2014-11-07 - The Purely Proud and the Humble Pure
The immediate lesson, that our attitude in prayer matters, can be expanded into a more universal lesson that our attitude in all we do matters. Attitude plays a large role in life; we rise and fall by our attitude. Appearance doesn't matter at all. Your actions matter some; your attitude matters most.
Appearance doesn't matter. The Pharisee may have looked better. His words may have sounded better. But you cannot judge a book by its cover. In 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV), God's word records, "The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." Outward goodness doesn't mean it is good on the inside. Take wax fruit for example; it looks great, but as many kids have discovered, the inside is not quite as fulfilling. The other day, I found a year-old Starburst. It looked OK, but it definitely did not taste okay. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matt 23:25-28 NASB) A preacher name Ray Pritchard once said, "Without a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ, religion leads you to Hell, while making you think you are going to Heaven."
Your actions matter. "Actions speak louder than words" is a true statement. The book of James says faith without action is dead. In this parable, both men went to the temple and prayed, but did so very differently. Had neither man prayed, then neither could have been heard by God.
Your attitude matters most. Why do you come to church? Is it to see your friends - or to encounter God? Do you tithe from your paycheck, or give an offering from your wallet? Tithing from your paycheck is done at home, but giving an offering, from whatever might be in your wallet, is done in front of others. In the movie Flywheel, a used car salesman, the bad guy, seals an empty envelope and drops it into offering. He wanted people to think he gave, but God knew he didn't. Why do you do what you do? Is it to be seen? Do your prayers show off yourself? The Pharisee was at the temple for others to see how good he was. It was a performance, so he probably put a lot of thought into what he would wear and where he would stand and what he would say. All that mattered to him, because there was an audience. It was all part of the religious show. Matthew 6:5 is basically saying that we shouldn't pray to be seen and heard by others, because they have their reward. The temptation to please others instead of God can turn prayer into a mini-sermon, because it's meant for others to hear. I once heard a prayer that gave an 800-number and the guy praying actually said that he'd only mention it once, stating it would be the "only time I'll mention it, because this is a prayer." Who was that for? Did God need the 800 number? Our prayers and other actions should always be directed to God alone.
Bill Moyers was Press Secretary to President Lyndon Baines Johnson from 1965-67. One evening, he is in the White House for a meal. Since Moyers was a Baptist preacher, the President asked him to give thanks. As he was praying, the President could not hear him and said, "Bill, I can't hear you! Speak up!"
Moyers responded, "I am not speaking to you, Mr. President."
Do your prayers show off yourself, or do they show God? Worship does involve an audience, but it is an audience of one.
There was a little boy who was kneeling by his bed with his mom to say his nighttime prayers. He began to shout to the top of his lungs, "Dear God, I've been real good this year, so please let me get a new bicycle for my birthday."
His mom said, "Son, God is not deaf; you don't need to yell." He said, "God's not deaf, but Grandma is, and she's in the next room."
The boy prayed only to an audience of one - just the wrong one. If we want to show off God and not ourselves then our prayers and our actions must have an attitude of humility and love.
Regarding the attitude of humility, we impress God the most, when we don't try. In a sermon, Tim Bond asked, "Isn't there sometimes when you enjoy seeing a person you are not particularly fond of get in trouble? Isn't there something inside you that jumps for joy, when you have the opportunity to share a juicy tidbit about somebody else, and can find a way to justify it without calling it gossip? Isn't there something inside you that wants to make sure that there is somebody around when you do something good, so that there is some sort of recognition? You see, God knew what He was talking about when He inspired Paul to write 'For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.' The real difference between the prayer of the Pharisee and the tax collector is their honesty. Honest prayer recognizes fault."
The attitude of humility is important, but so is an attitude of love. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NASB) If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
You can do this or that, but without love, it is useless. We can pray, go to church, tithe - or do whatever good thing that good "Christians" ought to do - but without love for our God they don't matter.
Next time, we will look at God's reaction to the attitude of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and we will wrap up this series.
All scripture references are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.