The Heart’s True Condition
All too 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. 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. I always end up feeling restless and unsettled, though, never arrived and never content.
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), and they all get at a tenant point of Scripture. That point is this: Our heart attitude toward God comes first, then we can make acceptable sacrifices.
These verses 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 and our busyness — pleasing to him.
Living in Being over Doing
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. 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.