Of the seven spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12, the last – but, I believe, the greatest yet least appreciated and most abused – is mercy.
As I watch and sense what God is doing with an emerging new spiritual generation, I see that their dominant characteristic is mercy. I also have begun to realize that God wants to use “mercies” (those with the primary spiritual gift of mercy) as catalysts to unleash additional gifts in others. That, in turn, will bring this rising generation to new pastures where God wants to dwell among us.
This doesn’t mean everyone in this new spiritual generation has mercy as their dominant individual spiritual gift. But as a whole, they nonetheless seem to collectively exhibit the main motivations of mercy – which are a deep, personal craving for the presence of God and for genuine intimacy with others.
As a result, this rising generation has little interest or patience with the moral and cultural wars of my generation, or with our prevailing hypocrisy as we tried to fix everyone else but failed to exhibit God’s presence in our own lives. Nor can they understand the focus on programs and institutions – with a resulting lack of authentic community – among older Christians.
My generation is characterized more by the gift of “ruler” than “mercy”. But our day – with the need to control, the need to bring order, the need to tell others what’s wrong with them while ignoring the problems in our own churches, and the need to always contend – is passing.
Some from my generation – but not many – see that God is birthing a new generation rooted in mercy and are willing serve as a bridge by patiently honoring, affirming and mentoring them. Most of my peers, however, only shake their heads in bewilderment. They barely tolerate this new generation (which can include believers of all ages who are willing to “be” where God is going, but nonetheless is skewed towards twenty and thirty “somethings”). Instead, they keep preaching the same old performance-based “oughts” that, frankly, never worked very well in their own lives and ring hollow to others.
This rising generation does not care about my generation’s “oughts” – you know: we ought to pray, and let me tell you how; we ought to read the Bible, and let me tell you how often; we ought to hear God and let me tell you how he speaks, etc., etc., ad nauseam. As a result, my generation wonders why we get nothing but polite indifference from those who crave, more than anything, God’s presence and authentic, intimate fellowship with each other.
This new generation just wants to enjoy God and each other, and my generation generally doesn’t “get” it. As a result, generational blessings have not yet flowed from us to them, nor from them to us. Regardless, I feel – at the core of my being – that God is going to bridge the generations and unleash his presence and his gifts, for the benefit of all, in a powerful new way.
A fundamental obstacle I keep encountering, however, is the lack of mature, healthy “mercies” within my generation and among this emerging generation. If God is truly bringing forth a mercy generation, then those with the mature, healthy gift of mercy will need to be the catalysts.
But if all of our mercies are wounded or insecure, how can that happen?
Within my generation, I have met very few mercies who have not been deeply wounded, either spiritually, emotionally or both. My generation, with our predominate “ruler” spirit, has mercilessly misused the mercies among us by seeking the comfort of their grace while stomping on their hearts.
My generation’s mercies also have enabled way too many corrupt and abusive leaders by appearing to stand by them when God was wanting to prune them from our ranks. When mercies finally realize – often way too late and usually after the fact – that an abusive “leader” used their appearance of support (often arising from a deeply ingrained dislike of conflict) to maintain the prerogatives of power and position, they become overly cautious, withdrawn and reserved.
The crisis of confidence within this rising spiritual generation, however, lies elsewhere. Nearly every younger mercy I’ve met is insecure over who they really are in Christ – which is hardly surprising, given how much mercies are overlooked and under-appreciated, even by those who crave mercy.
As I see all this, my own spirit deeply, deeply grieves over their plight. The Father wants to bring them into wholeness and health — if they’d only let him! The difficulty they face is being willing to go to the painful places in their lives where the wounds and insecurities lie. The Lord is patiently waiting to meet, heal and passionately embrace them there. (See my blogs, Woundedness and God Shows Up.) As I have seen time and again in my pastoral counseling sessions, if they can find the strength to go to those places, the Lord can, and will, bring health.
Emotional and spiritual health is crucial not only for the sake of mercies themselves, but also because God has called some mercies to be vital catalysts for what he wants to do among us. If they are not healthy, then they can’t bring the intimate presence of God among us, or unleash additional spiritual gifts between us.
Recently, God blessed me by bringing a couple of mercies into my life who had enough health – not perfect health, but enough health – to be willing to risk transparency. Their special gift of “presence” – both their own presence and God’s presence – bought forth a profoundly new level of life in me. As a result, my own gifts were unleashed like never before.
It took me awhile to realize what was happening, but I eventually understood that they were the catalysts God was using to quicken and enliven – in ways I never felt before – my abilities to see and understand where God wants to take his people and to also develop the resources God needs to make that happen.
It’s not that they did anything. Rather, it was simply their willingness to be part of my life – regardless of their own hurts and insecurities and their natural tendency to stay within a protected zone of comfort instead of risking change – that caused my own, different gifts to come alive. They gave me the simple, unassuming gift of their presence, and with it came the gift of God’s special presence and intimacy that just naturally emanated from who they were. It was wonderfully transforming.
I came to realize, as I started hearing of this also happening in others, that some of the mercies among us are the key to God’s plans. Without them, this new generation will not find its full destiny and my generation will never experience the blessing of final closure on the good that we did – despite our mistakes.
I’ve been fortunate. God has brought mercies in and out of my life who’ve been willing – to some degree – to be transparent, despite my own insensitivity and frequent failure to fully honor and appreciate them. But the wounding and insecurity that’s so prevalent among mercies, and that keeps them from unleashing God’s full blessings among the rest of us, haven’t happened by accident. Satan is able to sense where God is moving, and has not wasted the last decades while trying to thwart God’s future plans by “taking out” as many mercies as possible.
Within my generation, God has sprinkled enough mature, healthy “mercies” among us to mentor this rising generation and unleash God’s special, intimate presence among us. When that happens, it enlivens God’s gifts in the rest of us. The full plethora of God’s gifts operating within his people then allows us to go, together, to new pastures where God wants to abide with us, and us with him.
For this to happen, mercies must be willing to find how God wants them to step forward, in their own ways, as the catalysts for what God wants to do. That’s both their promise, and their dilemma.
The Challenge of Change
Because of their past wounds and insecurities, and also as a function of their temperament, mercies typically don’t like change. Rather, they crave the peace, calm and stability of the status quo, where God has been meeting them. As they take the chance on relating to those around them, however, and God’s gifts are triggered in others (without even trying but simply as a result of the sweet presence of God within them), that can become threatening to them. After all, many of the other spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12 are change oriented, and once mercies unleash those gifts by ushering in the intimacy of God’s presence, change is inevitable.
But an immature mercy does not want change!
So here’s the dilemma for the mercy. In their past wounding and insecurity, and generally due to their personality, they avoid change. However, if they are willing to risk transparent relationships with those around them (and it normally is very difficult for them to be transparent except with their one or two closest, most trusted friends) and to radiate God’s special presence, it will unleash gifts of change in others. If a mercy is not healthy and secure, the change they unleash – without even trying! – will cause them to pull pack.
The other dilemma for the mercy is that they crave God’s presence in their lives and circumstances more than anything else. How they’ve known and experienced God can become their idol – and the status quo of God’s past or current presence makes it hard for them to see when God is moving all of us to new pastures. If they react to the discomfort of the change they unleash in others, and fail to see that God is leading his people to new pastures, they will stay behind and miss God’s future presence.
By holding onto God’s past or even current presence, they can miss his future presence.
God is not passive. Although he does not necessarily ask mercies to be the ones who call his people to new pastures (although sometimes he does!), he certainly wants them to bear the gift of his presence among his flock, which then unleashes the necessary gifts in others. When change inevitably happens, those same mercies mistakenly often feel that what’s different is the nature of God presence in their lives, which feels like death to them. But that’s not the case, and they need to cultivate the maturity to understand that what’s different is not God’s presence, but rather the places and the circumstances where God wants to continue meeting not only them, but all of us.
To the mercies among us, I know how hard it is to give the gift of yourself, and the gift of God’s presence within you, because many have abused and failed to honor you in the past. But understand that God loves you in a deep way that few can understand, and he is calling you to health and to find your validation in his pleasure.
God’s plans, and his future presence in your lives, depend on you being the catalyst for the gifts he wants to bring forth in others. Learn to sense and feel and experience and enjoy God’s presence even in the midst of change. In fact, you have an additional vital role in testing and affirming God’s presence in those new pastures – thus confirming that we have all made the transition to where God wants us to be. But you must be healthy to do that – otherwise your hurts and securities will cloud your ability to clearly sense God’s moving presence.
If you don’t can’t be that catalyst, God will still love and abide with you – but you will have missed his perfect will and that, more than anything, will be devastating to you. Maybe not now, but eventually and for the rest of your life.
If you are willing to be that catalyst, the presence of God that so deeply defines you will be more evident and the abiding promises he’s given you will be fulfilled in ways you can’t even imagine.
It will be messy, and at times you will feel vulnerable and exposed. But God will affirm you and clothe you in his grace and presence in ways you can’t imagine as you bring forth his grace and presence in others.
That’s your hope, and that’s your challenge.