Saturday, November 15, 2014

Looking for mercy

TODAY' SPECIAL: Psalm 122:1-123:4

TO CHEW ON: "Behold as the eyes of servants look to the hands of their masters,
As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God,
Until He has mercy on us." Psalm 123:2

I've always liked this picturesque little verse, reading it as servants keeping an eye on the master for the next command. But on a close look today, I see that that's not what the servant is waiting for at all. Rather, he or she is waiting, looking up, hoping for mercy

[Mercy (chanan) means to be gracious, show pity, favour.
In English mercy is defined as kind or compassionate treatment of an offender, adversary, prisoner etc. in one's power; compassion where severity is expected or deserved.]

This request for mercy from the lips of man to God—from our own lips—reminds us of who God is and who we are. Eugene Peterson comments on this psalm and the stance of the person praying:

"The person of faith looks up to God, not at him or down on him. The servant assumes a certain posture, a stance. If he or she fails to take that posture, attentive responsiveness to the master's commands will be hard" - Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 61.

The definition of mercy reminds us of why it is only realistic to take that low, looking-up posture: because we are people who deserve and, except for Jesus and His substitutionary death for us, expect severity.

It's easy to get in the 'ordering God around' mode in our prayers. This little psalm reminds us of who we are and what our realistic posture before God is. And yet, because He is good, this grovelling for mercy is not fear-filled but optimistic. Peterson again:

"In obedience we pray 'Mercy!' instead of 'Give us what we want. We prayer 'Mercy!' and not 'Reward us for our goodness so our neighbors will acknowledge our superiority." We pray "Mercy!" and not "Punish us for our badness so we will feel better.' We pray 'Mercy!' and not 'Be nice to us because we have been such good people.'

We live under the mercy. God does not treat us as alien others, lining us up so that he can evaluate our competence or our usefulness or our worth. He rules, guides, commands, loves us as children whose destinies he carries in his heart" - Peterson, Ibid., p. 64.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for this reminder of my realistic position before You. Thank You for Your mercy that looks on me with soft, compassionate eyes, instead of with the condemnation I deserve. Help me to extend Your mercy to others. Amen.

MORE: Kyrie Eleison (As We Come Before You) by Stuart Townend & Keith Getty

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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