When I don’t know the words to pray, I still know the One to whom I pray. Lord, have mercy.
I often find myself ministering through pastoral prayer (chalk it up to being a pastor). In pastoral prayer, we recognize we voice our prayers to minister to those within our hearing. Whether in our congregation for worship, in a home for a visit, or a hospital bed, we address our prayers to God but also to touch the hearts of those who “overhear” the conversation. Pastoral prayer is, by nature, pastoral.
And yet, in my personal prayer, I often find myself in tension over the words I use. I know, within myself, that my words have no power. God isn’t listening to my prayers, shaking his head and saying, “If you had only worded that a little better, I would have answered it!” I’m very aware of the weakness of my own words and the inability to articulate the needs that confront me daily. As a result, I’ve often found myself retreating to those “holy groans” Paul writes of in Romans 8:26. But lately, I have found great comfort in the ancient practice of simply asking God for his mercy for myself, for others and the troubles in our world.
Lord, Have Mercy
In Psalm 6:2, David prays, “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.” The Septuagint translates “Be gracious to me, O Lord,” as “ἐλέησόν με κύριε,” or “Kyrie eleison,” as anyone who made it through the 80s could tell you. This simple prayer repeats in Psalm 9:13, 31:9, 86:3, and 123:3.
In the New Testament, we find the prayer in the plea of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22), a father begging for healing for his son (Matthew 17:15), and two blind men desperate to see (Matthew 20:30-31). This prayer, “Lord, have mercy,” is distinguished by its simplicity and efficacy. In each case, mercy is given.
In my experience with the prayer, I have found peace beyond my ability to request or imagine. “Lord, have mercy” places my needs squarely in the arms of the one who is full of mercy (Exodus 34:6-7). Consequently, the more I pray it, the more blessings I see from it. Here are a few blessings I have realized from this prayer.
“Lord, Have Mercy” Takes the Focus Off My Words
As I’ve already stated, sometimes it feels like my own words get in the way of my prayers. I struggle to get the words just right and intone them with the proper passion. But again and again, I’m reminded it’s not about me! Rather, it’s about the one to whom I am praying. Lord have mercy.
And so often, I simply lack the words for my prayers. I’m overwhelmed with the need and the insufficiency of my words. “Lord, have mercy” takes both my weakness and ego out of the prayer.
“Lord, Have Mercy” Removes the Possibility that My Prayer Requests are Simply “Sanctified Gossip”
“I need to know how to pray about this intelligently.” Really? Why? Is God on the other end of the line saying, “It’s a good thing Bret told me the rest of the story! I had no idea that’s what was going on!”
Obviously, there are times when as a pastor or a friend, we require more information to know how to be sensitive or compassionate toward a given situation, but let’s never fool ourselves into believing that our itching ears improve the power of our prayers.
“Lord, Have Mercy” Asks God To Do What Only He Can Do
I can offer kindness, our church can reach out in compassion, and together we can seek the very best for someone hurting, but only God knows what mercy toward that person looks like.
My prayers might seem faith-filled and robust, yet they still fall far short of the fullness of God’s grace. But, “Lord, have mercy,” puts the hopes behind my prayers back into God’s hands and allows me to trust that He knows best.
Rich In Mercy
“Lord, have mercy” may be a simple prayer, but it is expansive in potential. In Ephesians 2:4, Paul reminds us that God is “rich in mercy.” The smallest prayers do not go unheard in Heaven’s court. When all I know how to pray is, “Lord, have mercy,” I find that I receive more than enough.