According to Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told a parable about a tax collector and a Pharisee that went something like this:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “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.’ 14 “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.”(CJB)
Those who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on others were the main target of the above parable.The message wasn’t only a warning against self-righteousness, but also against exalting oneself above others.
Almost all of us would agree that this parable contains a valuable lesson. Most of us would condemn the arrogant Pharisee and commend the humble sinner. However, in reality, the truth is that we often pray like the Pharisee, whether we realize it or not, and whether we choose to admit it or not.
Don’t think so? I’ll help jog your memory. Have you ever seen a poor person on the street, heard someone yelling out of their mind, or heard about a low-life who committed a crime and thought to yourself, “Thank God I’m not like that” or “Thank God I’m not in that situation?
Yes, of course you have. We all have at some point. Whenever we pray like that, we’re making ourselves superior to others and are no better than that prideful Pharisee.
Moreover, we tend to think of our thanksgiving to God in terms of someone else’s misfortune. Occasionally, we’ve walked past someone on the street and prayed: “God, this person doesn’t have a place to live, food, or clean clothes, but I’m grateful that you’ve given me everything that they lack.” Then, with renewed gratitude in our hearts, being reminded of our blessings through the suffering of others, we walk by them without really giving them another thought except to send up a short insincere prayer on their behalf.
Because we don’t have to go through what they go through, we stop to give God glory. We have so much pity or disgust for the beggar and the evildoer that we thank the Lord that we ourselves are not like them.
The truth is, when we get right down to it, we’re more prideful and self-centered than we realize.
Recently, I read a post on Instagram that read something like: “You woke up this morning, have a place to sleep, food to eat, clothes to wear, can use your hands and feet, etc so you ought to give God thanks.”
It implied that all people are able to enjoy these comforts and capabilities. But, what about the person sleeping on the street because they were evicted and the shelter was full? Or the person who went hungry last night due to a lack of food?
Furthermore, what do we say about a disabled person who can’t use their hands or feet?
And the hearing or speech impaired individuals who may have difficulty performing everyday tasks? I’m sure it can be frustrating for them. Are they not to give thanks to God since they lack some of these “fundamental blessings?”
Upon pointing out this apparent oversight, some even had the nerve to respond saying that they know everyone isn’t able to do these things, that’s why we should thank God because “we can.” Again, self-centered. Inconsiderate as well to put that on a public post.
And the scary thing is that when we say foolish things like this, we’re usually sincere.
Our philosophy is “We ought to thank God, because there are some who are worse off than us.” That’s what we teach. But why should we thank God because someone else has it worse than us? How did that silly concept even come about?
Isn’t the Lord doing enough for each of us on a daily basis so that we can simply thank him for what he’s done for us alone? Isn’t that sufficient?
It’s not about what you have or what another lacks; rather, it’s about who God is. Don’t thank and praise him for what you have or for what someone else doesn’t have, but give him thanks anyway, first and foremost for who he is. That way we can all magnify the Lord and exalt his name together irrespective of our circumstances (ps. 34:3). No matter what, He deserves glory.
And then by all means, tell of all the great things that he has done for you (Mk. 5:19; Ps. 105:1).
To be grateful to the Lord, we don’t have to consider another’s adversity or misfortune. We should instead pray for those people and ask the Lord to lead those of us who consider ourselves “more fortunate” to assist those who we think are less fortunate.
The bottom line is, unless we’re praying for someone else’s well being, our conversations with God should primarily be about praise and about ourselves. This doesn’t mean always asking for material things either as he already knows what we need before we can ask; rather, it means asking him to help us grow spiritually and to help us find and remove anything in our hearts that isn’t like him.
God seems most pleased with those kinds of prayers. The prayers that come from the depths of the soul like that of the tax collector who pleaded, ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
So, in summary, we should communicate with God first to give him praise, honor, and glory for who he is and also for the intervention of those in physical or spiritual need, as well as to ask him to conform us to his will (Matt. 6:9-13). Not only will this demonstrate humility but it will also put us in a better position to help others, fulfilling the first and second greatest commands to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.
**Unless otherwise noted, the thoughts expressed in this post are my own, and are intended to guide, not replace one’s own conviction and study of Scripture.