It didn’t matter how many times I pleaded, cajoled, or even demanded it, the repentant heart never came. I think the reluctance of his heart to surrender was due, in part, to my unyielding insistence.
I wanted to see change in him, but I was going about it all wrong. It’s taken me a few years to figure out that the Holy Spirit doesn’t need a sidekick. It is his job alone to soften the human heart for repentance and trust.
But equally unfortunate is my discovery that my largest parental failings come in extending mercy to my children. Truly, I am a poor mirror of that unfailing attribute seen only in him.
In Ps. 32, David tells us that God is a merciful God and that God’s mercy changes us.
Here’s what God’s mercy looks like:
- He forgives our transgressions & iniquities (vs. 1,5)
- He covers our sin (vs. 1b)
- He does not impute iniquity (vs. 2)
- He does not abandon us to our sin (vs. 4)
- He allows himself to be found (vs. 6b)
- He brings justice to the wicked (vs. 6b)
- He hides us (vs. 7a)
- He preserves us from trouble (vs. 7b)
- He uplifts our spirits (vs. 7c)
- He instructs us in the way we should go (vs. 8)
- He watches over us (vs. 8)
As a parent, mercy is often fleshed out in two extremes. Either we are over merciful to the point of overlooking sin or we become over-zealous in our attempts to bring justice. In both extremes, we place ourselves in the seat exclusively reserved for the one true Judge. I tend to vacillate between the two.
When we vacillate between these two extremes, we are missing a foundational component of God’s mercy toward us. While God forgives, hides, and protects us from sin, true mercy instructs and guides in the way we should go.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Ps. 32:8
As a parent, true mercy is tempered by loving instruction and care. That doesn’t always mean we withhold punishment or the natural consequences that come from our child’s sin; it means the goal of our instruction is to shepherd our child toward the grossness of sin and the depths of God’s grace.
Who receives God’s mercy?
Ps. 32 tells us that only those who trust in God will receive his mercy.
“Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.” (Ps. 32:10)
The word ‘unfailing love’ in verse 10 is the inexpressibly rich Hebrew word hesed. It speaks of more than God’s mercy, but all his positive attributes he demonstrates toward His people – his goodness, love, mercy, faithfulness, and more. Most importantly, it was a term used for God’s covenant love. God’s people received God’s mercy (hesed), because of the eternal and unchanging nature of God’s promises to bind himself to his people.
How mercy changes us:
When David began this song, he was in need of God’s mercy. But by the end of his refrain, he was surrounded by it. It changed him.
Here’s how mercy changed David:
- In his sin, David “grew old” (vs. 3a). Sin ages us because without God’s sustaining care and refreshing spirit, we head toward destruction.
- In his sin, David groaned all day (vs. 3b). The seduction of sin is pleasure, but it is not a prize without consequences. It never lasts and it always leaves us burned.
- In his sin, David he lost his vitality (vs. 4). David felt barren. Only a life in the Spirit produces worthy fruit in our lives. The wicked have nothing to show for their time.
This is how mercy changes us – like David we go from sinner to saint, from wicked to righteous, and from depressed to joyous.
Do you want to be changed by God’s mercy? Do the two things David did: acknowledge your sin and seek his forgiveness (vs. 5-6).
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, ‘I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.’
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.”
God’s mercy changes us. God’s mercy has a purpose – to make us righteous and upright (vs. 11). In his mercy, God makes us like him.
Dear Father, thank you for saving me from my sin. I am thankful that your mercy is richer than the depth of my wrongs. Thank you for caring enough to correct me when I get it wrong and make things about me. Help me extend the same type of mercy to my children – guiding them toward you in their dark hours. Help me live out the change you bring in my own life, so that they will see what a life surrounded by mercy looks like. Make us all more like you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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