christians have bought into it: “You’re powerful, strong, capable, brilliant. You have everything you need within yourself.” As a result we rely on ourselves instead of God … and we don’t pray.

We are incredibly valuable, that much is true. W were created in the very image of God! That is a stunning reality. But we must never forget that our value is derived from our dependence on Him, not from our self-sufficiency. We were made to depend on God.

This means, self-dependence is a sin that suffocates our prayer life.

So think about the shape of your prayer life for a second. Do you have one? Is it healthy? Is it everything it should be? If your prayer life is in rough shape, somewhere at the root of that is self-dependency.  The truth is:

The shape of your prayer life is determined by the size  of your dependence.

Jesus is our perfect example of a dependence-driven prayer life. And in Matthew 26:36-46 we read Jesus' most gut-wrenching prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Though He was experiencing crushing anguish at the prospect of bearing the weight of God’s wrath toward sin, Jesus prevailed through prayer. It was a discipline He had developed throughout His life; Jesus never missed an opportunity to pray. Now, when He was in torment, He knew how to depend on God through prayer.

We, too, face “garden moments” – seasons of uncertainty, chaos, suffering and trial. Through them, God gives us a gracious gift. He opens our eyes to the reality of our dependence on Him for everything.  The quickest way to a fervent prayer life is to cultivate an awareness of our constant dependence on God.

Here are three marks of Jesus’ dependent prayer:

1. Jesus prayed believing in the Father’s power

My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me..." (Matthew 26:39a)The phrase "if it be possible" is what is called a first class condition - it reveals Jesus' assumption that it was  in fact possible. Jesus knew the suffering He was facing and He never doubted that God could change His fate if He chose to. He believed completely in the Father’s power to do everything He deemed holy, righteous and good.

If we're honest, we often don’t pray because we don’t believe God is powerful enough to do what we want or need.

2. Jesus prayed trusting in the Father’s plan.

"...nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39b)

In His humanity, Jesus wanted a different way, but in His divinity He willingly submitted. He trusted that everything God does is consistent with His character and is therefore good.

Contrast this again with your own heart. We often don’t pray because we don't trust God's plan when it differs from ours.

3. Jesus prayed relying on the Father’s protection

"Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)Though He was suffering “even to death”, Jesus was still concerned for His disciples’ well-being. He gave them (and us) further motivation for prayer: To protect us from temptation. Prayer was the weapon Jesus used against temptation and it is the weapon with which we must wage war against temptation in our own lives.

We often don’t pray because though our spirit is willing, our flesh is weak.

When faced with the desire to accomplish God’s plan through different means, even in the midst of the temptation to deny God’s plan, Jesus prevailed through prayer.

Prayer & The Gospel

The gospel, when rightly applied, destroys our discouragement and enables our prayer. Though we can’t pray perfectly like Jesus, we can meditate on and be encouraged by His example because it reminds us of our need for Him.

Jesus perfectly and faithfully communed with the Father through prayer. Jesus sacrificed Himself to pay the price for our unfaithfulness and the sin of our self-dependence. Jesus rose, conquering sin's power in our lives - including the sin of self-dependence that hinders our prayer. Those who turn from sin and trust Jesus by faith, are filled with the Holy Spirit who empowers us to pray. 

The gospel destroys our discouragement and enables prayer. Today we can trust, depend upon, and pursue Jesus through prayer. 

(Adapted by Diane Rivers from sermon entitled, "Dependence: The Heart of Prayer")

Questions for further reflection:

  • What kind of shape is your prayer life in? Do you find yourself using the excuses listed above not to pray?
  • What are you currently trusting God for and what are you relying on yourself to accomplish?
  • Are you cultivating, or killing, your sense of dependence upon God? What are some things you need to have happen in your life that you have no control over?
  • Have you experienced God’s grace in the midst of “garden moments” (times of struggle, chaos or pain)?
  • Do you still trust God when He doesn’t answer your prayers as you want Him to?
  • When you are prompted to pray and choose not to, do you recognize your resistance as a sin? If you thought of it that way, how would you respond?

For further contemplation on this idea of “Praying Like Jesus”, listen to the entire sermon, Dependence: The Heart of Prayer, here.

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