The story of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee who both went to pray, is found in Luke 18. The Pharisee thanks God that he’s not wicked like other people. The tax collector won’t even look up, beats his breast, and prays for mercy – confessing his sinful and undeserving state. Jesus tells his listeners that the tax collector goes home “justified” here.
Usually when we hear this story, it’s a reminder that we need to approach God with more humility, recognizing our need for His mercy, etc. It’s true, even in our daily walk, those of us who have grown up in Church-life automatically “look down” on others bound by certain sins – usually without even realizing it.
There is even more to this story than a call to humility, however. I think those of us familiar with this story, may sometimes be experiencing lukewarm prayer-lives. Wanting to model ourselves after the tax collector, we approach God with all the appropriate humility, and like the tax collector – “not even look up to heaven”. These words seem to speak of expectation.We pray, but who are we to ask something of God? He’ll choose whether or not to do it, and “your Will be done” is our “get out of expectation free” card.
But this story is open-ended. We don’t hear of the tax collector getting hit by a donkey cart on his way home. He’s not dead. He went home justified. Different. The next time he approaches God in prayer, it is as a new person. Not that he becomes like the Pharisee, but perhaps next time he will actually “look up” in expectation. Still humbled before God, aware of his sinful estate, but also knowing He has been justified and stands in the presence of a God who invites His prayers. Maybe that’s a big “perhaps”. (I recognize that Jesus’ story was not actually an illustration regarding prayer.)
But still…I believe, and have been reminded that God desires his people to be “of prayer”. Not in a way that brags “I prayed for ___ hours this past week.”…but in a way that honestly says “Praying is like breathing or eating to me…it’s necessary for my life.” For us to pray with expectation that we speak in the presence of a God who hears and is with us. A God who’s nature and will is New Life and transformation.
For us to be silent, with the expectation that the presence we are silent with, will respond where we give room. May he continue to reveal how we should pray…and may we respond as people who are receiving His nature…
..after all, our kids are becoming homo orans, or “beings who pray”, right along with us.