Receiving God’s Mercy
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27, ESV)
The Shema is a prayer that serves as the center of morning and evening prayers for our Jewish friends and what we know as the first and second great commandments. The first commandment, “Love the Lord your God,” easily gains our attention. The second, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” tends to fade away into the backdrop of our busy lives.
The story Jesus told following today’s scripture is about a Samaritan who stopped to help a wounded traveler. Within this story we see the Samaritan show compassion, a sacrifice of time and finances, and mercy. Mercy defined by Merriam-Webster is “kindness or help given to people in a desperate situation or kind and forgiving treatment to someone who could be treated harshly.”
Often we move through our day with intentions to love our neighbors well, with kind words, acts of service, forgiveness, and by sacrificing our time and resources. But other times we don’t set ourselves up well for this work, because we do the opposite for our own heart. We target our hearts with slanderous words for our failures, we ignore our need to slow down and replenish our souls, and we do not believe we deserve compassion and mercy. This leaves us empty and depleted, unable to love others well.
The author of Proverbs says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). This means we are to watch over our hearts, as they determine how we will engage our world. A hard heart produces selfishness and contempt. Paying attention to our heart with compassion and mercy opens space to the joy of loving ourselves and others. Not in an arrogant or conceited way, but rather with humility and sincerity.
Have you ever paid attention to the words you speak to yourself while playing golf? Do you call yourself idiot, fool, stupid? Do you curse under your breath? Does anger consume you? When I was competing, I was my own worst enemy and did all of these things, causing harm to my heart and my performance. My self-contempt made it hard to enjoy myself or the round of golf.
What are some tangible ways we can begin to “love your neighbor as yourself?” It begins by letting go of our desire for self-preservation and welcoming God’s mercy for ourselves. We cannot say we believe in his mercy, then treat ourselves as though no such care is available. It’s also important to name and grieve the pain and loss we have experienced in our past. This opens a window of awareness of who we are—wonderfully and fearfully made—and who God created us to be—loved and adored by our heavenly Father.
As the year gets underway, resolutions have been made and already revised. But here is one that should stick: Let us join together in being intentional to love ourselves by receiving God’s compassion and mercy for the greater purpose of loving others from a full heart.
January 14, 2016
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