Mathew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” None of us are without guilt, not one. Romans 3:23 reminds us that all of us have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glorious standards. We have all done things that deserved the wrath of God, but His mercy rescues us. Mercy is simply withholding the punishment that is deserved. The passage in Mathew 5:7 reminds us that to get mercy from God, we must give it to others. This is nonnegotiable. The parable that Jesus told of the unforgiving debtor in Mathew 18:21-35 is a sobering reminder of this truth. It is quite prideful to come and ask God to show us mercy but deny those who have offended or hurt us of that same privilege. How hypocritical. We live in a fallen world, so we will get hurt by others and the temptation to withhold forgiveness and mercy is ever present. But the stakes are too high if we choose not to be merciful to others because to be in fellowship with God both now and later, we need His mercy!
In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells the story of two men who went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a dishonest tax collector. The Pharisee was so full of himself. He proceeded to pray the “perfect” prayer, telling God how wonderful he (the Pharisee) was. He was sure to point out to God that he was not like everyone else. He drank his own Kool-Aid through the entire prayer. He gave God his spiritual resume if you will. I don’t sin, I don’t cheat, I don’t commit adultery, I fast not once but twice a week and to top it all off God, I tithe! Aren’t I wonderful?
In contrast, the dishonest tax collector recognized his brokenness. He prayed from such a humble heart. He acknowledged that he was a sinner and begged God to have mercy on Him. His prayer was not filled with platitudes. Instead it was filled with humility. That pleased the Father.
If we are going to be honest (and honest is good); we can admit that we have been guilty of praying like the Pharisee. Telling God how wonderful we are in prayer and reminding Him of all we have done can be an avoidance strategy. We somehow feel that focusing on our “spiritual” accomplishments, keep the spotlight off of all that we are not doing. We may give our money but do we give the gift of forgiveness to the one that hurt us? We don’t cheat on our taxes but do we cheat God by not giving Him our time in prayer and the study of His word? Instead we waste our time on social media and unfruitful activities. Checked boxes on our spiritual to do list does not address the issues of our hearts.
It is also easy to compare ourselves to others in prayer. The question should never be, “how am I doing in comparison to others?” Instead we should ask, “how am doing in comparison to God’s righteous standards?” An honest answer to this question sets the stage for a posture of humility in prayer. It reminds us of our DAILY need for God’s mercy.
Is it easy for you to admit your need for God in prayer? Which one are you most like in prayer, the Pharisee or the tax collector?