When I was a kid I would sometimes play a game called “Mercy.” A friend and I would interlock hands and try to put each other into painful, inescapable positions. When one of us couldn’t handle any more we would cry “Mercy!” and the game would be over.
Stupid game, huh? But reading in Luke 18 recently I noticed a similar theme in Jesus’ parables and practice.
First, he tells the story of a widow who was seeking justice. Even though the judge was unrighteous, he heard the widow’s case because of her persistence. Jesus applies the parable, saying, “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night?”
Next, he talks about the Pharisee and the tax collector who both prayed in the temple. Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector went home justified, because he recognized his unworthiness and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
The chapter ends with Jesus’ encounter with a blind beggar who would not quit calling out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Others were telling him to be quiet, but Jesus stopped and asked the man, “What do you want me to do for you?” At the man’s request, Jesus restored his sight.
In each of these instances the Lord answered prayer—prayer of a certain type: a cry for mercy, desperate and persistent. And this is how he still deals with his people.
The Lord is pleased to help us in our distress, but he doesn’t always answer us right away. Sometimes it feels like we’re playing Mercy with him and he’s going to twist us until all that’s left is for us to beg for help.
He doesn’t have to insist that we ask for justice a hundred times like the judge does to the widow. He could answer after just one prayer. Jesus could have healed the blind man without waiting for him to scream out twice. But often the Lord keeps us under some weighty trial so that we can better see our great need for him and cry for mercy.
Paul notes this in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9:
[W]e were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
Paul was pushed to the limit, and it was by God’s design. The Father’s purpose in burdening us and making us wait for him is the same as it was for Paul: he wants to make us humble. He wants us to rely not on ourselves but on him.
He wants us to rely on the one who can break our addictions, make us more patient, free us from anxiety, open our hearts to our enemies, open our family members’ hearts to the gospel, and give us greater affection for our Savior (to name a few things I’d like to see happen in my life).
Therefore God, in his mercy, sometimes bends us into painful, inescapable positions so that we will learn to cry “Mercy!” to him for every relief that we seek, and so that we will rely more on him who is able to cure every sorrow and pain.