My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us. (I John 3:18-24 MSG)
Probably one of the things which holds us back from taking our first steps is the fear of getting a little "burned" in the process. Hurtful people have a way of leaving us a little "singed" on the surface, right? So, taking the first step may be a little fearful at first, but when we realize mercy's ability to touch what others have been afraid to touch for a long time, we just trust God to protect us in the process. Since the first step is the hardest, it often builds our faith in taking it. There is not building up of our faith as long as we remain rigidly planted in place - the step toward the hurting is what calls upon our faith and challenges us a little. I love the part of our passage which declares God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves. Truth is - he knows more about the hurting heart we are stepping toward, as well. Don't ever think he hasn't placed you directly in their path of pain for a reason! He placed you there as much for your own growth as for their healing!
Did you ever stop to consider how it is you treat the person you cannot stand the most? I am always amazed when I read the accounts of the testings of Christ in the wilderness (Matthew 4). Jesus faced a plethora of emotional and spiritual tests, not to mention the physical ones. Tired, hungry, alone - these play upon our emotions and physical well-being, don't they? When I get tired and hungry, I get a little testy! Bring someone into my path who is out to hurt me and do me wrong, and I can probably go from nice to nasty in about 30 seconds! Yet, Jesus withstood the urge to "take on" his enemy with hurtful and damaging return of his evil intentions with emotional outbursts, hurtful replies, or destructive actions. Instead, he was gracious in his responses. Now, this should give us some food for thought - how we treat our enemy in the midst of the worst of times is often the only way others will see the "value" of Christ the clearest. Mercy-touched people understand the value of being merciful even when the times and tests don't always make it the easiest to be mercy-filled and merciful.
The greatest "counter-attack" to our enemy's attack is mercy - not striking out in more hurtful actions, words, or emotions. It is probably the clearest indication of a life change when mercy becomes the "norm" for how we treat those who are the least likely to be loved because of their actions toward others. One of my pastors once said the best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn them into a friend. Tough one, huh? For most of us, the repulsiveness of actually being "nice" to an enemy is hindering us from taking the first step toward them in mercy. When we finally lay down our resistance to the first step, the second, third, and subsequent steps become a little easier in time. If we are all very honest here, we will soon admit we all sin - falling short of some mark at one time or another. Even forgiven people sin again - it is part of our nature. When we fall, we want to know it is okay to get back up. We want to know someone will be modeling what it is we need the most in our circumstance - mercy and grace. Mercy connects the dots for the fallen - bringing them face to face with the very thing they need to finally free them from the misery of their hurting.
Jesus spoke often and with great passion about the need to live a life of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an emotional response to another's plea for mercy - it is a continual action of wiping the slate clean, even when we don't feel they deserve it. Mercy and forgiveness are partners in this walk we are endeavoring to take together. Mercy moves us toward the one who is hurtful, forgiveness keeps us near them when others would have been repelled by their deeds. Most of the time, the individual we struggle with the most is the one who has not learned to receive mercy yet - so, we need to continually put it on display, for in the frequency of being extended mercy we often learn how it is we actually receive what it is we deserve the least. Just sayin!