I think it appropriate to open this post with a prayer.
Thank you for making me such a good person. It’s a good feeling to not be like the sinners of the world – the thieves, the murderers, the adulterers. Thank you God for not making me poor, so I don’t have to struggle. I have done great things for you God and I deserve the blessings you have bestowed upon me. I frequently give dollars to bums on the street, I donate the stuff I don’t need to goodwill and I go to church every Sunday. It’s clear that you have poured out your greatness on me!
…… Some of you are probably thinking to yourself, this guy sounds like a real pompous jerk! (Hopefully all of you thought that!) The above is not a genuine prayer of mine. It is actually my own paraphrase of a parable Jesus told in the book of Luke.
11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
I wanted to get your attention with the above prayer because sadly there are people who pray like this. Perhaps not to the extreme as in my example, but it happens. In fact every one of us may be guilty on occasion of praying prayers like this, or making comments in day to day conversation that reflect a similar sentiment. We don’t do it so bold and flagrantly, instead we use much more subtle language to exalt ourselves. None the less, this type of prayer reveals the condition of our heart. Self-righteous, hypocritical and far from God.
Jesus then went on to give us a better way to approach God in prayer – with humility.
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
The man who was just judged and condemned in the Pharisee’s prayer stood humbly before God, afraid to even lift his head. This man does the only thing that we should be doing before a holy and righteous God and that’s confess what we truly are – sinners – then ask for mercy. When I read his prayer I can feel heaviness in this mans heart. He know’s how sinful and unworthy he is and to even have the ability to approach God is unimaginable so he keeps his head down, bowed before the king, and begs for mercy and forgiveness. This is the way we approach God, with humble hearts.
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Before you come to God in prayer take a moment for some self-reflection. Examine your heart so that you will approach God properly. You can humble yourself before God, or God will humble you.
There is another issue with the way we pray that Jesus points out in Matthew.
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
This here is an issue of motive! Why do we want to pray to begin with? Are we praying to make a big show of it so that people can see how righteous and spiritual we are? Or are we praying because we love the father and we want to connect with him, learn from him and understand his will for our lives?
How often have you been in a public place, perhaps the grocery store or a starbucks, and the person in front of you is on their cell phone talking loud and obnoxiously so that everyone can hear? It can be frustrating! We think to ourselves ‘nobody else wants to hear your conversation!’ Prayer is conversation with God, making a big show of it in public is very much like being the obnoxious person on the cell phone. Keep it to yourself! There is of course an appropriate way to pray in public – when believers gather together and humbly approach God with the motive of petitioning him or seeking his will. This is a very healthy and important practice for the church.
Jesus pointed out a better way to structure your private prayer life
6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Prayer is meant to be intimate. It is our connection and life-line with God. It is how we come to know him and how we discover his will for our lives. Just remember to humble yourself when you approach the king of the universe and don’t make a show of it – then our father will reward you! I’ll end with some words from Paul.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.