Praying Like a Sinner


[This devotional, first published in ‘Tween Girls and God is intended for youth.]

Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God … “

Trista glanced across the yard as she climbed into the backseat of her family’s minivan one Sunday morning.

“The Carlsons never go to church,” she said to no one in particular. Daddy fastened Trista’s younger sister in her carseat, opened the door for her mother and then climbed in behind the wheel. Slowly, he backed out of the drive. No one replied, so Trista turned it into a question.

“Daddy, why don’t they go to church? I mean, God says we should, I know it’s in the Bible somewhere. Does that mean they don’t believe in Jesus? If they do believe in Jesus, does that mean we are better Christians? Does that mean they are bad people? Does that mean … ”.

“Slow down, Trista,” her mom interrupted. “If you don’t stop asking so many questions, your dad can’t give you an answer. Besides, I think this is a very important conversation. The things you’re saying sound a little prideful.”

“Trista, have you heard the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector?” Daddy asked. “Jesus tells the story in Luke chapter 18.”

“No. I don’t think so,” Trista said.

“Well, Jesus was talking to some people who were pretty sure they were really good people. They believed that they were doing a good job of keeping all of God’s commandments and that God must be pretty pleased with them.”

Daddy, continued, “So the story is that there were two men who went to pray. One was a very important religious leader and the other was a tax collector. In those days, tax collectors were considered to be bad people. Sometimes they cheated people out of their money.

“The religious leader stood off to the side, far away from the tax collector. Then he started to pray out loud, ‘God, I’m so glad that you didn’t make me like that tax collector over there. I’m a really good person. I do everything you say to do.’

“But the tax collector stood off to the side and looked sadly down at the ground. He cried, ‘God, I’m so sorry for the bad things I’ve done. Please have mercy on me.’

“Jesus finished the story by saying, ‘I promise you, the humble tax collector went home forgiven, not the prideful religious man.’”

Now it was Trista’s turn to hang her head. “I think I understand, Daddy,” she said in a small voice. “God isn’t happy when I am proud of myself and think that the good things I do make Him happy with me.”

“That’s right, sweetheart,” Mom spoke up. “Jesus died for our sins—for everyone in the whole world. You and I are only saved because we believe in Him, not because we go to church or do anything good at all. Also, it is not our place to judge other people. Actually, I know Mrs. Carlson from the bank. Their family goes to a different church and they worship on Saturday nights.”

Trista turned to look out the window and watched the other cars streak past. She wondered where they were going. Quietly, she whispered a prayer:

“Jesus, thank you for forgiving me when I am prideful and when I do bad things or don’t do the things you want me to do. Thank you for parents who teach me to believe in you and to understand the Bible. Help me to be humble and to remember that I am saved because of your grace, not by anything I do.”

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