Avoid Self-Righteous Prayers

Sunday | August 6, 2023
Oscar Wilde once said that selfishness says, "Come over here and sit next to me; I'm dying to tell you all about myself."

Sadly we can have the same self-seeking attitude in our prayer life with God. When we slip into this bad habit, we have essentially placed our trust in ourselves rather than God. Warning against this mistake, Jesus told a parable about two men who went to pray at the temple. Luke 18:9-12 records the actions of the first man: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: 10 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: 'God, I thank you that I'm not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.' "

As verse 11 says, the first man who prayed was a Pharisee. According to Jewish documentation and the Holy Scriptures, Pharisees were men who were part of the religious ruling class of Israel. They wielded much decision-making power and had support from the general public. As a whole, Pharisees held a reverent view of the Old Testament but were also consumed with religious traditions. Over time, this mixture of Scripture and practice led to a hypocritical expression of faith.

Interestingly enough, this Pharisee prayed aloud to God about himself. Five times, he references a combination of his spiritual superiority over others and his religious accomplishments. Missing from this self-righteous prayer is praise to God and confession. These essential areas of worship are not included because the Pharisee believed his position and possessions resulted from his religious actions and that he did not need repentance.
Jesus' reasoning for sharing this parable was to correct a religious culture in Israel that had become disingenuous. We, too, can learn from this teaching. God desires that we have an authentic relationship with Him free of pride and pretense.

We, too, can easily get caught up in prayer as a ritual rather than experience the beauty of an authentic, personal relationship with God. We can even think that we are better than others. However, a genuine prayer life that reflects Christ is humble and transparent before God. In verse 14, Jesus said that this particular Pharisee walked out of the temple unjustified because of his self-righteous behavior.

With this in mind, let us avoid self-promoting ways. Being self-righteous pushes you away from God and greatly hinders the effectiveness of your prayers. But, more importantly, it reveals a heart that is not given over to the Lord. Therefore, seek God now in prayer and release any self-righteous thoughts so you can enjoy the blessing of communicating with God.

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