On Mercy

by Alexei Laushkin

Mercy is about patience. The patience of God really more than our own. Consider God’s standards of mercy. He patiently waits. Consider these words from 2 Peter 3:8-9:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance

Now consider the words of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. Luke 13:6-9:

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.

The profound waiting and mercy of God. He will wait to see if life can come from this tree (us) and this soil (our circumstance). Yes he does discipline, yes he does allow for difficulties, but the overarching character is mercy. Even what he allows and the discipline itself is meant for us to do something else. For us to display some other characteristic than the ones we are so prone to.

Consider 1 Samuel. Salvation and rescue is going to come through Samuel, and the young boy is born to a barren woman. A very minor person. What is happening here? Don’t we see the echoes of the Virgin Mary, or Sarah.

God is searching the earth to see if any have sought after him. And in the anguish of infertility he finds a woman whose heart is open, who is zealous to be used. Though her story seems so small and insignificant, her life would be integral in God’s work of bringing  back his people to himself in the midst of gross infidelity and waywardness.

Consider the Mercy of God

In a few chapters into Samuel, Israel will be defeated, though they had the ark of the covenant in their midst when battling the Philistines. This will be a watershed moment. A moment so shocking that the very identity of the nation will be thrown into question.

And yet, the story we are to follow isn’t the calamity (which is significant to awaken the people), but the broader story of the clearing of corrupt leadership and the establishment of Samuel and eventually of Saul (who would prove unfaithful) and David.

A high-mark of God’s faithfulness and his work among his people is around the corner, and yet the calamities are necessary to make the story and life of David even possible.

The mercy of God isn’t about getting what we want when we want it, it is about seeing the broader story of how God turns wayward hearts back to him. As with Israel so with us. We are wayward in our tendencies and yet God will use the circumstances of life and his goodness to make the possibility of restoration and faithfulness possible again.

His ways are not our ways, nor our his thoughts, our thoughts, but we can be assured just as he was and is faithful to Israel that he will be faithful to his bride the church, and that he will even more like a tender shepherd be with each of us, as he arranges the circumstances of our lives in such a way where faithfulness and holiness, and mercy can take root. For all these stories are ultimately about our dependence on Christ and our seeming inability to see where we need to depend more deeply or see where we have not done so at all.

Alexei Laushkin is Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network,  a Board Member of the Kingdom Mission Society,  and writer of the Foolishconfidence blog. His views are his own. 

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New Habits of Solitude is that Even Possible?

re-posted from the Church of the Ascension blog. 

Habits and small practices. Our days are filled with them.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that in little ways we either choose faithfulness or enter into the lack thereof. These decisions guide whether we become the glorious children of the life to come or we continue a sort of slow descent into a world of torment.

Do habits really make that big of a difference on where we end up?

Surely we are in God’s good graces, believing the right things in the right proportions? Can we hold firmly to our theology but oh so carefully avoid self examination?

In the book were are reading as a church this spring, Invitation to Silence and Solitude, Ruth Haley Barton’s confessions on what brought her to a life crisis should make us all very uncomfortable. Read these quotes from her first chapter; maybe you can relate and quietly admit, “oh I know this feeling”.

“True transformation in the places that really counted seemed just beyond my reach.”

“Was my best hope for transformation some distant possibility beyond the grave?”

“What was motivating the frantic quality of my life and schedule?”

If we live in Northern Virginia we can identify with these questions. I myself find it deeply ironic that I had a hard time reading the book or writing a blog because the pace of my days had grown too frantic.

There is a challenge to this book that is worth mentioning. An impression if you will. This book and many like it echo something I’ve found stated directly by St. Theophan the Recluse, an 19th century Russian writer. St. Theophan counsels the need for some time away from the pace of hectic life to get well. And even Barton herself seems to take for granted that we need space to cultivate habits.

While space is critical, the notion may seem rather frustrating for those of us who can barely find a moment to read let alone space to be silent. What is the use of silence when our silence and the corresponding noise it creates is often louder than our own exhaustion? Why spend time in what just seems more difficult?

But as a word of encouragement, I don’t think cultivation requires some escape. What it does require for those of us living very busy lives is a change in habit, like embracing Haley Barton’s example of practicing 10 minutes of silence with God a day. It might not be fun … it might take months to make it regular and natural. The heart is that slow and that resistant to change.

A few years back I wanted to cultivate morning prayer … but like a bad New Year’s Commitment I would get a few weeks in and stop. Nobody had told me to keep pushing, to keep at it past the first flush of being motivated because slowly, every so slowly my heart would adjust to the new. Remaining present and keeping at a habit, waiting for God’s grace to enable is the biggest challenge to cultivating a new space.

Is it possible in Northern Virginia? God led his people through the desert, surely there is still a sabbath rest reserved for the people of God. May each find the space and the courage to enter therein.

Alexei Laushkin is the Vice President of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Chair of the board of the Kingdom Mission Society. His views are his own.