The Prayer of the Penitent
Jesus continues his teaching on prayer. Yesterday, we discussed persistence in prayer, especially when that concerns matters of injustice: God will vindicate both His great name and His chosen ones. Today’s lesson on prayer focuses more on our attitude when we pray. We must understand that there are right ways to pray and wrong ways to pray. Many do not understand this. They think that they can waltz into God’s throne room and say just any ole thing. It’s a sign of the disrespect and lack of decorum that are features of our day. Yes, Scripture does speak of drawing near to the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16, some translations say, “boldly”), because of the access the Father has given us on account of His dear Son; but we must still approach with fear and trembling as our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28-29).
In our Lord’s parable, he contrasts two men who go up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee reminds God how good he is and thanks Him that he is not sinful like others. There is something to be said for thanking God that we do not suffer the same temptations as others, but it must be done in the spirit of humility understanding that but for the grace of God, there go I. Unlike the Pharisee stands the tax collector who can’t even bring himself to lift his eyes to heaven but only repeats, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus chooses the tax collector because they were so despised in that society, and in many cases for good reason as so many were crooked. But in Jesus’ parable, the tax collector is sincere; we assume he is either repentant or simply an honest tax collector, which I’m sure there were and are.
Jesus summarizes the parable saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Of all the virtues, humility is chief. And it is with humility that we approach the throne of grace, confessing our sins, and acknowledging that, without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). It is the Lord who works in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). We take no credit; we own nothing before Him but our sins, whether tax collector or Pharisee. And we understand that were it not for our Lord’s work as Mediator on the cross, and his intercession at the Father’s side, we would not be able to approach the throne at all. And so we do approach the throne of grace with confidence, not in ourselves, but in the Lord, who has welcomed us on His own behalf and for the sake of His glory and our salvation.