When I go into an Army hall for the first time, one of the things I look for is the mercy seat, which is often a focal point of the hall.
Occasionally it is my privilege to be invited to kneel at the mercy seat with a seeking soul. This is always a sacred moment. I am always mindful that this important act of kneeling in prayer is only the beginning for that person and there is a lot of follow up work to do. However, I am always grateful when asked to point someone to Jesus or share with them in a significant high moment in their spiritual life. It is indeed a privilege.
This place of prayer, the mercy seat – the penitent form, whichever term we wish to use, is as precious to us as the altar in church or any other sacred aid to meeting with God. I do not regard a wooden form as possessing magical qualities, but that place of prayer provides an opportunity which often registers a significant decision in someone’s life. Because I value it as precious possession to The Salvation Army, here are some thoughts about its place and value:
How visible is the mercy seat in your corps hall? Sometimes the layout and architecture of our halls have given us mercy seats that are no longer an important feature or less visible. It is important that when invited to ‘come’, seekers are able to find this place of prayer, which is accessible and comfortable.
How big are our mercy seats? They should be an ideal size so that seekers and counsellors can be together with enough space for confidentiality. Are we expecting an outpouring of the Spirit in any one meeting when many people will want to come and meet with the Lord in a special way?
3. Public Decisions
How often is there a regular appeal in our meetings? One of The Salvation Army’s characteristics, compared to many other churches, is for the way in which we regularly give opportunity for people to make a public decision. May we never cease to value the importance of inviting people to decide for Christ, recommit their lives to Him, or to simply spend time in His presence at the mercy seat.
4. Counselling Material
How well resourced is the mercy seat with counselling material? It is important to have a card or some other resource where a seeker can make a simple declaration of faith. Something that can be taken away and read again the next day or next week, to be kept in a Bible, to help strengthen them at a weak moment. Another important part of this ministry is to also record the seekers name and address so there they can be followed up on.
I once spoke to a retired officer who recalled with such joy and excitement that he had received a telephone call from his son who at the time had made an offer to be trained as a minister in the church of which he is a member. However the officer said “My only reservation about this is that when my boy was a teenager, he came forward and offered his life as a Salvation Army officer. I don’t know what was said when he was spoken to at the mercy seat, but no record of that event took place and no one ever spoke to him about his offer afterwards.” An offer of service to God in The Salvation Army was missed.
There are many people seeking the Lord in our day and age for a variety of reasons. Let us not underestimate the value of our mercy seat, ensuring that it continues to be visible, accessible and equipped with available material.
Commissioner Winifred Pender (R)
United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland Territory
Please use the comments section to give your opinion on the questions below:
In the book Community in Mission, Commissioner Phil Needham remembers that the mercy seat itself is symbolic of any place where a seeker after God comes in prayer. The true mercy seat is of the heart, and when this physical act of an inward desire is taken, the mercy seat is available as a place for confession, repentance, consecration and spiritual guidance.
In Called to be God's People, Commissioner Robert Street writes: "when the International Spiritual Life Commission calls for Salvationists to recognise the wide understanding of the mercy seat that God has given to the Army, it is emphasising that it is not only a place for repentance and commitment. Here we may experience a deep awareness of God's abundant grace and claim his boundless salvation. The mercy seat may be used by anyone, at any time, and particularly in the Army meetings when, in response to the proclaimed word, all are invited to share loving and humble communion with the Lord."
► The Mercy Seat/(Revisited) - Major Nigel Bovey
► Called to be God's People - Commissioner Robert Street
► Community in Mission - Commissioner Phil Needham