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Mercy Came Running

August 2017
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“In a world that desperately needs mercy we all seem more interested in seeking vengeance and protecting our egos and interests.” That quote is taken from a July 2016 article titled, Show Mercy,” by Ken Byler, speaker, coach, facilitator, and owner of Higher Ground Consulting Group, LLC, during the heat of the presidential election cycle here in America. The opening paragraph in Byler’s article states:

Mercy seems in short supply these days. By mercy I’m referring to compassion shown to an offender or compassionate treatment of those in distress. It’s hard not to pass judgment and even harder to forgive another when we have been wronged. When the person deserving of our mercy is an opponent, the idea of meeting their needs before our own feels awkward and unnecessary. (Quote source here.)

While Byler’s advice is written to business leaders, anyone can heed his advice. Byler states:

Business leaders [and the rest of us, too] can show mercy in a variety of small ways.

  • Be more patient. Find ways to tolerate the person who has annoying habits or tends not to share your sense of urgency or attention to details.
  • Offer help. Notice the people who seem distracted or emotionally vulnerable. They may be hurting because of personal issues and need your assistance.
  • Be kind. Instead of looking for ways to get even when someone offends you, practice kindness and offer forgiveness.
  • Do something good. Don’t wait for an invitation to do the right thing. Actively seek ways to right a wrong or give another person a second chance.
  • Build bridges. Everyone deserves opportunities, regardless of their circumstance. Look for ways to foster relationships with those who don’t have as many friends or who have caused you pain in the past.

Mercy is not dependent on performance; it does not blame or judge. There is plenty of inequity in our world but too few leaders willing to show mercy. Perhaps this is because most of us share a worldview of scarcity instead of abundance. We protect and withhold, especially if we have been the victim of injustice.

We cannot offer mercy until we accept that we are all loved and created to love others. In its purest form mercy is simply love put into action to make a difference in the world. What will you do to show mercy? (Quote source here.)

Byler makes a good point when he states that due in part to the inequity in our world too few leaders (and the rest of us, too) are willing to show mercy–that we tend to protect and withhold it, especially if we have been the victim of injustice. And if we have been the victim of injustice, to show mercy often requires forgiveness:

Mercy and forgiveness are two terms that can be used interchangeably in some contexts. However, these two terms have distinctive individual meanings. Mercy refers to the kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. Forgiveness refers to letting go of the anger and resentment against a person. This is the main difference between mercy and forgiveness. (Quote source here.)

One other difference that needs to be pointed out is the difference between grace, which we hear about a lot in the Christian community (and it is the most crucial element within the Christian faith), and mercy, which often takes a distant second to grace (perhaps unintentionally). Both are briefly defined in this statement:

Grace (in Christian belief): the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. There was nothing we can do to earn this salvation ourselves. Mercy: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. (Quote source here.)

In an article titled, Don’t Be Reluctant To Show Mercy,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, author, and global influencer, he states the following:

“When people sin, you should forgive and comfort them, so they won’t give up in despair.” 2 Corinthians 2:7 (CEV)

We all need mercy, because we all stumble and fall and require help getting back on track. We need to offer mercy to each other and be willing to receive it from each other.

You can’t have fellowship without forgiveness because bitterness and resentment always destroy fellowship. Sometimes we hurt each other intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but either way, it takes massive amounts of mercy and grace to create and maintain fellowship.

The Bible says, “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13 NLT).

The mercy God shows to us is the motivation for us to show mercy to others. Whenever you’re hurt by someone, you have a choice to make:

Will I use my energy and emotions for retaliation or for resolution?

You can’t do both.

Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don’t understand the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past. Trust has to do with future behavior.

Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time.

Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you. They must prove they have changed over time.

The best place to restore trust is within the supportive context of a small group that offers both encouragement and accountability. (Quote source here.)

One of the most daunting parables that Jesus spoke was the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant found in Matthew 18:21-25. While it might be easy for us at first glance to nod our head in agreement with the outcome for the unforgiving servant, we need to take a look at our own lives to see where we might be doing exactly the same thing only in a different context. Here is the parable from Matthew 18:21-25:

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The servant who was shown great mercy by his master could not or chose not to show mercy to his fellow servant who owed him a debt far less than the debt he owed his master–a large debt his master had forgiven him. Due to his inability to extend mercy to his fellow servant, when his master found out what he had done, in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he had paid off his entire debt. The servant’s lack of mercy and compassion on his fellow servant landed that servant in jail and the mercy he had been given was completely cancelled out.

We might be tempted to say we would never do such a thing but, in fact, in other ways, our attitude towards others is often the same. One of the most common ways we use to get our way or get back at someone for some perceived slight especially in our society is through passive/aggressive behavior. In today’s society (including church culture) we don’t view this behavior (or even admit to doing it) as sin or something our “Master” (God) would hold against us. When we use passive/aggressive behavior on someone we are doing what the original servant in the story did to his fellow servant–we are showing no mercy or compassion towards that person.

In an article in Psychology Today titled, 7 Reasons Why People Use Passive/Aggressive Behavior: Why passive aggression thrives in families, schools and offices,” by Signe Whitson, L.S.W., she states:

Frustrating. Confounding. Relationship-damaging. Effective. Passive aggressive behavior is all of these things…and more. It is a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger that occurs among both men and women, in all civilized cultures and at every socioeconomic level. Why is this dysfunctional behavior so widespread? This article details seven reasons why passive aggressive behavior thrives in families, schools, relationships, and the workplace.

1. Anger is Socially Unacceptable

Anger is a normal, natural human emotion. It is, in fact, one of the most basic of all human experiences. Yet from a very young age, many of us are bombarded with the message that anger is bad. During a period in our emotional development when we are highly susceptible to social pressure from parents, caregivers, and teachers, we learn that to be “good” we must squash honest self-expression and hide angry feelings.

2. Sugarcoated Hostility is Socially Acceptable

When people learn that they cannot express anger openly, honestly, and directly within relationships, the emotion doesn’t just go away. Rather, many of us learn to express it in alternative, covert, socially acceptable ways, often through passive aggressive behaviors.

3. Passive Aggression is Easier than Assertiveness

In this day and age of common core, standardized tests, and Race to the Top, social skills instruction is often edged out of a young person’s formal education. Yet study after study shows that specific instruction in such “soft” skills as assertiveness, emotion management, and relationship building are as essential to a young person’s development as any “hard core” math and reading skills.

Kids are not born knowing how to communicate their feelings in direct, emotionally honest ways; rather, assertiveness is a skill that needs to be taught and is best mastered though repetition. On the other hand, passive aggressive behaviors such as sulking, emotional withdrawal, and indirect communication are much more the mark of immature, untamed emotional expression.

4. Passive Aggression is Easily Rationalized

A young girl doesn’t feel like cleaning her room. When her parents insist, she pouts first, procrastinates second, and then shoves all of her earthly possessions under her bed. When her father becomes irritated by her behavior, she feigns indignation: “I don’t know why you’re so upset. I was going to do it as soon as I finished my homework.” When her mother shows exasperation at the alarming pile of dirty clothing peeking out from below her comforter, she plays the victim: “Nothing I do is ever good enough for you, Mom. You just want me to be perfect!” With both parents, the girl rationalizes her string of compliantly defiant behavior, casting herself in the role of victim and blaming her parents’ “unreasonable” demands and standards as the real problem.

5. Revenge is Sweet

Passive aggression involves a variety of behaviors designed to “get back” at another person without the other recognizing the underlying anger. Jason feels overworked and under-acknowledged in the office. He calls out sick on two consecutive days, thereby missing a key deadline that sabotages his department’s productivity and ultimately reflects poorly on his boss. The boss is overlooked for a promotion; Jason’s mission is accomplished.

As in this example, passive aggression is often a crime of omission; it is what Jason did not do that indirectly caused a major problem for the target of his unarticulated anger. Because it can be difficult to “catch in the act” and often impossible to discipline according to standard HR protocols, passive aggressive behavior often exists as the perfect office crime.

6. Passive Aggressive Behavior is Convenient

Not everyone who uses passive aggressive behavior is a passive aggressive person. For example, a husband who typically communicates directly and honestly with his wife may not have the wherewithal on a particular weekend day to say “no” to her request to fix a leaky faucet, so he promises to do it while making endless excuses to put off the task. The man is not passive aggressive across the board, but on this day when relaxing and avoiding a fight with his wife are his top priorities, he chooses passive aggression as a convenient behavior of choice.

7. Passive Aggression can be Powerful

By denying feelings of anger, withdrawing from direct communication, casting themselves in the role of victim, and sabotaging others’ success, passive aggressive persons create feelings in others of being on an emotional roller coaster. Through intentional inefficiency, procrastination, allowing problems to escalate, and exacting hidden revenge, the passive aggressive individual gets others to act out their hidden anger for them. This ability to control someone else’s emotional response makes the passive aggressive person feel powerful. He/she becomes the puppeteer—the master of someone else’s universe and the controller of their behavior.

In the short term, passive aggressive behaviors can be more convenient than confrontation and generally require less skill than assertiveness. They allow a person to exact revenge from behind the safety of plausible excuses and to sit on the sofa all weekend long rather than complete a list of undesirable chores. So, what’s not to love? Truth be told, while momentarily satisfying or briefly convenient, in the long run, passive aggressive behavior is even more destructive to interpersonal relationships than aggression. Over time, virtually all relationships with a person who is passive aggressive become confusing, destructive and dysfunctional. (Quote source here.)

Passive aggressive behavior is just one of the ways we use to “exact revenge” on our “fellow servants” to get what we want without showing any mercy whatsoever. And that is a very dangerous position to be in (as in showing no mercy to others in whatever way we choose to do it or whatever reason we give for doing it) as the original servant in the parable found out too late.

As the expression goes, we may be able to fool others but we cannot fool God (see Galatians 6:7-8). This is not said to try to keep anyone “in line,” but rather to remind us that there are consequences for our actions.

So what’s the solution? Repentance. In the words to the chorus of the song, Mercy Came Running,” sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean (YouTube video below), “Mercy came running like a prisoner set free. Past all my failures to the point of my need. When the sin that I carried was all I could see . . .

And when I could not reach mercy . . .

Mercy came running . . .

To me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Mercy Came Running” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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