Part 8 of a 12 part devotion on Psalm 30
To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord, I plead for mercy:Psalm 30:8
Thanks to my brothers, I have a fairly high tolerance for pain. I grew up in the 70s with my three brothers, two older and one younger. The age range between the oldest and the youngest is seven years. I feel sorry for my Mom when I remember what we put her through.
We weren’t naughty, just rambunctious. We played rough! We played games like “Kill the Guy with the ball” which was more of a mission statement rather than the title of a game. We invented games like “Cram It” where the goal was to hit the croquet ball with the mallet as hard as you can, aiming for your opponent at the other end of the driveway. Their goal was to stand still as long as they dared.
We played with firecrackers and other things that would go BOOM! I remember spending over two weeks building a model of a ‘57 Corvette only to watch it blown into smithereens by not one but two cherry bombs! We would sit in our unfinished basement when the weather was cruel (being in Wisconsin, that was roughly 300 days a year) and hurl our TONKA trucks toward each other at top speed, hoping to cause a horrendous head-on crash in the middle. Most times they would miss and either slam into the wall or the body in front of the wall that could not get out of the way fast enough (me).
We loved to watch AWA wrestling on Saturday afternoons and would often try to imitate our heroes (Da Crusher!) in the backyard or garage. Matches were always one on one, never tag team. The rules were simple, the match would continue until someone said the ultimate safe word, “UNCLE”
Upon the use of that word, all hostility instantly ceased. Body parts were checked for bruises, rug burns, or any other marks that would allow our parents to detect what we had been doing. If feelings were hurt, heartfelt apologies were given, in the hope that our action would not be reported.
Growing up that way, you learned quickly to be tough! I would test myself, not to cry “uncle” immediately, but to wait, which was more fun! My brother would get a good grip and I would endure!! He squeezed tighter and I gritted my teeth! Eventually, I would cave, say “uncle” and the pressure would immediately go away. I would like to go on record and state that I never won a single one of those contests, but they were responsible for two things that I treasure today.
First, I have high pain tolerance, when I want to have high pain tolerance. I say that because sometimes men like to appear helpless when our women are around to “baby” us. I can be a big baby around my wife, but most of the time I can suck it up and walk it off.
The second thing those wrestling events gave me was my oldest PALZEWISM. In fact, this is probably Number one, the first line that I used repeatedly in order to get a laugh. I remember it very clearly, even to this day.
I was in a pitted contest with my little brother over a Rubik’s Cube that we both wanted to have at the time. I had it and he wanted to play with it. I told him NO and he said YES and the conversation went downhill after that. He tried to pry the cube from my hand, but I quickly covered it with my body as if it were a live grenade and assumed the fetal position.
He prodded and poked to no avail. I was an impenetrable fortress! As he was working on me to give it up, he switched tactics and tried a more psychological approach.
“You can’t keep this up forever, you know!” he huffed out in grunts as he continued to get his hands on what was rightfully mine, “Supper will be ready in an hour and then you will have to drop it”
“I can put up with anything for an hour!” I yelled back. Suddenly his grip lessened and his breathing lightened as he began to laugh. I kept my prize but on the day I found a greater one. I found that humor could loosen a tense situation.
Afterward “I can put up with anything for an hour” became our slogan, an inside joke between us. We applied it to homework, church, bathtime, even visiting relatives.
To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord, I plead for mercy: Psalm 30:8
In today’s verse, the saying “ I cry to the Lord for mercy” is the same as me saying “Uncle” in that basement all those years ago.
Mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness that is shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. It happens when you have earned a consequence for your actions but they never occur. Mercy is the officer who lets you off with a warning, the boss who simply states not to let it happen again, or the spouse who doesn’t go off on you for leaving your socks in the living room, even though they have had that conversation for over thirty years on why that is not acceptable. You messed up and deserve the consequence! Mercy is simply not getting what you have earned by your actions.
Many think of the word “justice” when they hear the word “mercy” and rightfully so because neither would be able to exist for long without the other. Thomas Aquinas, famed theologian of the 13th century tells us that “Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” In other words, all mercy and no consequence would lead to a breakdown in societal norms and the opposite would lead to a cruel police state.”
God is often described as both merciful and just. Consider Adam and Eve in his newly formed creation. God provides an abundance of good things for humans: food, animals, plants, companionship – the list goes on and on. God also asks for obedience regarding a small but significant part of the Garden of Eden. He is not withholding from them because they have so much else they can eat and thrive from. God establishes his relationship with his creation by enforcing rules that are in place for the well being of all involved. God establishes this rule, not to deprive his creation of an opportunity but instead, the rule is a way for them to show gratitude and respect to their creator. By following the rule, Adam and Eve acknowledge that God has the authority to tell them how they should treat his creation because it is HIS. This is just like the parent who tells their child “If you are going to live in my house, you are going to follow my rules!” Most of the rules that we create are simply designed to instruct others how to use the things we have so that EVERYONE can get the most enjoyment out of their lives.
Adam and Eve broke the rule and suffered a natural consequence. The rule that they broke went way beyond what they were to eat. The heart of the rule was that they should obey God in all things because He knew his creation better than they did. Their sin was simply a break in that trust when they were led to believe that their desires were a factor in God’s creation. They believed that God was withholding something valuable from them and took it upon themselves to change that. As a result, there were consequences for that action. Sin and death entered the world. Simple tasks such as gathering food became much more difficult. Everyday life went from idyllic to stressful in a heartbeat.
Although God’s judgment was just when he banished them from the garden, He still showed mercy (Genesis 3:21) by making them clothes, and every day after that, as shown throughout the whole Bible. The best example of this is in Nehemiah chapter 9.
Nehemiah and his group rebuilt the wall surrounding Jerusalem 143 years after the city was destroyed by Babylon in 587 BC. When he was finished, Nehemiah led the people to reestablish the covenant that God put in place when Moses led the people out of Egypt. In chapter 9, Nehemiah reminds the Hebrews of a painful pattern, a pattern of rejecting God, an unbearable consequence caused by their sin, their Cry for mercy, and their deliverance from the problem of their own making. Afterward, once the consequence had been removed, the people slid back into their old habits and the pattern continued.
And that pattern still continues for me (and probably you) today. Like those basement wrestling matches, I decide that, against all logic and reason, today I will win the match. But the match is not against my brother this time. This time I am wrestling sin.
Sin and I always start our match in the same way. Sin challenges me with the exact same tactics used on Adam and Eve. I, in my selfishness, decide that I want to do or have something that God has decided should be withheld from me. My desire becomes more fervent and Satan simply whispers those four little words that can tear my world apart …
Did God Really Say?
In my mind I have a plan, a way to shortcut God to accomplish something that I want. I start the match full of confidence, determined that this time, the outcome will be different from all those other failed attempts. I go ahead and take what I want. The instant gratification is very satisfying until the consequence for my actions catch up with me. The minor consequences are ignored or handled in a way that just delays the inevitable. The pressure builds and sin’s grip tightens. Just like those basement matches, I justify the pain as a temporary inconvenience, something that will go away. Surely, this can not go on forever! Unfortunately, in our wrestling contest, sin has me in a submission hold!
When “forever” starts to sink in as a possibility and all hope of resolving my mess is gone, I finally cry “uncle”. I turn to the Lord in prayer. I confess my sins. I search the scriptures and bend the knee a little quicker and longer than usual. I seek forgiveness, both from my heavenly Father and those people in my life that I have hurt by my actions.
Things then settle down and life gets back on track. Prayers become shorter and Bible study becomes more of something to check off my daily list instead of an important part of my relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ! At that time, as if on cue, the sin will waltz back into my life, smile at me, and ask nonchalantly, “Care for a rematch?”
I would like to go on record and state that I never won a single one of those contests. For some reason though, I still think that “maybe this time..” I forget about my own pattern of sin, consequence, forgiveness, and redemption and try it my way again.
I am eternally grateful for the fact that God’s mercies are fresh every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). God promises us that he will never leave us to our own problems (Deuteronomy 31:6) God is merciful but also just! When we sin and cause problems in our lives, God forgives our sin but doesn’t magically wipe away the consequences. The results of our sin must be dealt with, in order to keep our relationship with God intact.
Enter Jesus! God knew our pattern and our stubbornness. He knew of our selfishness, greed, laziness, and all our other miserable traits. He sent his Son to live a life we could never live, one without the pattern that rules our lives. And although Jesus never fell into the pattern, He paid the ultimate consequence for us. He allowed himself to be captured, beaten, and killed for our sake.
When he was hanging on the cross, dying, one of his last recorded words were to his Father asking him why he had forsaken him? (Matthew 27:46). He was asking for mercy. He was saying “Uncle”
I thank you for reading my blog and look forward to any comments or criticism of what I have discussed.
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“You Turned My Mourning Into Dancing!”, my book, is available for purchase here.