September 20, 1994
Ever talk to yourself? Many children talk to their imaginary friends. My husband, whether at his workbench in the garage or his desk in the study, is usually discussing something with himself. As for me, when I make a mistake, I sometimes scold myself and when something goes right, I might say “Good job, Elsie.”
Although some jest this is “the first sign” (of mental illness), the practice of chatting to oneself seems normal. Some claim they do it because they cannot find a better conversational partner!
However, there is at least one situation where talking to yourself does indicate a problem. Consider this story told by Jesus: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’” (Luke 10).
As he lists his outstanding qualities, the Pharisee sounds like a great fellow. He has a first class standing as a leader in the synagogue and owns respect of his countrymen. However, he did not know how to connect with God. Notice, he was praying to himself!
Jesus shocked His listeners when He described the contrasting prayer of the tax collector. They were startled because the only thing they despised more than Roman occupation and burdensome taxes were the people who were paid by Rome to collect those taxes.
The tax collector in this story was definitely a Jew. Romans would not be praying in the temple. He was considered a traitor. For that reason, those hearing Jesus would agree that the tax collector described himself accurately: “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!’”
As Jesus described these two prayers, some must have thought He would praise the Pharisee. He was a religious leader and considered a godly man. He was faithful to the nation and had not sold out to the Romans.
Imagine their surprise when Jesus gave this verdict: “I tell you, this man (the tax-collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
God will justify even the worst sinners if they humble themselves before Him. To be justified means that God not only forgives the sin but also considers the sinner guiltless. Jesus paid the full penalty so there are no charges against them. Justification means “just as if” there were no sin.
As for the Pharisee’s boast, God is not interested in any so-called accomplishments. No matter how good a person appears, God says, “Whatever is not of faith is sin” so if there is no faith in Christ, that person falls short of pleasing Him.
Instead, God looks for a heart broken over sin. Isaiah 66:2 says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”
The Pharisee was so proud of himself, the direction of his prayer was not even toward God. Instead, he talked to the person he actually did rely on, trust, and worship: himself. In this case, talking to himself was a big mistake.