To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 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.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
“The reason why the publican returned from the Temple justified was that he had got that lowly and self-emptied mind to which the grace of God is welcome. It was not his standing afar off merely, nor his dejected eyes, nor his smiting on his breast, but his despair of himself and his hope in God’s mercy — “God be merciful to me a sinner.” And you will be justified, too, when, losing all confidence in the flesh, you learn to rejoice in Jesus Christ.”
James Hamilton in Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers, compiled by Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert (New York: Wilbur B. Ketcham, 1895) 335.
Those close to me will often hear me say in times of prayer, trial or difficulty, “Lord have mercy.” I say this because I have learned that down is up in the kingdom of God.
Early in my journey I was the pharisee in the story. My faith was a to-do list, and I pridefully ticked the boxes. I did not realize that the handling of money was about helping my heart get to where it needed to be.
Then over time I matured into the publican. I realized that the path for growth was actually losing confidence in myself and hoping only in God’s mercy. “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.”
Today, as I look honestly into my heart, I find both characters, the pharisee and the publican. The paradox is that this means I can both exhibit humility and fall into the trap of pride. Perhaps you can relate?
So, as I drive 9 hours to Mott, ND, to meet my pheasant-hunting friends John Roswech and Shawn McFarland, I reflect on my life and resolve to lose all confidence in the flesh and rejoice only in God’s mercy.
God does not need our money. He wants our hearts. He’s not impressed by our disciplines. He wants them to shape us into humble servants who hope only in His mercy. What about you? Care to join me?
Lord have mercy on us. We confess, we are sinners. We fast from all confidence in our flesh. We rejoice and hope in You alone. In your mercy, hear our prayer because of your unfailing love.