Church Worship

Song Story:

  • Debra Akins Contributing Writer
  • 2002 6 Dec
Song Story:

Steve Merkel's vision for seeing church denominations come together in a singular understanding of the worship experience was the powerful catalyst behind his simple but powerful cry, "Lord Have Mercy."  Several years ago, while overseeing the creative planning for a series of music projects called Renewal Music, Merkel developed a fresh perspective on worship in the contemporary church.

"It was a deep heart calling for me, as it was an attempt to offer a fresh stream of worship music for the Catholic and other liturgical streams of our Christian faith," he says.  "While I'm not a practicing Catholic, I have been blessed with many rich relationships that have given me much appreciation for the ancient path and a vision for blending liturgy with our contemporary culture.  My heart's desire has been to be a bridge builder and to "cross pollinate" among these deep rivers in the Church."

As Merkel began to put things in motion for the last Renewal Music release, Intimate Worship, he was working closely with David Kauffman, a close Catholic friend.  Merkel was intrigued when Kauffman shared how easily he could spot the Catholic songs and the Protestant songs. 

"He said the Catholic songs were much more like, 'Lord I believe... help my unbelief,' and 'Lord, I'm not worthy, but say the word and I will be healed,'" Merkel shares.  "But the Protestant songs were much akin to, 'Boldly, we come into your presence.' 

As Merkel pondered this distinction, his own corporate worship perspective was challenged, his experience, broadened.

During this time, Merkel also had a real passion to see the Church to come together in prayer and worship, in part for the purpose of reflection and repentance. 

"Somehow, during the intersection of these thoughts and forces, I began writing 'Lord Have Mercy,' says Merkel.  "It started with a musical progression that had been brooding in my spirit, and it was fueled by truths and my own perceived weaknesses: 'Jesus, the things you have promised me so long ago still have not happened.  I still believe, but I'm struggling.  Forgive me Lord, because I really would like to try to believe in Your word one more time.  God I know that you are not surprised by my humanity.  I do sin, and I do miss the mark.  In fact, I have pursued things that are not of You. I have truly made worldly altars and followed the wisdom of man.'"

At the heart of his prayer was the desperate need to acknowledge of his own humanity and weaknesses before God.  While that isn't a new idea for anyone seeking a deeper relationship with God, Merkel questions whether we regularly put honest confession and repentance into practice in our own, contemporary worship setting.

"I believe that there is an amazing intersection at the cross," he says.  "It is where the truth of our sin and the unending mercy of God meet.   It is where we have to come face to face with our sin, repent, and then find reconciliation with God through Christ.  I believe that it is a part of liturgy that is missing form our normal worship services in the denominational church.  We offer forgiveness to the 'lost,' but if you have been a believer for some time, you end up burying the fact that we struggle and are human and need to come to the cross again.  

"It seems to me that God would rather have us come to Him in truth... one more time, rather than covering things over to put on a false façade.  As I wrote 'Lord Have Mercy,' I wrote out of real heart issues with the hope that it might be a seed of inspiration and utility for the church to come to terms and allow their members to 'be human.'  We are all there, and that is why we need and have such a great Savior.  Let's come back to the foot of the cross where we can find grace in time of need, and then move on to a world who longs to know this same love."

"Lord Have Mercy" has appeared on Integrity's Intimate Worship and Come Heal this Land (with worship leader Robin Mark).  Most recently, Michael W. Smith has recorded two versions of "Lord Have Mercy" for his upcoming release, Worship Again.  The project features both a live version and a studio version with guest vocalist Amy Grant.