Presumptuous Prayers

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 ESV (via
Photo by sobhan joodi on

“Father, help my neighbor see her sin. Change her heart, Lord Jesus.”

“Heavenly Father, I know it is not your will that I face this diagnosis of cancer. Help the doctors to see their mistake.”

“God, this job opening is a perfect opportunity– I claim this job in Your Name.”

Photo by Luis Quintero on

I’m not saying that the above examples are all about presumption, especially taken out of context, but I think it is easy to fall into a dangerous habit of thinking that our will must also be God’s will, and not the other way around. What if God is waiting for me to reach out in Love to my “sinful” neighbor? What if it is MY heart that needs to be changed? What if God’s plan for my life includes cancer– or a miraculous healing from it? What if my response to cancer is an opportunity to show God’s peace? What if God has a better job, or better timing for that job?

I actually had that experience. When I was first out of college, I applied for many teaching positions– nothing was open the first year, and I ended up working at a public relations firm as a proofreader. I was laid off nine months later– just in time to apply for teaching positions again. The “perfect” job came up at my old high school, where they needed an English teacher. I interviewed well, and thought I had the job. But they went with a teacher who had more experience. So I signed up to do substitute work– not what I wanted, but it paid for my room and board, and not much else. It was late January when I got the call. The other teacher had been chronically ill, and they needed me to “substitute” for the rest of the year, with a possibility of a contract the next year. When I arrived, the classes were in chaos. The students were unruly and way behind in their studies. It wasn’t the “perfect” job– it was difficult. But I prayed– agonizing, humbling, needy prayers. I stayed at that position another seven years. Any I prayed through every day. But what if I had gotten the job at the first try? Would my prayers have been as pure, or would they have been laced with presumption?

Photo by Katerina Holmes on

I pray every day. I read God’s word every day. But I am in need– every day– of God’s mercy, His wisdom, and His Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts. Too often, I presume when I pray– that God will do what I want, that He will see things from my perspective, that He will not ask me to go through hardship or disappointment, or pain.

Our prayers don’t need to be as arrogant as that of the Pharisee in this parable to hold certain prideful presumptions.

Photo by Ian Panelo on

“Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner! Give me strength to face the day ahead, grace to share Your Love with those around me, and eyes to see Your hands at work. Thank you for Your salvation, for Your promises, and for Your faithfulness. Amen.”

Presumptuous Prayer

The Christian life is often one of paradox–We are “in” the world, but not “of” the world; we “die to the flesh”, even as we continue to breathe and walk and eat in our fleshly bodies.  Prayer is part of that paradox– we dare to present ourselves before the throne of Almighty God, yet we are told to call him “Our Father”, and to come boldly.  We call on one who is unseen, unknowable, and sovereign, and we’re told to ask for anything in Jesus’ name, and it will be done.

This can lead to problems, as we try to resolve the paradox– sometimes we dare too much; other times, we ask too little.  I want to take a peek at how this works, especially as I have a problem with the latter.

Why do I feel it is a presumption to ask God for help?  Why do I ask God to do the least that I might expect from Him, when He offers miracles for the asking?  Why do I wait to bring my requests to God, hoping that I can solve them myself and not “bother” him?  Do I not trust him?  Do I not trust him enough?  Why do I get discouraged when my prayers are not answered “my way?”  Immediately!  When hardship comes, why do I assume that it is an accident–a miscarriage of justice–and call out to God as though he is unaware of my dilemma?


I think we come to prayer with a few faulty assumptions about God:

  • we believe that God doesn’t know– that he is unaware of our needs or our circumstances, , our sense of urgency, or the depth of our despair; that he will be embarrassed by our lack of obedience or the simplicity of our request
  • we believe that God doesn’t care– we fear that God will be distant, disapproving, or even disdainful; unwilling to help us until we “clean up our act.”  Or we believe that he delights in testing us, watching us struggle, withholding help until we are properly humbled and abject in our obedience.  Perhaps we believe that “God helps those who help themselves,” and therefore, he is waiting for us to work ourselves to the limit before we bother him with our troubles.  We believe that “if God really cared” he would give us what we want, when we want it, and how we want it
  • we believe that God is unable– that we have messed up so badly, even God can’t fix our mistakes; that what we are asking is stretching God to do what is beyond his plan or purpose; that our request is too broad in its scope for God to attend to it
  • we believe that God isn’t really GOD–we have doubts about his existence, his reality, his presence, and his power over all our circumstances

We also come with assumptions about ourselves:

  • we believe that we are unworthy of God’s love, care, time, power, concern, or attention
  • we believe that we are worthy–worthy of special treatment and privileges denied to others because of who we are or what we’ve done; worthy of a life devoid of pain, stress, hardship, or struggle
  • we believe that we know better than God how to meet our needs; we believe that we have all the answers, and God’s job is to do our bidding
  • we believe that coming to God in prayer is a sign of weakness, laziness, or neediness that brands us as “less” than others who live life on “their terms”
  • we believe that our wants and needs are not important; that our dreams and desires must be squashed in order to serve God

If we assume any (or all) of these things, our prayers will swing wildly from wimpy hand-wringing and grudging worship to impatient demands and selfish complaints.

God knows– he sees everything; he knows your very thoughts before you think them!  God cares– he loves each of us with an eternal, limitless love– a perfect love that casts out fear and bids us to draw near to him, but doesn’t spoil us, indulge our selfishness, or set us up for failure.
God is able–just because we don’t see the answer we want in our current situation doesn’t mean that answer isn’t on its way.  Look back at the ways God has been faithful in the past–Can’t He Do It!

We are unworthy–in our own power–but we are also cherished by God, who makes us worthy through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  Our privilege of coming to and communing with Almighty God is not a presumption in itself– it is a gift given by him in the moment that the veil was torn from top to bottom in the temple– the very moment Christ fulfilled the law, the barriers were removed, and God made it possible to come into his very presence.
We know only in part, and we see only in part– God sees the whole; the end from the beginning.  He knows what is best, not only for us, but for all of creation.
When we come to God, it is a sign of submission– not weakness.  It is a sign that we recognize God’s right to be God, and our privilege to live and work and commune with him, instead of acting and living in rebellion against him.
Because he knows our every thought, and he loves us completely, he cares about our every need.  When we trust in him– in his goodness, his faithfulness, his timing, and his sovereignty, he doesn’t promise us a life without hardship; but he does promise peace that passes all understanding as we go through those hardships.


In the end, our faulty assumptions come from making ourselves too big– taking pride in our own worthiness, strength, and intelligence; or exaggerating our faults, mistakes, and unmet expectations– and making God too small to meet our needs or understand our hearts.

God wants us to presume on his Goodness and Might– not on our own wisdom and worthiness.


Blog at

Up ↑