Obviously, it is right to pray. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. How can it ever be wrong to pray? Let me suggest five situations or circumstances in which, according to God’s word, we are out of line when we pray.
Part 3 – Self-righteous Prayers
In Luke 18:9-14 we read:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “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.’ “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.”
When we are self-righteous, our prayers stink. When we come to God in our own righteousness, thinking that somehow God should be impressed with us, God despises our prayers. The Bible tells us that our righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s sight. This means that the very best that I can work for in myself falls far short of God’s standard.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” God loves for people to come saying, “God have mercy on me. I don’t deserve anything except hell, but I am coming to you in Jesus’ name because Jesus is my only hope.”
Do we really mean it when we sing: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me?” Are some of us really thinking, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a pretty good person and upright citizen like me?”
Do we spend a great deal of our time comparing ourselves to others and giving thanks that we’re not like them? Who do you look down on? Alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, homosexuals… members of other denominations? God is not impressed with our goodness. If I get what I deserve, I’ll get hell. If you get what you deserve, you’ll get hell, too.
Theoretically, we know this is correct, but we really don’t want to see ourselves on the same level as “those other people.” There is absolutely no room for boasting except in the cross of Christ Jesus. He is our only hope. He is our righteousness. He is our peace. He is Lord. We have no other hope. If our prayers are not grounded in an awareness of the holiness of God, our own sinfulness and our need for God’s grace, then our prayers are all wrong. If we’re trying to manipulate God and get Him to do our thing, He is not going to hear our prayers and answer the way we want. God offers us mercy and is not manipulated by our self-righteousness.
When I was a boy, my pastor told a story about a woman who went to see her portrait proofs at the photographer’s studio. She studied them closely with a furled brow and finally said to the photographer, “I don’t think these pictures do me justice.” The photographer respond