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?

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).

Conclusion

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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