“He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God” – Micah 6:8
I sat in my car and tried to blink back the tears as I held the check in my hand. It was for the exact amount we needed to pay our rent, cover our medical insurance, and pay for the registration and inspection on our car, all of which were due the next day.
I was overwhelmed, not so much by the amount of the check, or the miraculous nature of the timing of the gift, but mainly because this check meant that God really was listening to our prayers. He was actually aware of our needs and He had just moved, at the perfect time, to provide exactly what we needed.
An anonymous person had given this money to the church in our name. A few people were aware that I was out of work, but no one, not a single person, knew exactly what our financial need was, or that we needed this exact amount on this very day.
That evening, as my wife and I were getting ready to turn out the lights and go to sleep, we held hands and began to pray. I had been struggling to find gainful, full-time employment for over a year. Anonymous gifts like the one we had received that day had been commonplace during this time, as were many other miraculous blessings from neighbors and friends and family. Without these blessings our family would not have survived the ordeal. However, my prayer that night was not the gratitude-filled prayer you might expect after such an amazing day. Instead, as I closed my eyes to pray, the words on my tongue were mainly words of complaint. “If you can work such a miracle like this one today, then why can’t you simply give me a job? I want to be able to provide for my family on my own, without depending on the last-minute miraculous check in the exact amount we need to survive,” I started to say to God.
But, before I could utter those words, while they were still in my heart, assembling in the speech center of my brain, a picture formed in my mind that silenced my thoughts before I could speak them.
It was a picture of Jesus, with a towel around his waist. He was kneeling at my feet and he was starting to wash them with a towel. Immediately I understood that I was doing what Peter had done in the same moment. I was demanding that Jesus stand up. I was proudly asserting my own ability to wash my own feet without anyone’s help, even the help from my Lord, Jesus.
“Oh Lord,” I whispered, again blinking back tears, “Please give me the grace to let you wash my feet, even when it’s so painful for me.”
I learned that day that it’s not only better to give than to receive, it’s also a whole lot easier too.
Over the years I’ve experienced this many times. Showing mercy to someone is always a lot easier than receiving mercy from someone, because receiving mercy means admitting your weakness and embracing your inability to do things for yourself.
It takes humility to receive mercy from another person. That’s why sometimes serving the poor can be difficult because there are times when people are not willing to humble themselves in order to receive the help they desperately need.
I’ve also learned that sometimes we cannot receive mercy from others, or from God, because we’re unwilling to humble ourselves.
“God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
Lately I’ve discovered another barrier to receiving grace and mercy. It’s guilt.
The thing about mercy is, it has to be undeserved in order to really be qualified as mercy. Because of this, the verse above from Micah has always been a difficult one for me. It says that God requires that we “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly”. The part about loving mercy is difficult, (not that the entire list isn’t challenging, mind you), because it means we are supposed to rejoice when we see someone get a great blessing that they do not deserve.
If I’m honest, when I read about someone who receives a blessing I tend to get negative if I feel they don’t deserve it. I am not quick to celebrate when something wonderful happens to a person I consider unworthy of that blessing. But, according to this verse in Micah, God requires me to do so.
If the person who received the blessing, or the forgiveness, deserved it, then it wouldn’t be mercy. That would be justice. We’re commanded to do acts of justice, to make right the things that are not right and to act on behalf of the oppressed and the poor. That’s justice.
But God commands us in Micah to “Love mercy”, which means we are to have an attitude that rejoices whenever God moves to forgive or bless or love someone whom we might consider unworthy of that gift.
This means we have to love mercy when God extends it to us. I say this because sometimes we reject God’s mercy to us based on whether or not we feel like we deserve it. When we sin, or when we fail those we love the most, we might want to wallow in our pain and our misery longer than necessary because we think we haven’t suffered enough for our crimes. This keeps us from healing, and from moving forward in our journey with God, out of the darkness of our sin and pain, and into the merciful light of His love and favor.
Guilt is a powerful barrier to Mercy. I know that there is such a thing as Godly sorrow for our sins. In fact, it’s a necessary component for our journey with God. Without this we cannot receive the Grace of God. But sometimes we can allow our guilt and our shame to drive us deeper into the darkness and away from the outstretched hand of mercy. I’ve seen this happen to a friend who continually struggles with addiction. I’ve seen this happen to a friend who has been unfaithful to a spouse. I’ve even seen this happen to people who have lost loved ones through no fault of their own, but their sorrow and self-imposed guilt, drives them farther and farther away from the mercy that can set them free.
Sometimes we avoid mercy because we don’t feel as if we’ve suffered enough. We begin to hate ourselves for being so weak, so foolish. We find it impossible to forgive ourselves for the great pain we have caused those who love us more than we deserve. So, we hang on to our misery and our guilt in order to prolong our agony and extend our punishment. We refuse mercy because we don’t feel like we deserve it.
It’s true, we do not deserve this forgiveness. We are not worthy of such love. And that is exactly the point. That’s why it’s called “Mercy”.
If you find it difficult to “Love Mercy”, I invite you to pray and ask God to give you a heart like His. Sometimes we need a new perspective on things before we can understand that, in God’s Kingdom, things are often upside-down compared to the world we were born into. People who do not deserve forgiveness, or love, are the very ones who need it the most. Remember that.
If you’re finding it hard to receive the mercy of God, I encourage you to pray and ask God for the strength to let go of your shame and your need to suffer for your own pain. Jesus has already endured all of your pain, all of your suffering, on the cross. Now it’s time to receive the undeserved mercy and step forward into the light.
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