Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess." And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Once people are introduced to the idea of prayer, they soon fall into a problem with the position they pray from. I am not talking about a physical position, it doesn’t matter if you have your hands folded or head bowed or if you are on your knees, but it does matter what position your attitude is in when you pray. Many people believe that prayer is a position of entitlement. They believe that God is their personal genie who will give them what they command. At times this attitude of entitlement is obvious, the person has the completely wrong idea on prayer. When this is the case you can expect the person to either be ensnared in false teaching or simply just ignorant of what prayer is. Other times this attitude is well hidden in the life of the Christian, and they have figured out the language of prayer and add phrases that mask their perceived entitlement. These phrases may be ones like, “Nevertheless Your will be done”, “Could You please do this or that God?”, and “I just want what is best”. All of these phrases can be good, and even biblical, but at times (a lot of the time) they are used to simply mask a sinful prayer.
Many Christians' prayer lives are an exact replica of their Christmas lists; all they seem to do is ask or demand that God gives them something. They essentially are praying, “God I surely have made it on the nice list this year, could you please bring me a new toy.” This type of communication makes it impossible to keep a healthy relationship with God, in fact, the only person this type of communication is adequate for is a relationship with a fictional character. We are not to be praying down at God like He is doing our bidding, rather we are to pray from a position of dependence.
From Luke 18:10-14 we can see the example of two men who prayed with two totally different attitudes. The Pharisee prayed from a position of entitlement, though he is not asking for something in this passage, he is proclaiming to God that he made the “nice list” and gave Him all the reasons why. This is the start of an entitled prayer because the Pharisee believed he was better than most others. It is clear that he also believes that God should pay attention to him and his needs above others. This is the prayer that proclaims a special entitledness to it.
The other man prayed from a much different position. The tax collector didn’t claim any special position or that he was on the “nice list”, he desperately cried out in dependence to God, “be merciful to me a sinner.” The tax collector understood a great lesson on prayer, when we approach God we are to come with a dependence that clings tightly to God!
I remember vividly learning the lesson of dependence in prayer. It started the day after my wife and I said our marriage vows. I had struggled the past few years with a recurring urinary tract infection and the doctors believed the best course of action was to place me on a preventative antibiotic. This worked well for several months, but leading up to our wedding, due to not knowing exactly what God had in store for us, I was working three jobs and preparing for the wedding. This made for a hectic schedule, and frankly a little bit of absent-mindedness on my part. In my absentmindedness, I forgot to get my prescription filled for a couple weeks leading up to our wedding. A few days before the wedding I filled the prescription and devised what I thought was a brilliant plan, I would take double the medicine leading up to the wedding to make sure I wouldn’t get sick. This was very foolish, but nothing noticeably bad happened.
The day after our wedding is when the trial that would teach me a great lesson on prayer surfaced in my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having an allergic reaction to the medicine that I had been placed on. This allergic reaction was not something life threatening like my windpipe closing or something obviously noticeable like a rash from head to toe, this reaction was a rare one, but miserable to go through. The reaction that I had was anxiety. At the time I thought it was that I had a great fear of flying, but that was not the case. If you talked to my wife she would tell you that she knew something was wrong as my whole disposition changed before her eyes. I am normally overly patient with strangers and fairly calm in pressurized situations, but during this time I was panicked and easily annoyed.
After returning from our honeymoon, it would only be a couple of weeks until I accepted the call to pastor a church. I had continued taking the medicine (not knowing I was allergic), and this brought some great challenges before me, being that I was a brand new husband and pastor. I, all of the sudden, was greatly terrified by the responsibility that was now on my plate, I often freaked out about the fact that I would give an account for how I led my wife and how I pastored the church. This anxiety got so heavy that I no longer was keeping a healthy sleeping pattern. Instead of getting 6-8 hours of sleep (what I feel is pretty normal), I was getting 1-2 hours of sleep a night. This lack of sleep of course only multiplied the anxiety in my life.
This undoubtedly was an unpleasant experience, but it really established the position of my prayer life. It was during this time, that through the refining fire of this trial, I became desperately dependent upon God. I would spend most of each Saturday nights and early Sunday mornings pleading with God to give me the strength to preach. I knew I was not entitled to this strength, rather, I was clinging to God to get me through. It was through this trial that I truly took to heart the truth found in John 15:5 “… without Me you can do nothing.” I learned to plead with God humbly instead of demand from Him in a cloak of pride.
For a Christian to truly know Christ more he must come to terms with the necessity of prayer and also cling desperately to Christ out of dependence upon Him. If we cannot apply these two principles to our prayer life we will not get much out of our prayers. D.L. Moody said it best, “God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves.”