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Prayer for the week

05 September 2014

Let us pray humbly as sinners, just as the tax-collector prayed, says Katy Holbird

Humble prayer: the tax-collector and the Pharisee

Humble prayer: the tax-collector and the Pharisee

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Luke 18.13

SAY what you like about the hotchpotch of people which constitutes the Church of England, nothing could quite equal the characters of those whom you will find in the hallowed rehearsal rooms of a drama school. Within the first week or so of my studies, I had spent an hour pretending to be a rhinoceros, and another afternoon communicating "as only a monkey may do". Walking in slow motion around Covent Garden in rush hour? Check. Learning to dance like an Elizabethan? Most surely.

Perhaps one of the best things that came out of that period in my life was coming across a line from Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail Better" (Worstward Ho).

Failing better, it seems to me, is what we agree to do when we come to God in confession. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Luke 11, he included the line "Forgive us our sins." This was not a one-off prayer. Jesus expected that his disciples would need to ask for forgiveness each time they prayed: despite a desire that we would be perfect, Jesus does not expect us to be so. He does, however, expect us to commit ourselves to being honest. He does, I think, expect us to commit ourselves to failing better.

Our prayer this week comes from Jesus's parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. It is a parable in which confusion reigns: the public figure, a man who is charitable and right-living, is exposed as one who is, in fact, none of these things.

The temptation with this story is to leap for comparisons. Yes, we know this man. We see him in the faces of politicians and celebrities. But is that our route to confession? Responding this way serves only to join our voices with the Pharisee in saying: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men."

Instead, Jesus invites us to pray with the tax-collector. He invites us to recognise our need for God, regardless of the things that we have done to make ourselves worthy in his sight. Importantly, as we think about the parable, Jesus invites us to come to him, regardless of what people around us have or have not done.

What happens when we have humbled ourselves and prayed this prayer? Jesus sends us home "justified before God". When we pray humbly with the tax-collector, we must also find it in ourselves to believe that we are justified with him. We need to realise that we are forgiven, and live accordingly. Praying this prayer is more than a therapeutic act of saying sorry: it is also an actof grace-recognition, as we walk out to live exalted by God, instead of by ourselves.

I am not suggesting that confession is easy, but it is necessary. It is not something that we see modelled often, but if we have the courage to run against a culture of covering mistakes and shifting blame, then the effect on those around us can be greater than we imagine.

The world sees us differently when we get to our knees. In confession, and in the freedom that it brings, let's decide, wholeheartedly and with the help of God, to "Try again. Fail better."

Katy Holbird is a television producer, who blogs at wifemotherandotherlabels.wordpress.com.


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