How to Develop a Desperate Prayer Life

Are your prayers desperate?

Why are the desperate people the only ones praying powerful prayers?
Helplessness stares me in the face when I am desperate. It’s like reaching into an empty pocket for the last dime and coming up with nothing but lint. And the cashier sure doesn’t want trade the #3 Combo Meal for my lint.

Its uncomfortable, but such desperation is a key to powerful prayer.

Only the desperate recognize their utter helplessness. They are empty of themselves. They are ready to cling to the promises of God. And all of those things are necessary for powerful prayer.

“We are to be nothing, and the less we are and the weaker we are, the better; for the the less we have of self the more room there is for Christ’s divine grace…He asks nothing of you but that you will be nothing, and that He may be all in all to you.” – Charles Spurgeon

David gives us a God-inspired model for desperate prayer.
Desperate prayer is modeled for us by David in Psalm 86:1-7:

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me.

3 Characteristics of desperate prayer
Drawing from David’s prayer, we see three characteristics of a desperate prayer:

1. Ernest desire to be heard and answered
Our half-hearted, mumbly prayers evidence our apathy. We don’t even care to be heard. We don’t expect an answer. We’re probably not even sure why we are praying.

Contrast that with David, who begged God to listen and answer: “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me.” David cared deeply about the requests he brought before God in prayer.

2. Recognition of need, helplessness, and poverty
David confessed his bankruptcy upfront, recognizing his inability to meet a crushing need. “I am poor and needy.” Likewise, we must realize we can’t come to God in prayer to cut a deal as wealthy merchants. We have nothing to trade. We’re dirt poor beggars.

What happens when we misdiagnose our condition?

We start looking like boy scouts slapping on bandaids to save a heart attack victim. “Nah Scoutmaster, we don’t need help. We’ll have this under control soon as Shorty finds the duct tape.” Misdiagnosis leads to a false hope in some crummy, self-concocted rescue plan. It drains our prayers of the crucial element of desperation.

3. Pleading a case for grace
David was quick to build a case before God. David’s only argument was built on God’s own character. God’s own goodness would compel God to act on behalf of the prayer warrior on his knees, and David was banking on that grace.

This is also a check on the heart: Am I desperate for something that God can put His character behind? A lot of selfish desires die when we align ourselves with God’s will, wanting what He wants.

Our hope lies in God’s commitment to God
The hope of a desperate prayer warrior lies in God’s commitment to God. God will remain faithful to His promises, for He cannot deny Himself.

God’s commitment to God is extended to man through the promises found in the Word. God can’t remain true to Himself without remaining true to His children. What a staggering thought for a desperate man on his knees.

On another note:
If you struggle with spending too much time surfing the internet, watching TV, or any other tech-related activity, I urge you to take a look at Don’s recent post.  It is an excellent challenge to keep a log of where you spend your non-work related tech time, then evaluate it, attempt to cut the time down drastically, and find something better to do with yourself. I can relate to the circumstances that spawned Don’s idea. I hope some of you will join in.

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29 thoughts on “How to Develop a Desperate Prayer Life

  1. Dude, I love the boy scout thing. Great!

    Our hope lies in God’s commitment to God. This is great. Too often I’ve acted like the businessman approaching God with my formulaic deal. “I do this, you do that.” Lately, though, I have been in more of a plead to Him because of my present circumstances. At first, I was a bit angry with Him because I was not being delivered the way I thought I ought to be. But, He is providing for me, and I need to be humble in my finitude, seeing all that the Father is doing for me.

    • “I was not being delivered the way I thought I ought to be.”

      I know that rebellious sort of feeling, but it is such a relief to know that He knows the best way to deliver His children from any hardship and He will deliver us…teaching us and sanctifying us as only He can all along the way!

    • We come to God with our deal, and then He says, “What is man that I am even mindful of you?” “What right does the clay have to ask the Potter what He is doing?” “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?”

      Those present circumstances are a blessing, no?
      You’re right – we have our own opinion of how God ought to deliver us, and our unmet expectations unsettle us.

  2. Thanks, Daniel.

    Number 2 is definitely where it all begins; it’s hard for people to recognize how much we need God… in fact, I believe it’s only possible when the Holy Spirit shows us. Thank God David was a man led by and full of this Spirit; his life and his pleading to God and his praise to God have become such wonderful lessons and goals for my own life.

    Reading this reminds me of other reading I’ve been doing lately by Angus Buchan and Eric Ludy. Both start every single day with a lot of time in prayer – bold, faith-filled prayers – prayers that reflect that these men value time spent with God more than time spent doing anything else.

      • The book by Angus Buchan is ‘Faith Like Potatoes’; I found out about him after discovering the movie made about the book (same name). His story is a very simple one, but overwhelmingly directed by the Holy Spirit. He’s a simple man, a farmer in South Africa, who has complete faith in God for even the most practical aspects of his life. I just thought of two particular prayers he talks about in his story, but unless you want me to expound on them, I’ll refrain from sharing in case you want to look it up.

        I found out about Eric Ludy through his online material. I’ve read a good bit of his blog and read part of his Manifesto (a fairly lengthy document), but the book I just got and plan to start soon is ‘Wrestling Prayer’. If you’re interested in finding out more about Eric, his personal website is He is also involved with a new school he helped to launch (; Eric speaks of the long-awaited opening of this school as the answer to years of prayers by this team.

  3. That’s true and everytime i go through something like that, I’m always ashamed of how I behaved “in time of peace”. BTW, “TV or Not TV” is great.

  4. “David confessed his bankruptcy upfront, recognizing his inability to meet a crushing need. ‘I am poor and needy.’”

    This, IMHO, is the start. We don’t get desperate until we recognize our bankrupt.

    Tangent: I know lots of people who are bankrupt–financially, emotionally, spiritually–but would deny it. Being bankrupt and seeing we’re bankrupt is the formula. Good work, Daniel.

  5. A good and very important consideration, Daniel. Thank you.

    Just to reiterate what has been said:

    We ARE bankrupt, whether or not we know it.

    The first essential is to RECOGNIZE our abject poverty. Here I must insert that many see, or at least sense, their neediness but would rather die than admit to it– not only before others, but even to themselves.

    The onus of the matter, then, becomes CONFESSION of our state of impoverishment; to ourselves, to God, and before men. Confession to ourselves removes us from behind our facade of well-being; to God properly humbles us to occupy our true estate; before men makes us utterly vulnerable by burning behind us our bridges of possible retreat back into self-deception. To the natural man this latter step seems suicidal, but it is a suicide only of the flesh submitting to the death of the cross which we suffered in Christ prior to being raised with Him to newness of life which we now enjoy through the new birth.

    In our life on earth at this present time, we enjoy Christ Jesus by faith, according to God’s promises, assisted by the Holy Spirit, while still occupying the stinking corpse of the old adamic nature. The adamic taint gives us always the clear opportunity to see and know and admit to our utter poverty of nature apart from our Lord, while the Spirit of Christ within us gives rise to confidence in prayer. When we say, “Our Father in heaven,” we cannot help but exult in knowing that the vast gulf between the heaven of heavens where He dwells and this corrupted world on which we kneel has been mightily and eternally spanned by the Cross!

  6. Just a kind of side-line note: I think what just happened here–a bunch of brothers and sisters, at least some of whom don’t really know each other at all, talking about our precious Father who made us all brothers and sisters in the first place–is pretty amazing and very special! Thanks for starting this, Daniel. Praise God for the Body of His Son! May the grace of Jesus Christ be with us always, and may we all abide together with Him in praise and thanks for His goodness and continual prayer for the saints.

  7. Hey man, thanks for the link 🙂

    A better prayer life is something I have been chasing. I love how you brought David into this. He never gets enough credit.

    • You’re welcome, I hope some people meandered on over to your blog to check out the posts.

      I agree with you on David. His psalms are a gallery of vivid pictures of prayer in various contexts.

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  10. If you can still remember the original post here, I’d like to put in a word on behalf of those who identify with this description: “Our half-hearted, mumbly prayers evidence our apathy. We don’t even care to be heard. We don’t expect an answer. We’re probably not even sure why we are praying.”

    Some will say, “Oh yes, but I am not a David. I am not an Elijah, nor a Paul. I mumble. I am uncertain. I don’t know whether to expect an answer…”

    If that describes you, I refer you to the publican (tax collector) of Luke 18:10-14. Upon reflection you will find that he fits the whole description of Daniel’s post, while on the surface he may display only the negative impressions mentioned above. He is the product of God-inspired humility: deeply convicted and ashamed, standing far off, not daring even to lift his eyes heavenward, beating his breast to symbolize his worthiness only to be punished, confessing his sinfulness and great need of mercy. Have you found yourself in this position, unable to move up to the next level, of more confident prayer? I have. Sometimes I still do. If you have, know this:

    The same Holy Spirit who moved the hand of a man to record King David’s prayer(s) for our encouragement in the canon of Holy Scripture also did so regarding the publican’s prayer, even though we know not his name. “…this man went down to his house justified,” rather than the religious braggart. JUSTIFIED! for God heard him and acted upon his request!

    If all you can muster today is a mumbly, self-doubting prayer, you are not necessarily in a bad place– respond to the convicting voice of God’s Spirit in your conscience, and know that whoever comes to God He will in no way cast out.

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