A legalist looks to himself as the reason for right standing before the Lord. He is constantly trying to earn right standing by proving his righteousness to God.
This seems to happen quite often in prayer.
Some people make an answered prayer MAINLY about the strength of their faith. The problem is that faith isn’t mainly about us in the first place, yet it does include us. A legalist banks the reality of God hearing them MAINLY on their ability of “their faith”.
Another form of legalistic prayer that I personally struggle with is one that on the outside looks so good, yet is full of manipulation. It goes a little bit like this, “God, I don’t deserve anything for any reason whatsoever. I am not sure you will answer this prayer of…but in the words of the centurion, ‘Help my unbelief.'”
Now, I am not saying we should puff our chest out and become centric on ourselves. What I am saying is that He has truly adopted us (Rom. 8). He has truly given us every blessing in the Heavenly places (Eph. 1). He has truly given us everything for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). He says we are worth it! Yet, this should produce a humility that leads to confidence in Him, not an arrogance that leads to an egotistical view of self.
The problem is that many times my prayer of “God, I believe. Help my unbelief,” is a smoke screen. I am perfectly content in sitting in my unbelief. I don’t actually want to believe more so that I can live more boldly. I try to manipulate God with my doubt. I pray like a legalistic man, hoping that my doubt will be “pure enough” (read, “righteous enough”) that He will give me what I am really asking for.
Then Daniel comes in my life and blows my legalistic prayer life up! Daniel is praying in chapter 9:18 and says, “For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, BUT BECAUSE OF YOUR GREAT MERCY.”
The focus of God’s mercy just wrecked the ability to pray in any type of personal righteousness. It’s the idea of God entering into our pain of unbelief, speaking words of His truth, calling us to be wrapped in His provision AND telling us to change. Notice, the change comes because He has really changed us! It would be hypocritical to profess Him and not change.
I understand that many times we have real doubt and we need to ask God to come in and rip out our unbelief. The problem is that sometimes we even try to convert our “doubt” into a form a righteousness that will somehow “put God into action” in order to answer our prayers.
My prayer is that His mercy will so transform your life that if you are trying to manipulate God with your righteousness (whether through saying how good you are and what you deserve, all the way to possibly trying to “move God” with your doubt), you will rest in His provision and be changed.