There are two main incorrect approaches to forgiveness and getting right with God. Either, people try to clean themselves up as much as they can on their own and then go to God or they “accept” God’s forgiveness and then try to pay it all back. In both situations people are trying to earn the forgiveness and righteousness they receive.
How strange would it be if someone won millions of dollars in the lottery, more money than they could possibly ever earn through their job, and then before cashing in the ticket, they tried to save up as much money as possible to pay for it? If they first tried to pay off their student loans and credit card debt and whatever other debts they might have by their own work and then started to “earn” the money they won in the lottery. They could work their fingers to the bone and never make enough to “pay” for the lottery.
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
In Luke 7 Jesus is invited to the house of a Pharisee. While there, a “sinful woman” came in and “she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.” – Psalm 34:4-6
What is our first reaction when troubled by fears? When we start to worry about the future or about challenges we are facing, what do we do?
Do we allow those fears to linger in our mind? Do we think through what could go wrong and what might happen if it does?
“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16b
I used to think that the effectiveness of my prayers somehow depended on me. If I was living “righteously enough” or if I had been following God’s Word closely enough, then my prayers would be “powerful and effective”. I knew that God always heard my prayers, but for some reason I though that the effectiveness of my prayers was basically tied to my good works and avoiding sin. I wouldn’t have said that out loud necessarily, but it was how I prayed and what I expected to happen after I prayed.