If I would be honest, I know I have. And not only in this phrase; for personal pronouns tend to comprise much of my (and our) vocabulary. So much so that if we are not careful, they can quickly dominate. Don’t think this is so? Then I challenge you to look no further than your own prayer life.
Perhaps you, like me, were taught at an early age to pray. And perhaps in that process, several little ditties were impressed upon you. Maybe they included such classics as…
“God is great, God is good; Let us thank him for our food; By his hand we are fed; Give us Lord, our daily bread. Amen.”
“Thank you, God, for the world so sweet; Thank you, God, for the food we eat; Thank you, God, for the birds that sing; Thank you, God, for everything! Amen!”
As well as…
“Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If i should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Such prayers are doubtless good for us to learn as children. They help us to embrace a life of dependence upon God. However, as we age, it is arguable that such simplistic prayers no longer suffice. Allow me to explain…
Prayer, by definition, is communion with God. As such, it involves an authentic and ongoing conversation with our Heavenly Father. And yet, for so many, prayer is not so much talking with God as it is talking to God. Even worse, it is talking over God! What is more, any prayer that includes the excessive use of personal pronouns is arguably guilty of this.
To make my point, count the personal pronouns in the third and final classic child’s prayer cited above. If you do, you will see no less than seven of them.
All of this brings me to the point of this blog post. Until today, I always thought that the most self-centered prayer recorded in Scripture is that of the Pharisee in Jesus' famous parable of the Pharisee and the Publican as found in the New Testament Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, verses 9-14. Here, we read...
“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Many a commentator has pointed out the similarity of the words of the Pharisee here with those of the words of Lucifer in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, chapter 14, verses 12-15…
“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.’ Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”
You will notice that each testimony contains the personal pronoun “I” five different times. It seems, therefore, that the prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee more aptly reflects the intentions of the devil than those of the Lord!
Any yet, as I realized earlier today, while listening to our Pastor’s sermon, even this is not the most self-serving prayer in Scripture. Instead, we find that recorded in the Old Testament Book of Jonah, chapter 4, verses 2-3, where we read:
So he prayed to the LORD, saying, “O LORD, is this not what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I was so quick to flee toward Tarshish. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion—One who relents from sending disaster. And now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Here, the English translation employs six personal pronouns. But when we check the original Hebrew, we discover that it contains no less than eight personal pronouns! “I” occurs four times, “me” occurs two times, and “my” occurs two times!
For those of us who are believers, we find it easy to condemn the self-centered prayer of a Pharisee. We find it even easier to condemn the words of Lucifer. But what do we do with the words of an Old Testament Prophet?!
I’ll tell you what we do. We accept the fact that even a servant called of God is frail and human! And therein, we acknowledge that even we ourselves, as followers of Jesus Christ, are capable of praying prayers that are far too self-centered.
I left church earlier today under conviction. Irrespective of all my previous prayers, my sincere hope is that neither my future prayers nor my future attitude will be merely for “Me, Myself, and I” alone, but rather for “God, His will, and Whomever else He desires me to care about” as well!