The Father of Mercies Comes Near

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Mercy is defined as getting that which we don’t deserve. If I get pulled over for speeding and the officer lets me off with a warning, we would say he had mercy on me. He gave me the gift of passing on an offense that should have cost me time and money.

From very early in the Bible, God identified Himself with the label of “merciful.” In Exodus 34:6, God passed before Moses and said these words to him: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” This phrasing of God’s character can then be found all throughout the Old Testament. The Israelites repeated it to each other and to their children.

We see hints of this same language in 2 Corinthians, but Paul calls God “the Father of mercies.” What does this mean? If He is the Father of mercies, that means He created mercy in its essence. It comes from Him. But we also notice that the word is plural (‘mercies’), meaning there are many kinds of mercy that God has created for His children. His mercy is diverse based on what we need at any given time. Paul then specifically includes that He is the “God of all comfort.” Comfort is a form of God’s mercy that is demonstrated specifically when His children experience trial and suffering.

God’s comfort has been dear to my heart all my life. I experienced lots of fear and anxiety in my childhood and teenage years. When I first read Proverbs 18:10, I clung to it: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Despite the many fears I faced, I believed the Lord was my leader and protector. But I also learned something that eventually proved untrue: If I trust the Lord, terrible things won’t happen to me.

When I was 17, I was sexually assaulted. Everything I thought I knew about myself, others and even God seemed to be turned upside down. I was forced to look sin and suffering dead in the face, and what I discovered is that it comes to all people, no matter how well they perform. 

I was also forced to contend with what I thought was true of God. I believed He was a merciful God, that He protected His children. So how could this have happened? As painful and heartbreaking as it was (and still is) that I experienced assault and all the consequences of it, that experience opened up a door in my heart.

It took quite a while for me to walk through the door. I felt really stuck for a long time. But all the while I felt the Lord calling me forward into something new. When I finally opened my heart and mind to healing, I began to see Jesus again.

When I was in my twenties, someone wise reminded me that Jesus suffered the most horrific assault that could ever happen – abuse of all kinds. He was mocked, spit on, beaten, stripped naked and laughed at, and physically exposed to everyone watching. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked the Father to spare him from this abuse if possible. He didn’t want to experience it, but he was willing to do it. Why?

Hebrews 12:2 says he did it “for the joy set before him.” What was that joy? The joy that carried Jesus through his crucifixion was the New Covenant. The creation of a new family to bring into his Father’s kingdom. The possibility of reconciling our relationship to God so that we could be united to Him forever. The cross is a literal picture of how much Jesus loves us, and how much the Father loves us (who was willing to send His only Son through such horror in order to adopt us.)

Because Jesus experienced every kind of suffering, including abuse, I can be assured that He understands and is walking with me through my suffering. Jesus’ mercy means that when I’m overwhelmed and tired of fighting and grieved to my core, He’s experiencing all of that with me. And He has suffered so that my suffering will only be temporary.

Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus is our great high priest. He leads us in our faith and has made the ultimate sacrifice for our sin. He leads us into the throne room of grace, where we receive mercy from the Father. And we are invited to enter that place in any and every moment of need.

In walking through that door of healing, I learned that God hates abuse and suffering of all kinds. He created a world that was meant to be free from these things. When sin entered, it fractured everything. But when Jesus came and took the penalty for all sin and suffering, you and I were given the right to be called children of God. This doesn’t mean suffering ends, but it means we are not alone in our suffering. We have a great high priest, king and shepherd through it all. We still have to fight, but now we have the weapons of spiritual warfare. We are equipped with what we need to sustain us till we get home.

Want to receive emails when I create new blog posts? Enter your email below to subscribe:

We Shall Not Be Moved

This morning as I was praying for my family, church and friends, a picture came into my head that I’d like to share. I saw a person standing straight up with arms full of stuff. Then the ground began to shake all around her. Some of the things in her arms began to fall, and she clutched the remaining things more tightly. The ground shook even more, and suddenly her face showed panic and she dropped everything she was holding. She reached out her arms to either side of her to grab hold of anything stable. What she found were two steady beams on either side of her, neither of which were being shaken at all. Her face grew calm as she clung to the beams. Even though the ground continued to shake, she was stable because she was holding on to the beams.

I felt enormous peace and hope as I saw this picture. Those beams on either side of all of us represent Jesus. He cannot and will not be shaken. He provides stability no matter how much the earth quakes.

I was reminded of Psalm 46:1-5:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

Selah.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.”

All the things we’re holding so tightly will be shaken loose. The things that aren’t shaken loose will be dropped as we decide to cling to Jesus. Nothing sustains but Him. No one bears up under our grief and fear but Him. Never can we be forsaken by Him.

I feel great hope as I pray that the Lord will use this season of shaken ground to lead us toward dropping all the things we’re clinging to for hope and life. We will find when we cling to Jesus that we’re drinking from the river that makes glad the city of God. He is in the midst of us. We shall not be moved.

Cultivating Beauty

How do we cultivate beauty in a season with so many stressors weighing us down?

 

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6

 

Drop Your Anchor

What does it mean to hope in God during an uncertain and frightening season?

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham,[b] having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:13-20

Reflections on Psalm 23: “I Shall Not Want”

red-morley-hewitt-561501-unsplash

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

Many works have been written about the life of a shepherd and the ways it parallels to God’s care for His children. I won’t go that route today. What I want to explore is the fact that Psalm 23:1 is one sentence. I’m a language junkie – I love words and punctuation. So I pay attention to commas, periods and semicolons. They matter to me. In this verse we see a semicolon. While the Hebrew language didn’t utilize this particular form of punctuation, we find it here because English translators are conveying the writer’s intent: these two phrases are linked inseparably. He means to say, “Because the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Wanting conveys lack. What do you believe you are lacking today? And what do you do when you sense that you lack something you need? Do you strive to gain that thing through human means? Do you ask friends or family to provide it? Do you jump on the hamster wheel of worry, wearing yourself out with endless thoughts of ‘what if’? The answer is ‘yes’. We all do it.

We all want to be our own shepherds. We want to direct our lives and see success come based on our merit, intelligence and wit. We want to be able to look in the mirror and believe we are enough, all by ourselves. But we were never meant to function in this way. We are designed to be lacking.

We are designed to be lacking.

God created us with holes. We can’t see the future. We don’t know how to do everything. We aren’t able to be everywhere at once. And even before there was sin in the world, humans lacked these things. On purpose. God didn’t want us to be self-sufficient. We were created to be dependent on Him.

When I’m faced with my lack, will I look to the Shepherd? Will I remember that He provides all that I need? that I don’t have to see into the future to believe He’s there and already has a plan? that I can trust His providence and goodness to lead me and keep me and grant me joy in the process?

Sometimes I will. And sometimes I’ll worry and strive and look to the wrong shepherds. Praise His name that, by His Spirit, He’s always leading back to Himself. Always reminding me that He’s enough. Am I listening?

Questions for Reflection:

  • What kinds of things do I most often worry about lacking? 
  • Is there a chance that these things are idols in my life? Is that why I’m worrying about them so much?
  • Was there a time in my life when I believed God wasn’t my shepherd? If so, I need to process that pain and confess it to Him, saying out loud that I do trust Him and believe He is my shepherd at all times.
  • Where else in Scripture does God promise to provide the things I’m lacking?