The Prevailing Prayer
“9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10″Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
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.’
14″I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 NIV (emphasis mine)
In this passage, two men come before God and pray, but they did not come before God the same way, and the results were dramatically different. The same can happen today. Two men may go to the same church, be involved in the same bible study, and prayer meetings, but approach God entirely different. Maybe they both sing the same worship songs, and hear the same messages taught at church. They could have gone on the same men’s retreats, and read the same bible passages.
Although most things appear similar, one may approach God with a powerless prayer while the other with a prevailing prayer. Here are the differences.
The Powerless Prayer
“11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” Luke 18:11-12 NIV
The Pharisee prayed self-centered prayers with which he was the focus. In his short prayer, the Pharisee repeats “I” four times (in the NIV, 5 times in the NKJV)! The scripture says that the tax collector, “prayed about himself” (NIV). The New King James Version says that he “prayed thus with himself.”
The self-centered prayer then, is focused and passionate about what is on our own agenda, but is not so concerned with what is on God’s agenda. The self-centered prayer focuses on me, my own power, and the good deeds I have done before God, rather than relying on the goodness, mercy, and compassion of God. When the Pharisee came to pray, he showed the keys to a powerless prayer. He came to God with a spirit of pride and arrogance. He considered himself to be superior to others both morally and spiritually. He praised himself and condemned his neighbor, praised his own religious practices, and trusted that his good deeds were what made him acceptable to God.
The Pharisee gives the idea that God owes him for his goodness and he failed to see his own need for God and for God’s forgiveness (Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God). I can imagine the Pharisee praying with eloquent words that sound spiritual so much so that if anyone heard him pray, they would think that he was truly a “spiritual man.”
The tax collector probably awkwardly stumbled over his words as he said his short and to-the-point prayer, but the amazing thing is that this was the prevailing prayer that Jesus spoke of.
The Prevailing Prayer
“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.’” Luke 18:13 NIV
While the powerless prayer depends on and banks on my own power and deeds that I do before God, the prevailing prayer relies on the mercy and compassion of God.
When the tax collector came before God, he revealed some of the keys to a prevailing prayer. First, he came to God with a humble spirit and he recognized the holiness of God. He also recognized that his own sin made him unworthy to come before God in the first place. Not only did he acknowledge his sin, but he also acknowledged God’s grace, and made a plea to God for it. The scripture says that he “beat his breast” (NIV) which implied that he was so aware of the sin that resided in his heart that he would hit at his own heart as a form of punishment. The Message version of the same verse says that he “slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up.”
This parable shows two men with two different approaches to God. One was humble while the other was proud. One depended on self-righteousness while the other depended on God’s righteousness. Jesus taught in this parable that when I approach God, I must do so with a humble heart. That idea is one taught throughout the scriptures.
“17 The sacrifices of God are [a] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalms 51:17 “6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 NIV
“9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” 1 John 1:9-10
The question that begs to be answered is how will I approach God? What attitude do I bring when I come before Him? Do I bring an attitude of arrogance or an attitude of humility? Do I pray thinking it is God’s privilege to hear me speak, or do I pray knowing that it is a privilege that God would even hear my prayers?
Lord Jesus thank You that You even hear my prayers when You don’t need to. Thank You that You respond to my prayers when You are not obligated to. Thank You that You love me, even though You are not required to. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.