Not long ago, I was eating dinner with a group of people, all of whom are Christians. We ordered our meal, and then waited…and waited. Finally, after nearly an hour, our food arrived—lukewarm. One of our party had ordered soup, which didn’t come. The waitress then told us that that soup was actually not available that evening. Why hadn’t she let us know that when we were ordering? Even though she was very apologetic about the poor service, it didn’t change the disappointment of our experience.
As I later reflected on the evening, I realized that “good service” wasn’t the only thing missing. Mercy was missing as well. Around our table were responses of criticism and anger directed towards the waitress. We were all very focused on her shortomings. What we didn’t offer her was mercy.
Here’s a definition of mercy: To not get what we actually deserve. In other words, we mess up and someone chooses to be kind and forgiving to us—that’s mercy. It is undeserved. This kind of mercy is hard to find these days…and yet it is something we as Christians are supposed to excel at. Because we have received mercy, we are to be the biggest dispensers of mercy around us. So are we? Is it our instinct to extend mercy when someone has not performed the way they were supposed to?
And if not, why not? Here’s my theory. We struggle to extend mercy because we struggle to receive it. Even though God has abundantly given us mercy, we don’t live in that reality. Instead, we live with what I once heard Pastor Tim Keller refer to as a mercy deficit. We don’t really believe in our hearts that we are loved and forgiven. We don’t live in the joy of that experience.
Keller illustrated it in this way. Imagine an investor who has tons of money. That investor will invest money freely and generously in various opportunities. Now imagine an investor who is short on cash. That investor will invest much more cautiously, carefully, hesitantly.
As Christians, we are called to be mercy investors. We are to invest mercy whenever possible into the lives of people around us. But which kind of investor are we? Rather than giving mercy generously and freely, we tend to give it cautiously, carefully, hesitantly…if at all. We are critical, angry, and unkind when people don’t perform. Why? Because we are not living in the reality of God’s mercy given to us. We are living with a mercy deficit—demanding from others what we ourselves are unable to receive from God.
What would it look like for you and me to live today in the fullness of God’s mercy? How would it impact our response to the person at the traffic light who fails to move forward the second the light turns green? How would it impact our response to the person at work who didn’t get done what they said they would get done? How would it impact our response to a waitress who messed up our order?
What a beautiful fragrance we have to offer the world—the fragrance of mercy. It is a fragrance that, though desperately needed, is rarely demonstrated in homes, workplaces, restaurants, etc. But we can offer it…freely. Out of the mercy we have received, we can be dispensers of mercy. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful.” (Matthew 5:7)