The Humble Prayer

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

~ Luke 18:14

 Welcome to week three of our study of the prayers from the New Testament! Today, we are looking at the prayers from the Pharisee and the tax collector found in Luke 18 (vs 9-14)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“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.’

“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.’

“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.”

Oh how easy it is to slip into the prayer of the Pharisee. We might not pray the words, but we sure think them.

We may look down on others because they don’t have what we have or do what they do. Maybe they don’t come to church as often as we do, or they don’t have clothes that are as nice as ours. Or maybe it’s something more… maybe they are robbers or evildoers.

I know I often thank God for my blessings while comparing them to someone elses downfall. Do you ever do that? Do you ever say, “God, thank you that my husband isn’t like so and so” or “Thank you that my kids don’t do that”?

Instead of stopping to pray for the person going through whatever it is, whether a struggle with sin, heartache, or a deep seated need for Salvation, we turn it inward and thank God that we don’t share that need. How selfish am I?

Worse yet, just as the Pharisee boasted about his religious acts, I am tempted to do the same. Not outwardly of course, but in my mind. I’m tempted to feel good about myself because I took the time to read my Bible and pray in the morning–knowing full well that while reading my Bible and praying are good things, only the blood of Christ is my Salvation. I only have a Bible to read because God has blessed me. I can only pray because Christ ripped the veil and allowed us entrance to the holy place.

"How tempting it is to be a closet Pharisee... to pray how we know we should pray, while continuing to live in a state of subtle pride." ~ Heather HartHow tempting it is to be a closet Pharisee…to pray how I know I should pray, but continue living in a state of subtle pride.

In fact, that’s the exact reason Jesus told this parable. He told it to, some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else”. We know that Jesus can see our hearts. And I have to wonder if the people He told this parable to were outwardly self-righteous, or just subtly self-righteous. The result is the same state of the heart. 

Subtle Pride is Still Pride Just the Same

The tax collector, on the other hand, stood at a distance and wouldn’t even approach God. He begged for forgiveness–and Jesus said he received it.

Because of what Christ did, I know that I don’t have to fearfully approach God. We can sit at His feet as His beloved children.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

~ 1 John 4:18

But there is more than one type of fear. While I know we don’t need to be frightened of God, we should still stand in awe of Him. We should approach Him with a godly-fear–a fear that reminds us He alone has the power to save us or send us to hell. Yes, we are His children and He loves us, but He is still God.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”

~ Hebrews 12:28-29 (NKJV)

It is so important to come before God with humility, but it is equally important to live that way. To remember that God is God, and that He loves everyone He created.

We should “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [ourselves], not looking to [our] own interests but…to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Not prayer. Not thanksgiving. Nothing.

With that in mind, I wanted to close today’s lesson with a verse from Colossians: 

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

~ Colossians 3:12


Reflection Questions

  • What are some things you tend to look down on others for? How can you pray for them instead?
  • Are you ever tempted to feel good about your religious acts? Which ones make you feel the best?
  • If you had to summarize the lesson Jesus was trying to get across in this parable, what would you say?

Take it Deeper

  • Look up the following Scriptures on humility: James 4:10; Proverbs 11:2; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Peter 3:8; Deuteronomy 8:17-18;1 Timothy 6:17
  • Download the PDF Study Guide
  • Join the conversation! Share one or more of your answers to the reflection questions in the comments below.



Previous posts in this series

Study announcement

What is prayer?

The Lord’s Prayer

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