Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Divine Mercies (Overlooked...)

Thine is surpassing greatness, unspeakable
    goodness, super-abundant grace;
I can as soon count the sands of ocean's 'lip'
  as number Thy favors towards me;
I know but a part, but that part exceeds all praise.
I thank Thee for personal mercies,
  a measure of health, preservation of body,
  comforts of house and home, sufficiency of food
    and clothing,
  continuance of mental powers,
  my family, their mutual help and support,
    the delights of domestic harmony and peace,
    the seats now filled that might have been vacant,
  my country, church, Bible, faith.
But, O, how I mourn my sin, ingratitude, vileness,
  the days that add to my guilt,
  the scenes that witness my offending tongue;
All things in heaven, earth, around, within, without,
    condemn me—
  the sun which sees my misdeeds,
  the darkness which is light to thee,
  the cruel accuser who justly charges me,
  the good angels who have been provoked to leave
  Thy countenance which scans my secret sins,
  Thy righteous law, Thy holy Word,
  my sin-soiled conscience, my private and
    public life,
  my neighbors, myself—
    all write dark things against me.
I deny them not, frame no excuse, but confess,
  'Father, I have sinned';
Yet still I live, and fly repenting to Thy outstretched
  Thou wilt not cast me off, for Jesus brings me near,
  Thou wilt not condemn me, for He died in
    my stead,
  Thou wilt not mark my mountains of sin,
    for He leveled all,
  and His beauty covers my deformities.
O my God, I bid farewell to sin by clinging
    to His cross,
  hiding in His wounds, and sheltering in His side.
~ Divine Mercies, The Valley of Vision

I read this recently when I was getting discouraged about a few things, and like many of my moments of discouragement, I was reminded that my focus is on the wrong things. I found this prayer both convicting and uplifted, for it reminded me of the many divine mercies from our loving Father that my sinful, forgetful heart often overlooks. Below are a few thoughts that came to mind while meditating on this prayer:

"Super-abundant grace": The grace we get from God in Christ is not just enough to squeak by. It is not just enough to push us over the edge, while we handle the rest ourselves. It is super-abundant; far more than we could ever need, like the waves of the ocean--completely inexhaustible. It over flows our cups, even while they should be filled with His wrath. It is greater than all our circumstances, sorrows, victories, talents, weaknesses, good deeds, and sins. Indeed, we cannot out-sin His super-abundant grace to us in Jesus. You know, I preached on this last year but, of course, needed the reminder again. "O, to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be."

"Personal mercies": This is a convicting list, for they are all true of me; yet I do not often give praise to God for them. They are all the things going right in my life, which go unnoticed like a smooth road goes unnoticed by a driver cruising down the highway. Yet, they are countless reasons to praise God, and in that sense, the list is uplifting.

He has granted me a "measure of health" and "preservation of body." I am not in the physical shape I was 10-15 years ago, but in general He has given me great health. I see and hear of many others, like my beloved sister, who have chronic health problems, and yet even while praying for her and the others, I forget to praise God for His grace to me in my health. Yet, it is only His sovereign choice that has kept me in good health while better men and women suffer. Perhaps it is because He knows they will suffer better than I would in their place, which is a testimony to their child-like faith and to my lack thereof, but even if that judgment is true, I should be thankful for His mercy and patience with me while He grows me to such a faith.

In His grace, He has given me the "comforts" of home, food, and clothing. I confess, I often focus more on the fact that our townhouse is, at times, frustrating or that the budget is tight and not on the fact that Erika, Gabriel, and I have all that we need. We have a shelter that is more than adequate, which is more than I can say for some of my friends in Atlanta who are still living on the street. We have food and never worry about our next meal or tomorrow's meals, which is more than much of the world's population can say. I may not have fashion sense, but I have a wife who does and clothes that are more than sufficient for my lifestyle. Perhaps this praise should be in every meal's blessing to remind me that my table is full and my home is warm, while others are not so fortunate.

Our Lord has blessed me with a wonderful family and "domestic harmony." I have a godly wife who loves, supports, and sacrifices for me far more than I remember or thank her for. She is patient with my inconsiderate ways, encouraging in my failures, realistic in my successes, supportive of my calling, and wonderful with my son. We, of course, have our share of squabbles but mostly there is peace, and it is real peace, not peace through avoidance. I have a wonderful son who is in great health, which is more than many parents can say. It breaks my heart to think about children suffering from heart problems, cancer, head injuries, or any number of other maladies, and yet in my sorrow for them, how often do I praise God for a healthy boy? Not as often as I could and should. The above line, "the seats now filled that might have been vacant" nearly brings tears to my eyes. Gabriel's seat could have been vacant. When he was born, he had some complications, and for a time, we thought he was going to die. We are so thankful for God's healing during that time, but how often do I look at his high-chair and think, "That could have been empty, except for the mercy of God"? How often does that thought generate praise? Not nearly as often as it could and should.

While I find many things in our country about which to complain, I am still free to worship and live for God, which is more than many of my friends in closed countries can say. I have a church family that is loving, healthy, and united, and that is not because of me but because God working through great leadership that was here long before I came to this congregation. And, of course, most of all: God chose me and called me out of sin and darkness into His glorious light. It was not because of anything good in me that led Him to do so but was simply because of His good pleasure. Why did He choose to place His love on me? I do not have an answer to that question, but I do know it was not anything in me that deserved it. I was His enemy; only deserving His just wrath. If God took every other aspect of my life away, that would be enough to demand my eternal praise and gratitude.

"How much I mourn my... ingratitude": I guess much of this post so far is such mourning, but does it match the level of ingratitude in my heart? Not hardly. I could mourn all day everyday and not do justice to how ungrateful I am to my faithful God and Savior. Yet, that would do no good. In fact, my sinful heart would likely turn godly mourning into pious penance, thus adding to my mountain of sin. What else can I do? Well, the author of this awesome prayer helps here too: run to my Savior and repent.

"I deny them not... but confess": What else can I do? If I spend much time mourning, my heart will start to believe God should forgive me because, of course, I am so sorry, but that is simply the sin of penance--trying to merit what Jesus has already earned; trying to pay for what I already get for free. Can I make God my debtor in that way? Not hardly. No, I must go to Him on the basis of Christ's work alone and say, "Father, I have sinned." And, when I do, what do I find? "Outstretched arms" is what I find! He can no more reject me than He can reject Christ because Jesus is my bulwark that never fails, and I hide "in His wounds and shelter in His side." To look at my sin and think that God will not want me back (this time) is to say that the Father tires of the pleasing aroma of His Son's sacrifice. It is to say that Jesus is not enough (this time) and that I must add to His work. I cannot add to His work! I can only bring in repentance the sin that needs forgiving, and when I do, "His beauty covers my deformities."

There are so many divine mercies from our heavenly Father! "I can as soon count the sands of the ocean's 'lip' as number [His] favors towards me," but that does not mean I should not endeavor to praise Him for all that I can count--those blessings that are all mine with ten thousand beside. When I do, He is glorified and my joy is increased. What, then, is stopping me? Oh yeah, my sinful, forgetful heart. Well, perhaps, Lord willing, a little less so after today, and if not, well He's still working on me.

By His Grace,

1 comment:

Tracy said...

What can I say more, except to cry out, "AMEN!"