The Lord looks with favour on the humble. He resists the proud of heart. Since prayer is essentially carried out in the presence of the Lord, the proud of heart offend Him. They cannot even be allowed to establish contact with Him because from the word go, they are displeasing to Him. He will not even listen to them. Nothing that the proud of heart say can please God in any way.
Jesus Taught Them The Indispensable Humility
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee 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.” 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!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted’ ” (Luke 18:9-14).
THE PHARISEE AT PRAYER
The Lord told the parable of these two men who went into the temple to pray. The people prayed according to what they were. A man always prays according to what his heart is like.
The Pharisee stood. His posture was one of arrogance. He knew nothing from the heart about the greatness of God. He knew no awe. All was the attitude of someone who was talking to an equal.
The Pharisee prayed to himself. He was not tuned to God. He did not bother as to whether or not God was hearing him. He was satisfied to be talking. What he said came back to his ears and made him feel important. His prayers left his mouth, bounced on the ceiling, and came back to him, and he received them gladly.
He addressed the eternal Father rudely; for he said, “God…” Then he plunged into an exhibition of self. This exhibition of self was immediately manifested in the many “I’s” that characterized his prayer to himself.
- I thank thee.
- I am not like other men.
- I am not an extortioner.
- I am not unjust.
- I am not an adulterer.
- I am not like this tax collector.
- I fast twice a week.
- I give tithes of all that I get.
There was no room whatever for God in his prayer to himself. He just told God how wonderful he was and how well he had done everything. He had nothing to ask the Lord to do for him. He had done everything and done it so well. He had nothing to thank the Lord for. After all, God had done nothing and he had done everything. He expected God to congratulate him and clap for him. He was so blind that he could not see anything wrong with his attitude. He was oblivious of his self-righteousness. As far as he was concerned, there were only four sins that could be committed: extortion, injustice, adultery, tax collecting. According to him, there were two acts of righteousness that had to be committed – fasting twice a week and tithing. He did not see that there could be another sin. He could not see that there was more to do beyond fasting twice a week and tithing his income. He had set his own standards of righteousness and fulfilled them and felt very good about it. He despised others. He said that he was not like the others. He was a judge who put all the others on a balance and found them wanting. He alone was righteous. He looked with contempt at the publican who came to pray. He spoke against him to the Lord.
THE PHARISEE OF TODAY
When I read what the Pharisee said, I have to confess that I know one other Pharisee apart from the Pharisee mentioned in the passage. That Pharisee is me. I am very much like him. It is not that I say the things that he said in my prayers to the Lord, but that I often utter them daily. I often say that the unbelievers are dishonest, false, corrupt, liars, and so on. I do not say that I am not like them but as I list their failures, it can hardly be misunderstood that I am saying that I thank God that I am not like them. I have to acknowledge that I even compare myself favourably against some believers, as if to say, “I thank God that I am not like them.” I see this to be the spirit of the Pharisee. Lord, I am a Pharisee in attitude. Lord, have mercy upon me. Lord, have mercy upon me.
I see another aspect of the character of the Pharisee in my heart. I find that to some degree, I delight in talking about what I have done for the Lord, or about what the Lord has done in me and through me. This, too, is the spirit or attitude of the Pharisee. “Lord, have mercy on me. The very fact that I delight to talk about my successes and rarely talk about my failures, exposes me for the Pharisee that I am. Lord, have mercy upon me. Lord, have mercy upon me. Lord deliver me from the rudiments of the self-like and cause Your blessings to fall upon me. I need You, O Lord my God. My Lord, I need You. Have mercy on me, O Lord, my God.
“You said that the one who exalts himself will be humbled. I have often exalted myself. I deserve to be humbled. How mighty has Your grace been to me, Lord! You have shown abundant mercy towards me. Receive praise, honour, and majesty. Help me, Lord, to begin to exalt You and to begin to exalt others. Lord, help me to begin to put others first and myself next after You have been given the very best place. Lord, do it; for I ask in the name of the Lord Jesus.
“Lord, change me fundamentally so that my preoccupation should be the glory of Your name, the glory of the names of others, and only lastly will I seek my own interest. Lord, work this out in me. The Lord Jesus lived for You and lived for others. He was totally given to others. Lord, let the same life be produced in me from day-to-day. Lord, let it be; for I ask in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
THE TAX COLLECTOR AT PRAYER
As we have seen, the Pharisee went to pray. He prayed to himself and left the place with no touch of God whatsoever. He went in full of himself and came out even fuller of himself. He had accomplished nothing except to invite the Lord to bring him down from his high horse.
The tax collector also went to pray. He had no personal merit to boast of. He had no dead works to boast of. He was so conscious of his own unworthiness that he could not compare himself to anyone. He considered himself to be the very last; all he did was to stand in humility afar off and cry out to God. Unlike the Pharisee who prayed with himself and to himself, the tax collector prayed to God. He said to God, “Be merciful to me a sinner.” He did not talk about the other sinners. He was too unworthy to talk about them. He did not compare himself to the other sinners. He knew that even if he was less sinful than other sinners, he still stood condemned because of his sin. He knew that the Lord did not weigh one sinner against another and then say, “This is the best of the sinners. He has sinned less horribly than the other sinners.” He knew that the Word of the Lord said that if a person keeps the whole law but fails in one thing, he has become guilty of the whole law. He knew that even if he had not extorted, committed injustice, committed adultery, or any such sins, the very fact that he did not love the Lord as he ought to already condemn him. He knew that it was useless to talk about what he had done, whereas the things that he had not done were clearly before him. His eyes were open. He saw himself and he saw the Lord. He pleaded with the Lord for mercy. He came in humility. He came as if to the Cross and pleaded there, “Lord, have mercy upon me, sinner that I am.” God must have heard him. God heard him. God forgave him. He went away forgiven, justified and exalted. The Lord always does that to those who come with broken and contrite hearts.