The Pharisee stood and began praying to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of men—swindlers, unjust, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing at a distance, would not even raise his eyes toward heaven, but was striking his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful and gracious to me, the sinner!’
I once heard a story about a man who earned the nickname “Topper.” They called him Topper because he could top any story he heard. If he heard someone regaling about climbing the third-highest mountain in the world, he would tell about the time he climbed the second-highest. No matter what you achieved or accomplished or experienced, Topper could do you one better. In all of his storytelling, what he was trying to reveal to others was that he led quite an incredible life. He wanted those around him to think that he was special and to envy his abilities and experiences. What he failed to realize was that very few people ever believed his stories. Most saw right through the tall tales to a man who they did not envy but who they pitied. His false air of confidence exposed a man who felt insecure and inadequate. His words exposed the very things he hoped they would hide.
Prayer works much the same way with us. We cannot put on a show and pretend to be anything other than what we are when we pour ourselves out to God in prayer. We can tell God the truth about what we think and how we feel and what places a burden on our hearts, which is what He desires. We also have the option to fake these things and try to make God see us differently than we are, but this is done in vain. When we wear a mask before God in prayer, we simply expose our insincerity and dishonesty. Trying to fake it and appear holier than we really are only exposes our unholiness even more. We have no option but to be completely transparent with God in prayer because He can see beyond the smoke screens we try to create. This is why we are instructed to pray plainly without flowery words. A prayer built on pretenses exposes just as much about us as a prayer built on sincerity. What God desires is for us to willingly expose to him these truths about us instead of trying to hide behind false walls.
The act of sincere and transparent prayer brings us deeper into relationship with God because it shows our trust that He will convict but not condemn. A prayer of confession tells him that we trust mercy will triumph over judgement. The prayer that speaks to God of what we really think and how we really feel and what we really desire places us in a position of vulnerability that we would only elect for ourselves if our confidence truly lies in him. If there is any better reason for us to be completely real with God in prayer, it is that the prayer of pretense reveals the truth about us anyway. Trying to hide in prayer does not make us any less exposed. Father, thank You that we can have the confidence in You to be completely transparent in prayer, and teach us how to pray in this manner always.