January 5 | Matthew 9:9-13
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"Mercy, Not Sacrifice"
by Katie Borden
I discovered something about myself not too long ago: I was a rule-follower but hated the rules. I spent so much time trying to not break rules, lest that make me a “bad person”, that I missed the point of the rules. I knew Jesus, yes, but I spent more time trying to keep him from being disappointed in me than I spent actually enjoying him. And if I’m really honest, what rule-following was for me was just yet another way to try to finagle my way into control. I wanted control of my life, and I wanted control of my relationship with the Lord.
I shared years ago in one of our daily reading reflections that as a kid, I used to pray for the opposite of what I really wanted because I thought God was intent on disappointing me, so I figured I’d trick him into giving me what I wanted. (Pro tip: trying to trick the God of the universe doesn’t work.) For my little heart, prayer had just become another means of trying to control God.
So when I see Jesus say to us in this passage, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’”, I figure I’d do well to listen to him. We can argue that sacrificial love is an indicator of a life modeled after Jesus (which I actually would agree with), and I don’t think Jesus is telling us here NOT to live sacrificially. Rather, his words bring to mind the text of the prophet in Hosea 6, which in context reminds us of several things: 1. Israel’s repeated faithlessness, 2. God’s enduring love and faithfulness to Israel, and 3. God’s desire for relationship over our sense of fulfilled obligations divorced from him.
If fulfilling obligations to God has deluded us into thinking that somehow we have gained control over God, somehow enabling us to bypass any sort of relationship with him, then I think God wants none of that. (Also, that thinking is as ridiculous as an 8-year-old trying to trick God. I’m just saying.) Jesus says, “follow me,” and following him into a life of surrender is hard, but ultimately it’s where true life is found.
I’m not saying this as someone who has “arrived.” Personally, I’m in a season of difficult surrender. And it is difficult. But I trust in the one who has called us—I trust that he is using this season to bring deeper, truer life in me. God who has called us is faithful, and he will do it. So let’s continue to ask the Lord to search our hearts, root out our sin, and shape us into beings full of life in his way.
Breath Prayer: Take 2-3 minutes today to pray a simple breath prayer. Get somewhere quiet and relaxing. Breathe in deeply, and then breathe out fully. As you breathe in, ask God to fill you with His presence, love, peace, hope, etc. As you breathe out, offer to God the things you need Him to take from you – sin, doubt, shame, anxiety, fear, etc. Pray this way for just a few minutes, trusting God to work.