The Marvelous, Messy Gift of Mercy

broken person (graphic)

renda has reached the end of herself. She recognizes she needs help. Her rebellious, selfish, and loose lifestyle has left her broken and in pain.

Some are glad about her situation. After all, her selfish choices have left behind a trail of wounded people.

Others feel a sense of sorrow for her. What a waste, they think. She could have done so much with her life. If only. . . .

Others will avoid Brenda. She’s not to be trusted. Better keep an eye on your wallet and your husband is the silent (or likely not-so-silent) mantra.

Yet, there are a few who will look at Brenda with an overwhelming sense of compassion. They want to help her, but it will not be easy. They may begin by simply putting an arm around her and telling her she can make it. They will come alongside her, pray for her, and keep a watchful eye for opportunities to encourage her. These are the mercy-givers, and they will likely be the difference between whether Brenda succeeds or fails in the days ahead.

Mercy is messy business. It does not run in a straight line. It is messy because life is messy. Broken people, like broken glass, usually leave shards in places we would rather be left tidy and clean.

Life does not work like that. Marriages fail and families break. People do things they later regret. On our best day we are still human. We need mercy because of human frailty and failure, and our God in His infinite wisdom foresaw this. Perhaps that’s why mercy is such a prominent theme in Scripture. No less than five of Jesus’ miracles were motivated by mercy.

No matter how hard we try, we will have an occasional failure. Mercy is not a license to sin, but rather an answer for sin. John wrote, “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous” (1 John 2:1 NLT). Mercy is marvelous, especially when we deserve judgment.

Ripped Pants and Flipped Wigs

I once preached at a church where, while I was being introduced, I reached under my chair to get my Bible, and ripped my pants. As I approached the platform, I tried to cover my backside and carry on with the message, but it was just too awkward. In the middle of my pitiful preaching attempt, I finally confessed my secret. I told the congregation that when the message was over, I would be leaving immediately out the side door in humiliation. There was nothing I could do to fix my dilemma.

On another Sunday, while I was pastoring in Tampa, Florida, a member of our praise team became overwhelmed with joy. She began jumping rather vigorously, shaking her wig off her head and onto the platform. In her panic, she turned away from the congregation, bent down, put the thing back on her head, and kept singing. However, when the music ended, she left the stage humiliated. She could not undo it. We were all in shock trying to hold in our laughter, while she was broken with embarrassment.

All of us sometimes “rip our pants and flip our wigs.” What are we then to do?

Among the many gifts God has given to the church, mercy is one of the most welcomed and needed. At any given time in my life I have either needed mercy, or have known someone else who did. The apostle Paul wrote, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: . . . he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6, 8 NKJV).

The word Paul uses here for mercy involves compassion. While I’m not a Greek scholar, if I have the choice between getting what I deserve or compassion, I’ll take compassion every time. But mercy is more than compassion. Compassion is a deep feeling, but mercy is an action.

We cannot earn mercy, but what a welcome experience when we receive it! This gift is to operate in a spirit of cheerfulness. Perhaps this is the real gift. Mercy doled out with a sense of condemnation is not genuine mercy at all. Such “mercy” can be worse than the consequences of the person’s failure.

Burden Bearers

Mercy givers are placed in the body of Christ for a divine purpose. They have a long-suffering spirit and incredible patience.

While the prophet or evangelist may declare truth with passion, he or she is not always the best at showing mercy. That’s where mercy givers are needed. While the prophet or evangelist may set in motion the steps that bring someone to the cross of Christ, mercy givers will likely be the ones to walk alongside the broken person.

Though not every Christian has the gift of mercy, every believer should be merciful. We all should “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15 NKJV), but mercy givers get into the trenches, get messy, and suffer long with those who are rebuilding a broken life.

“Bear[ing] one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2 NKJV) is made more difficult because those who are broken do not always heal without some setbacks. The blessing about grace and mercy is that no one deserves it, but anyone can have it; and we don’t get to choose who gets it, even if we think they don’t deserve it. Justice is what every person deserves. But when we ask for mercy from God, mercy is what we get. We also need mercy from our fellow believers. Thank God for the mercy givers!

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, it was an affront to the religious elite of His day. To imply that a priest and a Levite had failed by not helping the man who had been beaten and robbed, but that a half-breed Samaritan was the hero of the story, would have been unthinkable.

“Blessed are the merciful” (Matt. 5:7)

Jesus knew who His audience was and exactly who He was implicating in the story. The conclusion crashes down when Jesus asks the self-righteous lawyer who started this conversation to trick Him, “Who was the real neighbor to the man who was beaten and robbed?”

The answer quickly came: “I suppose he who showed mercy to him.”

Jesus responded, “Go and do likewise.”

How then can we as Christians do anything less than show mercy?

Made of Dust

To those who recognize they have been given the gift of mercy, we need you, for condemnation often shows its hideous head.

I’ve seen firsthand the ugly consequences of condemnation. When someone fails, and falls into the hands of the Enemy, the road out may be more difficult than the path that led them in, partly due to the scrutiny of those who throw the stones of condemnation.

Perfectionism can lead to bitterness and barrenness. It is not a sin against the God who made us to admit, “I am human.” I am grateful for the words of David in Psalm 103:14: “He knows what we are made of; remembering that we are dust” (HCSB). I imagine David was grateful for that reality as well. Again, mercy is not neat and tidy. It is more three steps forward and two steps back, but it is the mercy givers who help us keep moving forward.

Taking a spiritual-gifts test may help you recognize your “gift-bent” if you will, but the gift of mercy is more than just a personality persuasion. It is an action gift. Mercy givers often feel deeply what others are going through, and they reach out to them, many times at a personal cost of time and money. Mercy is always costly, yet Jesus said, “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!” (Matt. 5:7 GNT). What an incredible promise for the mercy givers: God will give mercy back to them.

Harvest of Righteousness

As long as there are people, mercy will be a necessity. To the broken Brendas of the world, whose lives are a mess, the people who show mercy are indeed a gift. Romans 5:8 says, “God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!” (GNT).

Our very existence began with God’s greatest act of mercy. He sent His only Son into our mess not to condemn us, but to die for us and redeem us. What then can we do? James wrote: “The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (3:17-18 NLT).

Thank God for the marvelous, messy gift of mercy!

David C. Nitz is lead pastor of the Village Church of God in Winter Haven, Florida.