Jesus Feeding the 5,000

A daily devotion for May 11th

What Prayer Is Not

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. Luke 18:9-12

Luke 18:9-12

We could call this, The Parable of the Two Pray-ers, for it begins with these words, Two men went up into the temple to pray. The object of our Lord in telling this parable is to tell us what real prayer is. The structure of this parable is one of contrast. Our Lord is teaching truth by setting it alongside error.

The Pharisee, in this little parable, was a man of prayer. He prayed frequently and without ever a miss. He was faithful in prayer, but his prayer was entirely wrong. In watching the Pharisee, we learn what prayer is not. There is a form of praying which is not prayer. This man assumed the correct posture for prayer. He stood with his arms spread and his eyes uplifted unto heaven. Among the Jews, this was the prescribed posture for prayer. But he was not praying to God, he was praying to himself! The NASB says, The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself. In other words, this prayer was a total waste of time. There was no one at the other end of the line.

Now what is this teaching us about prayer? First, it is clear that it is not prayer when we approach God impressed with our own virtues and accomplishments. The Pharisee was obviously well impressed with what he felt were his claims upon God's attention. This man felt that God ought to be thanked for having made such a remarkable specimen of humanity, and if no one else would do it he would take on the task himself; that such an unusual man should not be left unacknowledged on the face of the earth. We laugh as we listen to his prayer, but do we not unconsciously reflect the same position?

Most Christian prayers are prayed from this basis. Sometimes the virtue that we plan to contribute is that of humility. There is a kind of reverse brand of Pharisaism among Christians which goes something like this: Thank God I am not as proud as this Pharisee is — and we make ourselves out to be utterly vile. Or we babble continually about our shortcomings and our sins, and thereby we hope to impress God with our honesty and our humility.

But the simple truth is that we have no virtues of our own, none whatsoever. We have absolutely nothing to contribute to God's cause. We pray out of our utter bankruptcy, if we are honest with ourselves. We forget that these very talents with which we identify ourselves, these abilities that we have for leadership, or speaking, or singing, are in themselves gifts of God. This is the point Jesus is making in describing the Pharisee. He says when we pray from this basis, when we approach God on this level, we are praying to ourselves. This is not real prayer; our pious words, our properly phrased sentences, our completely scriptural, orthodox approach are of no value whatsoever. We are praying out of obsession with our own virtues.

Lord, teach me to come to you, not parading my own virtues and accomplishments, but casting myself fully on your tender mercy. Amen.

Life Application

Am I proud of my own humility in prayer?

This Daily Devotion was Inspired by one of Ray's Messages

What to Do While Waiting

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