It was, hands down, the best definition I'd ever heard - of the word mercy.
A simple analysis of a compound French word - miséricorde - learned this word picture from an old African lay pastor, preaching in a church on the backside of the desert in one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world, at least according to the UN. Hearing that definition, having the light bulb flash... It is one of those forever-brilliantly-vivid-memory-etched-in-the-mind moments. I can still see the wild, loud African prints on the head scarves of the women sitting in front of me that morning.
"Mercy is a cord reaching down from heaven, directly from God's heart, to lift us up and out of our misery."
As those words crackled out over the less than stellar, sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn't sound system, the church grew, quite literally, photo silent. I can still hear that so "unAfricanchurch-like" silence.
And the pastor repeated his words:
"Mercy est une corde étendue du ciel, directement du coeur de Dieu, de nous arracher de notre misère."
Seems like I've grown up hearing that grace is getting what I haven't earned and don't deserve - in other words, God's forgiveness and a right standing with Him... His love and an eternal future in His Holy, beautiful Presence. Mercy is not getting what I have earned and do deserve - or not eternal condemnation and separation from His Presence... no just payment based on the value of what good or bad I've invested into this life.
We major on the grace. After all, who doesn't like a gift?
And we are infinitely thankful for the mercy we (as in I, individually) have received - I mean, I know don't want to pay the true and just penalty for the wrong I know I've done (that doesn't even touch on the wrong I don't know about).
Why don't we get so excited about seeing God's mercy lavishly offered to others, to the really dirty and awful, the horribly hateful and disdainful, the so very different from me I can't begin to understand their desperate world sinners - the ones where we say, "There but for the grace of God go I" but don't really believe or mean that in the deepest parts of our hearts?
Why do we say one thing... waxing eloquent on the loveliness of God's mercy and how thankful we are for it... and then get so stingy and stop God from using us as those cords of mercy stretching down to rescue others steeped in misery, cords that extend directly from His heart?
Why do we insist others at least taste God's justice, where we decide the size of the spoon... but don't see the hypocrisy when we only want to touch our pinkies on the surface and then quickly tap our tongues to that lightly coated finger?
Why do we assume that others are submerged, drowning in the sin of a rebellious heart, while we are only thrashing about on the surface... and therefore essentially believe and practice in our lives the idea that our rescue somehow cost Christ at least a little less...
Why can I be so stony-hearted towards those I see generously donating time and money, but in my-world-according-to-me, tight fingered and fisted when it comes to doling out mercy... and not see that very self-same sin in me?
Why do I even try and separate grace from mercy...
isn't mercy simply the astonishing
a gift of grace,
so completely undeserved?
I type this today. Yet, in my heart, a question lingers ~
Am I willing to pray EVERY.SINGLE.DAY that God makes me one of His ministers of mercy, in some little way EVERY.SINGLE.DAY even if it costs my reputation in the eyes of some of my fellow church-goers?
Today, I am.
And so today, I also pray that tomorrow, I will be...
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