Thursday, August 6, 2015

Pastoralia: Mercy

Pastoralia: Things having relation to spiritual care or guidance; the duties of a pastor.
Oxford English Dictionary

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Each morning and evening I renew a little liturgy of mine inspired by the Book of Common Prayer. There are a few readings as well as some prayers that I offer up to God. Here's one of the morning prayers.

Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen

There are several things in this prayer that have stood out to me. One of them has to do with the idea of asking God for His mercy. This was not something I did before discovering these prayers. Doing this prompted a question: Should a Christian ask God to be merciful? Do we need to do this?

Well, first things first. We need a definition. What is mercy? Here are definitions from two different dictionaries.

compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one's power

kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly

These support what I usually consider God's mercy to be: not treating a sinner in the way that he deserves: punishment. (God's grace is the flip side, treating a sinner in a way that he doesn't deserve: blessing.)

So, should a Christian ask God to be merciful to him? All of his sins are already forgiven. What need, then, of mercy?

I actually think that asking God to be merciful is a really good idea. And that opinion is based on this. Jesus warns us about the possibility of our falling away from Him. Here's just one place where He talks about that. It's from the parable of the four soils.

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

They receive the word with joy and then, in time, fall away. This doesn't usually happen in one big step. Turning away from Jesus is the culmination of lots of little steps in the wrong direction. And at the heart of those steps is our neglect of dealing with our sins. After all, when we sin the Father really should cut us off. We have broken our covenant with Him. But there is the provision of forgiveness. And that's what asking for mercy is about. Isn't this what David did after his terrible sin with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

And didn't Jesus teach us to regularly ask for forgiveness when He gave us the Lord's Prayer?

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

My daily prayer makes clear that this request for mercy that leads to forgiveness is tied to the Gospel and what Jesus did on the Cross.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me…

So, I think that it's good that I offer up a prayer of confession which includes a request for mercy and its forgiveness. Doing this daily reminds me not only of my evil habits of sin, something that is really good to be reminded of, but also and more important, that there is mercy and forgiveness from the Father for those sins. There is a renewed sense that things are good between us. And I find that so very helpful.

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