v 13. “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
This is one of the briefest and yet most heartfelt prayers in the whole bible. True, it only comes in one of Jesus’ parables rather than an actual life incident, but through it Jesus teaches a great deal about ourselves and prayer.
The Pharisee’s prayer was a self-centred, self-glorifying expression which at the same time wrote ‘I’m far better than you’ over the lives of others. The prayer of the Tax Collector stands in stark contrast – an appeal for mercy from a man who recognised his standing before God as a sinner.
This is the right place to begin in our prayers as it firmly fixes us as people who depend wholly on God for everything. In our prayers we bring nothing of our own achievements, nothing to boast about, only our utter dependence on a God who delights in mercy. We can never appeal to God on the grounds that we deserve something, or feel we or others need something, we can only open our hands and hearts and appeal for mercy. A cry for mercy is more than just words; if it trips lightly off our tongues as like or not it is a sham. There will be something going on deep inside us when we let down our guard and have nothing to say except ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ We are then starting in a realistic place rather than with a false belief that God owes us something just because we are praying.
Being merciful is part of the wonderful nature of the God who cares for us individually. And if it is part of His character, then showing mercy should also be part of our character. How will mercy show up in your life today?