Motivated by Mercy

Study Guide, July 22, 2018

Pastor Clay Olsen

There is a song in our hymnbooks that starts out: ‘There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea…’ And right away we have an amazing image of the width and breadth of God’s mercy. Our Atlantic Ocean has a width of about 4,000 miles at it’s widest point. The Pacific Ocean has a width of about 12,000 miles at its widest point. That’s about half of the Earth’s circumference, which is about 24,000 miles.

But back to the statement in the hymn: ‘There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness…’ well…like 12,000 miles wide! Or basically, wider or more than we could ever need or even hope for! There is mercy more than sufficient for our needs and our well being.

As we talked about last time, the Psalmist was so overwhelmed by the mercy of God that he talked about it over and over throughout the Psalms. Remember we pointed out that he devoted an entire song or Psalm to the celebration of God’s mercy that endures forever. It is Psalm 136 where David bursts into praising God for who He is, and then for what He is able to do, and for what God has done in creation, and in redeeming His people. He praises God for His loving providential ways toward them and for His grace in times of calamity, and then praises Him for being the God of Heaven who loves His people on Earth…and all because, remember?… ‘Because His mercy endures forever!’

That’s kind of like a semester load of theological study right there. We could safely say that the Psalmist was a scholar on the subject of God’s mercy. In fact, he not only knew that God’s mercy endures forever, he even knew that God’s mercy followed him! And it would continue to follow him forever! Remember that? Ps 23:6- “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” NKJV

But wherever King David was or wherever he went, he knew that he was being followed. And what it was that was following him were two things: God’s goodness and God’s mercy…goodness and mercy – always there, always sufficient, always ready to wash over his needs whatever he was…with goodness and mercy. So, wherever you are and wherever you go, stop a little more often, and take a little longer look behind you until you see something following you; something of what David saw following him…God’s goodness and God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea, ready to wash over you and fill you with God’s all sufficiency.

Interestingly enough, David also knew that the only thing that put a distance between how close God’s goodness and mercy could follow him was the presence of sin in his life…and one sin in particular; notice: Ps 138:6- “Though the Lord is great, He cares for the humble, but He keeps His distance from the proud.” NLT David knew what he was talking about. There had been times in his life when his pride had risen up and caused him to dishonor God and treat others badly. But his pride had also caused something else; it caused God’s goodness and mercy to pull back; to put just enough distance so that God’s discipline of justice could step in and deal with David’s pride…for God keeps His distance from the proud, even with His children.

David knew about that, too. He even wrote about his experience of that: Ps 51:1-3- “Have mercy on me, O God, because of Your unfailing love. Because of Your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.” 7-8- “Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; You have broken me—now let me rejoice.” NLT

David knew about that distance and about the discipline that comes in times of unconfessed sin. It not only creates a distance in your fellowship with God, but it also creates a loss of joy in your spirit. Again, we decide by our pride how far back God’s goodness and mercy will follow us, and will keep us from His fellowship. Plus, we then lose out on that joy of the Lord, which is our strength.

But David also knew how to close that gap. And it wasn’t by covering up his sin by doing more for God or even sacrificing more…no, that gap is only closed one particular way. Thankfully, David also told us what that is: Ps 51:16-17- “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” NASU

If you want God’s goodness and mercy to follow you closely, you have to carry something with you wherever you go; a broken and contrite heart. No, not a broken down spirit or a condemning heart; not a broken will or a heart riddled with guilt or a mind filled with self pity. Actually, all of those are still elements of self pride anyway..since they are still focused on self. But broken in a sense of self surrender of your own will to God’s will, and contrite in the sense of having a humble mind and attitude before God and others and especially about yourself. A surrendered will and a humble heart are among the most precious and valuable gifts that you can daily give to God…gifts that are pleasing to God and are just what God wants from His children.

Plus, when we offer our contrition, our surrendered will and humbled heart to God, it’s like wading into that Sea of Mercy; it just gets deeper and wider the further we go. Those of us who are privileged to live by the Ocean or to vacation at the Ocean know what it’s like to wade into the waves and feel the waves of the sea wash over you again and again. It’s exhilarating and calming at the same time. That’s how the waves of God’s mercy are meant to be for us; both exhilarating and calming. As we come to God in contrition and seek to walk before God and others in humility, God causes the waves of His mercy to wash over us; with both exhilarating and calming effects on our minds and in our hearts.

Sometimes people have come to the beach because their Doctor has prescribed that as part of their therapy. They come for cleansing of their minds and spirits as they experience the waves of the sea and and then dwell on the Ocean’s majesty. David wrote: Greater than the roar of many waters—the mighty breakers of the sea—the Lord on high is majestic. Lord, Your testimonies are completely reliable; holiness is the beauty of Your house for all the days to come.” Ps 93:4-5 Holman Bible

Some of us need to feel the waves again…the waves of God’s mercy washing over us, and dwell again on God’s majesty and His holiness and just how easy He really is to please. Of course He wants our service, and of course He treasures our sacrifices…but what He wants most of all is for our service and our sacrifices to flow out of a spirit of worship from a surrendered will and a humbled heart. That’s what closes the gap of fellowship, and then His goodness and His mercy can then move up closer in following us, and even flowing over us, like those waves of the sea. Again, as the Psalmist pointed out, those waves of mercy are both exhilarating and calming at the same time. Your joy is restored and your motivation is renewed as well.

In a wonderfully insightful and inspiring book called God Is My Delight, another shepherd, named Phillip Keller, was writing about God’s mercy toward him. And he said that in understanding God’s mercy better and then experiencing it more, it then motivated him to live more for God’s glory and God’s pleasure. He wrote: “Oh what good cheer! What new hope. What amazing incentive to go out and live for His honor. In His loyalty He does not condemn me. He corrects me and loves me. Well did David cry out with soul-stirring conviction – ‘God has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.’ For if He did, I would perished long ago in my pride and perverseness. It is Christ who, amid my peril, picks me up, restores my soul, cleanses my conscience, extends forgiveness. In this amazing action He assures me He is the friend of sinners. He is my friend. And therein lies my peace, my faith, my very life.” 1

There is this marvelous result of mercy – mercy is motivating. God’s mercy changed Phillip Keller’s life like it had with King David. Jesus even gave us a principle about that when He once met with a proud Pharisee and a humble woman who had come to Him for forgiveness. Jesus revealed: ‘He who is forgiven much will love much, but he who is forgiven little will love little.’ Interestingly enough, Jesus was not talking about the amount of sins that needed to be forgiven, but rather how much people understood about how much forgiveness they needed because of their sins. The proud Pharisee didn’t think he needed very much forgiveness at all, since he didn’t think he was very much of a sinner. As a result he wasn’t very motivated to love God or show mercy to anyone else. But the woman understood the depth of her need of forgiveness for her sins. And upon receiving such forgiveness and mercy, she was motivated to love God even more and to show mercy even more.

The more we understand how much we have been forgiven by our merciful God the more motivated we will become to serve our God out of love and to show mercy to others through love. Actually, that balance is summed up in another passage where the Psalmist revealed the key to experiencing God’s pleasure in our walk with Him. The verse is Ps 147:11- “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, In those who hope in His mercy.” NKJV Here God reveals the perfect balance we are to keep in order to please our God in our walk with Him and to then experience His pleasure in our walk for Him. ‘A holy fear and reverence for God, coupled with a confident hope and deep trust in His mercy for us.’ They not only go together, but they cannot be taken apart. In the same heart, at the same time, there must be both, a reverence of God’s authority and a trust in His mercy; both an understanding of His justice and a confidence in His mercy. And not that we are to hang between the two, but that we must live and order our lives under the influence of the two.

Think about it: Our fear of God will keep our trust from swelling up into presumption, and our trust in God’s mercy will keep us from sinking into despair. When King David neglected fearing God’s authority over his life, he then presumed upon God by spurning God and His mercy. But remember, God’s mercy and justice always travel together…whichever one steps up is something that we decide, by either our pride or our humility. We cannot presume upon God’s mercy without the consequences of God’s justice; like David found out: “Your hand of discipline was heavy upon me day and night”. When mercy is spurned, justice steps up. But neither are we to distrust God’s desire to show mercy. Remember what the Prophet Micah found out? Mic 7:18-19- “Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” NIV

That’s another reason I like looking out at the Ocean…I see where my sins are buried…way out there in the depths of the sea. But God delights in showing mercy. But again, not to those who are proud, not to those who presume upon Him by not confessing nor forsaking their sin, but for those who fear Him; who humbly seek to honor Him and who trust in His mercy. In fact, as the Psalmist told us, God takes pleasure in those who both fear Him and trust in His mercy.

What we learn from the Psalmist is that we do not need to live any day under the clouds of guilt or doubt. For that steals our joy and makes life mundane. The source of real joy is God’s mercy – and He is ready and willing to give it. The Father’s storehouse is full of mercy, but we must not take His goodness for granted in our self-pride and self-will. ‘Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, so shall he reap.’ But when we come to God with a humble and contrite heart, and we empty ourselves in daily confession and have a desire to do His will, then God will fill us with the wideness of His mercy. God loves to be wholly respected and fully trusted. God takes pleasure in that. And remember; whatever pleases God will then become our pleasure, as well as our joy, and a great motivation for serving our Merciful God.

1. W. Phillip Keller, God Is My Delight, p. 107