July 11, 2008
What Are We Looking At?
“… The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7b (NIV)
In the movies, you can usually tell the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys wear white and want justice. Meanwhile, the bad guys wear black and seek their own selfish gain. Some movies I’ve seen, however, surprise me at the end with who is really on which side. Jesus told a story like that.
In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells of two men who went into the temple to pray. We learn that the first guy is a devout worker in the ministry of God. These individuals were known to carefully follow God’s laws and encourage the people to also do so. We learn that the second guy does not work in the service of God, but for the government … in a job usually filled by corrupt individuals. These individuals had a reputation for abusing the system and swindling the people for their own gain.
From Jesus’ description of their vocations, I can imagine the first guy looking clean-cut, praying with sincerity in his voice, and maybe even wearing a white robe. The second man I imagine as somewhat dirty and gruff. I picture his eyes dark, hard and intimidating. I imagine him going through the motions of prayer, without really meaning it.
Not only does Jesus tell the two men’s occupations, but He also reveals exactly what they prayed. The first guy prayed in a way that was traditional for rabbis according to the Talmud. He gives thanks to God that he is set apart as a holy man, and not a blatant sinner like the other guy in the room is known to be. He prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get,” (Luke 18:11-12, NASB). He is clearly feeling pretty good about his status in life.
The other man, however, was feeling unworthy to even approach the altar. Jesus said he stood at a distance and wouldn’t even lift his eyes up to heaven to address God directly. This man was not going through the motions as I would’ve imagined, he was feeling emotional. He beat against his own chest with his fist, very aware of his need for God as he begged, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13b, NASB). Jesus said it was this man and not the first who left that temple having been made right with God.
To Jesus’ audience, this ending was a shocker. The tax collector for the Roman government, and not the religious leader for the Jewish people, was justified by the God of Israel. Jesus’ audience probably thought this unfathomable. But notice that the tax collector was the only one of the two who actually asked to be forgiven and justified. I don’t think the first guy realized he needed to be made right with God. He looked at his white robes and righteous actions, and ignored his pride and sin.
So, we can’t always tell who the good and bad guys are—in the movies or in real life.
Jesus’ story of these two men prompts me to look at my own sin. It also prompts me to remember that while I tend to focus on appearances – mine and everyone else’s – God is looking at the motives of my heart. Thank God, He grants mercy to those who ask!
Dear Lord, please have mercy on me – I am a sinner in need of a savior. I have an unclean heart that needs You to make it pure. Help me to look at others and myself today through Your eyes. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
To read about two women who found out God is more interested in our heart than anything, visit Rachel Olsen’s blog
God’s Purpose for Every Woman: A P31 Devotional Gen Eds. Lysa TerKeurst & Rachel Olsen
Take the time to write down any sins for which you need to ask forgiveness. For instance: lying; coveting; stealing what belongs to God; being prideful; sexual sins; placing too much value on money or power; refusing to forgive someone; putting something like your work, your family, or your recreation ahead of your relationship with God; judging others instead of loving them … Then ask for mercy in Jesus’ Name.
Before reading this devotion, which of the two prayers would you have been more likely to pray today?
Matthew 23:27, "How terrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people's bones and every kind of impurity.” (NIV)
© 2008 by Rachel Olsen. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
Matthews, NC 28105
Originally published Friday, 11 July 2008.