… Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God… (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)
I’m really starting to hate exercise. Well – I like what it does for me but I’ve stopped fooling myself that there is any enjoyment to be found in it. That’s a lie people tell themselves to trick their bodies into doing it, LOL! I suffer under no illusions now. It’s become something I must do if I want to keep this old body of mine working and in good order. Plus, it makes me look good, too! 😉 Sunday I was feeling kinda antsy. I’d exercised every day except that day so my body was craving it but I was fighting it. I finally gave into the desire and went for a walk. I will say this; exercise is also good for clearing your mind. As I walked I began to reflect on things and the direction my life is taking.
I wondered why some things I prayed for still eluded me. God has done so much but he has yet to put that final cherry on top – the crowning pinnacle of all my achievements. I walked and I grumbled to myself: I deserve this, I said of my desire. Why hasn’t it happened for me? After all I’ve been through? After the life I’ve strived to live? I was feeling mighty self-righteous. Why didn’t God give me what I deserved? But then it struck me – there are so many things wrong with that argument. First, it assumes that God owes me something for doing the right thing. I’m only doing what I’m supposed to do anyway. Second, it presumes that life owes me something just because of some of the harsh things (I feel) I’ve had to endure – punitive damages, of a sort. Lastly, it claims a superiority and favor over others who’ve had to live this life, like I deserve more than anyone else. As if, life is supposed to be more fair for me than anyone else.
Even as I saw the flaws in my way of thinking, I still demanded of God, “When will I get what I truly deserve?” But then I thought of all the things that God has done for me that met and even exceeded my expectations. I reminded myself that he usually gives me more than I asked for. “Exceedingly abundantly above all I could ask or think…” And it came to me, suddenly – I’m praying all wrong. I’m asking God for what I deserve. I should be asking for more. If I get what I deserve, I limit myself to what I’ve done, instead of receiving blessings with no limit. Getting what I deserve also mandates that I receive just recompense and penalty for my wrong doing as well. What I needed was BETTER than I deserved. And that is where I found my definition of mercy.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1 NIV)
David, “a man after God’s own heart,” is one of my favorite characters from the Bible – not because he always got it right, but because he sometimes got it really, really wrong. But he knew how to repent. He would go to God and say, “I messed up. I really blew it this time. Forgive me.” And God would. I think that’s what’s so great about their relationship, why God loved him so – David recognized that he needed God to “get it right” and to forgive him when he didn’t. He needed God to bless him, not only because of what he’d done, but also, despite what he had done. In fact, I think one of the biggest lies of the enemy is when he convinces us to NOT repent, not ask for forgiveness because God isn’t interested in hearing our apology. God is always listening FOR that. He wants to heal and restore you and remove the stain of your offense.
Many of you will recall the story of King David and Bathsheba. She was beautiful. He saw her bathing and desired her so greatly that he had to have her, no matter the cost. He put his kingdom and legacy on the line, his relationship with God on the line and Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, literally, in the line of fire. Besides committing adultery with Bathsheba, he had gotten her pregnant. David had Uriah killed so that he could marry Bathsheba and cover up his sin. The more he tried to fix his problem, the deeper he became entangled.
Finally, the prophet Nathan came to see David and told him a story of a rich man who had everything but took, instead, from his poor neighbor. The story convicted David and let him know that, although it seemed he had gotten away with his crimes – which were punishable by death – God knew what he’d done. And here is where David sets himself apart from his predecessor, Saul. Instead of trying to justify or mitigate his wrongful actions, he accepts responsibility and asks God for forgiveness and mercy. He asks God for more than he a right to ask, better than he deserves. And God grants it, despite David’s crimes. God restored David to a right relationship with Him. He allows David’s dynasty to continue in the person of Solomon, the 2nd son of David and Bathsheba. Yes, there were consequences for David’s mistakes. He lived with them the rest of his life. But the consequences were tempered with mercy.
I pondered this revelation of mercy as I continued my walk. Without mercy, I would receive exactly what I deserved, good and bad. That was a scary thought. A humbling thought. I don’t want to go to God and demand he pay me what I feel he owes me. I don’t want to receive only what I put out. I don’t want to reap exactly what I have sown. I want the benefits of His “tender mercies.” By the end of my walk, I’d changed my prayer, my outlook and hopefully, my life. Lord, I prayed, give me better than I deserve! Have mercy on me! If there’s a consequence for a bad action that I must reap, temper it with your grace and mercy so that I may endure it. And if there is any good to come from anything I’ve done, let it be increased so that I get it back, multiplied, one-hundred fold! I desire your mercy without limits, knowing that you are able and very likely to give and do more than I could ever conceive.