The Thrill of Mercy

The Thrill of Mercy
By: J.B. Hixson, Ph.D.

The merciful man does good for his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh. (Proverbs 11:17)

My family and I love amusement parks. With six children, amusement parks offer something that each of the kids is sure to love. Because we travel extensively for ministry engagements, we have been to dozens of parks in various parts of the country over the years. By unanimous vote, our favorite ride is the roller coaster. Every time we visit a theme park for the first time, we dash to the roller coaster the moment we enter the park. We have seen them all: tall ones, fast ones, wooden ones, double-loop ones, upside down ones. If it’s a roller coaster we love it.

One of the joys of parenthood is watching your child take his or her first roller coaster ride. They always tend to react the same way at first. They are nervous, scared, and hesitant. It reminds me of my first roller coaster ride as a teenager. Perhaps you can relate. While you are waiting in line your stomach turns, you get anxious, and you wonder, “Why in the world am I doing this?” As you watch the cars barrel over the first giant hill, fear tightens its grip. You tell yourself, “When I get to the front of the line I’ll just say I changed my mind, step across to the other side of the car, and sit this one out. There is no way I’m riding this thing.” But by the time it is your turn to ride, the fear of looking like a big chicken in front of your friends is stronger than the fear of losing your life on the roller coaster, so you squeeze yourself into the car and lower the lap bar.

As you sit there waiting for the ride to begin, you start praying, “Lord, forgive me for everything I have ever done wrong in my entire life. Help me to survive this ride. If I come out of this alive I promise to move to Africa and become a missionary!” Then you begin to rationalize things. “Now wait a minute. People rarely die on roller coasters. I am being ridiculous.” You spot a small child and say to yourself, “If that little kid can do this, so can I.”

Still waiting for that telltale lurch that signals the beginning of the ride (and indicates your life is likely going to come to a disastrous end sometime in the next ninety seconds), your thoughts turn to less mortal fears. “Okay. I am sure I’ll live through this. But what if I get sick and throw up on the people in the car in front of me? How embarrassing would that be!?” Suddenly, the car jolts forward and picks up speed. You close your eyes and hope for the best. Ninety seconds later it is all over, and you jump out yelling, “Let’s do it again!”

What’s the point? Showing mercy is a lot like riding a roller coaster. At first, all of your natural instincts tell you not to do it. When someone wrongs you, your tendency is to harbor bitterness, anger, and hurt. Yet, when you finally let go of those feelings and show mercy instead, mercy provides quite a thrill. In fact, to harbor bitterness actually causes physical harm. The Bible tells us, “The merciful man does good for his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.” (Proverbs 11:17)

The next time you are tempted to respond with vengeance or bitterness, just imagine you are in line to ride a roller coaster. You may feel hesitant to show mercy, but in the end you’ll be glad you did, and you may even find yourself wanting to do it more often.

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