“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”
~Luke 18:13 (NRSV)
Within the Christian faith there is often much a ruckus about nuances of theology, flavours of doctrine, and variants of the way to ‘true’ discipleship. Whoever is right, and whoever is wrong—especially on debates, ethical—perhaps only God will know in the end. What is maybe a sad post-modern view is true to the extent of one thing:
When we battle over doctrine we forget grace.
The one thing we ought to remember: Jesus’ final prayer and desire, chronicled in John 17: specifically verses 20-23: that we be one...
That we may be one is not, essentially, about compromise on important dogma, but that we must learn to appreciate differences in biblical wisdom.
To that end, there is much ado about the importance of activities like Bible reading and prayer—sometimes devoid of the spirit, first, in seeking after God.
There is a particular prayer that comes before all our works of righteousness; it is epitomised in the tax collector’s prayer. What good are our works of righteousness if we do not first have correct situational standing with God?
Not Overrating Anything But One Thing
We see there is a temptation for every single one of us to paint our uniquely special understanding over the wall of grace. We see the way God made us to see, after all.
Painting our interpretation over things, colouring them as we believe, as we have been influenced by our leaders, pastors and shepherds, always tends for overrating one thing or some things to the detriment of one more important thing.
One thing that stands at an abject obviousness is the Holiness of God.
Though we are sanctified in the name of Jesus, we are still broken and horribly normal people; no matter how mature or spiritually successful we get we are capable of any sin. Our sin sets us apart from God. In our arguing doctrine this is the first thing forgotten; our methods of arguing, most often, characterise us as sinners.
One Thing That Cannot Be Overrated – The Prayer Of Truth
Standing so far apart from the nature of God is not about highlighting how loathsome we are; it’s simply about recognising the truth. Only from the truth can our lives be made right. Only from the truth may we experience the exactness of peace and joy.
The prayer of truth, the most fundamental Christian activity we can engage in, is to pray, and no less live, those seven words:
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Such a prayer rejects the pride of one’s own righteousness—a lie!—in favour for humility: to acknowledge God as absolutely Sovereign and our indefinite Saviour. Such a prayer, if it’s not prayed continually, needs to be our living, breathing modus operandi for life.
Jesus’ keenest desire was that we, the church, be one—as he and the Father are one.
Our Christian challenge, should we accept it, is to position ourselves to support Jesus’ last wish; it is the will of God. Our first and most important task is to ensure the tax collector’s prayer characterises our approach to life; then comes our doctrinal view. We will quickly find the first thing will fashion the second thing by grace. Then we will be one.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.