Last night, as I was sitting in church and listening to the message, the pastor read something that immediately took me back. We were looking at the parable Jesus shared about the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple. There is a vast difference between how the two men approach God.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: “Two men went up to the temple complex to pray,one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous,adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’
“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18: 9-14
Here’s the part that took me back: “God, I thank You that I’m not like other people.”
I remembered sitting in my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and listening to people share. I listened to men and women who had been in and out of jail for DWIs. I listened to men and women who had lost their jobs, their families and their friends because their desire to have a relationship with booze was stronger than their desire to have a relationship with anything else.
I listened and I silently judged each person who shared. I’m not like them. I’m not that bad. I’ve never gotten a DWI (never mind that I’d gotten behind the wheel countless times while intoxicated…was even pulled over once…but I was able to “fool” the cop.) I had never let my drinking get so out of control that my employer, friends, and family didn’t want anything to do with me anymore. (No, over time, I had predominantly become a closet drunk. I drank and got drunk every single day of my life. However, I did it behind closed doors so that I could keep up appearances.)
I walked out of my first AA meeting feeling confident that that place was not where I belonged.
It took a couple more months before I found myself sitting in my second AA meeting. During the time in between, the Lord worked on my heart and opened my eyes to Truth. I’m paraphrasing here, but these are the words I heard from God one morning in late November…
Eileen, you are one of them. Get your butt to AA. Do whatever it takes to get this out of your life. I will be your strength…but you need to admit your need.
So what does this story have to do with a Pharisee and a tax collector? Well, at the beginning of my journey in recovery, I might as well have walked into my first AA meeting wearing a t-shirt with the words Pharisee printed across my chest. I was puffed up and certain that I was better than other people with drinking addictions. It wasn’t until God worked on my heart that I was finally able to also see my desperate need for God’s grace and mercy. Sitting on my couch that morning in late November of 2001, I knew that I needed Him as much as I needed oxygen for my next breath.
Are you struggling with something in your life that seems to be holding you captive?
The best thing you can do is to ask God to change your heart so that it is more like the tax collector. Ask Him to open your eyes so that you can see your need. I’ve come to believe that one of the most beautiful prayers we can ever lift up to God is…”Lord, change my heart. Make your desires my desires too. Make my desire for You stronger than the desire for _________.”(fill in the blank with your personal struggle) I’ve seen how God can take a Pharisee heart and turn it into a Tax Collector heart over and over. Trust Him with all the pieces of your heart and watch Him do something beautiful!