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Looks can be deceiving

SETTING THE PACE / Living life with an eternal perspective

Luke 18:10-14 records two prayers, but only one of them honors God. Read this story and see which one pleases God: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

 This story always touches my heart. God has never been and never will be interested in appearances. We all know looks can be deceiving. What matters most to God is the heart. In this story, there was a Pharisee (a religious leader) who appeared to be more spiritual than the  sinful tax collector. The Pharisee touted all the external spiritual things he was doing, while the tax collector simply cried out to God. The difference was found in the heart. It’s good to do spiritual things, as long as they are done from the right heart. The problem was, the Pharisee’s heart was corrupt and he was trying to cover it with religious activity. Interestingly enough, the tax collector’s heart was corrupt too, but he did not try and cover it. He cried out to God for forgiveness and he received it.

 I have been thinking much about prayer lately. God wants us to pray, but he wants us to pray from the right heart. How can we make sure  our  prayers  honor God? I am sure there are many ways to  answer  that question, but here are three things to always remember.

 First, our prayers must be genuine. God wants  honest prayer from a genuine heart. Just like the tax collector, God wants us to come  to  Him  genuinely and admit the truth of what is in our heart. We cannot fool God and  any  attempt to do so is an offense to Him. Always be genuine in your prayers!

 Second, our prayers must come from a broken heart. As the Psalmist said in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” In Luke 18, the tax collector did not come to God making demands, but rather he was desperate.  He was  a  broken man who realized he needed God’s forgiveness. When we approach God, our genuine prayers must come from a broken heart, and then God takes the broken pieces of our heart and heals us.

 Finally, our prayers must be humbly directed to the one true God! As we humbly cry out in prayer, we do not just pray to the air or to “a” god, but rather to “the” God of the Bible. Powerful prayer is not praying powerfully. Powerful prayer is communicating genuinely and humbly to the God of all creation. This is why we praise in Jesus’ name. Jesus is the One who takes our prayers to the Father. As Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since,  then we have a great high priest,  who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

 As we pray, let us do so in a way that honors God. God does not look for eloquence, superior knowledge, or religious appearances. Rather, he  looks  for genuine, broken, and humble prayer directed to Him in the powerful and matchless name of Jesus! If you think you are too sinful to pray, you are not. Just admit your sinfulness to God and cry out to Him for help, and he will hear your prayer and be honored. This week, let us drop our pride and humbly seek God. As Jesus said, “He who  humbles himself  will be exalted.” See you next week!

Jeremy Freeman


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