Sunday, October 27, 2013

Are your prayers tainted?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Luke 18:9-27

"'I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.'" Luke 18:14

Luke tells us at the beginning of Jesus' parable that this teaching is going to address the attitude of self-righteousness (Luke 18:9). In the story two men go to the temple to pray: an obviously sinful man—a tax collector, and an obviously good one—a Pharisee. But in Jesus' world, the world of the Kingdom of Heaven, things turn out exactly the opposite of what we expect. The reason is shown by the attitude of each man when he prays.

  • The Pharisee has an attitude of pride, obvious even though his words are dressed up in the pious clothes of thanksgiving: "I thank You that I am not like other men…" (Luke 18:11).
  • He has an attitude of comparison. He looks at others, then himself, and concludes that he is so much better (Luke 18:11).
  • He also has an attitude of self-sufficiency, shown by how he lists all the good things that he does (Luke 18:12).

The tax-collector, meanwhile is completely undone. Overcome by his unworthiness, he doesn't even look up but beats his breast as he begs for mercy. There is not a whiff of entitlement in him, not a whisker of the attitude that he could earn God's favor. He throws himself entirely on God's mercy.

And that, says Jesus, is the attitude that moves God's heart, so that the sinner goes home justified while the saint leaves the temple in the same state as he came (Luke 18:14).

The cultural setting and the extent of Jesus' exaggeration may blind our eyes to see how we too may sometimes be the players in this parable. Who of us hasn't ever thought, 'I don't deserve that,' when trouble comes to us despite our faithful service to God? Who hasn't harboured an attitude of at least slight disdain over what we might see as the self-inflicted griefs of the homeless person, the drug addict, the prostitute? Of course these attitudes taint our prayer life, even as the Pharisee's attitudes defiled his.

My Bible commenter sums up this story well:
"Not all prayer is genuine. Attitude is just as important as persistence. Jesus also corrects the mistaken notion that righteousness is a human achievement instead of a gift of God's grace" - J. Lyle Story, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1424 (emphasis added).

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see and deal with the self-righteousness and pride within me. Amen.


New King James Version (NKJV) Used with permission. The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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