Ep.166: How Not To Pray.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Luke 18 has one of Jesus’ best-known parables. It goes like this: a Pharisee prayed, “Lord, thank you that I’m not like others –robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even this, this tax collector! . Look at me, O Lord: I fast twice a week and tithe ten percent.” But back in a corner, the tax collector beat his breast for shame, and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

Jesus said, “The tax collector went home justified before God. The Pharisee did not. If you promote yourself, God will demote you. But, if you humble yourself, God will exalt you.” 

What did Jesus mean that the tax collector was justified before God? Since the root word of justify is “right” or “righteous”, let’s consider who is right and who is wrong in this story. 

The Pharisee compared himself with people who were clearly wrong, and explained to God just how right he was. In contrast, the tax collector said to God, “I’m a sinner. I’ve done pretty much everything wrong.” And in a stunning reversal of right and wrong, Jesus tells us that God accepted the tax collector with all his wrongness, and rejected the Pharisee with all his rightness. 

That gets us close to the heart of the story. I think “justify” means that God smiled on the tax collector and thought, “Now there’s someone I can work with.” But he shook his head at the Pharisee and thought, “He’s so full of himself, there’s no room for me in his life!”  

Here are some things to note in the story:

First, if you feel you’re doing pretty much everything right, and that you are better than those of us who are blatant sinners, be cautious about presenting your brilliant conclusion to God. 

Second, if you feel you’ve done pretty much everything wrong in life, do mention this to this God when you pray. Until you become perfect, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” is a very good way to start praying. 

Third, God’s primary way of dealing with us is not based on our behavior . The Pharisee spent his life studying scripture and improving his behavior, but apparently, God wanted something else.  

Fourth, remember this: Prayer is not just the words we say to God, it is also the tone we adopt in our relationship with him. Do you detect a note of arrogance in the Pharisees’ prayer, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like sinners”? Perhaps God isn’t looking for rigorous spiritual disciplines like fasting and praying and tithing. Maybe God wants soft hearts and sensitive spirits. 

Finally, Jesus says God deals with us on the basis of forgiveness. It is his pleasure to extend mercy to those who know they are wrong and say so. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we thank you that we are like other people. However far we have advanced in fasting and tithing and praying, we are still at the beginning with you. 

Today, we need you to justify us, to overlook what is wrong in us, to hear our prayer for mercy, and welcome us with your smile and affirmation.


I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.