Today we continue our journey to identify and remove obstacles to answered prayer. In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus addresses the heart of the pray-er. Our motive and heart are just as important to our prayer as is faith.
“You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” James 4:3
- Faith with wrong motives = unanswered prayer
- No faith with right motives = unanswered prayer
We can pray in faith but with wrong motives and our prayers will not be heard. Our motives can be right, but we may not believe God is going to answer us and our prayers will not be heard.
In verse 9 Jesus’ gives the moral of this parable, “there are some who trusted in themselves to be righteous.”
There may be no greater prayer repellent than self-righteousness.
This is a faith killer. Self-righteousness is a declaration that “I don’t need God,” because it sees itself as equal to God.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6
There is nothing you or I can do that could make us righteous. Our righteousness is polluted and contaminated with ill-motives and selfish desires.
There are two important terms you need to know in the context of righteousness.
Righteousness is imputed, assigned, to you from Jesus. At salvation, we are assigned Jesus’ righteousness. Romans 3 talks about righteousness and how we obtain it and says,
“the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Romans 3:22
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1
If righteousness could be gained apart from Jesus, then there would be no need for Jesus to impute His righteousness upon us. But there isn’t. We all fall short of God’s glory.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “…What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Don’t boast when what you have you received from Christ, not the work of your hands!
Here in this parable, Jesus introduces two characters. The audience was likely expecting Jesus to compare a really bad person with a really good person, but instead, He picks what they interpret as two despised people, a Pharisee, and a tax collector. Lose, lose.
“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed.” Luke 18:11
There are two words in the Greek language for standing and this one describes the attitude of the one standing. He goes right up to the front so everyone can see him as he prays.
He is convinced that all his good works make him better than everyone else and is treasured by God. His attitude towards God is that God is lucky to have him on His team.
At the end of his prayer, he hasn’t asked God for a single thing, because what could God give him that he couldn’t earn or get on his own. He spent his entire pathetic prayer bragging to God about how great he is.
Jesus’ first description of this tax collector is “being far off,” and “would not even lift his eyes to heaven.”
This tax collector is very self-aware. His shame weighs upon him so heavily that he won’t or can’t look to heaven. Posture is important in prayer when we are honest and sincere.
Folding our hands, bowing our head, kneeling or laying prostrate before God are all signs of humility. These postures don’t make us humble, they are acts of humility when you’re humble.
And notice his prayer is only 7 words long, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” It’s not that he only understood who he was, but who we all before God. At the end of his prayer, Jesus replies, this man went away justified, rather than the other.
“…The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16
It’s not self-righteousness but God’s imputed righteousness in your life that makes prayer effective. If you find yourself comparing or judging others for what they do or don’t do, it’s time to surrender your self-righteous attitude.
Ask God to forgive you and to help you treat everyone with the same mercy and grace He lavishly pours on you. (Ephesians 1:7-8)
If you’d like to listen to the audio message that inspired this post, click here.