A Thanksgiving Prayer you are better off not praying

thanksgiving prayerAll across America, families who still pause to give thanks at Thanksgiving are gearing up for the big day of feast, family, and faith. Heads of families or those whom suspect they may be called on to “offer grace” may have already begun boning up on their prayer life. Some like it more rehearsed. No surprises. Eases the tension of suddenly being the only voice in the room and speaking on everyone’s behalf…to God! Others will confidently and boldly “wing it.” There are those who acknowledge God, but only as a support, or an accomplice. They feel strongly about the fact that THEY provided this meal, this home, this haven of security for their family. Their prayer will likely reflect those sentiments.

There are others who use prayer time as a time to give God their resumè, to make sure He is actually aware of what a lucky stroke of genius it was to turn them loose on His creation to begin with. This is called pride. P-R-I-D-E, and it is particularly loathsome to God. Jesus gave the following example on how NOT to offer thanksgiving:

The Thanksgiving Prayer that isn’t

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 1“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer : ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~Luke 18:9-14 (NLT)

Something like, “Hey, God! You ought to be so proud of You for making someone as special as me. I mean, just, Wow! I’m not like other people. I resist the temptations that trap so many. I have a good job. I work hard. I provide for my family. I am loyal to my wife and I could be, you know, out tom-catting…I mean, look at me!”

I know. It sounds ridiculous. And overboard. But I have heard prayers just about that absurd. Pride is the stumbling block over which the very best of us stumbles. You navigate your way through the minefields of dishonesty, disloyalty, adultery, etc…then you start thinking you are special.

God hates that.

Pride is a symptom of a deeper problem

The subject of pride is dealt with rather harshly in the Bible.

These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who r sows discord among brethren. ~Proverbs 6:16 (NKJV)

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. ~Proverbs 16:18 (NKJV)

Why is God so put out with the proud?

Pride is a symptom of self-righteousness and self-righteousness is a declaration of independence from God. God’s holiness is only satisfied by His own righteousness. His is the only righteousness He accepts. We are sinners by nature. Any righteousness we muster is fueled by the flesh, not by faith. That is why even the good we do can become a source of sin.

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone s is in Christ, he is t a new creation; u old things have passed away; behold, all things have become v new. Now all things are of God, w who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are y ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become a the righteousness of God in Him. ~2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Salvation is an exchange of His righteousness for our sin. His righteousness is imputed to our account and our sin debt was imputed to His account and paid  in full by Christ at Calvary. There is no place for self-sufficiency or braggadocio here. There is no reason to tout our own righteous deeds.

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. ~Isaiah 64:6 (KJV)

Since the filthy rags here mentioned are understood to be the cloths used to cover the infectious sores of the diseased, this is not a ringing endorsement of self-righteousness. It is seen as just a facade, a covering. The disease remains. That is where the blood of Christ comes in.

But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. ~ Philippians 3:7-11 (KJV)

The Problem with Pharisee’s Prayer

The overarching problem with this man’s prayer was that it came from a heart of pride, of self-reighteousness. Look at its content:

He touted his credentials

“I am not like everyone else.”

I am special. I am different. I am better.

In America, where we teach our children about American exceptionalism and the greatness of this nation, we have to be careful we don’t cross that line where we instill in them a sense of personal superiority by birthright. The path to righteousness is the same regardless of the place of your birth.

I was caught red-handed stealing a book from a store when I was about 12. I remember well the discipline meted out by my father.

I also remember him saying, “You do not behave this way. You are a Strother.”

I know what he meant by that. He wanted me to protect the “good” name of the family in the community. I did, however, behave that way that day – not because I was a Strother, but because I was a sinner. I still am. Justification is immediate at salvation. Sanctification and glorification are not.

He used comparisons

“I am not like everyone else and I am WAY better than that tax collector.”

Publicans (tax collectors) were seen as traitors to their people. They were Jews collecting taxes from their own people for the Roman crown. They were notorious for over-collecting to line their own pockets.

In the world’s eyes, a Pharisee following all the rules imposed by the Torah was surely better than a thieving scoundrel tax collector.

But all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags to God. The law was never meant to justify anyone. It was meant as a guide for morality and as proof that we all fail. We all fall short.

You may be better than your siblings, your neighbors, the drug addict on the street corner, all the fools who voted for Obama, etc…

But you really aren’t.

The sinner’s prayer

That tax collector prayed a much different prayer. He knew he had nothing to recommend him to a holy God…nothing but regret and repentance and the desire for God’s mercy, the desire to experience a change he could not himself effect.

“God be merciful to me a sinner.”

God heard that prayer. He honored it.

Thanksgiving begins with humility

We are thankful when we recognize benefits we didn’t earn and we don’t deserve.

What do you say we let thanksgiving rule our hearts this Thanksgiving? What if it was the beginning of a new way of looking at ourselves, at others, and at the God we claim to love and serve?

What if we finally stopped to realize…

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. ~James 1:17

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.