The Paralysis of Perfectionism

I tend to be a perfectionist.  However, much of what I do falls far short of perfection.  A desire for perfection can be paralyzing.  After all, why should we do something if it is not perfect?

Now there certainly is a place to strive for perfection.  In fact, that probably should be our goal.  But we should not allow a lack of perfection to paralyze us.  I have been helped by attempting to adopt a statement that one of my teachers repeatedly emphasized: “We do the best we can.”

As I go about my work I want to keep in mind that my responsibility is to do my best.  I want to keep going and growing.  For some reason God has chosen to use people for the accomplishment of his purposes.  I am grateful that we can have confidence that God will bring good out of our feeble efforts.

God’s Will

A major concern of many Christians is how to discover God’s will.  That is something I have struggled with personally.  After I finished college in 2012, I was in contact with a recruiter for a missions agency.  At that point I was working a construction job to pay off my student loans and was hoping to pursue further education.  The recruiter could not understand why I was not moving more quickly to join his agency.

In our email exchanges I sought to emphasize that I was waiting, but I was not sitting around.  It was my goal to be active in my church, which included teaching a Sunday School class.  In my final year of college, as I sought God’s direction for the future, I felt him emphasizing to me the importance of the local church and I realized that it is important to be willing to serve in the local church and that such service could prove to be valuable experience for future ministry opportunities.

In the summer after my college graduation I also had the opportunity to lead a two-week personal development camping trip.  That was a very positive experience for me and a time of significant growth.  I was working construction, which was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, but I did have a sense of peace that that is what God wanted me to do right then.  I was working with non-Christians and was seeking to show Christ to them.  I was learning patience as I waited on what God had for me next.  I was learning about persevering through work that I rarely enjoyed.

I was also seeking to make good use of my time by reading and studying topics of interest to me, including Biblical studies and church history.  Despite the difficulties, I can look back on that time and see ways in which God was working in my life.  I was becoming more of the kind of person he wants me to be.  I still had far to go, but I was moving in the right direction.  God is concerned about character development, and that is what he was working on in me during that time.

During this time of waiting I wrote this to the missions recruiter:

I am convinced that God has something “big” for me to do, but I am also convinced that it is important to do things in God’s timing.  I have thought about Moses.  He was called to lead the children of Israel, but he was not ready to do so when he was 40.  He had to spend 40 years in the desert becoming the kind of person God wanted him to be.  Jesus did not begin his public ministry until he was 30.  Did he waste his twenties?  I think it was a matter of timing. 

Paul spent years in the desert (Galatians 1-2) and did not write any epistles (that we know of) until at least 15 years after his conversion.  For all three of these examples, could they not have done so much more if they would have started sooner?  From a human standpoint, probably yes.  I can think of other examples, but I do believe that God does care about developing his servants, even if it takes years to do so.  And I believe that if a person is willing to go through that development process their life and ministry will ultimately be more successful (successful is a dangerous word, but I hope you get the point).

Take the example of Jesus’ apostles.  In Acts 1, he gave them the Great Commission but also told them to wait for the Holy Spirit.  If they would have rushed into the preaching of the Gospel, they would not have had the power for ministry that they had after Pentecost.  Yet waiting on God’s timing gave them the power they needed for their ministry.

Now please do not think that I am opposed to stepping out in faith.  I have done if before and I want to do it again.  But I want to wait on God’s timing because I want to have confidence that I am following his leading.  Going to college is an example of that.  I waited for God to open the door for me to go to school, and I had the peace that I was in the right place, and that helped me to persevere when the going got tough.

As I look back now, I can see how God was at work to prepare me for the work I am now doing.  I did learn and grow by having to wait for God to do things in his timing.  Waiting on God is never a mistake.  At times waiting is God’s will for us.  God will open doors for us in his time, and when he does we must not hesitate to walk through them.

A Cheap Substitute

“We may as well face it: the whole level of spirituality among us is low.  We have measured ourselves by our ourselves until the incentive to seek higher plateaus in the things of the Spirit is all but gone…[We] have imitated the world, sought popular favor, manufactured delights to substitute for the joy of the Lord and produced a cheap and synthetic power to substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost.”
(A.W. Tozer)

Adoration of God

Recently I have been thinking about what it means to worship God.  Specifically, I have been thinking about adoration.  What does it mean to adore God?

Here is my current definition: “To adore God means to think about him until we are speechless.  Until we lose our ability to describe him, we are not adequately adoring him.”

A Great High Priest

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
(Hebrews 4:14-16, ESV)

I have been thinking recently about the privilege that we have of meeting with God.  We are blessed to be able to have a relationship with God and to be able to approach him.  This passage develops the fact that we have a great High Priest.

To understand the high priest language we must go back to the Old Testament.  Although Aaron was a good high priest, Jesus is a great high priest.  No Old Testament priest could claim such a title.  So, Jesus is a great high priest, but what makes him so great?

Jesus’ greatness begins with the fact that he is both God and Man.  He is the God-Man.  He is the Son of God, but he also had humanity and a ministry on earth.  The title “Son of God” affirms his deity.  He is fully God and fully man.  He is one person with two natures – a divine nature and a human nature.  In his unique person, Jesus Christ unites God and humanity, so that he can bring people to God.

His greatness involves more than his person.  He is also great in his position.  Aaron and his successors ministered in the tabernacle and in the temple area.  A human high priest entered the Holy of Holies only once a year.  In contrast, Jesus ministers as a high priest in a heavenly tabernacle, not an earthly one.

But there is another aspect to Christ’s position.  In addition to being in heaven, he is also enthroned on a “throne of grace.”  If his throne was not grace, we could not have confidence to approach Christ.

According to Old Testament law, the common people were not permitted to enter the holy areas of the tabernacle and the temple.  Even the priests only went as far as the veil.  Only the high priest went beyond the veil, and only on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).  By contrast, all believers are invited to boldly approach the throne of grace.  Entrance to God’s throne is available to all believers.

The throne is great because of the Great High Priest who ministers there.  Jesus, our Great High Priest, is enthroned in heaven.  However, that is not all that makes him great.  He is ministering mercy and grace to those who come to him for help.

Mercy means that God does not give us what we do deserve; grace means that he gives us what we do not deserve.  No Old Testament high priest could minister mercy and grace in that way.  Jesus is a Great High Priest

When an Israelite was tempted, he could not easily run to the high priest for help.  That person could not enter the Holy of Holies to ask for God’s help.  Common people were not allowed access into God’s presence.  However, as believers in Jesus Christ, we can run to our High Priest at any time, in any circumstance, and find the help that we need.

We can draw two conclusions from the fact that Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest.   First, there is no reason to give up our profession of faith, our confession of faith, even though we  may be going through testing and trial.  There is no good reason for giving up our confession of faith in Christ and our confidence in him.

The second conclusion is that we can come boldly into the presence of God and get the help we need.  Jesus is in God’s presence, and therefore we can come to God boldly.  Through the work of Jesus we can find mercy at the throne of God.  We will never encounter a trial too great or a temptation too strong for Jesus to give us what we need.

It could be objected: “But he is the perfect Son of God!  What can he know about the problems that sinners like us experience?”  But that is a critical part of his greatness!  When he was ministering on earth in a human body, he experienced all that we experience.

Christ was tempted, yet did not sin; and he is therefore able to help us when we are tempted.  In his perfect humanity, he is familiar with every difficulty we experience as humans.  He was tempted without succumbing to the temptation.  He knows all about sin without having sinned.

His final familiarity with sin came when he took our sin upon himself at Calvary.  This passage is rich in the promise of help and comfort for us as Christians.  We have the promise of continual help.  We can receive mercy, grace, and help at the throne of grace.

Do we realize what a privilege it is to be able to approach God?  Through the work of Christ, we can approach the Creator of the Universe with confidence.  Let’s approach God with both boldness and reverence!

(Credit is due to Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary)

Two Ways to Approach God

He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

(Luke 18:9-14, ESV)

What is your attitude as you approach God?  Jesus addressed this parable to those who considered themselves to be righteous.  This parable has two characters, and those characters demonstrate the difference between false worship and true worship.

The key difference is that true worship involves penitence.  False worship sees no need for penitence.  These two characters are going up to the temple to pray – this may have been for a time of public prayer.

The first character we meet is a self-righteous Pharisee, whose prayer was essentially a self-eulogy.  As he prayed his biography, he thanked God that he was not like others.  He told God how good he was.  It seems that he was using his prayer as a means to achieve public recognition.  This Pharisee believed that he had not succumbed to sin, and he viewed that as purely his own doing.  He seemed to be praying to himself.  There was no real thanks for what God had done but rather a long list of personal achievements (note all the I’s that he used!).

The prayer of the Pharisee was not a petition because he did not really think that he needed God.  He had no sense of being an unworthy servant and having only done his duty (Luke 17:10).  Actually, he believed he had done more than God required.  He had not only kept the law perfectly and thus did not need to pray for God’s forgiveness, he even fasted twice a week and tithed everything he possessed.  In that way he went above the law.  The law only required a day of fasting once a year, but he fasted twice a week.  The law also only required tithing on what a person earned, but he tithed on everything he possessed.  He obeyed the law, but his attitude is obvious – he thought that God was very fortunate to have someone like him.  He knew nothing of God’s perfection, nothing of God’s holiness and nothing of his own sinfulness!

This Pharisee was deluded about at least three things.  He was deluded about prayer, for he told God (and anybody else listening) how good he was.  He used prayer as a means of getting public recognition and not as a spiritual exercise to glorify God.  He was deluded about himself, for he thought he was accepted by God because of what he did or what he did not do.  He was deluded about the tax collector who was also in the temple praying.  The Pharisee thought that the tax collector was a great sinner, but in fact it was the tax collector who went home justified by God while the proud Pharisee went home only self-satisfied.

The self-righteousness of the Pharisee can be contrasted with the attitude of the tax collector.  The tax collector’s attitude can be seen in his physical stance.  He stood afar off, indicating that he felt unworthy of entering the sanctuary.  He would not even look up to heaven – he did not feel worthy of approaching God.  He beat his breast – his attitude was one of humility and contrition.  He knew what his problem was, and he sought God’s help.

The tax collector knew the enormity of his sins, but the Pharisee was blissfully ignorant of his own heart.  The Pharisee’s pride condemned him, but the tax collector’s humble faith saved him.  His prayer sought God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness just like the psalmist (Psalm 51:1).  The tax collector prayed for the removal of the divine wrath he deserved.  The result, which would have been shocking for many of Jesus’ hearers, was that the sinner who sought God’s mercy left justified, and the Pharisee was not justified.

Jesus addressed this parable to those who trusted in their own righteousness and despised others.  Those who like the tax collector understand their sinful condition and know that they can only be saved by grace find it difficult to despise others, for there is nothing of which they can boast.  Only those who possess a false confidence in their own righteousness look down on others.

This parable ends with the tax collector going home justified.  The Pharisee was not justified before God.  He sought to justify himself, rather than being justified by faith.  Justification is more than just being forgiven.  Justification also means receiving a new standing before God.  To be “justified” means to be declared righteous by God on the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (Rom. 3:19–4:25).  We can only be justified if we humble ourselves before God, rather than seeking to exalt ourselves.

What is our attitude toward God?  Our attitude may not be as obvious as the attitudes in this parable, but is important that we approach God with a humble heart.  One of my favorite verses is Psalm 51:17, which says that “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (ESV).

God will accept our worship if we approach him in humility.  I find it interesting that this passage is followed by the familiar account of the children being brought to Jesus (Luke 18:15-17).  The children who are brought to Jesus can also be contrasted to the proud Pharisee.  Like those children, let us demonstrate humility, faith, and dependence as we approach God.

(Credit is due to Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary)