King David understood a truth that is found throughout the Scriptures. That is, we serve a God of mercy. Think of that. If He were not a merciful God, He could have rightfully squashed all of us like bugs for our faults, failures, and sins. But thankfully, He is a God of mercy. And time and again His mercy has intervened and has even allowed us to enter into His great salvation, even though we have done nothing (zero!) to deserve it. As the apostle Paul wrote: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5, KJV).
Let’s take a quick look at some Scriptures that demonstrate God’s mercy in a variety of contexts. And remember our main point: Because He is a merciful God, it is entirely proper, and effective, to pray, “Lord, have mercy!” This can open up for you a new dimension of effective, answered prayer.
The Scriptures clearly show that God has a perfect balance of love and justice, of mercy and judgment. God always does the right thing! That said, we find in James’s inspired words a wonderful principle that reflects the perfect character and actions of God: “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
If this were only man’s opinion, we might quibble about specific cases of this. But this is God-breathed Scripture, telling us that from God’s perspective, mercy triumphs over judgment. Is God just and righteous in all His judgments? Absolutely. Thankfully, His heart of love and mercy towards fallen mankind is a pathway of appeal for us to receive His forgiveness and mercy instead of well-deserved judgment. Let’s look at some examples in the Bible of effective prayers to God for His mercy.
In Psalm 51 King David is referring to his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his horrible guilt in orchestrating her husband’s death to cover the sin. In Psalm 41 David’s sin is unnamed. But the principle still applies: “Have mercy on me, Lord; heal me, for I have sinned.”
As we’ve read above in Titus 3:5, unsaved sinners can receive Christ’s salvation — through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21) — because of “His mercy.” Moving forward from that, as once-lost sinners now saved by grace, New Testament believers can turn to God in godly sorrow and repentance, beseeching His mercy for the forgiveness of any sins we now commit. Lest we ever become arrogant or, God forbid, take the Lord’s grace and mercy for granted, we must remember the apostle John’s counsel: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Fellow Christians, are you dealing with sin in your life? Through God’s forgiveness you can recapture that place of joy and peace in your life. Let godly sorrow for the sin(s) stir your heart (2 Corinthians 7:10, KJV). Confess the sin(s) to Him and repent sincerely before God, knowing that your heart cry of “Lord, have mercy” will be heard by Him.
Now how about the place of God’s mercy in divine healing?
Their case seemed hopeless; both men were blind. But they had in their hearts a hope that the Lord’s mercy and power would bring a result. “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” they cried aloud. After a brief dialogue in which the blind men confessed their faith in Jesus to do this, He healed their blindness instantly. And remember that this gracious demonstration of the Lord’s healing power was initiated by their appeal to Jesus, “Have mercy on us!”
The Bible has other examples of this mercy-healing response from the Lord. In Matthew 15:22-28 a Canaanite woman appealed to Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Her approach to Jesus began with, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy…Lord, help me!” (vss. 22, 25) And Jesus did exactly that right on the spot.
In another instance (Matthew 17:14-18) A man approached Jesus, knelt before Him and cried out, “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and is suffering greatly.” And Jesus healed the boy immediately.
The point of these several biblical scenarios is that an appeal to the Lord for physical healing was initiated by their prayer to Him to “have mercy!” I strongly encourage you to consider adding the thought of our Lord’s great mercy to your prayers and appeals to Him.
This verse does not directly mention prayer. It was more a case of God’s amazing willingness to initiate the showing of mercy. Notice the context of the psalm. After their exodus from Egypt into the wilderness en route to Canaan, the Israelites consistently showed disloyalty to God and were unfaithful to His covenant with them. Amazingly, He forgave them and did not immediately destroy them. He held back His wrath against their sin and “time after time He restrained His anger.”
Why? How did they escape His just judgments? The answer is that, despite their rebellious sinfulness, “Yet He was merciful.” Understand, please, I am not saying that we should test or tempt God. Not at all! What I am saying is that, like the Israelites in the wilderness, there are times when we have displeased God even as His born-again children. When we have deserved judgment and wrath, we have received grace and mercy. Why? How? Because “He is merciful.”
Don't ever abuse God’s rich mercy. The apostle Paul wrote, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1-2, KJV) The obvious correct answer is “NO!” The apostle replied to the question, “God forbid!” Applying this principle, ask yourself: Shall I continue sinning so that God’s mercy can abound and be demonstrated towards me? And again, the answer is a resounding “no.”
Do not tempt the grace and mercy of God. But do be always thankful that, as James wrote, His mercy will triumph over judgment. Keep your heart right before God, and His mercy will watch over you and accompany you through this life, assuring you that God is not spring-loaded to wipe you out over every offense. Have a heart ready to acknowledge sin, to confess and forsake it, and to receive the Lord’s unmerited mercy and grace. As the Proverb says (28:13), “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
The prophet Micah (7:18) was amazed at how readily God “pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance. You [God] do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” Let that blessed thought sink in — our God “delights to show mercy.”
The prophet Daniel reminded us of why we can appeal to God even in desperate situations. He said to the Lord, “We do not make requests because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” Hear that carefully. There is nothing about any supposed self-righteousness of ours that triggers God’s answer to prayer. Rather, it is as the prophet said, “…because of Your great mercy.” Are you in a desperate, even hopeless, situation? That’s a perfect time to cry out to God, “Lord, have mercy! I need the help only You can give.” That’s the humble, God-honoring type of appeal that He delights to answer.
To sum up: God is merciful. His mercy triumphs over judgment. He often heals in response to a prayer for His mercy. His mercy restrains the judgment due to our sins, and as we confess and forsake our sins we find continuing mercy. And it’s not given grudgingly, but rather He delights to show mercy.
Therefore, we can come before God at His very “throne of grace” confidently with our needs and our prayers. What will we experience there? We’ll “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
If God’s mercy has not been a part of your prayer life with Him, consider what you’ve seen in these Scriptures today. And add a sincere “Lord, have mercy” to your prayers, and then watch gratefully at how our God “delights to show mercy.”
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©2020, James H. Feeney.
and Bible Studies by
Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.