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?

What We All Have in Common with Serial Killers

If you’ve ever watched Criminal Minds, you probably understand the basics of profiling. The habits and history of the “unsub” (unidentified subject) get uncovered as a way to identify this person, usually a serial killer, and to ultimately stop them from killing. The key to finally discovering the killer’s identity usually lies with victimology. Who are this person’s victims and why? What do the victims have in common with each other?

This idea of victimology can also serve to help us non-serial killers discover more about ourselves in a way that can help us better “make the most of every opportunity” as we pursue holiness in that we can better learn to “love others as we love ourselves” (Matthew 22:39) By considering who our victims are and why, we can discover some significant truths about ourselves.

To fully benefit from the following points, first consider those individuals with whom you struggle. Who easily and consistently annoys, frustrates and/or angers you? (I know someone immediately came to mind. Did for me.) Now ask yourself what specifically triggers these reactions. For example, is a person’s arrogance, failure to listen or disorganization what bothers you? Or, perhaps bossiness or refusing to admit mistakes really gets you going. Maybe their over-confidence or constant dramatization of life bothers you. Once you’ve completed this evaluation, proceed with an open mind.

WARNING: This process may get a little uncomfortable. Proceed only with a teachable heart and a willingness to let the Holy Spirit get into some dark and dirty corners.

Now ask yourself if that which bothers you most in others lies at the heart of your own personal struggles. In other words, do the victims of your dislike indicate something you need to work on or come to terms with or accept as weaknesses within you?

Consider the following questions:

  1. Do you project & magnify? We sometimes project (or see) our own weaknesses and then magnify them (see them bigger than they really are) in others. We do this so much so that we no longer see those same weaknesses, bad habits, fears and insecurities in ourselves.
  2. Do you distract yourself? Dealing with insecurities, fears, weaknesses and bad habits can be so painful and uncomfortable that we avoid dealing with them through busyness, focusing on the problems of others, and outright self-deception. After all, if we don’t admit we have these issues, we don’t have to deal with them, right? (Wrong! We’ll deal with them one way or another, but that’s another topic for another time.) In distracting ourselves, we create our own version of reality that all too quickly becomes complete truth in our own minds thus seemingly justifying our actions.

This idea is somewhat at work in 2 Samuel 12 when the prophet Nathan rebukes David for killing Uriah and taking his wife for his own. Nathan first tells David a story to which David “burned with anger” and immediately wanted to take vengeance when all the while the story was about David. Fortunately, Nathan’s pointing out of David’s wrongdoing met a repentant heart (Psalm 51), but clearly David’s initial reaction showed that he had projected and magnified his own wrongdoing when he heard the story. He had also somehow distracted himself to the point of not initially seeing a correlation between the story and his adulterous actions.

So what do we DO after profiling our own victimology?

In Criminal Minds, the information is used to detect patterns in the unsub’s behavior. This can be a useful first step, especially if we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal those patterns to us and lead us to a place of repentance. A second step comes again from David in that he moved on with His life, seemingly trying to not repeat this same mistake. That’s not to say David didn’t make more mistakes, but a study of his life shows that he continually sought to please God.

When I watch Criminal Minds, I sometimes wonder what an official FBI profile of me would include. Maybe I don’t really want to find out. What I do know is the more I can self-assess, which really means the more I allow the Holy Spirit to show me areas on which I need to work, the better able I am to truly “make the most of every opportunity” that God gives me for serving and glorifying Him.

Related Posts:

How to… Put Your Behind in the Past

Stain Free

DISCUSSION: “The more pride we have, the more other people’s pride irritates us.” (C.S. Lewis) How does this quote connect with our study of victimology?

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