Approaching God Like a Pharisee: Luke 18:9-14

Focus Passage: Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “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.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Read Luke 18:9-14 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Part way through Jesus’ ministry, He tells His disciples and those who were present a short illustration about how God accepts (or in this case does not accept) our prayers based on how we approach Him in prayer. In this illustration, the gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus directed it towards those in the crowd who “were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” (v. 9)

To this group of people, Jesus begins His parable by sharing someone who they can relate with: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” (v. 10-12)

While nothing is mentioned in this parable that this self-righteous group of people prayed this type of prayer, chances are high in my mind that this sample prayer from the Pharisee in Jesus’ illustration was similar to what this group prayed. While nothing is technically wrong with anything described in the prayer itself, the tone of what the Pharisee shares is what God does not approve of. Giving thanks to God, fasting regularly, tithing, and living obediently are all noble things, but this Pharisee seems to think God doesn’t recognize these accomplishments – so he intentionally decides to share them with God in His prayer.

The Pharisee’s prayer is two relatively short sentences, and it includes four uses of pronoun “I”. Each of these four uses in this prayer asks God to look at how good, noble, and righteous he is. But God doesn’t need help seeing the good in our lives or the bad. God knows our triumphs and trials better than we know them ourselves, and nothing is a surprise to Him.

While a prayer of thanks is not bad in itself. However, in order for it to be productive, we must thank God for something He has blessed us with, and not simply thank Him for something we’ve done ourselves. A prayer of thanks should be a reminder of how God has helped us, and remind us of our place in God’s bigger plan; Our prayers are worthless if we simply thank God for something we are claiming responsibility for.

Praying like a Pharisee is trying to get God to acknowledge how good of a person we are – especially in comparison with someone else, and this type of prayer is never answered. Instead, when we give thanks to God, we should thank Him for the things He has blessed us with in a way that helps us remember our small part in His big plans related to saving people for eternity and in a way that genuinely is thankful for His help.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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