The prayer that might have been
Jesus once told a parable about a Pharisee and tax collector who went to the temple to pray. Here is the Pharisee’s prayer.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
The Pharisee wasn’t praying; he was boasting about how good he was. At the conclusion of the parable Jesus said that his prayer was not accepted and when he left the temple he was not justified.
But what if the Pharisee had understood that he was a sinner and was justified only by God’s grace? He might have left out the boasting and prayed this prayer:
The Pharisee prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.”
The statement “I am not like other men” is one that anyone can honestly make. When God creates he doesn’t mass produce identical products the way a factory does. He doesn’t even make two snowflakes that are exactly alike; surely that means that each person is unique.
(I believe that each atom and subatomic particle is different from all other particles. I can’t prove that from the Bible and obviously such differences would be too small to be detected scientifically, but I believe it because it is consistent with what we know about how God works.)
The first part of the prayer, “God, I thank you”, shows how a Christian should respond to the knowledge that he is unique. God has created each of us for a specific purpose and has equipped us physically and spiritually to carry out that purpose. Most of us suffer from physical imperfections of various kinds and we are tempted to complain about them rather than thank God for them. We need to remember that even the bad things that come into our lives are sent by God for our good.
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
The prayer “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” is an expression of humility, not of pride, if we recognize that our difference is the result of what God has done rather than of anything we have accomplished.