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The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.” Luke 18:13 (CEV)

When I was about four years old my father, a pastor, invited some regionally famous friends and musicians to our church for special evangelistic meetings. One afternoon my dad and the musicians were in the living room discussing the upcoming service and I eagerly listened in.

Then it came time to pray. I kneeled as the men did and listened as my dad prayed. He was a passionate pray-er. When Dad prayed it was as if he left the room to talk with a friend. We listened, but we were not part of the conversation. Then one of the men followed in prayer, equally eloquent as I remember.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. What I do remember is that I decided I was next and began to pray what I thought was an eloquent, theologically based, Holy Spirit empowered prayer. I began by lifting my voice loudly and saying “OH LORD GOD IN HEAVEN! WE COME BEFORE YOU THIS AFTERNOON IN PRAYER!”

It was about that time my dad interrupted me. It was a gentle interruption but the lesson stuck with me all these years. Prayer isn’t about fancy words. Prayer isn’t about voice inflections designed to conjure up the Spirit of God and make him see the value of listening to us. Prayer isn’t about trying to get an alienated God to pay attention to us. Prayer is talking to a loving Father, a dear friend, an intimate lover.

Thus it was in the temple that day. The Tax Collector entered the far part of the temple. His guilt was ever before him. His burden too great to bear. His heart heavy with disgrace and embarrassment. We aren’t told what his sin was. It doesn’t matter. What we do know is that his simple prayer of just seven words was far more powerful than the 30 some eloquent words of the Pharisee up front at the altar.

No one, except the Pharisee, even noticed the tax collector in the corner, head bowed, fists clenched against his chest, a demeanor that spoke of humility, repentance and simplicity.

He was aware of the fact that there was nothing, absolutely nothing that he had to offer God.

He was aware of the reality that only because of God’s grace and mercy was he even able to take the next breath.

Yet, he was aware that there was no place on earth where he could find forgiveness than at the feet of his father.

When we pray, the angels aren’t holding score cards to judge our words and eloquence. The Father is looking at us to see the sincerity and simplicity of a broken and contrite heart. Our religious and social activity doesn’t impress him, our brokenness before him is what moves him to act in our lives.

PRAYER: Holy Father. I confess to you that from time to time I still try to impress you with my many words and activity when all you want is my heart. I’m so unworthy of all you have given me. Thank you for your grace and mercy to help me on the way. Amen.

When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Matthew 6:7 (CEV)

Two men prepare to enter the sanctuary. One walks boldly to the front. Well dressed and confident he lifts his eyes to heaven and begins to talk. Those around him listen carefully and are impressed with his words. He is, to them at least, obviously a very spiritual man. A few in attendance nod in agreement to his words. Others hope that one day they too will be able to pray like he does.

The second man goes largely unnoticed. He walks, almost stumbles as a drunk, towards the front. His chin rests on his chest. He dare not look up. He quietly finds a place in the corner pew. A few give him a passing glance and look away. He’s recognized but not acknowledged. It’s been years since he was here. It’s been longer than that since he’d prayed. Looking at the floor he looks for the words. They don’t come. How did he get here? More importantly, how can he come back? Will God even accept him?

Finally he speaks. His words go unnoticed for they are quiet, humble and simple words. “Oh God…I’m sorry,” was all he could muster up to say.

Jesus says the second man, not the first will have his prayer heard. The pious prayer, the lengthy prayer full of theological mumble jumble may impress men, but not God. Listen to your prayers sometime. If you talked with your lover the way you talk with God what would your love relationship be like? If during your times of passion with the one who means more to you than life itself you said the same words, in the same tone as yesterday and the day before and the day before, would you be sincere?

There are some that say God doesn’t answer prayer, that he’s distant, uninterested or that their prayers never go beyond the ceiling. The sad thing is, they are probably correct. For unless we have a personal relationship with Jesus, the Father can’t hear our prayers, unless they are sincere, heartfelt prayers of repentance. They are meaningless babble.

Even those of us who are Christ-followers need to evaluate our prayer life.  Your Heavenly Father would rather you just talk with him than have you pray to him. I’ve heard parents pray with their children and use it as an opportunity to tell their child what he needs to do. I’ve heard pastors use the ‘closing prayer’ as an opportunity to get the last point of their sermon in. I’m embarrassed to admit that at times my prayers turn into a wandering treatise with no direction.

What would our churches, our homes, our families be like if we as Christ-followers learned how to talk with God as two passionate lovers talk during those intimate times of life? How would we change? How would our view of God change? How would we see God move in miraculous and powerful ways?

One of the most meaningful prayers I’ve ever heard was the time a friend of mine laid his hand on my shoulder and in broken words said simply, “I…I…don’t have words. God, I pray for Mike.” It wasn’t fancy. It was a prayer of love from the heart that rose to heaven like a sweet aroma to the God of the universe.

PRAYER: Father God. Daddy. I come before you humbly. I pray for me. I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ. I ask that you would forgive those of us who have never learned to sit and passionately talk with you. Empower us with your Spirit to have the desire to sit and chat with you so that we can see your power manifest in us like we have never seen before. In your most holy and righteous name, Amen.

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May 2022
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