To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody 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 up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – 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 at 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 NIV
Two men came to the temple to pray. One came in complete honesty and humility. The other came trusting in his own ability to be justified before God. The tax collector asked for God’s help. The Pharisee thanked God he was not like other men, other sinners. He trusted in his own will and actions to make himself right and acceptable to God.
When I was in Junior High, I knew many people who built themselves up by putting other people down. It was hurtful to be that person always being torn down. During this time, I had an assignment to read The Outsiders. I believe God used this book to help me see that people often put others down because they are insecure and they tear others down to build themselves up.
Have you ever done that? I know I have. Every time I have interrupted another person while he or she is telling me their story or their pain. Every time I had to have the last word in a conversation, and did not actively listen to another person, but had to get my point across. Perhaps you also have put yourself and your abilities above hearing or helping another person.
The truth is we will never measure up to God’s standards in our own power. Trusting in ourselves and our human ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps to try and make ourselves worthy in God’s sight will never work. Making ourselves look better or more righteous by putting other people down leaves us empty, alone and feeling unworthy. “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord,” Proverbs 16:2.
Like the tax collector in this parable, God calls us to surrender ourselves, and our abilities to him. He desires that we be honest with ourselves, and with him. Above all else, God desires to be in relationship with us and that requires open and honest communication with him. God does not need or desire for you to do “good things,” constantly comparing yourself favorably with those around us. Instead, God wants you to “pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord,” Lam. 2:19b. This week think about the words you use in your conversations. Confess to God anything he reveals to you that was said in a boastful or self-centered manner.
By Grace Hunter