The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.” Luke 18:13 (CEV)

When I was about four years old my father, a pastor, invited some regionally famous friends and musicians to our church for special evangelistic meetings. One afternoon my dad and the musicians were in the living room discussing the upcoming service and I eagerly listened in.

Then it came time to pray. I kneeled as the men did and listened as my dad prayed. He was a passionate pray-er. When Dad prayed it was as if he left the room to talk with a friend. We listened, but we were not part of the conversation. Then one of the men followed in prayer, equally eloquent as I remember.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. What I do remember is that I decided I was next and began to pray what I thought was an eloquent, theologically based, Holy Spirit empowered prayer. I began by lifting my voice loudly and saying “OH LORD GOD IN HEAVEN! WE COME BEFORE YOU THIS AFTERNOON IN PRAYER!”

It was about that time my dad interrupted me. It was a gentle interruption but the lesson stuck with me all these years. Prayer isn’t about fancy words. Prayer isn’t about voice inflections designed to conjure up the Spirit of God and make him see the value of listening to us. Prayer isn’t about trying to get an alienated God to pay attention to us. Prayer is talking to a loving Father, a dear friend, an intimate lover.

Thus it was in the temple that day. The Tax Collector entered the far part of the temple. His guilt was ever before him. His burden too great to bear. His heart heavy with disgrace and embarrassment. We aren’t told what his sin was. It doesn’t matter. What we do know is that his simple prayer of just seven words was far more powerful than the 30 some eloquent words of the Pharisee up front at the altar.

No one, except the Pharisee, even noticed the tax collector in the corner, head bowed, fists clenched against his chest, a demeanor that spoke of humility, repentance and simplicity.

He was aware of the fact that there was nothing, absolutely nothing that he had to offer God.

He was aware of the reality that only because of God’s grace and mercy was he even able to take the next breath.

Yet, he was aware that there was no place on earth where he could find forgiveness than at the feet of his father.

When we pray, the angels aren’t holding score cards to judge our words and eloquence. The Father is looking at us to see the sincerity and simplicity of a broken and contrite heart. Our religious and social activity doesn’t impress him, our brokenness before him is what moves him to act in our lives.

PRAYER: Holy Father. I confess to you that from time to time I still try to impress you with my many words and activity when all you want is my heart. I’m so unworthy of all you have given me. Thank you for your grace and mercy to help me on the way. Amen.

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