A Pastor’s Ponderings: Who Are You Praying To?

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David Holland_Pastor“Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’”

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)  

Cry for Mercy

If you’ve ever smelled dead, rotting flesh, you will never forget it. The putrid odor fills the inside of your head with its decaying ooze. After a while, you stop noticing the stench as your body acclimates to the offense. Pride is like that. It leaves its owner oblivious. May God deliver us from such gross insensitivity.

Luke recounts a disturbing story in 18:9-14 as Jesus approached Jerusalem, the capital city of the proud. People thought prayers offered at the temple were especially effective. The devoted Jews chant the scriptures there three times a day – 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Jesus comments on two very different people praying at the Temple during the appointed time.

The Lord’s parable contrasts two characters. First, a Pharisee, who is so self-satisfied with his religious habits that he looks down his nose at others. And second, a tax collector, typically known for defrauding the people.

The Pharisee boasts of his spirituality in verse Luke 18:12. “I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of all that I get.” He did not go to pray but to inform God and others how good he was. The Pharisee did not pray to God, he prayed with himself.

True prayer is offered to God alone. Pray to an audience of One. Praying to anyone else is idolatry.

In contrast to the Pharisee, Christ shows us a tax collector who enters the temple to pray with an altogether different attitude. Crying out to God, he wept for forgiveness. Jesus conveys not only his raw emotion but his humility. This man was not praying to himself. His was a cry for mercy.

Perceiving the greatness of God, the man was humbled. That man, says Jesus, “went home justified.” Theologian Tryon Edwards adds, “True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit; it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us.”

The Jewish Talmud adds, “He who sacrifices a whole offering shall be rewarded for the whole offering. He who offers a burned-offering shall have the reward of a whole burned offering. But, he who offers humility to God shall be rewarded as if he had offered all the sacrifices in the world.”

God is not impressed with people who pray — Buddhists pray, Muslims pray, and Animists pray – all with little result. Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said prayer with faith and humility is the slender nerve that moves the mighty hand of God. Prayer calls out to our great God, expecting an answer. Humble prayer moves mountains and cleanses the stench of pride.

I remember as a newly ordained pastor entering my first church assignment. I excelled at the rigors of Bible College and oh my, wasn’t the church lucky to have me. Yet, behind closed doors, my wife and I were in a stressful period in our marriage. My mind raced with all the things she did wrong. Angrily, I often reminded her of those things.

Soon, we had a visiting preacher come to the church. While he was speaking, the Lord convicted me of my faults, and they were many. When the minister called people to the altar for prayer, I went forward. I cried cleansing tears of repentance. I remember thinking, “what will these people think of their new minister? Who cares, only God can cleanse my soul.” God was merciful and washed away some of the monster out of me.

Thankfully, God gives grace to the humble and washes away the deadly stench of pride.

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