Every year, my church does what we call the 35-day journey. It’s time where, as a church we fast from something distracting, and use that time, energy and devotion to focus back on God. There is always a devotional guide to go with the journey and I was asked to contribute to it this year. We studied the book of 1 Peter. My verses were 1 Peter 2:10-12 which go like this:
…for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
I thought I would share what I wrote:
Growing up in church I learned mercy was not receiving the punishment I deserved for my sin. This definition of God’s mercy served me fairly well throughout my life, especially during those times when I felt like the most wretched soul of all, but I’ve come to realize how incomplete this view of God’s mercy is. His mercy is about more than just withholding punishment, it is about withholding whatever will not give us the most abundant life possible. Elisabeth Elliot writes, “…He will withhold many things that look attractive to us. It is His mercy to withhold them.”
It is ironic in a culture where getting whatever you want is perceived as the way to make yourself happy, the opposite is in fact true. To have a life most abundant God must be merciful and withhold from you, even if it is something you really want. To think of my desires withheld from me as God’s mercy has not been an easy concept to swallow. Our culture teaches us to stand like a petulant child before God with our hand out, demanding what we want and giving us permission to throw a tantrum if we do not get it. Yet it is His wisdom and love for us that causes Him to be merciful, to not give in to our every whim, but allow us to wait for what is better, greater. Camille Kingsolver writes, “If everything my heart desired was handed to me on a plate, I’d probably just want something else.”
So how does going from people who “had not received mercy” to people who “have received mercy” make a difference. Maybe it turns us into grateful people. People who are different from the culture or “Gentiles” living around us. People who are content with what they have and willing to wait on God’s providence for what they want. Peter urges the Jews who scattered throughout the Roman empire to “abstain from passions of the flesh”, to be honorable. He is asking them to be an example to the people around them. Yes, they will look at you funny. Yes, they will speak against you. Yes, they will call you weird. But maybe, just maybe, when they see the attitude of Christ in you, they will see something worthy of consideration.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, writes about how the one thing no one can ever take away from you, is your attitude. We choose how we respond to God’s mercy. I choose to respond as either the petulant child not getting her own way or the daughter of the King of Kings, grateful for everything He has and has not given to me.