He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “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, extortioners, 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.”
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:9-17
Luke 18 provides us some of Jesus’ most extensive teaching on prayer. In this passage, Jesus uses story to illustrate the heart required for faithful praying. In verses 9-14, Jesus recounts the simple prayer of a tax collector and contrasts it with the pompous prayer of a Pharisee. Jesus makes it clear that it is not the eloquence of the Pharisee that is commended, but instead the humble plea of the tax collector.
Jesus continues to relate the value of humility and simplicity when He reminds His followers in verse 15-17 that those who receive the Kingdom must do so like children. In God’s wisdom, He values the simple prayers of His people.
Richard Foster writes of simple prayer, “Jesus reminds us that prayer is a little like children coming to their parents. Our children come to us with the craziest requests at times! Often we are grieved by the meanness and selfishness in their requests, but we would be all the more grieved if they never came to us even with their meanness and selfishness. We are simply glad that they do come—mixed motives and all. This is precisely how it is with prayer. We will never have pure enough motives, or be good enough, or know enough in order to pray rightly. We simply must set all these things aside and begin praying. In fact, it is in the very act of prayer itself – the intimate, ongoing interaction with God –that these matters are cared for in due time. What I am trying to say is that God receives us just as we are and accepts our prayers just as they are. In the same way that a small child cannot draw a bad picture so a child of God cannot offer a bad prayer.”
“So we are brought to the most basic, the most primary form of prayer: Simple Prayer. Let me describe it for you. In Simple Prayer we bring ourselves before God just as we are, warts and all. Like children before a loving father, we open our hearts and make our requests. We do not try to sort things out, the good from the bad. We simply and unpretentiously share our concerns and make our petitions. We tell God, for example, how frustrated we are with the co-worker at the office or the neighbor down the street. We ask for food, favorable weather, and good health.”
What Jesus teaches – and what Foster reminds us – is that prayer is not complicated. It is us speaking to God with honesty, transparency, and humility. No recitation of certain words makes prayer more valuable, nor is eloquence a requirement. What matters in prayer is not what we say so much as that we pray. We make our requests known to God because we believe wholeheartedly that He cares for us.
With a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old at home, I am reminded every day that children are not bashful in sharing with their parents what they need, what they like, what they dislike, where they hurt, and what they want to be one day. There is little consideration of what they say, only certainty that, as a parent, I want to know. So, be reminded today: God wants to know.
Reflection: God wants to hear from you, He wants to know what you are feeling, thinking, and desiring. Prayer can be as simple as a word, a sentence, or a short statement. Take the example of the tax collector today and pray a simple prayer.
Prayer: God, have mercy on us sinners.