Christian Living

Spiritual Life

What Is the Correct Way to Pray?

Prayer, simply put, is conversation with God. That in mind, shouldn’t we be doing it in a way that pleases Him? Not to get us on a good list so that He’ll do what we ask, but to really understand how to talk with Him, and share our concerns, fears, and pleas. We would never subject a friend to demands made out of fear or pride. How could that be a good way to talk to God?

The Bible says a lot about prayer, including Jesus’ words on how to pray (The Lord’s Prayer - Matthew 6:9-13). One parable Jesus shared with his disciples, speaks directly to my question.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

In Luke 18, the doctor-turned-disciple recorded a story Jesus told about two men who both prayed to God, and how they were each received by the Father.

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector.” (Luke 18:9-10, NLT)

This parable is a good way to measure our hearts as we come to God in prayer. Ask yourself, am I the Pharisee or a tax collector? It’s kind of hard to determine who the good guy is in this scenario before Jesus explains God’s point of view. Prior to Jesus’ admonitions against the religiosity perpetuated by the Pharisees, they were the respected church leaders. They were the holy men of that day. The tax collectors were hated by most. Right off the bat, one would assume that Jesus would denounce the later, as the “sinner”. And he would, if it were not for what the taxman did inside the temple.

“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-14, New Living Translation)

The parable’s lesson is found in what these two men do in response to God’s presence. The proud church leader attempts to validate his own “righteousness” in his prayer. He judges his neighbor all while spouting his good deeds, as if that’s going to guarantee him some Brownie points with God. The tax collector approaches his prayer in humility. With no self-righteous bone in his body, he asks God to show him mercy.

Prayers that God Hears

The Lord hears the prayers of the justified and the humble. King Josiah’s god-fearing life, as recorded in the Old Testament, is an example of this. In 2 Chronicles 34:27, we see that a repentant heart gets God’s attention.

You were sorry and humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this city and its people. You humbled yourself and tore your clothing in despair and wept before me in repentance. And I have indeed heard you, says the Lord. (NLT)

God wants to hear sincerity in our prayer, not vanity. As we pray, let’s determine to stay steadfastly humble before the Lord. Fortunately, God extends mercy to everyone who comes to Him in repentance, even those who get stuck in Churchianity, like the Pharisee. Bottom line: God is concerned with the heart of a person. So next time you go to God in prayer, ask yourself, am I humble or proud? Either way, it’s a chance to get right with Him.

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