Praying As a Humble SinnerDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
“I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
Sometimes I’m downright embarrassed to be a Christian. This unhappy feeling sometimes arises when I watch a pompous preacher on television as he rails against the sins of others while implicitly boasting in his own righteousness.
But, if the truth be told, I can be quite a bit like the swaggering preacher. Oh, I know enough not to let others hear what’s in my heart. But there are times when I can look down my long, pious nose at the sins of others, taking pride in the fact that I am holier than they are.
Thus, I admit that I need Luke 18:9-14 just as much as the next person, maybe more. In this passage, Jesus told a parable “to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else” (18:9). His story contrasted the prayers of two men, a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee bragged to the Lord that he was “not a sinner like everyone else” (18:11). His righteousness surely exceeded that of the loathed tax collector. In fact, this obvious sinner appeared to agree with the Pharisee’s condemnation as he sorrowfully prayed, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner” (18:13).
You can almost hear the jeers of Jesus’ listeners as they sided with the Pharisee against the tax collector. Yet Jesus turned the table on his self-justifying audience, saying, “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (18:14).
Jesus reminds us that our righteousness is not something we earn, but a gift from God. Moreover, if we want to continue to receive this gift, our hearts must be open and humble. Even if, in fact, we are living in a way that honors God, for the most part, we mustn’t get trapped in prideful self-reliance. Rather, when we pray in humility, confessing our sin and relying on God’s grace, we will be blessed and even exalted by the Lord.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you ever find yourself with an attitude like that of the Pharisee? In which situation(s)? What helps you to live and pray with genuine humility?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, as I reflect upon this parable, I can see myself in the Pharisee. Ironically, I can even look down on him, proud of my exemplary humility. Forgive me, Lord. O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner!
Help me to approach you like the tax collector, aware of my sin and my need for your grace. May my humility be a genuine reflection of my realistic appraisal of my life and my recognition that I depend upon you for all that is good.
Nevertheless, I thank you that I do not have to be like the tax collector in all ways, keeping myself distant from you as I pray. I can approach you boldly and confidently because you have opened the way. As I receive your righteousness, I am welcomed into your presence. What a wonder! Amen.