Monday, April 7, 2014

The Shoulds

I am a girl of discipline.  I don't mean I am a disciplined person; in fact if there is a category of sins I have struggled with more than any other, it is those related to self-control.  I mean that I count on my daily disciplines to help me stay on track.  I need those external railings to keep me on the road of self-control.  I read my Bible, do devotionals with my girls, pray, worship etc in a rhythm of days and weeks that sustains and steadies me.  Not because I am strong but because I am weak.  I do them for the joy and when the joy fails me I do them because I should. 

Cloth diapers drying in the sunIt's true.  I get the "shoulds."  I sometimes have to force myself to do things.  I'm not talking about laundry; the only time I don't have to FORCE myself to do laundry is lovely spring days when any excuse to linger by the open window will do. I have the "shoulds" when I have to force myself to do basic, obedient tasks that would otherwise bring me peace or joy, like sing with my chores, talk to God as I walk through my day or sit down to read my Bible.  One day of the "shoulds" doesn't worry me; a week or a month though starts me thinking something is getting out of hand.

As a young person, I often heard people say "If your heart's not in it, don't do it." I understand the feeling.  They were reacting to years of observing dusty, joyless Christianity - advanced cases of the "shoulds" where people just went through the motions.  And when the "shoulds" hit those young people for the first time, when for the first time they were the ones who just didn't want to, they didn't.  Their case of the "shoulds" didn't end any better.  Instead of giving up their joy, they gave up altogether.

Is that better or worse?

Well, think of it this way.  What if I told my daughter to go get in the shower and she replied, "I don't feel like showering today."  Would I say, "That's ok. Don't worry about it.  If you're not motivated to shower, it would be better if you stank."  Um.  No.  I'd say, "Sorry, kiddo.  Hit the shower!" And more likely than not, after her shower she'd feel better than before.

Although people do sometimes give up their joy long-term, I think most of the time the very act of obedience shores up our hearts and gives us the joy we need to persevere.  When my oldest daughter was tiny, it took an enormously long time to get the two of us ready for church. Car seats, diapers, bags, toys and blankets nearly got the better of me.  Yet settled into a familiar pew, voice raised in praise, I was so very glad I'd come.

But the Bible has more to suggest to us than mere obedience as way to restore our willing hearts, to renew our joy.  Consider these lines from David's famous Psalm.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.  
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit. 
When David was staring out across the rooftops at the lovely Bathsheba, he should have been out leading the battle against the Ammonites. Instead he was at home in his comfortable palace in Jerusalem.  He didn't manage to make himself do what he knew he should as a king, what he should as a man, or what he should as a friend; he was overcome (2 Samuel 11). Facing the shoulds, he had given up. In this Psalm he begs God for forgiveness, but here in these middle lines he begs for more.  He begs for renewal.

David longs for a renewal of  spirit.  There were days when he had a steadfast heart.  When he wasn't at the mercy of fickle emotion and merciless temptation. David pleads for a willing spirit: a heart that wants to do what God wants it to do. Paul mentions this gift in Phillipians 2:13 when he says that God is at work in us to will and work for His good pleasure. God works to help us want to do his will and his work!  That's the willing spirit David's after.

David doesn't have any power to renew himself.  He has no way to escape this ugly mess he's gotten himself into.  An advanced case of the "shoulds" caused him to give up his obedience, stop doing what he knew he should and eventually give in to temptation. He can't linger here in the doldrums, beating himself up; he desperately needs a new spirit, needs God's Spirit to give him the heart to obey.

I am writing today to raise awareness for a faith-killer- The "Shoulds."  The symptoms are simple, lethargy, a long face and an uncommonly frequent desire to start sentences with, "Well I guess I should but..." The disease may lie hidden in the human heart for days, weeks or months but eventually devoid of motivation and bereft of all joy, the person either dries out into a prune of a Christian or simply gives up all together. The cure? Obedience and prayer. 


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission

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