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Getting Right With God (Prayer)

It could be argued, and without much effort, that we live in an ego-centric society in an ego-centric time.  We may be living in the era of self!  Self-indulgence, self-satisfaction, self-reliance, self-aggrandizement, self-motivation, self-righteousness… You name it.  We’re all about “self” these days.  


And as our society moves increasingly away from Biblical values, this “season of self” is only going to gain more and more momentum.  As society removes God from His proper place in our lives, that godless void is bound to be replaced by “self.”   Biblical values that we as Believers cherish like the “Great Commandment” of loving the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul, and loving your neighbor as yourself is bound to be replaced by the cultural value of just loving yourself.  


This is where Jesus takes us in one of His most famous and powerful stories, The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).  It is a compelling story of two remarkably different men with totally different views about themselves and about God.  One is self-centered, egocentric, posing and proud.  The other is God-centered, theocentric, honest and humble.  Culture clearly embodies one over the other and encourages all of us to embrace the me-centered mindset. 


To set the scene for Jesus’ parable, Luke tells us that Jesus was speaking to “some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” (Luke 18:9)  This is a parable that definitely speaks to our self-focused, me-centered culture.  


Jesus was addressing a group of people who were remarkably self-confident. They were “confident in their own righteousness,” which literally means they thought their righteousness was “based on themselves.”  Getting right with God to them stemmed from what they did, their religious actions, their good deeds, their spiritual accomplishments.  They had no problem with patting themselves on the back for it either!  You could say, they had a pride problem, and pride comes with serious consequences in our lives.  Have you ever struggled with pride? 


What does pride look like and how is it dangerous?


Pride causes us to elevate ourselves.  (Luke 18:9a)  The people with whom Jesus shared this parable, primarily the Pharisees, were full of themselves.  It would be foolish to elevate ourselves above God, yet pride can cause people to do exactly that, and sometimes, they don’t even realize it. 


Pride causes us to diminish others.  (Luke 18:9b). Pride causes us to look down on or disparage others, usually in a desperate attempt to elevate ourselves.  It’s never an attractive look.


Pride causes us to see no need for God.  (Psalm 10:4)  Success can breed self-reliance and self-confidence.  There is nothing wrong with having confidence in your abilities, and we should all appreciate the abilities we’ve been given; but the key is recognizing that any ability we have is a gift from God. 


Pride leads to ruin. (Proverbs 16:18)  It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time had a pride problem. They believed that their righteousness was based on their works, their deeds, and their religious prowess.   

 

In Jesus’ parable, we see two completely different people, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  And in the story we learn some vital truths, including two important lessons about prayer:


1)  Prayer must not be self-centered, but God-centered(Luke 18:11-12)

When this Pharisee comes to the temple to pray, he’s simply doing what he has always done.  Praying aloud in public was a common practice for him; it was his thing.  But Jesus’ description of this Pharisee’s prayer reveals the condition of his mind and heart.  Where is his focus?  His prayer is all about self.  He stood by himself to pray about himself to honor himself.  And sadly, he has no recognition or acknowledgement of his own sin.  His pride actually kept him far from God.


2)  Prayer must not be aimed at edifying ourselves, but aimed at humbling ourselves before God.  (Luke 18:13).  A tax collector came to pray at the Temple that day too.  People in his position were hated, despised, and vilified, a reputation well-earned for their mistreatment of people. Jesus doesn’t tell us if this man deserved that reputation; but his posture reveals a man who wanted to approach God, but felt woefully unworthy to do so.   Have you ever felt like that?  


Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector acknowledged his sin and his need for forgiveness.  He didn’t even feel worthy to come near to God, standing instead, at a distance, his head downcast, his body language filled with unspeakable guilt.  He beat his chest, a symbol of deep grief and profound remorse.  He called out to the One, the only One, who could provide him with the meritless mercy he longed for, praying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”


His prayer, unlike the Pharisee’s, is not filled with self-centered acclamations meant to impress others.  It is a cry from his heart.  He offers no excuses, only brutal honesty. This man seeks mercy, atonement, and grace.  This is exactly what Jesus Christ came to offer all who by faith believe.  The tax collector wants to get right with God and he knows he can’t possibly do that on his own.  


So what does this parable mean?  Jesus leaves no doubt… Righteousness comes not from ourselves, but from the grace and mercy of God.  (Luke 18:14)


The tax collector didn’t go home simply feeling good about himself.  He went home declared righteous before God!   This is what the term “justified” literally means.  God not only forgave the tax collector, but he placed him back in right relation to Himself.  This becomes the amazing promise of the New Testament: sinful people who place their faith in Christ are justified freely, or made righteous.  (Romans 3:22-24)


Justification is impossible for those who are “confident in their own righteousness.”  Sadly, the Pharisee was just propping himself up, going through the motions of self-aggrandizement.  “Those who exalt themselves, will be humbled” (Luke 18:14b)  The tax collector spent his time wisely, admitting his own sin and his need for God’s mercy and grace.  He would find it, for “those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:14c)  Have you surrendered your life to Him as Savior and Lord?  If not, you can do that today!  


For much more, click here to listen to:  The Parables - Part 8 - Being Right with God. 

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