Summary: Are we humbled before God? Does God hear our prayers? A key spiritual growth is not who we are before men, but understanding who we are before God.

Do you remember the show starring Tim Allen? It was called, “Home Improvement?” Tim’s character in the show hosted his own local cable program called “Tool Time.” Each week he would introduce the tool of the week. If you have seen the show you know the more powerful the tool; the better! He would then explain how to build with this tool or to use this tool. Finally, he would demonstrate it, generally wrong, and he would injure himself or almost destroy the set in the process. As we start today, I want us to picture ourselves in an episode of Tool Time. The tool (or discipline) we introduce today is probably the most powerful tool in our toolbox for spiritual growth.

Now I know many people don’t see prayer as a powerful growth tool. And if we do, we think it’s too powerful to play with and we leave it unused in the toolbox. We think that only a trained profession should use it! Today we will consider the prayer of a trained professional and one who knows nothing, a rank amateur.

Luke 18:9–14 (NKJV) 9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 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!’ 14 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.”

ILL. The story is told about Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. It seems one day he visited a prison and talked with each of the inmates. There were endless tales of innocence, of misunderstood motives, and of exploitation. Finally the king stopped at the cell of a convict who remained silent. “Well,” remarked Frederick, “I suppose you are an innocent victim too?” “No, sir, I'm not,” replied the man. “I'm guilty and deserve my punishment.” Turning to the warden the king said, “Here, release this rascal before he corrupts all these fine, innocent people in here!” The man was released because he was honest and humble enough to accept his mistake. This is the attitude Jesus asks us to have when we go to pray. Not the arrogance of the Pharisee, but the humility of the sinner. [1]

Our passage today about prayer, we understand this parable. It’s wrong to pray pridefully, and we need to be humble before God. That is the Sunday School answer. We get it. But there is more. More in the since that we, including me, tend to be more like the Pharisee than we care to admit. We often become self-righteous and we don’t realize it.

ILL. A 2010 study by Canadian psychologists found that people who purchase environmentally friendly items feel a “moral glow” that makes them more likely to cheat and act selfishly elsewhere in their lives. In the study, which was a computer game, subjects rewarded themselves with money based on certain results.

The “Green” consumers were more likely to lie about test results so that they could take more money. The explanation for this is that acting virtuously in one area seems to make people feel they have earned “credit,” and now they have a license to act unethically and selfishly in other parts of their lives.

Our lives are to be an open book before the Lord. Because we are righteous in one area doesn’t give us license to fail to live for God’s glory in every other area. [2]

We come before God having done a good work and we’re proud of ourselves. Perhaps we have given above and beyond. Perhaps we have spent time with someone who needed us when we didn’t have time to give. Now we think in our hearts that God owes us one. Jesus had just taught on that subject back in chapter 17 of Luke; The parable about servants doing their duty, Jesus said:

Luke 17:10 (NKJV) So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ ”

Let’s look again at this parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

Luke 18:9 (NKJV) Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

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