Surprised by Mercy
The year was 1974. I was 16 years old with a brand new driver’s license. My first car was a gift from my father, and I was driving to visit a friend who lived in the next county. I was scanning my hand-written directions as I wound my way through the woods and hills of rural Alabama. I only took my eyes off the road for a few seconds, but in a heartbeat the car was airborne. I sailed across a ravine to slam into the side of a hill. I was jarred, but uninjured. The car, however, was silent and unresponsive.
This all happened long before the era of cell phones, so I started walking until I found a secluded farmhouse where a friendly family lent me their phone to call my Dad.
“Are you alright, son?” he asked.
I assured him I was fine, but the car didn’t look so good. He told me to wait where I was. He was on his way. Those long minutes waiting for his arrival were filled with visions of retribution. I had no excuse for the disaster. I deserved to be punished and sentenced to live out my teenage years with no access to an automobile.
When he arrived, I took him to the wrecked car and showed him the damage. The car was totaled. There was no hope for repair.
“Where were you going?” he asked.
I told him the whole story, including my failure to focus on the road while reading my directions. I was broken and dejected as I waited for sentencing. Then my Dad did an amazing thing. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys to his car. He held them out to me and said, “Take my car and go visit your friend. I’ll take care of this.”
In that moment, my perspective on Dad changed forever. I deserved his anger, but he gave me mercy. Instead of prohibiting access to a car, he gave me his own keys.
This all happened a lifetime ago, but his response still colors my life. He taught me that mercy really can triumph over judgment. He taught me that my Father could provide grace in a day of trouble, even when I caused all the trouble myself!
This perspective on my earthly Father gave me a clearer understanding of my Heavenly Father. I have taken many wrong turns over the years. I have occasionally rebelled against God’s desires and destroyed beautiful things he gave me. But there has never been a day when his boundless love couldn’t cover me.
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” (Psalm 145:8 NIV)
Maybe you’ve made mistakes. Maybe your own bad decisions and actions have taken you to a dark place… but you are not in a hopeless place. Run to the Father with all your mistakes and failures. A heart of true repentance unlocks the throne room of God’s grace. He is slow to anger and rich in love. His mercies are new every morning!
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)
It’s Good for Your Character
By: Laura MacCorkle, crosswalk.com
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. – Romans 5:3-5, NIV
I grew up in a very special church back in the ’70s and ’80s. It was nondenominational, had tremendous traditional worship and congregational singing and was attended and led by many seminary professors and students.
Seeds that were sown in my life in those early years of my spiritual growth are now sprouting, and I’m drawing upon what I have learned as I make my way through adulthood.
From time to time, I flip through a bound collection of meditations on sayings that my pastor put together. He would regularly refer to these life principles from the pulpit, and today, whenever I hear them being said (or similar concepts) by others, I remember what he preached on them many years ago.
“It’s good for your character,” he would often say. And here’s how he explained that further:
“God uses the routine, the difficult, even the painful to develop in us qualities of Christlike character that can be learned in no other way.”
When we begin to see our lives from this perspective, that’s when we’ve turned a corner. But in order to keep thinking in this way, we have to make daily readjustments, as we don’t always want to see the routine, the difficult and even the painful in this way.
But it is the right way to look at any uncomfortable situation in our lives. The classic passage regarding trials in James 1:2-4 is wonderfully helpful and instructive to us pilgrims traveling life’s road on our spiritual journeys:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Now, let’s break down this outlook:
1. Consider it pure joy. How do you do this when you’re going through a divorce? Or in the aftermath of a departed loved one or the loss of a job? What will it take to see the joy despite the circumstances? Only God can give us this joy and change our perspective (Psalm 16:8-11).
2. Testing develops perseverance. In order to learn how to persevere, we have to go through some trying times. Think back on the trials in your life. What were the results? Did you make changes in your life? Did God help you get through them? Remember that as you continue to serve him (Psalm 25:4-10).
3. Perseverance must finish its work. We can’t go from diapers to dungarees in the snap of our fingers. Living takes time. And there are “pains” that go with it. Sure, it hurts sometimes, but know that the uncomfortable seasons mean that you’re growing (1 Peter 4:12-19).
4. Be mature and complete. When you were a child, you didn’t have a bulging file folder of life experiences to draw from. Now that you’re older, hopefully you can see how you have grown closer to the Lord and how he has changed you. Draw from past lessons as you choose to live and think differently today (1 Cor. 13:10-12).
He is Always By Our Side
“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” Joel 2:13 (NIV)
When my youngest daughter learned to ride her bike, family rides became a regular occurrence in our home. Our course in the neighborhood was short and easy, and everyone came home smiling.
But soon enough, my youngest became discontent. She believed she was big enough to chart a new course, and a certain corner became the point of contention. She would beg to go right (the longer and hillier route home), but we would go left (the shorter and easier route). And when we went left, she would then proceed to complain the entire way home.
These frustrating shenanigans continued until, finally, I could take it no longer. I didn’t want to explain, yet again, why we would not be going right. So, I didn’t, and I let her go her own way …
Five minutes later: “Momma! You were right. My legs are stress’d … my head’s all sweaty … and I should’na gone that long, long way!”
She thought she was ready. She thought she knew better. But the energy in her little legs did not yet match the enthusiasm of her heart. And unfortunately, the only way home was the long way she had chosen. So, we persisted on. Many sweaty tears were shed, breaks in the shade were taken, and pushes up hills were offered, until finally we made it home.
I can’t help but think of myself and all the times in my life when I thought I was ready, or knew better, so I forged ahead of God with my plans.
I thought I knew what was best for my career.
I thought my timing for a family made so much sense.
I thought I was ready to serve in that ministry.
I thought the financial decision checked all the right boxes.
But I was wrong. Just like my daughter, I soon found myself on paths I regretted, crying aloud, feeling “stress’d,” “all sweaty” and hopelessly lost.
Throughout the Bible, we read of God’s people going off course and finding themselves on paths they regretted too. Various prophets throughout the Old Testament came to warn Israel and Judah of judgment for their sins, urging them to repent.
One such prophet was a man named Joel. He spoke with authority and conviction, forebodingly. But also, he spoke of hope and the grace to be found when one returned to God:
“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:13).
That same hope and grace is available for us too.
Friends, if we should ever find ourselves stuck amid a path we regret (or perhaps are stuck on one now), we need to remember we have not been left alone. Our heavenly Father walks beside us, and there is no wrong turn big enough to ever separate us from His love!
So, let us heed the call of Joel and cry out to our Lord when we have lost our way. He is there, and He is ever at the ready to dry our tears and guide our hearts and steps back to His redeeming grace.
“The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.” – Proverbs 4:18-19 ESV
Light is central to creation. We see its importance when God spoke the words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Light is central to our relationship with God. He guides us, for He is our light (Psalm 27:1). He provides “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Light is central to the testimony of believers. We are to “let our light shine before others” that they might see that our faith is real and how much Jesus has changed our lives (Matthew 5:16).
In contrast, darkness is associated with everything opposed to God. Darkness provides a cloak, a place where people try to hide.
The Bible encourages us to live in the light and let God’s light shine, so we can see more clearly, what we are doing. We should live in ways that are pleasing to God, obedient to His Word. We should be completely committed to doing what is right, ready for the examination of His Spirit. This path is “like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”
In contrast, “the way of the wicked is like deep darkness.” They avoid the light and thus don’t have a clear idea of where they are going, what they are doing, or the implications of their actions.
Seek to live in the light. Be transparent and pleasing to God. Always let your light shine.