WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
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(Prideful prayers are not honored by GOD)
Prayer time should be a time when we set our lives beside the life of JESUS CHRIST, and be humbled, and not beside the life of other people, where we think we can be exalted. No one who rates his or her life above the life of others can utter a prayer that is honored by GOD. Unless we pray in the power of the HOLY SPIRIT, we put ourselves in danger of lifting ourselves above our fellowman. The gates of Heaven are low, and the only way to enter through them is on our knees, both physically and spiritually.
In Luke chapter 18, taking up at verse 9, JESUS shares the story of two men who simultaneously went into the Temple to pray one day. The Scriptures says that JESUS was telling this story to an audience who had great self-confidence in their petitions before GOD, and that, normally they would scorn those whom they thought were religiously inferior to themselves. In other words they were proud, eloquent, and arrogant.
Now, one of the men was a Pharisee, and the other was a hated, dishonest tax collector whom few people liked or respected. In the first century devout Jews observed three prayer times each day (9 am, 12 noon, and 3 pm), and they felt that their prayers would be especially effective if they prayed them in the Temple.
The Pharisee, was a man who took great pride in his ability to pray long, eloquent prayers, and was actually, whether wittingly or unwittingly, giving himself a great testimonial before GOD. In this passage JESUS says that this man stood by himself and prayed this particular prayer; “I thank YOU, GOD, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t sin, I don’t commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give YOU a tenth of my income”.
In those days, not only did devout Pharisees fast twice a week, they made sure that the “little people” in town saw them doing it. They did this by putting on their most used-looking, tattered robes, that they saved for occasions of fasting, and they would go down to the marketplace on its busiest days (Mondays and Thursdays) so that as many people could see them as possible. They were also careful to tithe of the money that they would regularly steal from the poor, the orphans, and widows in the church.
Contrastingly, standing at a distance from this prideful Pharisee was the ostracized tax collector, who dared not even so much as, lift his eyes up to Heaven before GOD, but rather, JESUS says that this humble man “beat his chest in sorrow”, saying, “O GOD, be merciful to me , for I am a sinner”. This was the right reaction for a person who chooses to set themselves before GOD in order to petition for HIS mercy and help.
When we set ourselves beside, what we consider to be, “the worst of society”, odds are, we stand to look pretty good, especially to ourselves. However, when we set ourselves beside the life of CHRIST JESUS, as we must do when we are in prayer (if we want GOD’s attention), we all can see quite clearly that we fall short of the glory of GOD. We can then put ourselves in the proper position of humbleness that is needed to receive mercy and forgiveness from the only SOURCE that can provide it, which is GOD.
And so, in the end we see that it was the sinful tax collector, one of the most hated men in Israel, who returned home from that prayer session that day, being justified by GOD. And, as for the pride-laden Pharisee, he returned home unchanged, still too proud to request any special favors from GOD. He would, instead, have to continue to pray, useless, eloquent, arrogant prayers to himself, and, to men who enjoyed listening, but could not in any way help him with his issues. And to end this passage JESUS assures us that, when dealing with GOD, “…the proud (the Pharisee) will be humbled, but the humble (the tax collector) will be honored”.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander