“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ (Luke 18:10-12 NASB)
The point of this parable, as described in the introduction, is that some trust in themselves for their righteousness. So Jesus contrasts two men from very different segments of their society. The Pharisee begins his prayer with thankfulness. That makes sense, until we see what he’s thankful for. He thanks God, but he lists the things he’s thankful for as things he does. In other words, he sounds right on the front end, but his actual content indicates a huge error.
It’s easy to spot. It’s easy to criticize in others. You’ve probably heard the prayers of others with such content. But have you ever truly analyzed your own prayer content? I have discovered that mine is often peppered with things I want others around me to know. Sometimes, in private prayer, I’ve discovered that I’m actually telling God what to do rather than asking for what He wants to do. Sometimes I’ve tried to “paint God into a corner” so that He is honor-bound to answer my prayer.
Sure, I can poke fun at those who seem to punctuate their prayers with “Lord God” or “Oh Lord”, or whatever. But I’m discovering that their actual prayers mean a lot more than mine do. I often find that there is a lot less of them in what they actually say to God than there is of me in what I say. And before you point out that I’m paying way too much attention, comparing myself to others, may I just point out that I’m also learning what my Master has from me by working out my salvation with others. I’m learning. And hopefully, growing in my faith and practice.
See, the problem isn’t my prayer, it’s my heart. My intent and focus is too much on myself and what I want when I pray like this. When I notice it in myself or when I realize my prayers so different from others, I realize I’m letting my “old nature” live too much. It’s part of my repentance, part of my sanctification, part of my death that I learn these lessons. I must decrease and He must increase; it’s my reality not just the one John the Baptist found himself in.
But this is the path of discipleship. It’s a path of death by cross that I carry myself. It’s a life of loving my Master so much it seems I hate my family and myself. It’s a path where the mind of Christ Jesus wakens in me the compulsion to empty myself and take on the form of a servant. It’s a life lived in the constant presence of the Creator God of the entire universe, from quarks to galaxies. It’s actually kind of cool, but it includes these inane examinations of my prayer life to make sure the my nature doesn’t show on the dipstick.
On that note, how’s your prayer life? What’s your view through the knothole? Are you more “Pharisee” or “tax collector”? Oh, and if you think you’re not as bad as me, if that actually went through your brain…well you probably get the point.