March 14 – Devotion Sharing (Luke 18)
Submitted by Chris L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Self awareness vs. delusion
The Pharisee begins his prayer with the words “God, I thank you that …” He seems not only relieved, but even pleased at what kind of a person he is. Because he was fasting twice a week and tithing on everything, he was so confident that he was better than others who did not do those things. But he was looking at just a very small slice of his life. What about the things he neglected to do? What about the heart – the core of his being? He ignored the fact that he can do all these things with a wrong motive. He seems unaware that he can do these acts of righteousness while sins are growing in his heart, or while being a very proud person. Therefore, he was clueless to how desperately he was in need of repentance and cleansing. The tragedy is that while the Pharisee went up to the temple to pray, to engage in this very personal act of speaking with God, hearing from Him, having his heart be molded by Him, he walked away completely untouched by God.
This is a very sober warning for me. If I am unaware of what’s going on inside of me, especially as I am trying to serve God, I can be deluded into thinking that all is going well in my relationship with Him, while closing myself to God doing his work in my heart. That’s such a dangerous place to be in, as that can continue for a while, until something happens to reveal my bankrupt state. Each day, through His words I have a chance to become aware of who I am. When I approach his words embracing the truth about me–the truth that I am a sinner in need of forgiveness and cleansing–then the scripture helps me open my eyes to see how indeed that is true. I must approach God’s words with humility, and with the willingness to examine what’s been happening in my life through the help of the Scripture.
Not like other men
When the Pharisee said he was not like other men, he was really saying he is much better than them. In his mind, robbers, evildoers, adulterers, and tax collectors were clearly sinners who ought to be despised, and he was above them. In his mind, these people had some serious issues, but he was all right. Such attitude not only makes us proud, but also very blind to ourselves, as we are unable to see our glaring sins. While I am saying, “I am not as impatient, not as rude, not as unkind as … ” I become smug and blind to much more serious issues regarding myself –my pride, self-righteousness, the coldness of my heart towards others, disregard for God’s character and his standard of holiness. I become blind to how detestable these things are in my heart in God’s view. In the process, I lose sight of one of the main components of the Gospel message, that we are all the same, that we have all sinned and fall short of God’s holy standards.
The tax collector knew that he could not even approach God and stand in His presence. He knew that he was so offensive to God that God did not have to tolerate him. When I see sin for what it really is, I can see that God does not have to forgive me. When I rebel against his authority and his laws, God does not have put up with it. When He sees no compassion and no love in me, He does not have to tolerate that. When I see how every sin is against God and how serious it is, I know God has the right to reject me. But that’s also when God’s mercy and forgiveness become meaningful and precious. Because I know full well that I should have been rejected and condemned, his mercy becomes that much sweeter. The thing that gets in the way of crying out for God’s mercy is my superficial view and trivializing of my sins. When I don’t struggle seriously with my sins, when I gloss over them, when my repentance is not genuine, I begin to assume that God should forgive me, and then quickly move on with other things in life. God’s mercy and grace become devoid of meaning. To experience God’s mercy in a fresh way, I must struggle with my sins daily to the point where I really know that I deserve nothing but condemnation.
Receive the kingdom like a little child
When children receive anything, they know that they are given things simply because of the goodness of the giver, and not because they earned it. In contrast, the Pharisee in the earlier part of the passage thought he earned his righteousness through his observance of the laws. For me, to receive the kingdom like a little child means to receive what I have been given as a gift, as a privilege. I am not to turn them into something for me to clutch on to for my personal benefit. What I have been given are the opportunities to serve people and the church. These are indeed gifts, as in many ways I am not qualified to be entrusted with them. Nevertheless, since God has granted me the opportunities, I will do my best to honor him by serving faithfully with gratitude.
Submitted by Jeannie L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
• What was the Pharisee’s source of identity and confidence before God?
The Pharisee’s source of identity and confidence before God was how he compared to others around him, like robbers, evildoers, adulterers and tax collectors. It was also what religious things he did, fast twice a week and give a tenth of all he had. Because he fulfilled his duties, he felt justified before God and ignored the fact that his primary identity before God is as a sinner in need of mercy.
• What did the Pharisee end up telling God about himself?
He ended up telling God that he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all he gets. He ended up boasting about what religious things he engages in that set him apart from “other men” like robbers, evildoers, adulterers.
• What are some ways in which I echo the Pharisee’s prayer that he is “not like other men”?
When I honestly examine myself, I am not like this Pharisee for sure, I don’t compare myself to evildoers and robbers and adulterers, but even in saying this, ironically, I am exactly like the Pharisee… thinking “thank God I am not like…” I am hopeless in that way. How wretched I am indeed; I do the things I do not want to do, I almost automatically compare myself to others, upon first meeting them, upon days, months, years into the relationship, I still compare, how are they doing, how am I doing, am I growing, are they growing. Am I doing “well” in my Christian life? And I try to tell God, like Pastor Ed mentions little kids try to do all the time, “God, look at me! Look at how hard I’m trying! Look at how much I’ve grown and changed in this area! Look God! Look leaders! Look peers!”
• What is my source of identity before God?
In that way, my source of identity before God is what I can bring to Him, what I can offer and bring to the table. When I come before Him though, I have nothing to offer. I look at myself, my heart, my life, my daily thoughts, and I know I am so tainted and stained, I only have my broken sinful self to offer, and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, if you could salvage anything of my life, then praise be to You.” And then, my source of identity before Him is that He covers me over, His mercy, His love covers over, and I am robed in a righteousness that is not my own. How I need to be in that state again and again, that state of knowing my utter wretchedness, but knowing at the same time, God covers me. My identity then, does not depend on “how well” I am doing vis-à-vis others, my identity then is God-given, God-sustained.
• To what extent do I share the posture and prayer of the tax collector?
The posture of the tax collector was to stand at a distance, not even look up to Heaven, and to beat his breast. And his prayer was, “have mercy on me, a sinner.”
These weeks and days, more and more, I understand the posture of the tax collector a lot more, as I see so clearly my sinfulness, how crippled my heart is, how twisted my mind is, how crooked and complicated my ways are, and as I try to deal with and struggle with others who are just like that, I cannot help but to stand at a distance and cry out to God for mercy, unable to lift my face. The sins that are so shameful, I want to cover my face, how can I look to Heaven, how can I lift my head to a perfectly holy and just God, who cannot stand sin; I can only plead for mercy and wait upon God to look upon me, and for Him to lift me up in His grace and mercy.
The times when I find myself not sharing in the posture and prayer of the tax collector are when I come to God, with an attitude of entitlement, almost a demand on the Creator God. “Change me, change my circumstance, change this person for me, help me to…” In all of that, I ignore the fact that I deserve death and condemnation, judgment and wrath for my sins, and that I dare not even lift my head to God.
• In what ways are the disciples like the Pharisee in their response to the little children?
The disciples were exactly like the Pharisee in their response to the children, rebuking them for coming to Jesus. They must have thought, the teacher is too busy, he’s too important to trifle with little babies and children. Other, more important, more urgent matters are pressing. Ministry must go on. Don’t waste your time with children. They are a nuisance (like the crippled woman, like the man with dropsy, like the hemorrhaging woman). These people aren’t important. How I can overlook those in need of God’s love the most when I am busy being “important,” going about my ministry duties, and in that way, be just like the Pharisees.