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The Scriptorium

The True Spirit of Prayer (1)

In prayer, attitude counts. Luke 8.9-14

Luke 18 (2)

Pray Psalm 51.10-13.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.

Sing Psalm 51.10-13.
(Passion Chorale: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded)
Create in me a clean heart, renew me from within!
Take not Your Spirit from me because of all my sin.
Salvation’s joy restore, Lord, and keep me in Your hand;
thus shall I tell Your strong Word to sinners in the land.

Read Luke 18.1-14; meditate on verses 9-14.

1. How did the Pharisee present himself to God?

2. How did the tax collector present himself to God?

What is the true spirit of prayer? That is, what disposition of soul and what attitudes should characterize us as we come before the Lord in prayer? Jesus wants us to pray always and persistently. “Always” can become a little routine? Perfunctory? And “persistently” – is that like nagging? We need to make sure, as we work on rising to Jesus’ expectations for prayer, that our soul is right when we come to Him. For He is waiting to bless us.

Prayer is not an arena for seeking to impress God or men. God knows us, inside-out, and men, hearing us pray like this, would more likely roll their eyes and move away. How do we think God would receive such prayer? Self-vaunting, self-justification, and self-seeking are out as ways of approaching God in prayer (vv. 9-12).

The tax collector, by contrast, sought no attention from anyone but the Lord. He was “standing afar off” where no one would see or hear him. He could not look up for fear of the Lord, but beat his breast in humility as he pleaded for mercy (v. 13). He knew himself to be a sinner, and he knew he needed what he did not deserve – the mercy of the Lord. His soul was right. His attitude was appropriate. And he went away “justified”, that is, having received the audience and petition he sought (v. 14).

The right spirit for coming to the Lord in prayer is the spirit of humility. We do not deserve the gift of prayer, the ear of our Lord, nor anything we might seek from Him in prayer. Come to the Lord in humility, and you can be sure that He will hear and He will answer and He will bless.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
Jesus, the quintessential storyteller, created this one to nail us all right between the eyes. Because who of us has never been guilty of hypocritical, self-serving, faux prayer?

The Pharisee’s first problem, besides being a Pharisee, was the fact that he “stood and thus prayed with himself” (Lk. 18.11). (I think if there had been a Greek LOL it would have appeared here). What a horribly apt description of self-justifying people of prayer. How often are we guilty of that one? We are not praying, but merely rehearsing amongst ourselves how righteous we must be since we are not as bad as (fill in the blank).

The Pharisee’s next problem was that he trusted in himself for his own righteousness. This was a bad move because all human righteousness is “like an unclean thing…like filthy rags” (Is. 64.6). And we should never trust in ourselves for anything. We are to trust only in the Lord with all our hearts, and never lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3.5), or our own faux righteousness.

And then lastly, he was guilty of despising others. “He who despises his neighbor sins” (Prov. 14.21). As with His creation of the villainous judge, Jesus made this character an unforgiven, undesirable piece of work.

Then there is Jesus’ description of the one God loves to hear pray. “Those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to the LORD, but the blameless in their ways are His delight.” “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Prov. 11.20; 15.8) He acknowledged his sin, he pleaded for mercy, and he was humble before his Creator. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight…” (Ps. 51.2-4).

The end of Jesus’ story brought encouragement to His listeners then, and encouragement to us now: “he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18.14). We will be forgiven when we approach the throne of grace properly. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4.16).

O Christian, “return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to the LORD. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices/fruit of our lips’” (Hos. 14.1, 2).

And God responds, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him" (Hos. 14.4); when his prayers are to Me, and not to himself.

“God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk. 18.13)

For reflection
1. Why is attitude so important in prayer?

2. Besides self-seeking, what are some other attitudes to guard against when we come to God in prayer?

3. Can we use prayer to get in the right attitude for prayer? Explain.

The publican’s address to God was full of humility, and of repentance for sin, and desire toward God. His prayer was short, but to the purpose; God be merciful to me a sinner.
Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on Luke 18.9-15

Pray Psalm 51.14-19.
Thank the Lord for His mercy and forgiveness. Call on Him to cleanse your heart and to prepare you for serving Him today.

Sing Psalm 51.14-19.
(Aughton: He Leadeth Me)
Deliver us, from guilt, O Lord, You Who have saved us by Your Word.
And let our tongues Your mercy bless, and sing of Your great righteousness!
Refrain vv. 15, 18
Lord, open now our lips to raise to You sweet songs of joyous praise!
Thus let Your favor on us fall, and build and strengthen Zion’s wall!

No sacrifice, no offering would You have us, Your people, bring;
but broken spirits, cleansed of lies, and pure hearts You will not despise.
Refrain vv. 15, 18

Now build Your Church, raise high the wall of those who on Your mercy call.
And take our lives and let them be sweet sacrifices, Lord, to Thee!
Refrain vv. 15, 18

T. M. and Susie Moore

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available free by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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