‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ Luke 18:13

by Steven Chan

  1. Our attitude of mind is very important. The Bible exhorts us to have the attitude of mind of Jesus Christ:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:5-8)

  1. This was the mind-set of Jesus: He was willing to bring Himself down to the same level as those He wanted to help. That required the humility of mind and the willingness to subject Himself to do what was required by His Heavenly Father – even the death on the cross. As disciples or followers of Christ, it is necessary for us to follow in His steps (1 Pet 2:21).
  2. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus taught the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. His intended audience were those who trusted in themselves as “being righteous and despised others”. That self-righteous attitude was manifested by what he said in his prayer as well as how he said it:” 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.’ He was supposedly addressing God but he was praying with himself!

One bible commentator observed thus: “The phrase doubtless alludes to the fact that his prayer was not really a communing with God, but a communing with himself.” (PNT) It was characterized by boastfulness rather than humility. We must be careful with our prayers. Do they smack of similar attitude of mind?

We should be careful with what we say in our prayers – especially when we try to list our achievements/blessings as compared with others – individually or corporately.

  1. Note the body language of the tax collector when he prayed: “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!’

His body language revealed his attitude of mind.  Jesus pointed out where he stood (afar off) – he dared not associate himself with the supposedly holy ones. Then Jesus noted what he did with his eyes (he would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven) – he was looking down because he knew God was aware of his shortcomings and he was very reverential of God. Then Jesus noted what he did with his hands – he “beat his breast” – indicating his genuine heartfelt penitence. Finally, Jesus noted what he said in his prayer: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’

  1. It is worthwhile noting that Jesus highlighted the entire aspects of the person offering the prayer – not just what he said or prayed for. One can also imagine the tone of voice when he said, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ consistent with the attitude of humility.
  2. What does our body language and the contents of our prayers reveal about us when we pray?
  3. Do we pray with vain repetition – Matt 6:7? Sometimes our prayers seem to be for God’s protection to and from church services only. Surely there are more important matters that we ought to be concerned about when we come before Him in prayer on behalf of the congregation.
  4. I don’t really know how one can possibly cast aside our anxieties; instead we ought to cast our cares upon Him for He cares for us (1 Pet 5:7) and we ought to address our anxieties with God and make our requests with regards these anxieties (Phil 4:6) so that God’s peace can rule in our hearts.
  5. Are we anxious about having food on our table? Then we ought to pray as Jesus taught us: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt 6:11)
  6. As we reflect on our relationship with God and with others, we ought to pray: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matt 6:12)
  7. If we are struggling with trials and temptations, then pray thus: “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matt 6:13)
  8. If we are feeling powerless, then pray: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” (Matt 6:13)
  9. Brethren, our body language also reveal our real attitude when we interact with others. Do we show contempt on others who differ from us? Do we show our despise for others who worship God ignorantly? People who are despised by us are not likely to want to listen to our preaching. The Bible exhorts us: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who arespiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” The spirit of gentleness or “speaking the truth in love” is not congruent with an attitude of contempt or disgust. Let’s be careful with what we say and how we say it, as well as what our body/facial/eye actions reveal about our attitude of mind. Do they show that we are truly humble? Or, do they betray our arrogance and contempt for others who may be sinners? Let’s remember at all times that it is by the grace of God that we have been saved – so, let’s remember to have the humility of mind to remember our need for God’s mercy as do others.

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