Luke 18:9-10 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
Sometimes we fail to hear the lesson in the text. God’s word never teaches us to pray for what we want – is that surprising? God’s word never teaches us to pray for what we want, but it does teach us to turn to God and trust in God and pray to God for what we need. Often when our focus is on what we want, we not only fail to see God’s blessings in our lives, but we grumble against God.
During the Exodus, people grumbled against God, they thought they needed meat to eat, while God answered their prayer, their hearts had already wandered from God, they did not trust him to provide – they trusted in themselves, they made a god out of "what I want" and they did not see how God provided for all their needs.
During the period of the judges, again the people grumbled against God, they tired of the Judges that God provided and whined for a king. God warned them what this would cost, but they insisted. And they got something they soon hated, and they forgot how God had provided for all their wants through the judges he appointed.
And then consider Jesus, he came bringing salvation, the long expected son of David, and how was he received? John 1:11-12 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;
Throughout the history of Israel, the chosen people wanted to be like the nations, and again and again they wandered away from God after what they wanted – and sometimes we never see that what God gives is better than anything we could ever wish for or want. Such is the sin of selfishness, it makes a god out of what I want, it falls under the 1st commandment, which forbids idolatry. But the biggest problem with idolatry, is that it keeps us from praying as we ought, for if we are only talking to ourselves, it is not very important, is it?
And that is the first prayer we hear in this parable, one that basically says: I thank you God that I am better than average. What do you get out of that prayer? A sense of satisfaction? But at what cost – if the wages of sin is death – if all are sinners – then you come away still in your sins, lost and condemned – and worst of all, you are satisfied with it.
I do not like the law, but it serves its purpose – it shows us that we are (by ourselves) spiritually blind dead and enemies of God. I do not like the law, but it has shown me the danger in praying for what I want. It is time to put away pride, to admit that often we do not know what we need, and to come to God confessing our sins, and praying for mercy. Praying for mercy puts what we get, into God’s hands, we do not dictate what we want or how we want it, instead we humbly ask God for what we need, and it is a real humility, for we acknowledge that sometimes we just don’t know.
But here is what we do know – that the mercy of God is full and complete – that it is in the mercy of God that Jesus died for our sins. It is in the mercy of God that the blood of Jesus washes all our sins away. It is in the mercy of God that Jesus death and resurrection has won for us everlasting life and the peace of God which passes all understanding. We would not even have thought to ask for these things - and yet, all this, and more is ours in Christ. It is the mercy of God, because we have neither earned or deserve any of these things – but our heavenly father knows that we need them, and has provided them for us – this is the mercy of God, that he should give such rich gifts to sinners – and this mercy of God which is ours in Jesus Christ is the gospel, the good news of our salvation.
Perhaps we will never know how to pray as we ought, but the mercy of God provides, how? Scripture says: Romans 8:26 "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words."
You see the great mystery of prayer, is that God teaches us to come to him in prayer, not because he doesn’t already know what we need, but rather that we might receive his grace and blessings with thankful hearts, seeing God at work in our lives.