What if the mercy prayer, “Lord, have mercy,” was not only the most prayed prayer in the Bible but in your life as well? Many Christians through the ages believed that this should be the case.
We have so much to learn from Christians who are different than us.
I grew up as a Southern Baptist. Then I spent eight wonderful years in a Presbyterian church. Today, I’m the pastor of an independent, interdenominational church. We aren’t officially associated with any particular denomination not because we believe the denominations are bad; rather, we desire to look back over the last two thousand years and see what we have to learn from all the different groups of people that have followed Christ. The different labels – Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic, and the list goes on – simply represent the variety of ways and approaches others have taken in following Jesus.
One denomination has majored on the mercy of God: the Eastern Orthodox church. For almost two thousand years this segment of Christianity has made the mercy of God central to their understanding of the meaning of following Jesus – especially when it comes to prayer. They recognize that Daniel was right when he prayed,
We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. – Daniel 9:18
The Eastern Orthodox church is rather unknown to most Western Christians. These followers of Jesus are mostly located in Russia, Greece, the Middle East, and Africa. When it comes to understanding the most prayed prayer, we would do well to learn from them.
The Mercy Prayer in the Psalms
Their theologians first recognized our tendency to pray for God’s mercy. They were the ones to remark on how common it was for the people of God to cry out to Him for mercy in the Psalms:
Answer me when I call to You,
O my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
be merciful to me and hear my prayer.
– Psalm 4:1
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.
– Psalm 6:2
O Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death.
– Psalm 9:13
Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to You for help,
as I lift up my hands toward Your Most Holy Place.
– Psalm 28:2
To You, O Lord, I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy.
– Psalm 30:8
It was also the Orthodox that noticed that the one sentence spoken to Jesus more than any other was, “Kyrie eleison.” This branch of Christianity pointed out that all of us are in a line leading to God’s courtroom, and we all have one hope in that setting: that God is merciful.
They even began to ask, could it be that the closer you get to God the more you pray the mercy prayer? What if our closeness to Christ actually increases the frequency of our requests for His mercy?
We normally think the opposite – something like this: I was living a really bad life and was in need of mercy. But once I embraced Jesus and asked Him into my heart, He took the burden of sin off of me. Now I can leave behind the consequences of my sin, move on, and grow closer to God.
Our Mercy Prayer Intensifies the Closer We Get to God
Eastern Orthodox believers say the opposite is true. Our recognition of our need for mercy only intensifies the closer we get to God. It’s as if the cross awakens our appetite for His compassion. We actually desire God’s mercy more the closer we get to Him, not only because we see our shortcomings in light of His perfection but also because knowing God is knowing that He is merciful.
This is a lesson we can see illustrated in the tabernacle found in the Old Testament.
The architecture of this ancient worship space communicated the spiritual life in tangible reality. As worshippers walked into the tabernacle, they saw a large courtyard with a number of furnishings signifying different aspects of knowing God. The large basin of water represented cleansing. Burning incense signified the prayers of God’s people. Furthest away from the entrance, deepest within the tabernacle, was the Holy of Holies. To enter that space was to enter the presence of God. The closer one was to this most holy place, the closer one was to God’s glory. Very few people were actually allowed to enter this sacred room. But if you were to go in beyond the veil and enter, you would see the ark of the covenant – the throne of God. What was the name given to the throne? The mercy seat!
Watch The Mercy Prayer Video
Excerpted from The Mercy Prayer: The One Prayer Jesus Always Answers by Robert Gelinas, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2013.
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How has your understanding for your need for mercy changed as you’ve grown closer to God? As you’ve sought His face has it intensified? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you!