“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.
Thank you once again for yet another sincere testimony and inspirational read.
GOD is a LOVING GOD!!
BLESSINGS to everyone.
You’re so welcome, Sherri! I love being a part of a community of Christian women where we can share our stories and celebrate God’s grace – even in the messy and embarrassing moments.
AMEN! This is a WONDERFUL and TRULY MEANINGFUL devotion that not only reached my heart but also one I MUST share with my grandchildren. THANK YOU🙏
Cynthia, praise God that He knew what words would encourage your heart. Thanks for stopping by GiG today and joining the conversation. Have a great week!
Thank you so much for your message. I truly felt you were describing me. The guilt and the shame will keep us away from God. Confession and repentance brings us back. We serve an awesome God who blessed us with messages like this that encourage us. It is always good to know that someone else admits to doing the things that you have done. I thank God for you Barb and may God continue to use you mightily. God have mercy on me a sinner!!!!!
Hi Penny, thanks for stopping by Girlfriends in God today and sharing your comment. You’re right – we do serve and awesome God and I’m grateful that you shared your comment as an encouragement to other readers.
Thank you and Bless you, Barb!
Your youthful story and my story of my twenties is so similar!
I messed up my life so badly…married too young…divorced, got involved with the wrong personality, again…was made to feel like damaged goods, by my folks…the list goes on and on. I thought, that I was so damaged that I was too much for God to forgive! I was putting God the Father into the place of unforgiving, just like my earthly Father!?
When did my light bulb moment happen? Thirty years later!?!
Jesus never condemned the sinners He met on earth; He just made sure He intersected with their lives! Everything He said to them was in love. Even the woman at the well; He was so loving in His interaction with her, that she became forever changed.
I thank God, every day for His loving kindness, grace and mercy. Now, I just want to be more like Jesus and less like me!
“Father God, Bless Barb’s ministry of light and love…in Jesus name, Amen.”
Carol, first – thank you for including that prayer for me below. A praying sister in Christ is a blessing! Thank you for sharing your story and your journey to discovering how Jesus interacted with others while he walked on earth is the same Jesus that has mercy on us today. I fully believe that God will use your comment today to encourage others to draw near to Him.