10 ordinary ways to make an extraordinary impact
By Tony Merida
People never guess that I’m a pastor and a professor. They typically think I’m in a band, or own a Harley shop or a tattoo parlor. The fact that I have a few tattoos doesn’t surprise anyone. But recently, my wife got a tattoo, which surprises people.
She’s a soft-spoken, diplomatic, professional lady, and a musician. For her thirty-seventh birthday, though, she wanted some ink. She got six words from Micah 6:8:
“Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.”
The whole verse says this: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [mercy], and to walk humbly with your God?”
I’m not encouraging getting a tattoo of this verse. But I do want to encourage you to tattoo this verse on your heart.
The Hebrew word translated “kindness,” “mercy,” or “faithfulness” is, without question, one of the most important words in the Old Testament. It speaks of God’s loyal, faithful, covenant-keeping love to His people. God uses it to speak of His own nature.
The word justice is an action word. It’s used to talk about punishing oppressors, as well as protecting, and caring for the vulnerable.
These two words, mercy and justice, obviously go together.
How can we, ordinary people, do Micah 6:8 every day? Do you have to be a lawyer, or a missionary, or a podcasted celebrity preacher? No. You need to walk humbly with God, doing justice out of merciful love for others in every way possible.
One of the saddest indications of failure in the area of justice and mercy is our description of those who excel in doing justice. We describe them as radical, as extraordinary. Yes, as we read the Bible together, we find that the Bible treats issues of mercy and justice as anything but extraordinary. Frankly, doing justice is just a normal part of the Christian life.
We need Christians focusing on ordinary Christianity—speaking up for the voiceless, caring for the single mom, restoring the broken, bearing burdens, welcoming the functionally fatherless, and speaking the good news to people on a regular basis in order to change the world.
What kind of works are ordinary Christians supposed to be doing? A starting point is with the Great Commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. Simple enough. What does it look like to love our neighbor, or to do what some call “mercy ministry”? Tim Keller says that ministries of mercy involve “meeting felt needs through deeds.” Simple enough. Individuals and churches should be sensitive to the needs around them, and seek to meet those needs.
Here’s the problem: Not everyone agrees on the nature of or need for mercy ministry! One group promotes social action, but doesn’t preach justification by faith alone. It’s social ministry with no gospel. This group longs to see the needs of the city met—with absolute sincerity—but for whatever reason, the gospel is either overlooked or avoided. Mercy ministry is service, but lacks proclamation.
Another group proclaims the gospel, but shirks back from social action in fear of compromising truth. The idea of laboring for the good of a lost neighbor seems like a waste of time if agreement on the doctrine of justification is not first reached. It might be confusing to the world, for example, if believers and unbelievers are both trying to serve the poor together by serving meals. For this group, real mercy ministry is proclamation, but lacks concern for the social needs of others.
Let me propose some principles for reconciling that tension. First, let’s embrace mercy ministry under the shadow of the cross. Let’s love our neighbor by demonstrating practical love, and let’s love our neighbor by declaring the only message that will save.
Mercy ministry is about alleviating suffering. Those who want to alleviate suffering should want to alleviate more than temporary suffering. They should also want to alleviate eternal suffering, which can only come through faith in Christ.
For those who only champion proclamation, and discard mercy ministry, I want to remind them of a few things. The places of greatest poverty and social need are often the places with the greatest need for gospel proclamation also. We don’t need to argue over whether we should do word ministry or deed ministry; we simply need to go. When we get there, we should serve them in love and speak to them in love.
Let’s do all we can for the weak to alleviate their present suffering, and let’s do all we can to tell them of the glory that is to be revealed to those who are in Christ. Tell them about the King, who will usher in a new kingdom of complete shalom, where the lion plays with the lamb.
To embrace mercy ministry under the shadow of the cross means to get involved personally. Here are 10 simple ways to get started.
- Buy groceries for a struggling single mother.
- Visit a hospital and pray with the sick and the dying.
- Spend time with the elderly living at a local care center.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter.
- Teach ESL classes for refugees in your community.
- Sponsor a child.
- Donate money to aid victims of disaster.
- Tutor underprivileged youth.
- Give restaurant or grocery store gift cards to people living on the street.
- Write a letter to a prisoner.
Who has God made you aware of that needs mercy? Such individuals are all around us. The writer of Proverbs says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27).
We can’t do it all, but we can all do something, today and every day.
TONY MERIDA (@TonyMerida) is pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C. and author of Ordinary: How To Turn the World Upside Down (B&H Publishing Group) from which this is adapted.