I have found it very difficult to sit down this week to write a post. I have been very busy and very tired with all the work I have to do. No. That is not the problem. I still found time to browse my social media and I have watched my favourite TV programs. No. I am not that busy and tired that I can’t sit down to think about what God has been challenging me with this week.
The hardest thing I find in my Christian walk is to stop and actually look into things in my own heart. Maybe you understand what I mean. It is so much easier to look at other people’s flaws and failings than my own. My heart has been aching this week. I have been challenged again, again by a very well known story in the New Testament in the book of Luke.
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “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.’
14 “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.”
I have read this story so many times and if I am honest I always thank God I am not like the Pharisee in this story, or am I? God has been challenging me to seek Him closely and to pursue holiness. God wants that for every believer. When I read this passage this week my first question was, am I confident in my own righteousness? Do I look down on other people? Have I lost sight of the cross of Jesus?
As far as I know the Pharisees were religious men that kept the law and some were pretty good at it too. They prayed, they went to the synagogue and I am sure they studied and memorized the Scriptures too. These things in themselves are not the problem. The problem is that their hearts were full of pride. They thought they were better than others because of their religiosity. “I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get”.
We tend to approach this story and think it does not apply to ourselves, after all we follow Jesus. We understand He died on the cross to forgive our sins and make us right with God. We understand that we are justified in Him for our salvation. We dismiss it and think it only applies to other people. As I read it again I ask myself: Am I a Pharisee when it comes to pride in my heart? Do I boast in the fact that I have learnt so many precious truths about God from many godly man and women? Do I boast in the fact I have read the right Christian books? Do I boast in the fact that I only listen to Christian music in my car (and how dare my kids ask to listen to the pop songs in the radio)? Do I feel incredibly satisfied with myself because I have not missed one service on a Sunday for many years? (I can visualise the tick in the box) Do I give myself a big pat on the back when I acknowledge that for the first time in a very long time I have done my Bible reading every day for an entire year? Has the pride in my heart turned me into this character I learnt to dislike from the very first time I read this story? Has this pride hindered my witness? Has it stopped me encouraging other Christian women around me?
The problem is not so much in the things I did or do, but what motivated me to do them and how I feel about them. Oh how easy it is for those of us who have been blessed to have met Jesus in our youth to feel proud about our journey of faith?
Maybe like me, the Pharisees forgot that in 1 Samuel 16:7 God said to Samuel:
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
The Lord looks at the heart! That is so clear in the story when we read the how the tax collect behaved in contrast to the Pharisee. I can almost see how much his heart ached as he could not even lift his eyes to heaven. He really understood there was nothing he could do or offer but he knew He needed God to pour His mercies on Him. We like him this man, don’t we? He is the kind of Christian we want to be identified with. And it would be right for us to want to be like him because Jesus said he went home justified. Oh how I need to learn to be more like this tax collector in this story!
I know that I have allowed pride to fill my heart. I know that I need to let God’s word speak, break, mould, change and transform me. There is no place for guilt because Jesus took it all away when He died on the cross to forgive me. His sacrifice is perfect and God accepted it. His sacrifice took away my sins and shame and all the guilt. There is a need for repentance and confession. I just remembered the words of a beautiful song called Forgiven:
“Lord, forgive us for our pride When our faith becomes a show Dressed in righteous deeds to hide All the stains below We have judged Your sons and daughters For the sin that is our own May we now forgive each other And lay down our stones
CHORUS Forgiven, forgiven Through the blood of Christ We are forgiven”
My heart aches but at the same time it is filled with the hope that comes with the certainty of forgiveness. I AM FORGIVEN! There is place for God’s grace to shine brighter in my heart. How much I need it. Each day. Only by His grace and his mercy can I ever bow down before His throne empty of myself ready to be filled with all that God wants for me. Only by His grace and love can I fix my eyes on Jesus and not on myself. His blessings upon my life do not depend on my performance as a Christian.
May God help me to remember each day that He looks at the heart. May His Holy Spirit help me to be humble like the tax collector and may I continue to desire each day to be transformed into His likeness. May my life be used to help others to see Jesus and grow closer to Him. All glory be to Him.