“Have mercy on me” is not a common phrase in our part of the world. This is largely for two reasons. The first is our pride. We see mercy as charity and our pride doesn’t like the idea of not paying our own way. We don’t want to be anyone’s charity case. The other reason is many of us have a sense of entitlement. We want to be shown mercy not by the one showing mercy having compassion on us, but because we think we are entitled to be cut some slack. We state often, “give me a break!” as though it is our right to not be held accountable for our actions.
How we interact with other people is telling about what we really believe. Psychologists talk about the “fundamental attribution error” where most of us judge other people by their actions and judge ourselves by our intentions. You see the problem here.
This week we will be starting a new teaching series on “Keys.” I will be telling you about five keys that are crucial components of our life with God and subsequently with each other. I confess to a bait-and-switch approach to series title—“Keys, Unlock Life.” Intentionally it sounds like a self-help series— the bait, but it isn’t—the switch.
I have several issues with self-help. One, we can’t. The laws of physics preclude lifting oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. It’s impossible. You can’t do it. Take a second and try right now; I’ll wait. How did it go? You didn’t lift yourself up a millimeter did you? Let me be clear here. We do need help we just can’t give it to ourselves. I am not saying we shouldn’t respond to what God is changing in us (see our previous teaching series on “Change” from last spring; you can listen to it here: https://soundcloud.com/user-84151623/190428-1a) We do need to change; we just can’t change ourselves.
Perhaps you have heard someone say, “the Bible says, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’” Spoiler Alert! This isn’t in the Bible, anywhere. In fact, this concept is antithetical to what the Bible does say. God complains in Isaiah that Israel “didn’t even ask Me for help.”
Another issue I have with self-help is that it is about us; the focus of self-help is self. Jesus helps us, the result is we can help others. Our eyes are to be fixed on Jesus. When Peter was walking on water he stopped looking at Jesus and began looking at the waves, and sank. Our eyes are on Jesus, not on ourselves. I am NOT saying we shouldn’t be self-aware— we should be. What we shouldn’t be is self-focused.
Mercy is by definition about someone else. Whether we are receiving or giving mercy, the act is from one person (or God) to another.
Like most things in the Kingdom of God, there is a receiving and a giving. We receive mercy, and we extend mercy. Very little in life is a one-way street (driving downtown is the exception that proves the rule.) We can’t give what we don’t have and everything we have we received from God. Perhaps you have heard me say, “We get to give.” This is what I mean by that.
The same is true with mercy. Our relationship with God starts with God showing us mercy. Jesus said He is the gate to the sheepfold. Adam’s “I AM” series has illuminated this passage. We can’t come in except through Jesus, the gate. It is His mercy toward us that pays our way, adopts us into His family and welcomes us home.
This series is about the keys that open this gate.