O LORD, hear my prayer. In Your faithfulness, give ear to my plea; in Your righteousness, answer me. Psalm 143:1 (Berean Study Bible)
This beautiful picture that this verse evokes caused me to pause and look deeper. What a wonderful comfort to know that God is faithful to hear our prayers and, in His righteousness (and it is great), to answer. Looking at some commentaries I found this explanation of the verse from the Pulpit Commentary:
“In thy faithfulness to thy promises, since thou hast promised to hear prayer, and in thy mere righteousness, since it is right and just that thou shouldest do so, hearken unto me.”
The word “mere” in this commentary stuck out to me. “Mere righteousness” sounds negative to me, as I have always thought the word meant something like trifling, meager, trivial, paltry, scant, or scanty. Because of that, the title of C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity has always puzzled me.
But what does the word “mere” really mean? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary it means:
1: being nothing more than
2: having no admixture, or pure
3: being nothing less than; absolute or free from imperfection, perfect
Synonyms include “bare” and “very or exact, the actual or real, properly entitled to the name or designation”.
In God’s mere righteousness, His bare righteousness, His absolute, perfect righteousness – nothing more and nothing less. Purely because He is righteous and no other reason. Not because of anything I have done or could ever do. Merely, with nothing else mixed in, solely because of His firm and trustworthy character – He answers me.
Have you ever doubted that God hears you or that He would answer you? I admit, I have. Getting caught up in the how of prayer, the right words in the right order, with the right amount of faith and frequency. Just looking at the titles of some of the books about prayer is intimidating: The Practice of Prayer, Secrets of a Prayer Warrior, How to Pray, Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan to Serious, Specific and Strategic Prayer. I’m not saying these are not good books (I have not even read most of them), but, reading the titles, I feel like I have to do something right, something amazing, for God to hear and answer me. I have made the focus all about me.
But what does the Bible say? He is faithful to His word. He has promised. He is righteous and just and it is only because of God’s bare, pure absolute righteousness that He looks down ready to help. It is all about Him and His character.
It is true that God does not hear the wicked. I have to be daily in confession, repentance, forgiveness, walking toward complete sanctification. But that puts my focus on Him and what Jesus did for me on the cross, not on my special abilities or the amount of faith I can dredge up. If I am walking on the path alongside Him I can know He hears me and that in righteousness He has the right and good answer on the way.
O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. Psalm 65:2 (ESV)
Going back to Mere Christianity. Maybe “mere” Christianity is pure, absolute, bare, maybe the essence of Christianity. If so, James had this to say about it:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27 (ESV)
Maybe this is pure, or mere, Christianity because it is like God. Hearing the plea of the afflicted and answering. And as I write this, I realize something else. Trusting in His mere righteousness sets me free to do mere Christianity. I am not off the path wallowing in doubt, confusion and condemnation. I am offering up the prayer and committing it completely into His hands. My focus can then be only on Him and doing His will.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14
Image by copyright by Sheila Bair