The Pharisee’s Prayer

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.  I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.  And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying God be merciful to me a sinner.  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

Luke 18: 10-14

This passage was mentioned in passing in our church the other day during a message, and one phrase stood out to me that I had never thought of before.  I put up the whole passage to give the context in which it occurred, but the phrase is one that describes the prayer of the Pharisee, and is found in verse 11:

“…and prayed thus with himself…”

We all know who the Pharisees are: they are the people who do have all of the outward stuff right but have no heart for the Lord or for other people.  The Lord Himself described them as “whited sepluchres”- nice looking on the outside, but inside “full of dead men’s bones.”  Some of us may even have a little “Pharisee” in us from time to time.  But this phrase about the Pharisee’s prayer really shook me:

“…and prayed thus with himself…”

When the Pharisee prayed, he wasn’t praying to God, he was praying to himself!  The Pharisee had his reward- people saw him “praying” and thought that he was a great person.  He has been seen of men and his reputation (as well as his pride) has swelled.  He is not praying to God or with God; he is praying “with himself.”

That is a scary thought.  I don’t want to pray “with myself.”  I want to pray to the One Who hears and answers prayer.  It sometimes becomes easy to do things in our lives to be seen of others, but we need to examine our motives.  Are we doing things to honor the Lord, or to honor ourselves?  Let us not be like the Pharisee.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you, Ben.

    I remember this story from my days as child in Sunday School but I just learned this point today! “The Pharisee prayed thus with Himself …” God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble – James 4:6

    I pray we’ll remember who deserves the seat of highest honour in our hearts and that He’d remove any desire we have to exalt ourselves before Him.

    Thanks again for sharing.

    I leave you with the song that came to mind when I read your post.


    Be Magnified –

    I have made You too small in my eyes
    Oh Lord, forgive me
    When I have believed in a lie
    That You were unable to help me

    But now, Oh Lord, I see my wrong
    Heal my heart and show Yourself strong
    And in my eyes and with my song
    Oh Lord, be magnified
    Oh Lord, be magnified

    Be magnified, Oh Lord
    You are highly exalted
    And there is nothing You can’t do
    Oh Lord, my eyes are on You
    Be magnified, Oh Lord, be magnified


    • What a great song. Thanks for the link! I always knew the story of the Pharisee’s prayer, but I never really got the “prayed thus with himself” part. That is what really convicted me.


  2. Love the song, Ann! Thank you!
    And Ben . . .the post really got me too. I hadn’t seen that before and it stopped me short. It’s much easier to pray with and to ourselves. We’re always right then and can accept our excuses and reasoning and pat ourselves on the back. I will be on the look out for this kind of prayer in my life! eeeekkk! God bless you as you constantly seek to honor Him!


    • “We’re always right then and can accept our excuses and reasoning and pat ourselves on the back.” Great summary! That is so true and that is why “praying to ourselves” is such a dangerous thing. We all tend to be pretty easy on ourselves and pat ourselves on the back. Something we all need to watch for, I’m sure.


  3. I liked this post. It is a passage I think about a lot, because pride is so deceptive. It makes so thankful that it is neither necessary or desirable to look for good in myself, especially when I pray. I liked Ann’s song, too. The phrase magnify the Lord has taken on special meaning for me over the past year and in my blogging endeavors.

    Thank you, Ben


    • Pride is deceptive. I’ve always thought that humility is interesting because it’s one of those things that when you really think you’ve got it, you’ve probably just lost it. 🙂 It’s true that if we will magnify the Lord as we ought, the pride thing will take care of itself. If He is in His proper place, I wil be in mine.


  4. Ben, I love this passage of scripture, but had never thought about it this way. I usually read the NIV or New Living Translation instead of the KJV, so I looked it up in those version to see how it was worded differently. Both versions say, “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed . . . But the tax collector stood at a distance.” Not only did the Pharisee pray basically to himself, he stood where others would see him praying. I can picture him standing up in the middle of the temple praying loudly so all could hear how wonderful his prayers were. But the tax collector is off in a corner, head bowed, wanting no one to see him, but so wanting God to hear.

    Sometimes in church we have an opportunity to go forward and kneel at the altar to pray or we can stay in our seats. I am always torn in that situation, wanting to make sure that my desire to go forward and kneel is not motivated by the pride of the Pharisee and a desire to be seen having done so by others. I usually end up just staying in my seat. Peace, Linda


  5. I’ve had that quandry myself. Do I go forward or stay in my seat? I don’t want to be motivated by the “I want everybody to see me” attitude, but there is just something about going forward and kneeling at the altar that I like. I would say it’s about 50/50 for me. I have seen people make a giant production out of praying, which, though I can’t see their hearts, reminds me of this passage.


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