A number of years ago, I read a book by a well-known pastor that described a God-focused church as a praying church. That is, it is a group of people who are passionate about prayer. They’re fervently pleading before God, on their knees in tears. That’s certainly true, sometimes. But there are also times when prayer is a struggle. When my prayers feel weak, and nothing at all like what I’ve just written.
I know I’m not alone in this; it’s just that most people who feel weak as they pray, tend to not talk about it too much. And when we feel this way, most of the advice that’s given about prayer feels like a pile of burning coals being dropped on our heads. It is painful. It is punishing. And sometimes when I read these kinds of descriptions of what prayer “should” look like, I often think back on the tax collector and the Pharisee. One was a braggart, boasting of all that he did “for” God, and how observant he was. The other, a broken man, one who simply and weakly said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
It’s easy to default to looking at the former as an outwardly positive model of prayer. His prayers seem powerful, even if it’s just his boasting. But the tax collector is the one who shows us what truly powerful prayer looks like. He models what we need to always pursue: not a passionate form of prayer, but a passionate belief in the One to whom we pray. This is what Robert Murray M’Cheyne encouraged when he wrote, “Urgency in prayer does not so much consist in vehement pleading as in vehement believing. He that believes most the love and power of Jesus will obtain most in prayer.”
This probably seems like a strange encouragement; at the very least, it could be twisted into saying, “Just believe harder.” Which is not what I’m saying at all. Instead, my point, and hopefully encouragement, for those of us who often feel weak in prayer is to focus less on our eloquence or our ability to outwardly display our thoughts, desires, and emotions. This doesn’t necessarily mean we’re praying faithfully. We might just like to hear ourselves talk. Instead, let’s continue to keep our eyes on the One who gave everything for us—Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. The object of our faith. Jesus is greater than our ability to express ourselves.
He is what matters most.