There is nothing more humbling than prayer. Let me illustrate.
Once upon a time, there was a young girl who had trained to be a nurse. She worked very hard at her job and learned a great deal. She knew more about caring for patients than anyone else her age. Under the doctor’s instruction, she learned even more. If she had wanted to, this girl could have been a doctor and become extraordinarily rich. But she remained in her little village and aided the doctor in any way she could. He trusted her with the care of even his most difficult patients.
Then one day, the girl’s father came to the doctor. He was very ill. The family was poor, so he had not come for help at the beginning of his illness. The doctor took the father into the hospital and did everything he could. The girl and the doctor tried new remedies, ancient health practices, anything they could think of. The girl spent her free time studying books and searching for something to heal her father.
Finally she realized that there was only one doctor in the whole country who could save her father. If she did not ask him soon, her father would die within the month. But this doctor was very wealthy and very powerful. He served the king, and he did not take patients outside of the king’s family.
But this great doctor was the girl’s only hope for her father. So she went to him. She had no money to pay him with, no reasons to compel him to come and heal her father. All her medical knowledge, even combined with the village doctor’s, was ridiculously insignificant compared to this great doctor. She was but a child compared to him.
Nevertheless, our little nurse went. She traveled far to reach the doctor. When she arrived at the king’s palace, she realized that she had no way to get in to see the doctor. The king’s guards would not be likely to let her in. But as luck would have it, the king’s doctor was reclining outside the palace gates.
Now the girl had a choice. She could go before the great doctor, beg for his aid, and admit that she had nothing to offer. Or she could go home, empty-handed for sure. Shyly, the girl stepped forward. She curtsied politely to the doctor.
He looked up. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“Yes, sir, if it isn’t too much trouble. You see, my father is very ill. I work as a nurse in the village, but the doctor and I cannot heal him. We have tried everything.” Here she listed a great number of fancy sounding medical terms which I cannot remember. “But even those are not enough. The only one who can heal my father is you! Please, sir, would you come and heal my father?”
“Well, my child, I cannot just leave the king to serve any villager who needs help, even if I am the–”
“Sir, if you are seeking payment, let me tell you now that my family and I have nothing to offer. My family is very poor. We are already far into debt because of my father’s medical bills, but the village doctor is kind and has allowed us to pay based on my future income. We have hardly any money for food. I cannot pay you. I came to you expecting this. I understand. Thank you, sir. Good bye.”
She bobbed another curtsy and turned away, dreading what would happen when she reached home.
“Child, wait.” The voice stopped her in the middle of the road. “I never said that I would not help you. Let me come with you. I only must get leave from the king. Come with me, and we shall ask him.”
“Me? Make a request of the king? Oh, no, sir, I cannot!” She shook her head sadly. She had even less to offer the king, and her nurse’s position would be of less value to him.
“Please, child, come with me. The king is a fair man.” The great doctor offered his arm to the young nurse. She hesitatingly slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow and allowed him to lead her to the throne room.
“Child, you must speak to the king. He will know what is best to do, and this is for your father.”
Trembling, the girl stepped into the throne room. She bowed before the king and waited. He called for her to rise and asked why she had come. Nervously, the girl repeated her story.
“Great king, I know you have no reason to grant me this gift, and I have nothing to offer you. But I love my father, and if this is the only way to save him, I must ask you. Will you send your doctor to heal my father?” She concluded.
The throne room was silent. Guards, normally unflappable, stood gaping at the audacity of the little girl. She shook violently, wrapped in dirty rags, and waited for the answer. Finally the king rose and spoke:
“Young lady, you do have nothing to offer me. You are right in realizing that your request is more than you deserve. But I do not offer gifts based on what I will receive in return. Let the doctor go and heal your father. When your father has returned to full health, I will visit him myself.”
And the little girl and the doctor, both amazed at the king’s kindness, walked out of the throne room and back to her village.
This isn’t a perfect analogy, but for what it’s worth, let’s compare this to prayer.
We are the little girl. With all our knowledge and power, we still have nothing compared to the great doctor.
The father’s sickness is something we will pray for.
The great doctor (and the king) are representative of God in various ways. This is the point where the story most falls down, but bear with me.
We have nothing to offer God. We often try everything we can, fight harder, do better, and fail over and over again. We ask other broken people for help. Even the combined effort is insufficient. Finally, we recognize our complete inability to fix the situation ourselves.
Now, more broken than before, we shyly approach our King, the One we should have gone to in the first place. But we were too ashamed. We kneel before Him. We admit that we have nothing to offer. We are completely vulnerable. We accept that the only one who can do anything is God.
Unlike the girl in our story, we don’t always get what we want. But our King always gives us what’s best. So even when the father isn’t healed, when the relationship isn’t restored, when life just doesn’t make sense, we still have hope. We go to the King, and though we are still frail, we know the King is safe. We trust His wisdom. We rest in His love. But we first take the step of humility in prayer. We collapse before God Almighty, recognize our inadequacy, and plead for his intervention. We ask for His power because ours is pathetically insufficient. And God gives the best solution we could ask for, even if we don’t understand.