Prayer that Pleases God

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Prayer that Pleases God

Luke 18:9-14

Sermon by Rick Crandall

Grayson Baptist Church - March 9, 2014


*Have you ever prayed a prayer that seemed kind of silly looking back? Steve Brown told about a little girl who was praying when her dad walked into room. And he heard her say over and over again, "Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo."

*Dad was curious and asked her, "What kind of prayer is that?" His little girl replied, "I had a test in school today. And I was praying that God would make Tokyo the capital of France." (1)

*Years ago, Garth Brooks had a pretty good song that said, "Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers." At least some of us can relate to that. But here in God's Word the Lord teaches us about the kind of prayer God wants to answer. He teaches us about prayers that please God. Let's begin by reading Luke 18:9-14.


*The Pharisee's prayer was obnoxious to God, but the tax collector's prayer pleased the Lord. What's the difference?

1. First: Prayer that pleases God is humble prayer.

*Jesus' main reason for telling this parable was to highlight the difference between prideful and humble hearts. And the people who first heard this story were shocked at the way it turned out. When the Lord put His stamp of approval on the tax collector over the Pharisee in vs. 14, they were stunned!

*That's because the Pharisees were considered to be the holy ones. The word "Pharisee" means "set-apart," and that's what they diligently tried to be. They were extremely strict. They zealously tried to follow God's Old Testament laws. But the Pharisees went even beyond the Scripture, and invented thousands of man-made rules to obey.

*Alan Perkins explained that it's hard for us to understand how shocked the people of Jesus' day were to hear this parable. After we've studied the Bible for a while, we learn how hard hearted and hypocritical the Pharisees were. So when we read the word "Pharisee" we are likely to think, hypocrite! We assume that the Pharisee is going to be the villain of the passage.

*But for the Jews in Jesus' day, the initial reaction would have been exactly opposite. They would have assumed that the Pharisee was the hero of the story, because they were so highly respected. The Pharisees weren't scorned as hypocrites. On the contrary, they were admired as devout men, and looked up to as examples of godliness. (2)

*But underneath the surface, there was great corruption in the ranks of the Pharisees, and one of their biggest problems pride. Notice who Jesus was speaking to in vs. 9: "He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others."

*The Pharisee's problem was pride, and James 4:6 tells us that "God resists the proud." So Jesus gave this warning in vs. 14: "Everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.''

*Timothy Proctor wrote that "many of the Pharisees were conceited, pompous people. Many of them were selfish, holier-than-thou, judgmental, legalistic and mean-spirited. If you disagreed with their teachings, they would happily beat or even kill you, completely convinced that they were pleasing God.

*We can imagine this Pharisee swaggering through the temple courts, strutting like a peacock, looking for the perfect place to be seen by everyone else. This man didn't go to the temple to pray to God. He went to make a public announcement of his own goodness." (3)

*Many of the Pharisees had a bad case of spiritual "I" disease. We can see it in vs. 11&12, where Jesus said:

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.'

*"I, I, I, I, I." -- The Pharisee had the "I" disease. So, does Satan. The Word of God shows us back in Isaiah 14:12-15. There the Bible says this about the devil:

12. "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!

13. For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north;

14. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.'

15. Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit."

*Again, it was "I, I, I, I, I." And the "I" disease reveals Satan's self-centeredness. "I, I, I. -- It's all about me." It also reveals Satan's self-righteousness. For anyone to even think: "I'm better than God!" is the height of arrogance. The "I" disease also reveals Satan's strong and selfish willfulness: "I will. I will. I will."

*Satan is the root source of all spiritual pride, so it's no wonder that God resists a proud heart! But the truth is that all of us can get lifted up with spiritual pride like the Pharisee in this parable. All of us can fall into the trap of judging other people. I know I can.

*That's why all of us need to examine our hearts today. And that's why Paul gave this challenge to Christians in Romans 14:4, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand."

*In effect, Paul was saying: "Christians: Who do you think you are judging other believers?" But sometimes we do, don't we? It's one of the easiest traps to fall into.

[1] Part of it is a sight problem.

*We can't see things as they really are. In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld explained that we have known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Known knowns are the things we know we know. Known unknowns are the things we know we don't know. But unknown unknowns are those things that we don't know. But we don't know that we don't know them. (4)

*Well, when it comes to judging other people, I guarantee you there are some things we don't know! So, God tells us not to be so proud as to judge other people, or think we are better than them.

[2] Part of judging others is a sight problem. And part of it is a size problem.

*That is to say: We have a tendency to get too big for our britches. It's so easy for us to get lifted up with self-righteous pride, and we don't even realize that it's happening.

*In other words: We're not as big as we think we are. We can be a lot like the little boy Mary Lewis mentioned. One day he ran to his mom all excited. And he said: "I just measured myself, -- and I'm 6 feet tall!" Mom couldn't quite figure that out, so she asked him to measure himself again while she watched. That's when she saw he was using not a 12-inch, but a 6-inch ruler. (5)

*He was 6-rulers tall. He just had the wrong ruler. And if we want to know how big we really are, we should measure ourselves with a God-sized ruler. Then, we won't be so quick to judge other people.

*Why did the Pharisee judge the tax collector? The problem was pride. And we are like that Pharisee when we spend more time focusing on other people's sins than we spend repenting and confessing our own.

*We don't want to be like that, because God resists a proud heart. But God rejoices in a humble heart. God rejoices in the kind of heart we see in vs. 13. Jesus said: "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!'"

*No doubt this tax collector or publican was a sinner. And we know that without knowing a thing about him, because Romans 3:23 tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The only person who ever lived a perfect life was Jesus Christ!

*And this tax collector was a notorious sinner, a Jew who worked for the hated Roman conquerors. Alan Perkins explained that: "Tax collectors were the most despised of all men. Backed-up by the Roman Army, these traitorous Jews had basically been given free rein to extort money from their own countrymen. As long as the Romans got their cut, they didn't really care how much extra the tax collector kept for himself. So, many tax collectors got rich by swindling their neighbors. They lived in luxury while the people around them struggled in poverty. They were dishonest, despicable money-grubbers who sold out their brothers for the sake of riches." (2)

*The Publican was a sinner. But so are we, and all of us need to humble ourselves before the Lord. Verses 15-17 give us a clear picture of the humble attitude we need:

15. Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when His disciples saw it, they rebuked them.

16. But Jesus called them to Him and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.

17. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.''

*We all need humble hearts before the Lord God Almighty, humbling ourselves as little children before the great King of the universe. Jesus Christ wants us to know that God-pleasing prayer is humble prayer.

2. But prayer that pleases God is also heartfelt prayer.

*This is another truth we can see in vs. 13, where again, Jesus said: "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!'"

*God is not interested in cold, lifeless prayers. He wants us to offer up heartfelt, passionate prayers. That's what the publican did when he stood far off in the temple. In "The Message," Eugene Peterson wrote that the tax collector "slumped in the shadows with his face in his hands, not daring to look up." He beat on his chest, and he said: "God, be merciful to me a sinner." (6)

*Timothy Proctor explained: "This was not a show for him. It was a gut-wrenching confession of the sin in his life. Jesus said that he would not even lift his eyes to heaven, because he felt unworthy to look up at God."

*There are two crucial truths in the original Greek. You see, he was not just calling himself a sinner. He was calling himself THE sinner. "I'm not just a sinner. I'm the worst of the worst." And when the tax collector asked for mercy, he used the word that refers to the Mercy Seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. That's where the High Priest sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice once a year. That Ark held the Ten Commandments which represented God's Law, and according to the law, this tax collector deserved death.

*But he could find mercy, because of the blood. The price had been paid! The punishment had been taken! And today we know that all of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the one true Sacrifice: Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who died on the cross for our sins. (3)

*The more we focus on the passion of our Savior, the more passion we will have in our prayers. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, at about 6 o'clock on a Wednesday morning, James Lawson from Running Springs, CA, left home to apply for a job. James and his family lived in the San Bernardino Mountains.

*About an hour later his 36-year-old wife Patsy left for her fifth-grade teaching job down the mountain in Riverside. She was accompanied by their two children: 5-year-old Susan and 2-year-old Gerald. They were going to be dropped off at the baby-sitter's, but sadly, never made it.

*Eight-and-a-half hours later, James found his dead wife and daughter in their wrecked car. They were upside down in a cold mountain stream. Their 2-year-old son was just barely alive in the 48-degree water.

*When James scrambled down the cliff to the car. He was sure that he heard the cries of his wife. But when he got to the car, he found Patsy locked in death, holding their little boy's head just above water in the submerged car. For eight and a half hours Patsy Lawson had held her beloved toddler afloat, then she finally died. Even in death, her body was like a statue locked in that position of sacrificial love, holding her little boy up to breathe. (7)

*She died so another might live, and her sacrifice is a picture of what Jesus did for us all. Jesus died so that we could live forever! And the more we focus on the passion of our Savior, the more passion we will have in our prayers. Church: Jesus wants us to know that God-pleasing prayer is heartfelt prayer.

3. But it's also helpful prayer.

*We must realize that God-pleasing prayer is helpful. This kind of prayer will always make a difference! And we see this truth here in vs. 14, where Jesus said: "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.''

*The tax collector went down to his house justified. He was accepted and approved by God. He was declared righteous before God. And you will never see a greater answer to prayer than that!

*Justified! -- Justified by God! -- "Just as if I had never sinned," nothing could ever be more important in life. In Acts 13, Paul points us to the only possible source for our justification. Please listen to part of Paul's sermon:

23. "From this man's seed (i.e. King David's seed), according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior Jesus

28. And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death.

29. Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.

30. But God raised Him from the dead.

31. He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people.

38. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins;

39. and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses."

*Through Jesus Christ, God will always answer the tax collector's prayer: "God be merciful to me a sinner." And that is the most important prayer anyone can ever pray. On top of that, our humble, heart-felt prayers will always make a difference.

Of course, that does not mean we always get what we want, when we want it, how we want it. But our Heavenly Father knows best. And we should trust Him no matter how He chooses to answer our prayers.

*Pastor Robert Allen gave this testimony: "Several years ago, I was visiting one of my members who was in the hospital. I was a young man, fresh out of seminary and still wet behind the ears as a minister. And I was visiting this elderly man and he was extremely ill. He wanted to talk to me, his pastor, about his funeral service. And I wanted to talk about anything else: the weather, football, politics, or anything else I could think of.

*Finally, I asked him, 'Joe, doesn't it bother you? Aren't you frightened?' He smiled and said, 'Robert, I know I'm not going to make it, but I'm not afraid. I have a confession to make. I've taken a peek at the back of the book.'

'What do you mean?' I asked. He said, 'You didn't know me ten years ago when I had my first heart attack. They called it cardiac arrest. I can remember the medical team thinking I was dead. I can also remember the tremendous feeling of being surrounded by God's love.

*I was revived by the doctors, but ever since that day I have been unafraid to die. I've been there and it doesn't frighten me. I know that one day soon I am going to go to sleep. And I believe that when I awaken, I will, once again, be surrounded by God's love.'" (8)

*Friends: We are surrounded by God's love right now! That's why He hears our prayers. And that is why Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. He loves you so much that He was willing to take that punishment for you.

*So put your trust in the Lord. Trust Him for your salvation. Trust Jesus more every day. Trust Him enough to worship, follow, love and serve Him. And keep trusting God to answer our humble, heart-felt prayers in the best possible way.

*All of us can pray prayers that please God. Let's do that right now, as we go to God in prayer.

(1) "Approaching God" by Steve Brown, Moorings, Nashville, TN Copyright 1996 - p. 179)

(2) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "The Tax Collector and the Pharisee" by Alan Perkins - Luke 18:9-14

(3) Adapted from SermonCentral sermon "Who Do You Think You Are?" by Timothy Proctor - Luke 18:9-14

(4) Sources:

United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld - en.wikipedia.orgwikiUnknown_unknown

(5) SermonCentral illustration contributed by Mary Lewis

(6) SermonCentral sermon "Thank God I'm Not Like" by Philip Gunther - Luke 18:9-14

(7) James S. Hewett, "Illustrations Unlimited" - Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988 - p. 375 - Source: "Bible Illustrator for Windows" - Topic: Motherhood - Subtopic: Cares of - Index: 4073 - Date: 7/1996.1231 - Title: The Self-Giving Mother

(8) sermon "An Empty Tomb" by Robert Allen - John 20:1-18

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