Consumed With “Shoulds”

mercy not sacrificeAll to often, I become easily consumed with thoughts of what I “should” do to truly be a good wife, mother, friend, writer, church member, daughter, Christian, etc. Those ideas are usually based on what others say, think and do and how I appear in comparison. Of course, this comes all filtered through my own perceptions and assumptions. And this line of thinking always leads to internal defeat as I realize my desire to promote self and feel good about where I fall in the lineup.

In this way of thinking, activity becomes the focus. The more activity, the better. But I always end up feeling restless and unsettled. Never arrived. Never content. Why?

When my heart’s focus lies with appearances, with going through the motions of “shoulds,” I’ve filled my life with activity (with busyness) that appears meaningful but really exists as quite the opposite. Seems a lot like a focus on the rule following of the Pharisees, doesn’t it?

Filling our lives with the activity of sacrifice (busyness) provides ample distraction from addressing the true condition of the heart. Being busy (offering sacrifices)results in appearing accomplished but fails to consider the state of our intentions and motivations.

Inward Faith Before Outward Expression

Jesus used the phrase “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:12-13 & 12:7) knowing the generational familiarity it held for his listeners. The Life Application Study Bible says it this way:

God does not take pleasure in our outward expression if our inward faith is missing.”

Old Testament connections to this are many… 1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 40:6-8, Psalm 51:16-19, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, & Micah 6:6-8. All get at this tenant point of Scripture… our heart attitude toward God comes first, then we can make acceptable sacrifices.

These Scripture represent the truth of what God asks of each of us. He doesn’t first ask for busyness (sacrificial activity) but for a sincere faith and devotion to him. He asks for loyalty and obedience. He asks that we are fair, just, humble and merciful. Only then is anything we do — our activity & our busyness — pleasing to him.

Isaiah 1:11-17 gives a succinct path for learning to live out this pattern of being over doing.

Respect. Follow. Love. Serve. Obey.

Of course, God exists as the object of these action steps. He exists as the focus of our activity. And as we seek to live this pattern, we find that the busyness of the world falls away. The “shoulds” disappear from our radar, and we move into the rhythm he meant for us to follow.

No longer do we focus on offering sacrifices — keeping ourselves busy with going and doing — but we instead find ourselves living in a way that naturally loves and serves. Only then do we live driven by our heart’s inward faith instead of trying to create the perception of an inward reality that we think makes us acceptable.

DISCUSSION: How does the truth “obedience over sacrifice” become a reality in the life of a believer?

12 thoughts on “Consumed With “Shoulds”

  1. Spot on… I would say the three deadly words that are related to outward expressions of what we ought to be doing are "should", "would" and "could"! They all have a premise of obligation and none serve to honor God. When we act out of obligation our outer actions never satisfy what is internally motivating us.

    The Jewish mindset was that to be holy meant the inner man and the outer man were consistent and reflective of each other. There was no conflict or hypocrisy as Jesus pointed out in the leadership of the Temple in the Gospels. We too must find the balance where we identify ourselves without conflict and hypocrisy before God, because He alone knows the truth about us. When we love God with all our heart, soul and mind then our inner and outer person is aligned as one before God and peace abounds.

    Never allow others to make you feel obligated to be who you know you are not. God is the one who desires you as you are… no pretense, no contrived responses to please, if you don't mean it. As God says, "How many cattle will you be willing to slaughter to try and convince Me that you love and honor Me when in your heart it is all a lie? Don't you know I know when you really love me?"

    • You hit on some really good keys here, Coach. The idea of no conflict between the inner and outer man along with the idea of balance with regard to aligning ourselves our identity in Christ. Well said! When we focus on these things – on pleasing Christ – we never become consumed with "shoulds."

  2. You may have been the one to point out 1 Thes. 4:11 in a previous discussion. "…and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands…"

    Busyness has become the status symbol of America. It's like a badge of honor when you ask someone how he/she is doing, and the response is often, "I've just been so busy." It's like a confirmation to others that he/she is important and needed.

    Jesus gave us examples of times he had to escape from the crowds to rest and spend time with God and his disciples. It's quite telling that the savior of the universe took 40 days out of his short time on earth to spend in the dessert to fast.
    My recent post Five Things that Make You Fully Alive

    • I have written about that, so it's possible. I'm sure others have too though. You're so right about how busyness is viewed in our culture. People "complain" about it but never really do anything to alleviate it. I'm still not sure if that's because they don't know how or they like the "badge of honor" that busyness seems to put on a person. All I know is how balance I feel when I am not too busy. That's not to say we don't have busy times, but they truly are for a season. Some have said that too, but their seasons are unending apparently. Now that I'm on the other side of a busy life, I don't ever want to go back. Jesus gives us a terrific example of how to be appropriately busy and to stay balanced.

  3. This comment in spot on: “God does not take pleasure in our outward expression if our inward faith is missing.” If we grasped just a tad bit of that our whole world would be revolutionized. Least the church would.

    My recent post Job

  4. Kari,
    I've struggled to understand this verse. It would seem to sacrifice is when we do something for God… we give up something, we do something for God when we could have been doing something else. Mercy seems more what we do towards others not towards God. It would also seem that if we are being merciful towards someone then we are treating them as God does. We don't give the what they deserve but we choose not to and treat them as if we were God's ambassador. My heart still desires to know what to do to live out this verse. Perhaps it is more being like God and what flows from that instead of looking to do something?

    • I definitely think it's a focus on being (who you are) over doing (what you do). Seems like the verse gets at the heart's intent. Seems like it's a call to focus on obedience to God rather than on doing things to try and please Him. We can DO things, the right things, but not please Him if our hearts are not right with Him. If we focus on doing, we will likely fail to be merciful or compassionate because we thing our activity is what pleases God. It also causes us to focus on comparisons, which is a dangerous business. This is a tough one to grasp, and I'm with you in the struggle to do so. I think Jesus knew it would be. He did introduce it by saying "go and learn what this saying means." Sounds like He knew it would be a progressive learning. Thoughts?

      • I continue to try to learn as I do think you are right that it is a progressive learning. I just don't feel I have a good grasp on it at all.

    • Mark, I just read the following in my study Bible, and it helped me in better understanding the verse. ""A religious ritual is helpful only if it is carried out with an attitude of love for and obedience to God. If a person's heart is far from God, ritual will become empty mockery. God didn't want the Israelites' rituals; he wanted their hearts. Why do you worship? What is the motive behind your 'offerings' and 'sacrifices'?' (Note on Hosea 6:6)

  5. Powerful post as always! God wants our inward and outward life and actions to reflect Him. It's easy to look good but we need to make sure our inward life matches how we attempt to look.

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