Most of us don’t need to be convinced that we should pray. Even the people who don’t believe in God, when faced with the worst of situations, often finds themselves in prayer to a god they don’t believe in. The way we approach God matters There are postures that we can take when we approach God that are appropriate in our relationship with Him. And there are other postures that seek to make God more like a divine Genie or pair of designer jeans than a loving father.
When you pray, do you pray as a prodigal, a pharisee, or do you pray as a son or daughter?
Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. - Luke 15:11-13
The prodigal son wants the benefits of sonship without any of the relationship. He wants to receive the inheritance, but he doesn’t want to be family. This is the story of being a prodigal. As prodigals, we look to do whatever it takes to get what we want, but we ultimately have no desire for any sort of relationship with our heavenly Father. We might want the reward, but we don’t want to live out our faith. We might want the benefits, but we don’t want any of the responsibility that comes with it.
When we pray like prodigals, we only pray when we want something. We might pray as though there is some being up there that occasionally grants our wishes, but we don’t pray to a Father. And we certainly don’t pray as though we have any kind of relationship with this God.
When the Pharisees pray, they want to be seen. They want people to know how holy they are. They are in essence standing on the street corners shouting, “Everybody come see how good I look.” The Pharisee follows the rules, but not because of their relationship with the father, but because of who might be watching them.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. - Matthew 6:5
The pharisee prays to be seen and believes all their blessings are rightfully theirs.
When we pray like pharisees we falsely believe that we have done something to earn our blessings. We pray, “Thank you God that I’m not like those sinners.” Or even, “Thank you God that I’m not like those Christians.” We find ourselves concerned and asking, “God I’ve done A, B, and C, why haven’t you blessed me yet?”
A Third Way
Instead, we should find ourselves responding like the prodigal son ends up responding. The son has a speech all planned out:
Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants. - Luke 15:18-19
He isn’t disowning his father this time. Instead he realizes he screwed it up. Unlike previously, this time he wants to come home, but knows he shouldn’t step foot in that house again. Unlike the pharisee, he shows up knowing fully what he deserves. His speech to his father is the equivalent to, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Instead of praying without a relationship and a false view of ourselves, we pray with the words that Jesus taught us, “Our Father.”
We pray not as prodigals or pharisees, but as sons and daughters. Sons and daughters who have been adopted into the family the work of the Son.