Praying like a Pharisee in Today’s Church

There’s a children’s song

I picked up in preparation for a Children’s Crusade many years ago that stuck with me. My then pastor’s wife taught us adults so we could, in turn, help our respective groups of little people learn the lyrics. It goes like this:

“I don’t wanna be a goat, nope. I don’t wanna be a goat, nope. Cause a goat ain’t got no hope, nope. I don’t wanna be a goat, nope.

I don’t wanna be a Sadducee. I don’t wanna be a Sadducee. Cause a Sadducee is sad, you see. I don’t wanna be a Sadducee.

I don’t wanna be Pharisee. I don’t wanna be a Pharisee. Cause a Pharisee ain’t fair, you see. I don’t wanna be a Pharisee.”

The chorus simply says:

“I just wanna be a sheep, yeah. I just wanna be a sheep, yeah. From my head down to my feet, yeah. I just wanna be a sheep, baa.”

I’m sure there are several versions of that floating around, but this is the one that stuck in my mind. And from the title of this devotional post, you probably already figured out that the third line is my topic.


Consider the parable that Jesus gave regarding the tax collector and the Pharisee. You can read it here, Luke 18:9-14.

It’s noteworthy that Luke specifically states that our Master’s target audience was some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. They thought so highly of themselves that they despised others and held them in contempt. In other words, they were acting just like those who weren’t fair, you see.

The tax collector and the Pharisee had gone to the temple at the same time for prayer. That’s where their similarities ended. Our Lord taught us much from these contrasting figures.

The Pharisee stood and prayed with himself, not to God. Seemingly, he prayed to be heard by other worshippers as he listed his religious accomplishments. This was all about personal piety. But who is he trying to impress?

For the sake of context, let me briefly remind you that the tax-collecting system of Jesus’ day was controlled by crookedness. It was so bad that the terms tax collectors and sinners were used almost synonymously.

How does this tax collector pray?

He prayed from his heart. Addressing God, he confessed that he was a sinner and he asked for mercy. His humility makes him the hero of this parable.


With a stinging conclusion, Jesus made it clear that self-exaltation is not acceptable in the Kingdom of God.

So what in the world does Praying like a Pharisee in Today’s Church look like? I mean we don’t even have Pharisees or Sadducees anymore, do we? Nope, but we do still have a few ornery old goats. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

While the title of Pharisee is no longer relevant, the spirit of phariseeism remains.

If one would truly like to know how to pray like a modern-day Pharisee, here are my instructions:

  • You must be sure to pray very loudly as to make sure you are heard and seen. The louder, the better the scene you’re making.
  • While praying, be sure to include mean things about others. After all, you’re better than them anyway.
  • List your good works while you’re praying because someone might not have seen or heard that loud offering you made.
  • Don’t forget to pray in Elizabethan/Shakespearean English so your words really sound impressive and authentic. Don’t try to be real, just really put on a show with words.
  • Lastly, but most important, this all must be done with self-righteousness or you will have totally missed the spirit of phariseeism. This is, after all, a self-righteous production.
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Friend, please DON’T pray according to that bullet list. Instead, approach God with humility and share your heart. The biggest mistake you’ve recently made is simply not praying. Don’t worry about form, fashion, volume, or verilies. Just have a humble heart-to-heart with God. He’s waiting to hear from you.

Like a good sheep, listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and let Him hear your voice too. Like the tax collector, you can go home justified.

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