I have been thinking a lot about mercy and grace.
Every year I pick a "theme word" for my year. This is a concept, an idea, a virtue to focus on. It's a place to turn my heart and open my eyes of understanding. In 2012, God taught me a lot about JOY. I heard sermons on joy, highlighted it in my Bible, copied down quotes from authors on the topic. I hunted down joy in the everyday.
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I learned about the theme of joy came from the Bible book of James. For the last five months, I have been deep into study of James' words. On Tuesday mornings I help lead a group of 30-some women at my church and we have been going through Beth Moore's study of James called "Mercy Triumphs." With Beth and her daughter Melissa's help, the bold words of Jesus' half-brother James have come alive.
One of the most famous verses from James says,
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
I memorized these verses as a young person but I didn't really understand or own them until recently. James intentionally chooses the word "consider" because it is difficult to face trials. Joy isn't the natural human emotion that results from trials. He challenges us to do the mental work of "considering" trials joy.
In 2012, this has meant considering it joy when our family didn't have money to pay our rent or our always-dependable car broke down in the middle of the 99. This meant considering it joy when my 3-year-old was throwing another fit. This meant considering it joy when my hubby faced debilitating migraines. This meant considering it joy when stress mounted, our family was stretched thin. This meant considering it joy when joy was the last thing my selfish soul could muster.
In the end, I have learned that considering trials joy truly does build my faith. Joy discovered through trials is a deeper, truer joy than I ever experienced. This joy flows out of a deep well, not the surface happiness I expected.
At the close of 2012, I began to pray about a theme for 2013. I kept thinking about these two words - grace and mercy - that seem to go hand in hand. I even painted these words on a rustic farm pallet to hang on our dining room wall, a visual reminder of the journey ahead.
These two little words pack a powerful punch: grace and mercy.
As I continue a study of James, I can't help but hear his emphasis on mercy.
There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. (2:17, New Living Translation)This is all bringing me back to my eighth grade study of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." One of the speeches I memorized was the one delivered by Portia in the courtroom. I'm ruminating over this one as I enter 2013:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blessed.
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
It is mightiest in the mightiest,
It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
An attribute to awe and majesty.
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power dost the become likest God's,
Where mercy seasons justice.
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That in the course of justice we all must see salvation,
We all do pray for mercy
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.
I have spoke thus much to mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which if thou dost follow,
This strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentance gainst the merchant there.
I'm diving into mercy and grace in 2013.