Spiritual Formation For Ministry (Part 2)
Spiritual formation is more an emotional than a rational quality. The verb love is well-chosen. It is much easier to talk about mercy than it is to love mercy. The Hebrew chesed denotes something more active than the abstract English word mercy: “mercy translated into deeds; the performance of personal acts of loving kindness not only to the poor and needy but to all one’s fellowmen.”
Mercy is connected to the sovereignty of God (Romans 9:14–18)
“I will have mercy on whom 1 have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (verse 15*). I may not like it, but God chooses to extend mercy on the basis of His sovereignty. We have checks and balances built into our government; nobody can be trusted with absolute power. So it’s no wonder that when we come to the Scriptures and confront God, who has absolute power, we are uneasy and troubled.
The great example we have is the Moses-Pharaoh experience. God allowed Pharaoh to continue to resist His will. When we seek our own glory, we are destructive. We seem to put others down to elevate ourselves, but God creates the atmosphere of hardness and disobedience so that He might show His mercy. He even uses men who resist His will to display His greatness and His power.
I remember when several people left the church I pastored to start a new church. Their reasons included some of the classics: “We are not being fed.” “There should be more miracles.” “We have heard from God that this is His will.” The last statement took it out of the realm of discussion. Who can dispute what God has said?
It hurt when they left. Some of them were very close friends. We found, however, that extending mercy when it hurts was good for us.
Ten years later when three leaders from the group came and apologized, we were reconciled. They didn’t come back to the church, but our fellowship with them was restored.
When our emotions have been fractured, we extend mercy and trust the sovereignty of God, for it is only in the context of disobedience that mercy has relevance and meaning.
Loving mercy is an acquired habit
It takes time to love mercy. We must train our emotions to love mercy. It’s not something we do under pressure; rather, it is an acquired habit. Good habits permeate our spirits and systems that we have structured inwardly. Good habits are costly. Knowing that habits are formed with repetition, the Lord expresses His mercy to us like daily bread.
Good habits are formed by discipline
In Human Behavior, S.S. Colvin says, “Discipline means the control of the individual conduct and its guidance toward the formation of desired habits, meaning, and ideals.” With that working definition, what are some practical things the Scriptures instruct us to do?
1. Living by the mercy principle (James 2:12,13).
Mercy triumphs over judgment. We must ask the hard questions but be open to actions that demonstrate mercy. We practice treating others the way we want to be treated.
A good friend and colleague closes his letters to me with the words, “Under His mercy.” It’s one of his ways of saying, “I believe Lamentations 3:22,23”: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”
2. Praising God for His mercy (1 Peter 1:3).
Daily we should meditate on the expression of Gods mercy. It is amazing how our emotions can respond when we recall the time we came to Christ. This is a sure way to carve out a new love for the mercy of God.
3. Praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude 20–23).
We can miss the obvious by looking for something new and complicated. This passage cites praying in the Holy Spirit as a prerequisite to mercy actions toward those who doubt and as the balance of mixing mercy with fear.
4. Refreshing others (2 Timothy 1:16).
What can we do to refresh others? A visit to someone in the hospital, prison, nursing home, etc. — accompanied by reading the Scriptures, praying, and giving encouraging words — helps form the habit of loving mercy.
Mercy is operative only where no claim of justice exists
Our salvation: Mercy is of such a character that disobedience is its complement or presupposition. Only as it is exercised to the disobedient does it exist and operate. It is by God’s sovereign grace that we become the objects of mercy.
God used the Jews’ disobedience and their rejection of their own Messiah to give opportunity for rebellious Gentiles to receive mercy (Romans 11:30–32). So it was by the Jews’ disobedience that the gospel went out to the Gentiles. Spurgeon said, “God is too wise to be confused, too loving to be unkind. Where we cannot trace His hand, we can trust His heart.” In the context of our salvation, we can trace both His hand and His heart.
Fallen ministers: In Dr. Richard D. Dobbins’ seminar on the restoration of fallen ministers, he uses Micah 6:8 as a paradigm for how the program of restoration should be administered. Under “to love mercy” he states, “A compassion for our fallen brother or sister and others who have been hurt by his sin requires that the justice of such a program be administered through our love for mercy. In all cases, the restoration of the minister should be pursued with compassion and that whenever possible he should be restored to the ministry.” Galatians 6:1 gives us a guideline in providing mercy in any restoration program for ministers.
Our usefulness: It’s impossible to understand that God allows anyone to walk in disobedience so He might have mercy (Romans 11:32). However, Romans 11:33–36 indicates that all of this is to bring glory to God. Paul instructs, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Romans 12:3,6).
I often quote the line, “My life has exceeded my dreams.” Knowing that “grace is receiving something we don’t deserve, and mercy is not receiving something we do deserve,” I am learning to love mercy. Perhaps as we step into the pulpit every Sunday, we should breathe the prayer, “I am standing here today with no claim of justice; this is the place of mercy.”
H. Robert Rhoden, D.Min., is former superintendent of the Potomac District of the Assemblies of God, and an executive presbyter of the Assemblies of God.
*Scripture quotations are NIV.