The boys and I were in Iowa this weekend for a wedding. It was the daughter of one of the people I worked with at camp for almost five years. Most of the other camp friends were there as well. Of course, there isn't a lot of catch-up time at a wedding, but it was fun to see everyone.
They didn't remember most of the people (other than the few whom we had seen in the past year and a half). The boys and I drove around the camp on our way back to my parents' house. They didn't remember living there (of course Nils was just a few months old when we lived there). Anders commented on how it would be fun to live there. Sometimes I wish we still were. Sometimes. I loved the ministry. The hours made it hard to do with family.
We also stayed this morning and went to church with my parents. It's been a while since I've been to the church I grew up in. I enjoyed seeing the people who were there when I was growing up; it was also enjoyable to see people who were children when I left home now leading worship.
The guest preacher preached the lectionary text from Luke 18:9-14 (which was nice because we didn't end up making it back home to church in time). In the text Jesus tells His disciples a story about two men who are at the Temple praying. One was a religious scholar--the looked-up-to guys who make the rules about how to follow the Law; the other was a tax collector--the hated collaborator of the Romans.
The Pharisee stands where everyone can see him, praying out loud (the text says to/about himself rather than praying to God). He is thankful--thankful that he isn't like sinners. He lifts himself up by stepping on the backs of those whom he looks down upon. He justifies himself through his actions.
The tax collector stands meekly aside, not able to even lift his head up. He beats his chest before God, saying a short, seven-word prayer: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." He acknowledges his place before God, and pleads for mercy.
Prayer is not a place of self-promotion. It is not about elevating ourselves and putting others down. It's not about justifying ourselves through our actions.
Prayer is about a relationship with God. It is acknowledging our place before Him. It acknowledges His Lordship and that He is the one who justifies us.
It's a good reminder that prayer doesn't need to be lengthy or eloquent. It's a simple act that flows out of a sincere heart.
It's also a good reminder that I need to do it more. And saying "God, have mercy on me, a sinner," is a good place to start. Even just simply "Lord, have mercy." Those three words cover a multitude of situations: during a stressful time at work, while the neighbor is yelling at her kids, when a friend is hurting, when I'm a sinner in need of grace. In short: all the time.
Lord, have mercy.