Cross Points 3.26.21

Talking to God:  Prayer of the Humble

In Jesus' day tax collectors, prostitutes, and those considered unclean reached out to him, and he responded with understanding and grace.  In odd contrast, many of the religious elite, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes of the Law, shook their fists at Jesus and eventually killed him.  Shaking their fist, they failed to understand that to receive a gift (grace and forgiveness) requires open hands.

Prayer can be very formal, very professional, very appealing to the masses, and there is a place for public prayer, to be sure.  Even then, it should be without pretense, sincere prayer.  Not the prayer of the rich man in Jesus' parable who looked to heaven saying, “Thank you Lord that I am not a sinner like...”  Not a sinner?  Surely, he jests.  Careful, friend, or we may adopt the same attitude, if not the words.  Do we rest secure in our expensive houses while avoiding that neighbor who lives in an old trailer and doesn't take care of things?  What are his circumstances, his story?  Don't know, don't care?  Attitude...careful.
A Christian discipline we often avoid is confession.  It's easy to think we have nothing to confess, after all we've been a Christian for many years, we live a decent life.  Besides, to confess means I'm admitting wrong, and that makes me feel bad.  Here's the thing: unless we admit how imperfect we are before a perfect God, in specific ways, we won't change.  We won't be in a state of repentance necessary to claim the title of disciple.  And that is essential.  Part of prayer is this process of recognizing wrong thoughts, wrong actions, admitting them to God, and bowing before him in contrition.  David cries out, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Try me and know my thoughts.  See if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Such an attitude in prayer may require some solitude.  Jesus said within the Sermon on the Mount to go into your prayer closet.  Odd, since most Jews lived modestly and had no closets in their home.  Other versions say to go into your room, but even then, many lived in one room houses, not sectioned off like today.  Maybe Jesus was just using a figure of speech to suggest we need privacy, a place to be alone with our thoughts, to be honest with God.  Rexanne rises early to pray and prays while running or riding her bike; I pray during the 10-minute drive to work, seeing a beautiful sunset, or while in the privacy of early morning at the breakfast table.
Being humble in prayer also requires us to recognize our dependency on God.  Sounds easy enough, but many live contrary to this idea, often without realizing it. We are Americans, after all, and our independence is a badge we wear proudly.  “I live self-sufficient!” we declare.  But the facts speak otherwise.  We depend on public utilities to warm our house, to provide light, to cook our meals.  We depend on public transportation, or auto manufacturers, to get us places.  We rely on farmers to grow the food we need, markets to provide the food.  We grow up with teachers in school, with various sources to learn social graces.  Spiritually we have the church and those who teach the Bible.  On and on it goes as our independence is challenged at every step.  We play a part to be sure, the skills we develop and the initiative we exert key to success, but surely, we are not self-sufficient.  Far from it.  In sincere prayer we declare our dependence on God, above all other things.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” we are told by James, the half-brother of Jesus.  He should know.  At one time he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, but later, humbled by the facts of Jesus' death and resurrection, he becomes a pillar in the church.  Theologian Daniel Hawk once said, “The basic human problem is that everyone believes there is a God, and that I am it.”  Maybe not boastfully, but certainly in the way many humans hold God at arms-length and do things their way.  James bowed down; we should too.
“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether,” says David in Psalm 139.  Yes, we may struggle with our words in prayer sometimes, but the effort, sincerely expressing our doubts and fears, while declaring our love and dependence on God, seeking his way always, keeps us on track.  C.S. Lewis said, “We must lay before God what is in us, not what ought to be in us.”  That's being honest, being humble.  It doesn't end there.  Then, as disciples, we pursue his way, to find “what ought to be in us.”
Cross Point: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power” (James 5:16).  How do we become “righteous”?  Righteous means: morally right, justifiable; virtuous in standing with God.  Perfect? No.  But “in Christ” we want what he wants, we seek to act as he would act, and such a person prays prayers that are powerful.
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