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How Should We Pray? (The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector)

By Pastor John Mateos Ong and Pastora Monique Lopez Ong


Luke 18:9-14

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


-There are people who trust in their own righteousness and look down on sinners.

-Jesus told them a parable about two people who came to the temple to pray, a Pharisee and a tax collector.

-A Pharisee is a person who knows, memorizes and teaches the law.

-The Pharisee thanked the Lord for his perfection.

-The tax collector begged for mercy for his sins.

-Conclusion:The sinner was justified more than the teacher.

You probably do not know any pharisees at this time. But there are a lot of people who are like them, who rely on their own goodness, who come to church with their head held high like superstars while people look at them, sometimes even idolize them. On the other hand, the tax collector represents common people who know how sinful they are and tell themselves that they are not worthy.

As you can see, there is an inner court and outer court, which is also called the Court of the Gentiles. There is only one entrance to the inner court. If you are not a Jew, you can only go as far as the outer court. Outside the door of the inner court is a sign that vaguely says, “Gentiles up to this point only. If you trespass, we will not be responsible for your death.” If you are deemed not worthy, you are not allowed entry. But the question is, who is worthy?

How do you come before the Lord? More than praying, how do you enter into the Lord’s presence? Praying is your way of communicating to God. But sometimes, you feel like you are praying but are not really connected. Praying is coming into the throne room, coming face to face with the King of Kings. Psalm 63:1 says, “You God are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” This came from the mouth of David, the man after God’s own heart, and he was writing this while he was running away from his son, Absalom. Man is a triune being, made of spirit, soul and body. And when you worship God, it is not just the body talking. It also includes the soul and spirit.

What does this mean? Your whole being, the spirit, soul and body, should be in a posture of prayer focused on God.

1.Come with a humbled soul (v. 14) - It is not about the kind of prayer you are praying or about what you have done so you can come in front of the temple. You can never brag. It is about coming into the presence of God in humility. It is knowing that you are so unworthy but God calls you worthy and invites you into the throne room. When you come to church, do you give your whole self to the Lord? You may be physically there but your mind wanders off somewhere. The Pharisee prayed like he had every right to criticize and accuse because he trusted in his righteousness. But church is all about coming to a place where you can be seen by God, letting Him know who you are, and allowing Him to speak life to you and change you from the inside out. 2 Corinthians 10:12 says, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Do not compare yourself to the sins of other people. It is easy to look down on people and step on them in order to feel good. But your emotions will just deceive you. All it takes is one sin to disqualify you from entering heaven. Always come before God with a humble heart. Man is not the standard. Jesus is. (James 2:1)

2.Body in awe (v. 11-12) - Sometimes, when familiarity creeps in, reverence, respect and being in awe is lost. The tax collector could not even look up and come near. All he could do is beat his chest and beg for mercy. When you understand who you are worshipping and compare yourself in the presence of the Lord, how holy, beautiful, majestic and righteous He is, there is no comparison you can make with anyone. You will be in awe that He can welcome you. Some come half-hearted, distracted and doing so many things other than worship. Holy fear is one that is borne out of respect. Matthew 6:5-8 says “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” When you have a relationship with God, you will talk to Him like a friend. Turn your heart towards God and worship Him. Remember that you are man and He is God. God is Holy and you are dirty. Keep the awe.

3.Spirit in faith (v.14) - Despite the world view of the tax collector as a morally unclean person, faith enabled him to come into the presence of God and ask for forgiveness. I believe there are people who have second thoughts coming to Sunday worship because of who they believe they are. These people should be welcomed. But sometimes, the people inside church are the ones pushing them away. They do not have enough faith muscle like yours. But God said even if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can call out His name and ask for forgiveness. He is willing and will surely forgive you. Think of the woman who was bleeding for years. All she knew was that if only she could touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, she would be healed. The tax collector is the same. He is an outsider, but he knew that he can be cleansed by a little touch of Jesus. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

All are sinners and will continue to be until the day they die. But if you have faith, God will be gracious to you and you will be saved. You did not pay for anything. That is why it is called a gift. It is given regardless of your standing. Whether you are a liar or a mass murderer, it is the same. What Jesus did on the cross is enough to pay for all those sins, regardless of your past. When the tax collector went to the temple to pray, he could not look at God because he was a sinner. But he had the faith to come. Hebrews 12:2 says “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The writer of Hebrews is asking you to do the opposite. While the tax collector cannot look up because of his sins, you are asked to keep your focus on Jesus. The way to God is not to look down, look at your sins and condemn yourself. You should claim in faith that you are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus.

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