Trying to be impressive to others to show them your righteousness is not a new angle for those who follow God. In fact, the moment we show off in order to be seen as one who worships well, teaches well, confronts well, preaches well, memorizes well, or even prays well we join some good and some not so good company. When we use God’s gifts in our lives or the different ways we engage in worship in order to draw attention to ourselves we have run the ship aground and will need some help in getting back to where God wants us to be. If we use God so that we can become impressive, God will use our humility to impress himself back on us.
Jesus had to deal with much of this when he went through the different towns teaching about His father. Those that should have been most connected and God’s best followers had give up truth for a lie and pushed God out of the center so that the law and religiosity could take His place. Jesus’ mission is to bring God back to the center and just like the kids game of King of the Mountain we hate to be pushed off the top or out of the center. Luke, like the other gospel authors, catches this theme and shares the story that Jesus told the people:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” –Luke 18:10-14 NIV
Talk about being in the crowd with your jaw dropped. Jesus just outright insulted the most prominent religious of his time. He brought out of the shadows their intense lust for superiority and tied it to their push for righteousness even at the expense of God. Jesus made it know that if you want to know what true righteousness is, it is honest, genuine humility. Praying to God and telling Him how impressive, obedient, knowledgeable, loving, servant-hearted, and perfect you are is not impressive. If we are truly in the image of God, maybe he has the same reaction that we do when we see or hear this type of thing and wants to vomit. God is interested in our humility. When we can look at ourselves with honest eyes and pray for mercy, then we have become impressive without really trying.
My challenge for you this week is to pray this tax collector’s prayer from Luke 18 this week. “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Listen to the prayers at church and in other circles where prayer is taking place. Don’t criticize or judge, but simply listen and share in the prayers that are genuine and honest. Pray with your family or friends this week and pray for God’s mercy and your own humility. Pray as one having a conversation instead of an oration. One last Challenge, pray this week several times using only one word or phrase. It will help you edit unnecessary and potential “impressive” language from your prayer and give God your humble heart.
We impress God when we quit trying to be holy and good pray-ers and simply open to God with a vulnerable heart.