What are spiritual works of mercy? And how can students in your church youth group participate? Read on for insights about servanthood and selflessness—and how teens can play a key role.
John Wesley believed that Christians practice certain works as a response to God’s grace. He called these works means of grace, or means of participating in God’s gracious presence in our life. Wesley taught about works of piety and mercy. Works of piety include prayer, reading and hearing the Scripture, Christian baptism, and communion.
Jesus summarizes spiritual works of mercy when he says to the righteous on Judgment Day: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Echoing the prophet Micah, Wesley wrote:
Thus should he show his zeal for works of piety; but much more for works of mercy; seeing “God will have mercy and not sacrifice,” that is, rather than sacrifice. Whenever, therefore, one interferes with the other, works of mercy are to be preferred. Even reading, hearing, prayer are to be omitted, or to be postponed, “at charity’s almighty call;” when we are called to relieve the distress of our neighbor, whether in body or soul.
Discipleship Remix: Spiritual Works of Mercy
Wesley emphasized spiritual works of mercy not to degrade works of piety. Instead, he pointed out that love of God and neighbor are at the center of what faith is all about. To emphasize loving our neighbors is to emphasize the love of God and vice versa. Thus, spiritual works of mercy reveal our true motivation.
Or as Bernard of Clairvaux writes, “He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.” And the “word” that Bernard is referring to is both the word of God (scripture) and Word of God (Jesus Christ).
As those who carry the Word of God in our midst, the church is to be a merciful community. The church reveals the love of God as we feed the hungry. God’s loving presence is seen when the prisoner is freed to be fully alive in Christ. God is known in our midst when the stranger feels at home.
And what better part of the body of Christ than our youth to start a revolution of mercy! Perhaps because teens and young adults tend to take risks, the Spirit can work through their active faith to inspire the rest of the body of Jesus to spiritual works of mercy.
17 Spiritual Works of Mercy for a Youth Group
These acts of mercy are based on Matthew 25:31-46.
1. Clip grocery coupons (online or from Sunday’s paper) and put them beside the items at the store.
2. Take a home-cooked meal to a family in need.
3. Buy a bottled drink for someone who looks thirsty (homeless person, construction worker, mail carrier, police officer, bus driver, etc.).
4. Instead of skipping your daily coffee (or other drink) for Lent, consider doing it for 40 days starting now. Donate the proceeds to charity.
5. Donate bottled water to a local disaster relief agency. Or give funds to support disaster relief through American Red Cross. Visit http://www.redcross.org for more information.
6. Hug someone you normally wouldn’t.
7. Invite neighbors over for dessert or host a party for the whole block.
8. Babysit for a Parent’s Day Out or Date Night Childcare event at church. If you collect donations, consider the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Visit http://www.davethomasfoundation.org/ to learn more.