It’s easy to love a stranger, easier to show them mercy. You don’t yet know their past burdens, the way it affects their present life, the things they struggle with, or their motives. To love a first impression is something, but to know a person’s heart, and then to continue to love them, is something else. As I grow in maturity, I recognise more and more of what goes on in the world, and in people’s lives. I am more acutely aware of the world’s injustices, of the way we misunderstand and mistreat each other, and of the idols that govern human hearts and lives. The more I see these things, the more zealous I become for the kingdom of God. At the same time, judgement without mercy is dangerous, just as rebuke without love is ineffective. The more I see, the more zealous I am; and the more I know, the harder I find it to love and to have mercy. How much is enough? Where do we set boundaries? Why should we even bother doing these things? People can give all sorts of reasons – practicality, presumption, for the good of one or another. A myriad of suggestions, motives and excuses are there for us to consult when it comes to knowing in mercy. It can be hard, but I am learning to grow and live in mercy, even as I grow in zeal. There are three lessons in mercy, I would like to highlight this week.
- Understanding God’s Mercy to Us
- Applying Mercy to People and Situations
- Longsuffering in Mercy
Mercy to Us
God is merciful! Jon Thurlow’s “Eyes of Mercy” has the following lyrics:
“I look into your eyes of mercy
I look into your eyes of love
I remember that your heart, it’s for me”
God’s heart is for us. He knows us completely, and still He lavishes us with mercy and love. Psalm 139 is famous for reminding us of how completely God knows us:
“O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thoughts afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.”
God not only know where we are and where we go, but He is acquainted with all our ways – the motives of our heart, our emotions, our words and our thoughts. None of this is hidden from Him, but He knows both the beautiful, and the sin-blackened parts of our lives. At the end of this Psalm, verses 23-24, I see an openness of heart that recognises God’s mercy. These are the words that form my own prayer to God as I declare Him as my merciful God, and respond to His mercy:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.”
Furthermore, God’s mercy never runs out. It sustains us and never fails.
“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!””
“For the Lord will not cast off forever,
Though He causes grief,
Yet He will show compassion
According to the multitude of His mercies,
For He does not afflict willingly
Nor grieve the children of men.”
God shows us mercy despite all our flaws, despite the repulsive specks in our lives that are the result of sin. He shows mercy in His forgiveness of our sins, His acceptance of our being, and His choice to draw near to us despite knowing us so accurately and completely. His mercy never fails, but it sustains us, giving us confidence to examine our ways, turn back to Him, and embrace His countless mercies.
Applying Mercy to People and Situations
Why be merciful? Well, as God has been merciful to us, so we should respond in mercy towards others.
- [Matthew 5:7] – “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
- [James 2:13] – “For judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.”
Mercy triumphs over judgement. Yes, judgement is coming, and the judgement of God is true and right – He rewards each one as he deserves; that and even more He gives out of His mercy. This is mercy, generosity and love in that what we do not deserve, God gives in abundance. Sin disqualifies us, but God’s mercy redeems us. God shows mercy to all in many ways, one of which involves us. We are called to be vessels of mercy:
[Romans 9:22-24] – “What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.”
What does it mean to be merciful, and to whom are we merciful to? Now, being a little older and wiser, and knowing a few more details to various things, I recognise even more clearly the mercy my dad and my husband have extended to various people. They have demonstrated more mercy to people who have despised and rejected them, than I have to people who only failed to demonstrate the same measure of love I envisioned myself giving to them. My dad and my husband quietly persist in mercy, being fed in strength and perseverance by their understanding of God’s continual mercy in their own lives. Wow – when I hear their testimony, and hear the testimony of others touched by their mercy, I am encouraged to grow myself in mercy. Jesus was merciful even when He was despised, oppressed and afflicted [Isaiah 53], and I want to be like Him – I want to be merciful to every person, and in every situation; to have a mercy that does not give up, but perseveres even in longsuffering.
So, what does mercy look like practically? I cannot list all the circumstances and situations in which we might show mercy, but here are just a few to help us envision what it looks like. To show mercy is to show the same just, truthful, but unconditional and faithful love that God shows us, even when it exceeds what is deserved, or when it causes us suffering.
- To have words seasoned with grace, even when we are angered or falsely accused.
- To love the person whose personality just clashes with yours.
- To honour our leaders, even when they make decisions we do not agree with.
- To encourage the person who scorns your trust and grieves your heart.
- To speak well of others and avoid gossip.
- To forgive over and over again, even when the same trespass is committed against you.
- To endure persecution, and instead, love your enemies.
Mercy, shown towards others, is not leniency of sin, but reveals the pursuit of God in our lives. Just as He knows all our faults, yet refuses to abandon us, so we show mercy to others when we love them despite their faults, and encourage them even when we are afflicted. Mercy requires us to have boldness in recognising the truth, yet grace and forgiveness in our response.
Longsuffering in Mercy
Mercy is not a single act. It is a continual process, and one which melds into a lifestyle of grace. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “… reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself towards godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Today, we are instilled with a sense of self-righteousness, a sense that we have a right to justice and the means to obtain it should we desire it. To exercise ourselves towards godliness may require the opposite of this – self-denial in favour of God’s glory. We exercise ourselves in the fruits of the Spirit, striving to become more like Jesus, and shaping our character according to His ways. Mercy is part of this, and to exercise ourselves in mercy has eternal consequences greater than immediate gratification of justice.
In the end, all will be brought to light, and God’s perfect judgement will be declared. However, we serve a God of mercy who desires that none should perish but that all should be saved [2 Peter 3:9]. We serve a personal God who doesn’t just work out His agenda and leave us in the dark, but who includes us in His plans and purposes. One of these plans is His plan for mercy on the world, and one of His ways involves building reliable vessels of mercy. I want to be a vessel of mercy, and I want to see God’s mercy revealed in its fullness. So, I pray for greater understanding of God’s mercy, for wisdom and strength to apply it in my life, and for patience in longsuffering that I may never give up on showing abundant mercy to others, just as God has lavished His mercy to me.