You know what the problem is with mercy?
There's a difference between the two, of course. Mercy is when a man does not get what he deserves; grace is when he gets what he does not deserve. One is a freedom; the other, a gift. And in our postmodern, individualistic, entitled society, grace is the buzzword of the day. We all want to live in the grace of God, receiving the blessing we do not deserve. Receiving more than we are due. Having that extra special bonus blessing of God means we can almost put up with the things we do deserve. We can take life's just consequences as long as we can hold onto the completely unexpected gift of God among us.
We've told ourselves we can live without mercy so long as we have grace. And we've bought the lie.
What's interesting is that in the Scriptures, we don't see people asking for grace. People lined the streets, hoping to get a glimpse of Jesus. Hoping to gain His ear for just a second. Longing for a healing touch. And not one of them came in the kind of prayer we're used to praying today. Not one of them came, crying out, "Lord! I just need a measure of Your grace!" Not. One.
Instead, they come pleading, "Son of David! Have mercy on me!" Don't make me live with what I deserve.
That seems a bit odd, to say the least. After all, it was in the context of one of these very encounters that Jesus responds to the question of sin and disability. A blind man comes, and the people ask, "Who sinned? This man or his parents?" Implying, of course, that blindness is deserved; it is the result of sin. And Jesus responds, "No one sinned. This is all so that God may be glorified," which means that infirmity is not necessarily deserved. Yet here are all of these men and women begging for mercy, to not have what they deserve. To not be blind, deaf, lame, bleeding, broken, diseased, possessed.
I don't know what it is that made them believe their disease was deserved. An old understanding, perhaps, from the same Scriptures that led the crowds to ask the question at all. An intimate knowledge, maybe, of the true state of their spirits, of all the secret sins they had committed and all their broken places they couldn't seem to rise above. An echoing of the voices all around them that had convinced them this was the way things were meant to be because of x, y, or z. Regardless, they all came for one thing: mercy.
And here we are praying for grace. The trouble is you can't pray for grace and receive it. The moment you pray for grace, you have an expectation of receiving more than you merit and should you get it, that's not grace; that's a wish. God, so far as I've ever experienced Him, does not grant wishes.
Then what is grace? A quick look through the Scriptures shows that grace is something we attribute to God. Grace is who He is. That He gives us, of His own volition, beyond what we are worth. He gives us more than we could ask or imagine. He is more than we could ask or imagine. Grace is an attribute, not an action of God.
Mercy, on the other hand, is an action of God. It's something He does. It's a way He responds to us when we come to Him asking for such a thing. He dwells in the Old Testament on the Throne of Mercy, which always has its place just above the law. The Cross is mercy. Mercy is the only thing we can ask of Him.
Because at its core, that's what redemption is. That's God's great plan of reconciliation. That we, fallen men and women, do not have to live with the consequences of our sin any more. That we do not get what we deserve. He doesn't aspire for us to suffer through our "due" in some noble attempt to sound righteous or holy. He doesn't long for us to speak of His graces while we're firmly in the grips of judgment. Grace has never set a single man free. Only mercy can do that.
And God has come that man may be free.
We spend a lot of our time praying for grace. Maybe it's because we think the words are interchangeable. Maybe it's because grace seems easier than mercy. After all, with grace, we don't have to admit our shortcomings. We don't have own our sins. We don't have to confess that we have fallen short and that this mess we're sitting in? We deserve it. We don't have to take ownership of anything with grace; we must just receive God's amazing gift.
But anyone who has been there knows that grace...doesn't change a whole lot. It doesn't get down to the root of the problem. One very good, unexpected thing that God gives you does not cure the heart of its ache. It does not release you from an ounce of bondage. Where we come out at is this haunting suspicion that grace is cheap, all because we've misconstrued the idea.
Grace isn't cheap; it's free. Mercy, on the other hand, has a cost. Mercy has a price because it is the redemption of your spirit. It is the freeing of your soul. Mercy buys you back from the things that try to own you, and the price is high. Thankfully, that price has already been paid and now, mercy is yours for the asking.
So start asking.
Ask for mercy because that's what God does.
And you may find a measure of grace. Because that's who God is.