We live in a world today where it’s so easy to become callused and indifferent, especially in here in the United States. I mean just think about it, we are bombarded daily with news of tragedies, violence, and suffering people. Living in such a world often causes us to develop a certain amount of thick skin. Unfortunately, thick skin and a hard heart are often confused with one another. Instead of developing a thick skin, many develop a hard heart. As a result, you can find unforgiving people everywhere in our society. Unfortunately, their hardness has made them cynical and merciless.
Jesus, however, preached, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’ He stands against the harshness of our society. In fact, God says in Ephesians 4:32, ‘Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ Let me ask you, “Do you find it difficult to follow such a command?” I mean if we’re being honest, sometimes it can be tough. It’s so easy to get a hard heart. But Jesus knew the value of mercy and He wants us to understand its value as well. So, this morning I want us to take a closer look at mercy.
To start, I want you to picture yourself at a shopping center watching an elderly woman struggling with her packages. You are most likely going to see a steady stream of people passing her by, all of whom could help her, but they don’t. Many are even irritated with her slowness. Finally, you might see a tender-hearted person stop and take the time to help her.
Or young people, picture yourselves in the lunch room. A classmate that is not well liked because, well, he/she is just dirty and seems so socially inept. You notice someone jokingly tying their shoe strings together and as they stand up to take their tray of unfinished food to the trash, they fall and the tray, along with all the left-over food goes flying through the air. Most likely, everyone in that lunch room is laughing at your classmate and he/she is feeling pretty small but then another student stops to help your classmate up, speaks a word of encouragement to them and even stays behind to help clean up the mess.
Now, if we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that sometimes other people really get under our skin. We don’t want them to, but we don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. They aggravate us, offend us, and we become hard toward them. We know we shouldn’t feel this way, but we do. We know that we ought to have mercy and even extend grace, but it’s so difficult and instead our hearts have become hard.
The problem is that we are the losers in this scenario. If we don’t show mercy, then we cannot expect mercy to be shown to us. Jesus said, ‘For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.’ (Matthew 6:14-15) James 2:13 reads, ‘For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.’ When we show no mercy, we are the losers in terms of God’s mercy.
We want to be more merciful and forgiving, but we seem to have unlearned those emotions. How can we relearn them? What are some practical steps we can take to develop a little more tenderness? How can we develop a merciful spirit? How can we be, as the Scripture tells us, more tender-hearted, kind, and forgiving?
It’s a matter of perspective. Sometimes we’re too busy for people to be very important. We are caught up with our goals, our projects. We see ourselves as busy people, always behind, working hard to get things done. In the hustle of our busy lives, it’s easy to see people as either road blocks or stepping stones. It’s too often easy to evaluate them in terms of whether they fit into our plans or not.
It’s hard to see people as individually important and valuable to God. It’s easier to categorize them by whatever stereotypes are convenient for us. Some are winners, others are losers. Some are ordinary, and some are extraordinary. But the truth is that God loves every one of them. Even those we think are losers are important to God. God loves the unwanted, the prisoner, the homosexual, the misfits and the homeless just as much as He loves the medical students, and the theological students, the teachers, and the stock-brokers.
All people are special in God’s eyes. The waitress who serves your dinner, the check-out girl in the supermarket, the parking lot attendant at the garage are all important to God. Think about that the next time you see them. Even the hothead who is shaking his or her fist at you on the road is important to God. So is the person who has offended you, or hurt you, or made you angry.
Have you ever stood in a crowd of people at the airport? Around you are a conglomeration of races and ethnic cultures, a motley crew of well-dressed and poorly dressed, clean and grungy, old and young, loud and quiet. Some you would sit next to on the plane, others you want to stay away from.
Do you realize that each one of these people has a life, goals, dreams, a family? Each one is a special person to God. Each one is as important as I am, or you are. We need to pray, ‘God, let me see them through your eyes.’ Anyone familiar with the song, “Give Me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath? In the song, the writer is asking God to give him His eyes for just one second, so he can see what God sees in people. It’s about being merciful and compassionate in a world that is not so much. It is recognizing that seeing as God sees can be a giant step toward a merciful, tender-hearted, and forgiving attitude.
What about your sensitivity? Seeing with God’s eyes is an important step in the right direction. We must have the right perspective. Another equally important step is to learn how to feel as others feel – to develop real sensitivity. If we are to be merciful, forgiving people, we need to learn how to empathize with others. We need to climb into their situation and learn to feel as they feel. We must walk a mile in their shoes.
It is so easy to stand off from someone else and pass judgment concerning their situation – so easy to tell someone else what they need to do, especially when you haven’t lived through their situation yourself. There is something about going through the hard time for yourself that gives you a different perspective. When you have felt the pain, when you have suffered the loss, when you have endured the crushing blow, it is altogether different. Now, all of us can’t experience everything life deals out. But we can make an honest attempt to consider what it would be like if we were in that situation.
How do you suppose it feels to be handicapped, unable to walk or stand, unable to drive or take care of yourself? How do you suppose it feels to be unemployed, with bills you can’t pay, and children you can’t feed? How do you suppose it feels to be a minority, living in a community where you are different? How does it feel to be a foreigner, in a country where it’s hard to understand and communicate the native language? How would it feel to be separated or divorced, struggling through the pain of having the one you love reject you? How would it feel to be widowed, or to lose a child, or a parent? How do you suppose it would feel to have cancer, Alzheimer’s or a chronic disease that’s debilitating on most days?
Even on a more common scale, how do you think it would feel to be really depressed, and full of despair, and not even know why? How would it feel to feel all alone and unloved? How would it feel to be full of doubt and fear?
The point is that we need to climb into someone else’s situation, at least mentally, and walk a mile or two in their shoes. Once we do, we might find it easier to show some tender-hearted love and genuine forgiveness. When we feel as they feel, we might understand why they act and react as they do. Understanding, that is all people really need.
Don Mallough in his book Crowded Detours wrote about a young employee who secretly misappropriated several hundred dollars of his business firm’s money. When this action was discovered the young man was told to report to the office of the senior partner of the firm. As he walked up the stairs toward the administrative office the young employee was heavy-hearted. He knew without a doubt he would lose his position with the firm. He also feared the possibility of legal action taken against him. Seemingly, his whole world had collapsed.
Upon his arrival in the office of the senior executive the young man was questioned about the whole affair. He was asked if the allegations were true and he answered in the affirmative. Then the executive surprisingly asked this question: “if I keep you in your present capacity, can I trust you in the future?” The young worker brightened up and said, “Yes, sir, you surely can. I’ve learned my lesson.”
The executive responded, “I’m not going to press charges, and you can continue in your present responsibility.” The employer concluded the conversation with his younger employee by saying, “I think you ought to know, however, that you are the second man in this firm who succumbed to temptation and was shown leniency. I was the first. What you have done, I did. The mercy you are receiving, I received. It is only the grace of God that can keep us both.” This is the stuff of real mercy.
We must have perspective, sensitivity and there must also be a response. What we are talking about is seeing as God sees others, feeling as others feel, and responding by doing something about it – simply loving as Christ loves us. That is what Christ did for us. That is what we should do for others.
Again, the passage in Ephesians exhorts us to ‘Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.’ In other words, we are to treat others as Christ has treated us. How has Christ treated us? Well, He has always treated us with kindness, with tenderness, with mercy, and with forgiveness.
Titus 3:5 reads, ‘He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.’ Ephesians 2:4-5 reads, ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved.’ God has always had time for us. He has always listened to us. His forgiveness was made possible because of His love. If we would learn to show mercy, it will be because we learn to love as Christ loves.
Just think of what would happen if we were to do this. I believe that the results would be extraordinary. People would be wondering what happened to us. Our spouses and children would be overjoyed. The superficial relationships we have would be deepened. Our churches would be filled as people discover that church is a place where they can find love and forgiveness, genuine acceptance.
Mercy is meeting people’s needs. It is not simply a warm feeling toward someone. Mercy is something we do. Jesus said, ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’ (Luke 6:36)
So, what can you do to become a more merciful person right here, right now? What are the distinguishing marks of a merciful person?
You say, “But pastor, you don’t realize how much this person has hurt me! It’s been going on for a long time. Why should I be merciful to them?” Why? Because life is too short to let petty grievances ruin relationships. Life is too short to allow bitter grudges to make us miserable on the inside. Life is too short to dwell on the hurts of the past. I’m not saying you should let people keep on hurting you. But I am saying that the most merciful thing you can do is to give it to the Lord in prayer and move on with your life.
But the biggest motivation for why we should be merciful to others is because God has been merciful to us. For all the sins we’ve made in our lives, God could have wiped us off the face of the earth a long time ago, and we would have deserved it!
This is what I want: I want you to carry out an act of mercy in a person’s life this week. Maybe there’s someone in your life you need to forgive—a broken relationship that you need to mend. A hurting person you need to help. You need to show them some mercy.
Or maybe someone you know is struggling right now. They’re lying in a ditch of discouragement. They’re barely hanging on, and they’re about to let go. You need to go over there. You need to put an arm around their shoulders. You need to show them some mercy.
Or maybe you’re here today, and YOU’RE THE ONE who’s barely hanging on. YOU’RE THE ONE who’s about to let go. YOU’RE THE ONE who needs mercy. The Bible says in Lamentations 3:23 that God’s mercies are new every morning.
That’s why He sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sins. That’s why He’s waiting for you to come back to Him with His arms open wide. Romans 10:13 says that “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Come back to the One who loves you. Come back to Jesus. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
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