Have Mercy

“Have Mercy on Those Who Doubt…” (Jude 22)

A week before the start of my 5th grade year, our teacher fell from the roof of his house breaking, if I remember correctly, his hip and leg, and would be out of the classroom for the first semester.  While tragic, there was a part of me that was overjoyed. This particular teacher had a reputation for being tough on students. My older brother had him for a teacher and told me all sorts of stories. Plus, our substitute for the semester was a new, young, female teacher – everyone was happy!

That was until the start of the second semester. When our regular teacher returned, he felt it was his mission to whip us into shape, to correct the inadequacies of the substitute’s teaching methods.  There were push-ups for wrong answers.  He tapped his cane like Thor’s hammer on our desks to get our attention. There was a lot more yelling involved than the first semester. Generally, it was a miserable experience.

I wonder, then, if this was the temptation that Jude experienced in his letter to the Church. He wanted to write to them about their common salvation in Jesus Christ, but because of the false teachers who had crept in and twisted the gospel into a license for sensuality and rejecting the Lord and Master Jesus Christ, he instead had to plead with them to contend for the faith.  Hearing of how they had been deceived and deluded, one response could have been like the return of our 5th grade teacher, “The beatings will continue until moral improves!”

Instead, Jude gives gracious instruction, “Have mercy on those who doubt.”  Those who have been led astray by the false teachers, who are struggling with doubts, questions, worries, and fears, show them mercy.  Don’t come down with wrath, judgment, or an air of superiority.  Be gentle with them and avoid vilifying those who are honestly and humbly struggling with some aspect of the faith. They are still in the faith, though they may have doubts, so encourage them in mercy and kindness.

How we need to be reminded of this today! Too often, in times when we are feeling particularly content in our own righteousness, we sit in evaluation of others faith and wonder why they’re not as mature as we are. We grow impatient with others continued struggle with sin, their slow growth in faith and fruitfulness in the Spirit, and we vent our frustration, “shouldn’t they know better by now?!?”

So Jude reminds us to show mercy.  Mercy is the withholding of judgment, exercising instead, patience, kindness, and compassionate care.  Mercy is born from a humble and honest self-evaluation. Mercy is the recognition that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Mercy is forgiving not seven times, but seventy times seven. Mercy is the means by which we know the grace and favor of God in Jesus Christ, therefore we are to be merciful to others as well. 

To quote from Shakespear’s Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.

SDG

In the School of Prayer

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

There is a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which Hamlet plans to kill his uncle Claudius, but cannot because Claudius is praying, and Hamlet would not want Claudius’ soul to be cleansed and rise to heaven. Setting aside the unbiblical and misguided understanding of salvation, what has always resonated with me in this scene in Claudius’ comment after he rises from prayer. In great irony, Claudius has found no comfort in prayer, saying, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below” (III.iii.96). His prayers have been insincere, ineffective, and his soul remains unchanged in prayer.

Often have I shared this feeling when rising from prayer.  I draw near to the Lord, but feel my words have merely bounced around the room; never penetrating the roof, much less the throne room of grace. How can I be prepared for an eternity before God in His new Heaven and new Earth, when I grow weary after 15 minutes in prayer?

Spiritual disciplines require a similar approach in training as physical disciplines.  If you want to run a marathon, you start by running 1 mile. If you want to grow in prayer, then you must start praying.  Pray, seeking God’s Holy Spirit to give you the words to pray, to give you a spirit of prayer, to increase your passion for praying.  The old puritans taught, “pray until you pray.”

So I’ve decided this year to enroll myself in the school of prayer.  To sit under the teaching of God’s Word, reading and studying the prayers of scripture to increase my heart for prayer.  I’ve picked up a couple of books on prayer, and some collections of puritan prayers, and those will help – but the most important part is simply to pray.

I was reminded recently that prayer is not the work of the Church, it is the very heart of the Church. Without prayer there is no connection with God, no seeking His face, no being led by His Spirit. Without prayer, all the labors of the Church are in vain. So let us then ask the Lord to teach us to pray; and may we know the great power of prayer as it is working (James 5:16).

I’ve added here some of the bullet points from the opening chapter of D.A. Carsons, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Prioritiees from Paul and His Prayers (Baker Books, 1992, Grand Rapids, MI) Digital Copy.

  1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray. We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. we will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray.
  2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift. Vocalize your prayers, pray over the scriptures, make prayer lists, journal your prayers – find ways to keep your mind focused on the act of prayer.
  3. At varies periods in your life, develop, if possible, a prayer partnership. Seek someone to teach you to pray, or someone you can teach. Prayer-partner relationships are as valuable for the discipline, accountability and regularity they engender as for the lessons that are shared.
  4. Choose models – but choose them well. Listen to others pray. Read books of prayer. Study their content, their breadth, their passion, their unction – but do not ape their idiom.
  5. Develop a system for prayer lists. Whatever the system, use prayer lists.
  6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many request as possible to Scripture. One of the most important elements in intercession is to think through, in the light of Scripture, what it is God wants us to ask for.
  7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers. Public prayer ought to be the overflow of one’s private praying.
  8. Pray until you pray. Pray long enough and honestly enough that you get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attend not a little praying.