In Northern California, an alarm clock went off. A forty-two year old Sunday school teacher rolled over and said a prayer to begin her day. “Thank you, God,” she said, “that I live a good life. So many are living in sin and making a wreck of their lives. I’m glad I’m not one of them. My family is intact. My children are doing well in school. We go to church Sundays and Wednesdays, and we put money in the offering plate. I wear a cross to work and pray before eating in the breakroom. Overall, I think I’m doing a pretty good job.”
At the other end of the state, a lesbian film producer was doing yoga on her balcony. As she looked out over her gardens and swimming pool, a sudden awareness of her own selfishness overwhelmed her. “God,” she choked out between sobs, “I don’t even know how to pray. But I know I need you. Please accept me.”
And it was the film producer – not the Sunday school teacher – who found herself justified before God.
That’s my re-imagined parable of the one Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14. It’s a familiar story, but we really can’t remind ourselves too often of the importance of humility. Sometimes, we need to recognize our own pride and repent of it. Other times, we need to remember that God rejoices in our repentance, even when we feel like we’ve failed one time too many.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, o God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17, ESV
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” Isaiah 57:15, ESV
“This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” Isaiah 66:2, ESV
I want God to accept my sacrifices and not despise them. I want Him to dwell with me, just as He dwells in the high and holy place. I want Him to look upon me with favor.
It’s no secret how to achieve what I want. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as recognizing that I am not enough. That I am flawed and weak and sinful. That I need Jesus. That I am nothing without Him.
And when we tell Him those very things – from a sincere heart – He meets us where we’re at, and He fills us with His grace.
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