Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee…Luke 18:10-11a
The Pharisee’s prayer begins by reporting to God what he was doing, thanking God. “God, I thank thee….”
Mirrored here is the autobiographical self-reporting so prevalent in prayer. Examples include, “God, we thank thee…”, “Father, we are thankful…”, “Father, I pray…”, “We ask you, Lord…” Once you begin listening for the Pharisee’s gramatical style, you’ll hear it in prayers everywhere. Isn’t it an irony how easy it is to make prayer an excercise of informing God and men of our own prayerfulness, thankfulness, etc?
In contrast, the publican was direct. None of this “I pray”, “I ask”, but, “God be…” Jesus comments:
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.Luke 18:14
May we hear ourselves, filter out the autobiography, and become simple and direct.
May we heed this guide as to the sound of contrition, the sound of pleasing God by depending unreservedly upon his mercy. Let our Pharisee hearts imitate the publican style. Imitating style won’t assure us contrite hearts, but it will affirm the need for heart contrition. Oh God, help thou my lack of contrition! Give us those hearts that you justify!
While we wait for God’s answer to such prayers, we do well to deny the world’s cruel advice to follow our own hearts and instead follow the Word to hear, be wise, and guide our hearts in the way (Pr 23:19). This is one more area where our hearts are not to be followed but guided.
Other scriptures affirm. Jesus included no self-report in the Lord’s prayer. The Psalms are not characterized by self-report. On the other hand, where Jesus prayed for the benefit of those around him, he did self-report in his high priestly prayer and his prayer at the raising of Lazarus where he stated explicitly why he spoke out loud (Jn 11:41-42). To encourage those to whom he wrote, Paul frequently reported on his intercessory prayers for them. Jesus’ plea in the garden included no self-report.
The two men in the temple: mirror, filter, and guide for style and heart to please God and inspire the godly.