“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” (Luke 18:13 NIV).
Friend to Friend
During my college years, I lived like a prodigal. Even though I knew that I was chasing my own selfish desires, I pushed aside the shame and guilt by distracting myself with the next party. I pretended that everything was fun and great until I crashed and burned. On the day when I realized that I’d messed up my life far beyond my ability to fix it, I feared that God wouldn’t want me anymore after what I’d done. I was too ashamed to read my Bible or even consider going back to church.
In Luke 18, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector “to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” In this story, the Pharisee prays to God and exclaims all of the ways that he lives a good religious life. He ticks all of the “Are you a good Christian?” checkboxes by naming all the people he’s better than, and then he reminds God that he fasts twice a week and tithes his income.
But then, Jesus shifts to the tax collector’s prayer. In that culture, tax collectors were despised by the Jews for their collaboration with the Romans. In Jesus’s story, the tax collector didn’t even come near the temple to pray, but his humble words move me every time: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Notice how short and simple his prayer is—no doubt in contrast to the long list of his sins likely running through his mind. What’s so moving about Jesus’s story is that the tax collector knew exactly what he’d done and asked for mercy anyway.
This is a rich story for us! That tax collector knew he couldn’t be righteous enough on his own to undo the sin in his life. However, rather than run from God, the tax collector courageously moved toward God and asked for mercy.
Here’s a provocative question: What if God doesn’t care what we do when we fail but, instead, He cares more about whether or not we’re willing to receive His mercy? Isn’t that part of what the gospel is about?
For weeks, I stewed in my shame and embarrassment. I cried for the mistakes that I’d made and the fear of God’s punishment. The voices of condemnation were so loud in my head. Yet, while sitting in my dorm room on a rainy spring day, I heard a faint whisper in my heart say, “Come back to me.” I dared to believe that voice was the Holy Spirit’s.
I crumbled in tears to my knees by my dorm room bed and mumbled the humble, simple tax collector’s prayer: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” While nothing changed in my circumstances, my heart and mind rested in the peace of knowing that God forgave me, even though I didn’t deserve it (1 John 1:9).
As Jesus finishes his story in Luke 18, he declares the following about the tax collector: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God” (Luke 18:9 NIV).
While the consequences of following our flesh are dire, God lavishly showers us with mercy when we admit our sin. We don’t have to fix ourselves, we only have to ask Him.
Is there a sin from your mistake that you feel too ashamed or embarrassed to bring before God? Here are two important reminders for you today:
1) You can’t outrun God’s mercy for your life.
2) You don’t have to earn God’s mercy either.
Is today the day that you need to confess the sin or shortcoming that feels like a wedge between you and God? Reject the whispering lies that say God won’t forgive you or that you’ll never change. The power of the gospel is that you don’t have to and can’t even save yourself. God’s mercy is for you!
God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I humbly confess ________________________. I ask for Your mercy and receive it.
In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
Now It’s Your Turn
Christians tend to judge others harshly without examining their own sin.
Why do we tend to point out others’ sin rather than focusing on our own?
What are some of your sins or shortcomings that are hard for you to confess?
Is there something that you need to pray and ask for God’s mercy for today?
More from the Girlfriends
Today’s content is from Barb’s new Bible study, Breakthrough: Finding Freedom in Christ. This six-week Bible study on the book of Galatians teaches you how to find freedom from following religious rules and any fear of not being enough for God. Barb’s study includes six powerful Freedom Principles and application exercises that equip you to break free from fear and experience God’s great adventure of joy and purpose for your life.
© 2021 by Barb Roose. All rights reserved.