Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am wretched. Heal me, for my limbs are stricken. Psalm 6:3 (Hebrew text, translation Robert Alter).
Mercy – This is a day for personal confession. Yes, I know, we have often talked about community. In God’s house, we are not islands in the stream. We are linked together as brothers and sisters, followers of the Great Rabbi Yeshua. But that means we must know each other. That’s why Paul exhorts us to share each others’ burdens and confess our sins to one another. I will remain an island, even in the congregation of the Lord, unless I let you know me.
Today, I need God’s mercy. Just like David, who cried out to the Lord in a written prayer (for others to read), I cry out. “Have mercy on me, Lord!” Finding that mercy is not a private affair of the heart. It is a public demonstration of God’s grace. You are part of God’s grace to me. My confession lets you see God at work – and it provides encouragement to all.
The Hebrew word here is hanan. It is the equivalent of the Greek charis (grace). From the biblical point of view, only God can provide mercy. Why? Because mercy is tied to the Law. Mercy is active favor that flows from His compassion. It is not simply empathy. You can be empathetic. But I need more than that. I need an action that sets aside judgment. I need God’s mercy to outweigh His wrath. I am wretched because I have spurned His commandments, insulted His character and rejected His sovereignty. I deserve His punishment. I need mercy. I need His favor, not His anger. And only He can give it.
But you can participate.
Just in case you thought this is only an illustration for the meaning of hanan, I want to assure you that it is not. This is a day when the gap between my head and my heart is too far to bridge. I know His words, but my knowing them does not always mean that they are an active reality in my life. What I discover is this terrible truth: the more I know, the wider the gap. I stumble and fall, often. The intimacy I long for with the Father recedes even as I learn more of Him. His demands don’t weigh me down. My failures to serve Him crush me. Yes, I know that He understands my weaknesses. Yes, I know that He is compassionate beyond measure and that He delights in me regardless of my own assessment. But I want to please Him! The further I go on this road, the more the hideousness of my sin overwhelms me. There is an agony in my heart that says, “Lord, I am desperate to be abandoned to you, but I’m afraid. Have mercy on me.”
Perhaps you have been blessed with a clear path. Perhaps dying to self is not a fearful task for you. But it is for me. Each step toward holiness comes through affliction. I am just hard-hearted. Gain always means pain. And I can’t endure it alone.
That’s why confession involves community. We walk together. There is no other way.
Topical Index: Mercy