This week each of your seven Hopers is going to take a chunk of Psalm 51 and wrestle it, knead it, sit in it, and hopefully talk about it (with you!)
I would encourage you to get out your Bibles, the one with pages to flip and a leather binding to crack, and give yourself two whole minutes to read the chapter, that way you’ll know where we’re headed when we start.
No no, not your iPhone app.
Grab your Bible … it’s gotta be around there somewhere…
Good, now that you’ve read those nineteen verses, let’s ease in with a closer look at the first two:
“Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.”
I’m going to be honest. Which, is probably your expectation, but sitting behind this screen there’s a gargantuan temptation to tell half-truths – so long as they don’t feel like lies and they make us look a little better.
Mercy is a struggle for me to give and the easiest thing in the world for me to hand out.
Grace is a struggle for me receive for an entirely different reason and the hardest thing in the world for me to hand out.
While the words might seem interchangeable in our vocabulary, there’s a reason they are two entirely different spiritual gifts.
I’ve described them this way (normally after someone pats me on the back for being “gracious”, which more often than not is a big bunch of hullaballoo.)
To me, mercy is seeing someone drowning and jumping in as fast as you can to save them because they can’t swim. Grace is sitting with them in the pool house for four hours while they talk about how they feel about not being able to swim.
I’ll dive in headfirst, even if I’m wearing silk, to pull you up and set you on a dry towel, but Lord help me (no, truly) I don’t want to walk the long road of the constant frustration of someone who can’t swim talking about not swimming when they could take a freakin’ swim class.
Ya feel me?
I’m a responder, a fixer, a do-er, a fighter, but I am not a shepherd. I’ll jump in and do the hard scary stuff without fear, for the hope of the big good (and hopefully quick) response. And over the years, as I have been loved well by people with the spiritual gifts of grace and shepherding, I’ve seen the difference.
Grace walks the long road and offers kindness even when it’s not deserved. (You can’t swim? But you got in the pool anyway? No, you don’t deserve a friend who will listen to you talk about how you feel about it, but I will sit with you and hold your hand and maybe even french braid your hair.) Mercy dives in and saves you even when you deserve death. (You can’t swim? But you got in the pool anyway? Well you deserve to drown, but I won’t let ya.)
We don’t hear much about mercy from the pulpit or the pew or the instagram pastors, whereas “grace” is one of the ultimate Christianese buzz words. (And it’s true, I need to be formed to emulate a heart-attitude of grace that echoes the ever-gracious heart of our Savior… and I’m workin’ on it, but more on that another time.)
The reason grace is hard for me to give out is because I’m bad at it, the reason that it’s hard for me to receive is because I’m keenly aware that I don’t deserve it and I get really uncomfortable when someone lavishes me with it when I haven’t earned it.
Mercy is easy for me to give out because I’m good at it, the reason that it’s hard for me to receive is because I’m already so mad at God that I figure any discipline or punishment He could lash out He already has and any He discipline or punishment He spares me from… well, it feels like He owes me a few freebies.
I’m not grateful for mercy because I think God owes me a lot more.
Yikes. Welp. There’s the honesty.
“Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve and mercy is when God doesn’t give us what we do deserve.”
We’ve all pinned that quote to some faith-centric or motivational Pinterest board haven’t we? But let’s look closer (and let’s get back to those first couple verses, eh?)
The author of Psalm 51, David, had just committed adultery. Not only that, the woman who he’d slept with? She was married, so he’d had her husband killed. An adulterer and a murderer, and this is the guy God calls in Acts 13 “a man after My own heart.”
But let’s look closer.
David sinned, big time. Ain’t no way around it or fancy words that will negate it … but here is how he starts this specific Psalm:
He begs for God’s mercy. He begs for not being given what he deserves. He knows what he deserves, and he doesn’t recount to God all the things he’s done that were good or all the hardships he faced in the past, he doesn’t try to make a bargain or ignore the reality of what he’s done… he begs for God’s mercy. This mercy isn’t owed, it’s only available because of God’s lovingkindness and because of His tender mercies that come in multitudes.
David doesn’t want to make excuses for or dignify his actions, he just wants his Dad to blot them out from the record book, to wash him top to toe, to cleanse him. He doesn’t deserve it (and now my eyes are hot and I’m blinking fast to not cry) and he knows he doesn’t deserve it … but he’s asking. And I imagine that as one touted as a “man after God’s own heart”, David is only asking because what he is asking for is plausible. The God he knows, the same God he’s disobeyed and disappointed, he knows. Deeply and intimately because God is in relationship with David – and so, knowing God’s character and true nature, David calls upon it…
While I’m busy covering up my sins with a well-rehearsed speech of self-righteousness at the first sign of guilt or conviction, while I’m figuratively covering my ears and closing my eyes and trying to ignore that knock on my insides from the Holy Spirit, while I’m committing the exact same transgressions every single day, sometimes every single hour – well, I should be expending my energy begging for God’s mercy! And when shown it, my oh my, the ugliness of my spirit that says “Yea, whatever, ya owed me that one God, you’ve been mean enough these last few years.”
To the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE I snub and rub my sin in His face.
As much as I hate to take advice from an adulterous murderer, looks like I’ve got a big lesson to learn, a lot of repenting to do, and a lot of being spared from what I deserved to be grateful for.
Have mercy upon me, O God. Please.