Lord, Have Mercy

by | Oct 12, 2015 | 5 Merciful

hands-compassionBlessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).

A previous post, “You Can Rest Now,” encouraged anxiety-prone readers to let go of the illusion that productivity will land them in the promised land of rest. It offered the alternative consolation of accepting life’s endless tasks as opportunities to love and serve God.

When we discussed the post, I told my wife, Wanda, “I preach to myself, you know.”  She assured me that she did.  In marrying me, she took on a worry wart.
Maybe that explains the phrase I utter with a sigh and sometimes a tear to open almost every prayer: “Lord, have mercy.”  Yes, I’ve lived almost my whole life in the South where that stock phrase joins, “Bless his heart,”  “I’m fixin’ to do it,” and, “I’ll tell you what,” as idiomatic fixtures.  But I don’t think that accounts for it.

When I pray, “Lord, have mercy,” something comes over me.  I feel poverty of spirit in my bones, that full recognition that even the bones themselves come as gifts, that Somebody called me into this life who did not have to, but here I am.  I feel grateful.

I feel the sweet melancholy of coming before God broken but invited into the house of prayer anyway.  I feel welcomed, and I accept the invitation to “my place in the family of things,” as Mary Oliver said in her Lord-have-mercy poem, “Wild Geese.”  Whatever silence, rambling, praising, or self-examining I offer, only God’s mercy makes this prayer possible.

Deities need not ever show mercy.  Ancient Greeks and Romans certainly did not expect it of them. Their top god, Zeus, presided by intimidation and indifference.  They deemed emperors gods no matter how tyrannical.  Such gods live on in our nonbiblical common sense.
Whatever you believe about the God to whom you pray, you can only know for certain that God is love and God is free.  God freely chooses to be love.  God could have been a jerk like Zeus if she wanted to.

So I pray to this free, loving God, “Lord, have mercy,” which seems a bit silly since that’s what God does anyway.  But I need to pray it to remind myself who God is and who I am, so I can pray further from my heart to the real God, not a despot.  I pray it because if this God called me into being for any purpose at all it is to speak that truth in prayer to start the day and live it afterward by being merciful myself.

Anxiety will plague me always.  But rather than undermining my faith, it serves it by prompting the prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”  Anxiety is flexing a muscle in the face of a perceived threat, and that prayer is letting go under the wing of a Protector.  As long as I pray it with confidence that God hears me, holds me, and leads me to carry out his merciful will with unlikely people in unlikely places, I will keep awake enough to receive the mercy when it comes.


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