When Was the Last Time You Showed Mercy?

What is mercy

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

1 John 3:16-17 New International Version (NIV)

The imperative above is a tall order: Lay down your life for your brother. Die. This act is the measure of what true love is. But it’s overwhelming to think about dying, sacrificing your life for someone else, the way Jesus did for you and me. 

In actuality, there’s more to “laying down your life” than to die. Demonstrating true love is not limited to the grand act of a sacrificial death; it also means the small sacrifices. Giving up our possessions. The death of comfort. The death of control. The death of self-centeredness. These acts sound less glamorous and dramatic, but to lay down these things for our brothers and sisters in Christ is true love, too. We are invited to show love like this frequently.

One day last week I had a plan. I was going to leave work, go to the gym, then go to a party. The timing was perfect, if not a bit tight. That day, a friend who was also attending this party asked me if I could return her air mattress. She had let my roommate borrow it and the air mattress was at my apartment. She needed it and she needed my help to get it, but in order for me to bring it, I would have to alter my plans: give up my gym time after work and, swing by my apartment instead, locate the air mattress, pull it out of storage, and then lug it uptown to the party. 

I cannot overstate the disparity between the reasonableness of this request and my perceived inconvenience at fulfilling it. I had a plan and in order to help my friend, I would have to lay it down...and I didn’t want to. My response to my friend—my sister in Christ—was not one of mercy. How could the love of God be in me if I was not willing to do this simple, loving act? 

We often think of mercy as a weak attribute, a failing of justice, or a lack of strength. This is wrong. Mercy is compassion. It is kindness. It is love in action. God calls us to be merciful, like He is (Luke 6:36). As someone who had been shown lavish mercy from Christ, who laid down his life for me, why was it so hard for me to make a small sacrifice for a friend? 

The reality is that mercy is difficult. It costs us when we show mercy. When Christ gave his life for us, it cost him greatly. But he knew that mercy was worth it (Hebrews 12:2). And it will cost us too, whether we lay down our lives all at once, or whether we lay down our time, our money, our energy, and our plans, one piece at a time. To show mercy like this is not natural—it is supernatural. We need help from the Holy Spirit to be merciful (Ephesians 3:16-17). With the Holy Spirit’s help, our faith is strengthened. We believe that God’s promises are true. We believe that our acts of mercy have eternal value. 

Mercy is not weakness. Mercy is evidence of the strength we have received through faith from the Holy Spirit. 

Reflection Questions

  • Can you think of a time when you witnessed someone show sincere and costly mercy to another person? Did you consider the person’s action strong or weak? 

  • How do you feel when you think about sacrificing your own time, energy, money, or possessions for someone else? Imagine God’s response when you demonstrate mercy by laying these things down out of love. 

  • Ask God to show you where you have lacked love for others. What beliefs are motivating you in those times?

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to give you strength to show mercy. Ask God to increase your faith, so sharing the love of Christ is more desirable to you than even your own possessions.