Cornerstone Prayer Time Meditations

Arrogant Prayers

"The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you 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.’" (Luke 18.11-12, ESV)

The Pharisees weren’t always this way, full of arrogance, pride, self-righteousness. When they first began as a sect, they filled an important role. God’s people had forgotten God’s law. It had been so long since anyone had taught them, they started to forget God’s commandments. And if God’s precepts are not honored, true prayer cannot exist.

This is where the Pharisees came in: they filled the gap by helping to remind the people of God’s laws. They desire to show the "old paths" once again. But time passed and the Pharisees no longer saw themselves as indebted to God for His mercy & grace shown in the Law; they began to see that God would be, must be indebted to them. They lived up to the Law. They kept it so well, better than anyone else around them, that’s for sure. And not only did they keep God’s Law, they made sure that every other Jew was going to keep the Law and not break the Law. The Pharisees daily task was: keep the Law; don’t break the Law. In order to help not break the Law, they would add extra "hedge" laws around the original. You’d have to break so many man-made laws before you ever got to the Law of God that there really was no chance of breaking God’s Law.

Where this led the Pharisees was into big trouble. They ceased looking at themselves and concentrated upon only looking at others. They looked for sin in many places and found it. They forgot that sin is only present in man’s heart – their own heart.

It’s very easy, when we approach this parable, to see others as the Pharisees and ourselves as the publican. but we need to see ourselves in the Pharisee’s paryer. We need to have our pride uncovered. As Spurgeon once prayed, "Lord, show me my worst!" (By the way, if any of you know from where this quote derives, I’d be much obliged if you’d send me the source.)

We really all have a bit of the Pharisee within us. One of my elders often refers to the "Pharisee In Me" syndrome. It means that I’m full of unrighteousness but can only see it in other people. It means that they could never match up to the high standard of a Holy God, but I certainly can. It means I don’t really know or haven’t come to grips with my own sinful nature enough to see that I still have a sinful nature (dealt a death blow by Christ, yes, but it’s still there, fighting, scratching, clawing at me with all it’s dying energy). And if I don’t know myself, then that means I’ll be busy with others: their sins, their affairs, their lives.

Now also look at this Pharisee in Luke 18. He tells us what he is "not": not like other men; and, he tells us what he "is": I fast… and I give. My mom and I chuckle every once in a while when we’re talking about other people and how they do things the "wrong way" (code phrase for "not like I’d do them"). Then we say, "If I were king, here’s how I’d do things." This is the heart of a Pharisee: "If I were God, I’d sure do things differently. I’d shape things up a bit around here, that’s for sure."

And even though it’s not included in the text, you can almost see the Pharisee waiting there, waiting for God to thank him for all that he, the pious and generous Pharisee, is and has done for God. Imagine it! The epitome of arrogance: Oh, you’re welcome, Lord. It was really no trouble at all.

But this parable is designed to show each of us the "Pharisee In Me." We need to see our worst, our sin nature. We need to see that we are never fit to come before the King on our own. We try to trust in our own righteousness all too often. We can be so sincere and yet deceive ourselves so much. We look at this prayer and our first prayer is: O God, I thank You that I’m not like that Pharisee!"

Instead, we ought to be praying: O Lord, be merciful to me, a Pharisee. Awareness of sin is a mighty humbler of men. There is no more hopeless condition that to not be aware of our sin. O Lord, be merciful to me, a Pharisee. Grant me eyes to see the worst of my sin still abiding within me. Don’t let me only look at the second table of the law; help me to see the first table and to know how far short I fall of that.

When we can see the truth of Paul’s statement to the Corinthians: "…and such were some of you…" (1 Cor. 6.11), then we’ll bring our true guilt before the Lord. You can never bring too much guilt before the Lord. Bring it and He’ll forgive it.

This parable is told as a warning to the "Pharisee In Me." But it is also a comfort. It comforts us because we do have a burden of guilt. And we’re encouraged to not stay away from God’s throne of grace because of our guilt. Instead, we’re invited to come running before His throne in Christ’s name, bringing our guilt and our shame to Him. We have nothing to present to God: no virtue, no goodness, nothing commendable at all – only Christ.

Lord, let the knife of conviction cut me deep. Free me from my pride. Free me from myself. Set me free in Christ indeed and I shall be free indeed. Amen.

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2 Responses

  1. Very convicting and true.

    Bill

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write that. I needed to hear it.

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