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?

The Way Things Appear

As I look at different houses lining the path of my day, I sometimes wonder about the lives lived within them. Why is the house so run down? Why don’t they take care of their yard? How can they afford that? How much money does he make?

When I see people face-to-face at the store or coffee shop or library, I make more internal inquiries based on appearances. Why doesn’t she care enough to style her hair? How could he wear such sloppy clothes in public? Can she really afford that? Why don’t they discipline their child?

I also imagine what people determine based on my appearance. More so in previous years but still some today, I adjust my appearance to try and direct their imaginations. But then I think, maybe they don’t even consider me much at all.

When others do judge me based on appearance, or at least I think they do, I am offended, angry even. Why? Because they don’t know me. They don’t know my story. And they certainly don’t know my heart, my intentions.

Appearances 1

When I realize I’m judging others based merely on appearances, I have to stop and think and deliberately tell myself that there’s more to the story than I know… more than I could ever know on my own. Rarely are things exactly as they appear.

For certain with passing people as I go about my day and certainly to a great extent with the people ingrained within my life, never will I fully know their intentions, their heart. Appearances will always play some role in my thinking about others and their thinking about me. Knowing this, I must let myself be guided past appearances.

Going Beyond Appearances

We certainly don’t want to be like the Israelites who wanted a king based on what others around them had (1 Samuel 8:4-5). We don’t want to be like the pharisees obsessed with following rules to appear holy (Matthew 23). And we don’t want to live like the Ephesians, simply going through the motions of religion (Revelation 2:2-5).

Instead, we want to defy our human nature and go beyond mere appearances. We want to be like Samuel who let God lead him beyond what initially appeared to be the right choice.

Appearances 2

When God told Samuel to look beyond appearances in the search for the next king, He guided Samuel to the right person. David defied appearances. He did not look like the right choice for a king. (His own father didn’t even bring him up at first.) Several of David’s brothers better fit the stereotype of a king. Yet Samuel followed God’s directing, which led him to the person who would go down in Biblical history as the “man after God’s own heart.”

How do we take our vision beyond mere appearances?

On our own, we can’t. While we can look at appearances and behavior and make determinations based on a person’s whole body of works, we cannot know everything about a person. Plus, people don’t (and shouldn’t) disclose every detail about themselves. Also, some will outright deceive, pretend and mislead to hide reality. We’ve all done it.

Yet, God wants us to develop relationships built on trust and love, which necessitates going past what we see and discovering what lies beyond appearances. How can we do this in a way that encourages truth and nurtures growth?

Appearances 3

DISCUSSION: How do we let our minds become controlled by the Holy Spirit? How do we let God change the way we think? And, how does doing so change the impact of appearances on our vision?

Do You Remember Your First Love?

Love quote

The anticipation. The excitement. The eagerness. The desire to please. Consuming thoughts. Irrepressible smile. Immense feelings. Overwhelming emotion.

Do you remember? If so, you probably realize you don’t still feel the same way you did when that love was fresh and new. Hopefully, though, the love you experience now is deeper and better, less based on emotion and more on relationship.

While this description certainly describes the time I first fell in love 27 years ago with the man who is now my husband, that’s not the love relationship I’m talking about here.

Do you remember the first time you truly realized how much God loves you? Remember when you discovered he wasn’t a distant God but a personal Savior? What Do you remember when you first realized that he loved you enough to come to this earth as God in flesh? And what about the knowledge that your sins are wiped away as if they never happened?

With that first love came a fervor, an unbridled enthusiasm. Along with it came an understanding of the seriousness of sin and the thrill of being forgiven.

Do you still feel that way?

Love verse

Have You Forsaken Your First Love?

When I think of what it means (and feels like) to fall in and out of love, I better understand the point God wanted to make to the Ephesians and why this message is so timeless and so very relevant for us still today both as individuals and as the corporate church.

Forsaking your first love means you neglect it. You find yourself going through the motions of life, doing the busyness of life much like the Ephesians did. Revelation 2:2-3 tells us they worked hard, persevered, resisted sin, sought truth & endured hardships all without becoming weary. Yet, they were still found guilty of leaving the love they had when they became Christians & formed the church.

In other words, they lost the fervor (earnest feeling, ardor, passion and zeal) they once had for God. They became apathetic and were simply “doing church” without truly loving God or other Christians. Been there? I have.

Remember. Repent. Return.

When my husband and I grow distant from each other, even if just a little, we find that returning to what initially helped our love grow — spending quality time together, listening intently to each other, intentionally doing acts of kindness for one another, preferring one another, etc. — helps us return to and even go deeper in our love for one another.

Remembering these varying degrees of love I’ve felt over the years for my spouse helps me better understand how to return to the fervor I once had for Christ before apathy and boredom crept into my life.

“Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first, or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)

The word used for “first” in this context means foremost, as in time, place and order, and the word used for “deeds” means toil or effort. In other words, get your priorities back in order and do the most important things again, things that seemed so natural at first.

For the Christian, this means putting your relationship with God first, making it your top priority. This begins when we realize what we’ve stopped doing that we need to go back to doing. It also means ridding our lives of that which draws us away from him. It involves asking for forgiveness for the neglect and the wandering. It means returning to a dependence on him to continually rekindle that first love within our hearts and lives. It also means making a habit of doing the things that continually deepen our connection with him.

DISCUSSION: What practices can you return to to rekindle your connection with God? What priorities need reestablished in order for love to be the primary driving force in your life?

Sunday Reflections – The Danger of Routine & Habit in Our Prayer Lives

Our prayers can be hindered for a variety of reasons including Satan messing with them (Daniel 10:1-13), our own sin, selfishness and pride (James 4:1-3), a struggling or broken home life (1 Peter 3:7) and our unwillingness to forgive others (Mark 11:25).

As I checked my life in each of these areas and as I assessed the status of my prayer life, the Holy Spirit brought to mind an area in which my prayer life lingers dangerously close to only being lip service. For this reason, considering the danger of routine & habit needed to happen in order for renewal and growth to take place.

Honesty & Sincerity

Routines and habits allow us to stay in shape and to be healthy. They help us maintain balanced budgets and they keep our relationships healthy. The danger comes when routines and habits are accompanied by a lukewarm and indifferent heart. To phrase it another way, routines can lead to feelings of only “going through the motions.” Consider Isaiah 29:13, 14.

Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men with be concealed.”

In other words, the people were going through religious motions and neglecting giving God their honest and sincere love and devotion. They claimed to be close to God, but they lived disobedient lives. When our routines and habits create a prayer life of going through motions but lacking emotion, we start down a slippery path that can lead to outright disobedience. The result, as verse 14 says, is judgment from God and removal of wisdom and discernment.

Stuck in a Rut

Routines and habits provide a great foundationfor many areas of our lives, including our prayer lives. Having routines and habits within our prayer lives not only helps us remember to pray but also provides consistency with which we ask for God’s help, guidance and protection in our lives. When kids are young, teaching them the habit of daily prayer at bedtime and mealtimes is essential to their spiritual growth. But just like I can drive to places I’ve been numerous times and not remember the drive, so to can I go through my prayer time and fail to connect with the One to whom I am praying. If routine and habit are ALL that we do and we refuse to ever venture outside of them, we then allow them to limit rather than strengthen us.

Renew and Refresh

Using routines and habits to provide a base is sound practice. However, if you feel like you are “stuck in a rut,” consider that perhaps your routines and habits need renewed and refreshed. Doing so can often bring a much needed perspective change and renewed enthusiasm.

First, pray in faith (Mark 11:24), in fellowship with the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) and in accordance with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15). Second, break up the routine. For me, this means praying more out loud instead of only journal praying. It means spending more time in silence on my knees than drinking coffee comfortably in a chair. It also means praying in the spirit more. Third, keep what works. Spending a ½ hour each morning praying backed up with time in the word works well for me. Then, throughout the day, I include additional time in the word (such as when I’m eating lunch) as well as silent time in God’s presence (sitting on the deck/porch or taking a walk).


No, by the grace of God, I’m not to the point that Isaiah describes. Deliberate and intentional assessment of one’s prayer life can prevent this extreme state, and doing so is a lot easier when the rut is only a light footpath rather than a deep chasm.

DISCUSSION: Are you stuck in a rut with your prayer life? What habits do you need to keep, and what changes do you need to make? Is your flesh resisting change like mine is?

Note: Inspired by the June 3, 2012 sermon by Pastor Steve Miller of New Hope Assembly of God.

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